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South Asia is home to several hundred languages, spanning the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. It is home to the third most spoken language in the world, Hindi–Urdu; and the sixth most spoken language, Bengali. The languages in the region mostly comprise Indo-Iranic and Dravidian languages, and further members of other language families like Austroasiatic, and Tibeto-Burman languages.
English is considered the international lingua franca of the South Asian countries. Since the colonial era, the South Asian languages have absorbed significant influences from the English language, with the most-spoken South Asian language Hindustani acquiring a new English-influenced variant known as Hinglish which is spoken more in urban areas.
Geolinguistically, the Indo-Aryan, Dravidian and Munda language groups are predominantly distributed across the Indian subcontinent, hence sometimes collectively known as Indic languages.[note 1] The subcontinent is also home to a few language isolates, like Burushaski, Kusunda, Nihali, and Vedda. Areally, the influence of the languages extend beyond the subcontinent into other neighboring Southern Asian as well as East and Southeast Asian regions, and the extended linguistic area is known as Indosphere. More precisely, the sprachbund of Indic languages and other geopolitically-neighboring languages is known as South Asian languages (which additionally includes Eastern-Iranic and Nuristani languages, as well as Central- and Western- Tibeto-Burman linkages).
The Iranian Plateau located west to the subcontinent is home to Iranic languages, beginning with Pashto of Pashtunistan and Balochi of Balochistan in the eastern-side of the plateau. Kafiri languages are spoken in pockets at the northern intersection of the plateau and the subcontinent. Tibeto-Burman languages of the Trans-Himalayan family and Khasi–Palaungic languages of the Austroasiatic family are spoken in and beyond the regions of the Himalayan and Indo-Burman Ranges, predominantly on the Tibetan Plateau and Burma. Andamanese languages are spoken on the Andaman Islands.
The official languages of Afghanistan are Pashto and Dari, both of which are Iranic languages. Dari, an Afghan standardized register of the Persian language, is considered the lingua franca of Afghanistan and used to write Afghan literature. Tajik is spoken by people closer to Tajikistan, although officially the language is regarded same as Dari. Pashto is widely spoken by the Pashtun people, who mainly reside towards the south of Afghanistan on the Pakistani-Afghan border. A few Turkic languages like Uzbek and Turkmen are also spoken near regions closer to Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.
Standard Bengali based on the Rarhi dialect is the national language of Bangladesh. The majority of Bangladeshis speak Eastern Bengali. Native languages of Bangladesh are Sylheti and Chittagonian, while some ethnic minority groups also speak Tibeto-Burman, Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic languages.
Dzongkha is the national language of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Other languages spoken include Brokpa, Dzala, Chali Chocangacakha, Dakpa language, Khengkha language, Nepali language, Gongduk, Nyenkha, Lhokpu, Takpa and Tshangla.
Most languages spoken in the Republic of India belong either to the Indo-Aryan (c. 74%), the Dravidian (c. 24%), the Austroasiatic (Munda) (c. 1.2%), or the Tibeto-Burman (c. 0.6%) families, with some languages of the Himalayas still unclassified. The SIL Ethnologue lists 461 living languages for the Indian Republic.
Hindustani is the most widespread language of India. The Indian census takes the widest possible definition of "Hindi" as the broad variety of the Hindi languages. The native speakers of Hindi so defined account for 39% of Indians. Bengali is the second most spoken language of South Asia, found in both Bangladesh and Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura and Assam. The International Mother Language Day was created by UNESCO to commemorate the Bengali language. Other notable languages include Odia, Telugu, Punjabi, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Sindhi, Kannada, Pashto, Malayalam, Maithili, Meitei (Manipuri), Konkani, and Tulu.
Thirteen languages account for more than 1% of Indian population each, and between themselves for over 95%; all of them are the "scheduled languages of the Constitution".
Scheduled languages spoken by less than 1% of Indians are Santali (0.64%), Meitei (Manipuri) (0.14%), Bodo (0.13%), Dogri (0.01%, spoken in Jammu and Kashmir). The largest language that is not "scheduled" is Bhili (0.95%), followed by Gondi (0.27%), Tulu (0.17%) and Kurukh (0.099%)
Divehi is national language of Maldives, spoken by 95% of the population. Arabic is considered as the religious language, and English is medium of instruction for education and international purposes such as tourism.
Most of the languages of Nepal either fall under Indo-Aryan languages or Sino-Tibetan languages. The official language of the country is Nepali, earlier known as Gorkhali in the Kingdom of Nepal, which is part of the Indo-Aryan group and is the spoken by majority of the population.
The Indo-Aryan languages spoken in Nepal include Maithili language, Bhojpuri language and Tharu language which constitutes majority of the speakers in southern Nepal in the Terai region. The Sino-Tibetan languages includes Tamang, Newari, Magar language, Gurung language, Kiranti languages and Sherpa language and are often spoken in central and northern Nepal in the hilly and mountainous regions.
Pakistan is a linguistically diverse country; it has many dozens of languages spoken as first languages. The major languages of Pakistan broadly fall under the category Indo-Iranian languages, with western regions of Pakistan (close to Iran and Afghanistan) speaking Iranic languages, and eastern regions (close to India) speaking Indo-Aryan languages (with the Indus River approximately dividing the families).
Other language families in Pakistan include Dravidian (Brahui spoken in Central Balochistan), Sino-Tibetan languages such as Balti and Purgi spoken in the north-east (In Baltistan region of Pakistan), Nuristani languages such as Kamkata-vari spoken in the north-west (In chitral region of Pakistan), Language Isolate Burushaski spoken in the north (In Gilgit Division), Turkic languages are also spoken in Pakistan, by Kyrgyz migrant families in the North and Uzbeks and Turkmen in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and by Refugees from Afghanistan and China.
The national uniting medium of Pakistan is Urdu, a persianized register of the Hindustani language. The major native languages of Pakistan are Punjabi, Saraiki, Sindhi, Baluchi and Pashto, while more than 70 other languages like Shina, Balti, Gujarati, Bengali etc. are also spoken.
Sinhala and Tamil are the official languages of Sri Lanka, with English as the link language. Tamil is a South-Dravidian language, and Sinhala belongs to the Insular Indic family (along with Dhivehi of Maldives). Vedda is said to be the indigenous language of Sri Lanka before the arrival of the Indo-Aryans and Dravidians.
- Languages of Asia
- Languages of Bangladesh
- Languages of Bhutan
- Languages of India
- Languages of Maldives
- Languages of Nepal
- Languages of Pakistan
- Languages of Sri Lanka
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