Languages of India
|Languages of India|
|Official languages||English • Hindi (Central Union Government and some state governments) • Assamese • Bengali • Bodo • Dogri • Gujarati • Kannada • Kashmiri • Konkani • Maithili • Malayalam • Manipuri • Marathi • Nepali • Odia • Punjabi • Sanskrit • Santali • Sindhi • Tamil • Telugu • Tulu • Urdu|
Indo-Pakistani Sign Language
Alipur Sign Language
Naga Sign Language (extinct)
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There are several Languages in India belonging to different language families, the major ones being the Indo-Aryan languages spoken by 73% of Indians and the Dravidian languages spoken by 24% of Indians.  Other languages spoken in India belong to the Austroasiatic, Tibeto-Burman, a few minor language families and isolates.
The Constitution of India does not give any language the status of National Language. The official languages of the Union Government of the Republic of India are Hindi in the Devanagari script and English, a position supported by a High Court ruling. The Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution lists 22 languages, which have been referred to as scheduled languages and given recognition, status and official encouragement. In addition, the Government of India has awarded the distinction of classical language to Tamil, Sanskrit, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Odia (formerly known as Oriya) .
The 1991 census recognized 1576 rationalized mother tongues which were further grouped into language categories. The 1961 census recognized 1,652, and the 2011 census recognized 1,635. (SIL Ethnologue lists 415). According to Census of India of 2001, 30 languages are spoken by more than a million native speakers, 122 by more than 10,000. More than three millennia of language contact has led to significant mutual influence among the four language families in India and South Asia. Two contact languages have played an important role in the history of India: Persian and English.
The northern Indian languages from the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family evolved from Old Indic by way of the Middle Indic Prakrit languages and Apabhraṃśa of the Middle Ages. The Indo-Aryan languages developed and emerged in three stages - Old Indo-Aryan (1500 BCE to 600 BCE), Middle Indo-Aryan stage (600 BCE and 1OOO CE) and New Indo-Aryan (bwteen 1000 CE and 1300 CE). Modern north Indian languages, such as Hindi (or more correctly, Hindustani), Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Punjabi and Odia, evolved into distinct, recognisable languages in the New Indo-Aryan Age.
Each of these language had different influences. For example, Hindustani was strongly influenced by Sanskrit and Persian, with these influences leading to the emergence of Modern Standard Hindi and Modern Standard Urdu as registers of the Hindustani language. Modern Standard Hindi is recognised as the official language of India while Urdu is a scheduled language. Of all the classical languages from the Indo-Aryan language family, Odia is the least influenced by any foreign language.
The Dravidian languages of South India had a history independent of Sanskrit. The major Dravidian language are Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam and Tulu. Though Malayalam and Telugu are Dravidian in origin, over eighty percent of their lexicon is borrowed from Sanskrit. The Telugu script can reproduce the full range of Sanskrit phonetics without losing any of the text's originality, whereas the Malayalam script includes graphemes capable of representing all the sounds of Sanskrit and all Dravidian languages. The Austroasiatic and Tibeto-Burman languages of North-East India also have long independent histories.
As regards to linguistics, the earliest instance in history is Panini's Sanskrit grammar dated to ca. 400 BCE. This work and those of commentators on this book, Patanjali (250 BCE) and Katyayana (150 BCE), form a linguistic canon which profoundly influenced linguistic form, semantics, philosophy and development in the centuries to come. In addition, these works provided the broad format for Indian religious and philosophical literature in later times, i.e., the original text in the form of aphorisms (sutras) followed by commentary in the form of text (bhasya).
Dialectologists distinguish the terms "language" and "dialect" on the basis of mutual intelligibility. The Indian census uses two specific classifications in its own unique way: (1) 'language' and (2) 'mother tongue'. The 'mother tongues' are grouped within each 'language'. Many 'mother tongues' so defined would be considered a language rather than a dialect by linguistic standards. This is especially so for many 'mother tongues' with tens of millions of speakers that are officially grouped under the 'language' Hindi.
The Indian census of 1961 recognised 1,652 different "mother tongues" in India (including dialects, sub-dialects, dialect clusters, and languages not native to the subcontinent). The 1991 census recognizes 1,576 classified "mother tongues" The People of India (POI) project of Anthropological Survey of India reported 325 languages which are used for in-group communication by the Indian communities.SIL Ethnologue lists 415 living "Languages of India" (out of 6,912 worldwide).
According to the 1991 census, 22 'languages' had more than a million native speakers, 50 had more than 100,000 and 114 had more than 10,000 native speakers. The remaining accounted for a total of 566,000 native speakers (out of a total of 838 million Indians in 1991).
According to the most recent census of 2001, 29 'languages' have more than a million native speakers, 60 have more than 100,000 and 122 have more than 10,000 native speakers. There are a few languages like Kodava and Tulu that do not have a script but have a group of native speakers in Dakshina Kannada.
Ethnolinguistically, the languages of South Asia, echoing the complex history and geography of the region, form a complex patchwork of language families, language phyla and isolates. The languages of India belong to several language families, the most important of which are :
- Indo-Aryan language family.
- Dravidian language family.
- Austroasiatic language family.
- Tibeto-Burman language family.
- Great Andamanese languages.
Indo-Aryan language family
The largest of the language families represented in India, in terms of speakers, is the Indo-Aryan language family, a branch of the Indo-Iranian family, itself the easternmost, extant subfamily of the Indo-European language family. This language family predominates, accounting for some 700 million speakers, or 69% of the population. The most widely spoken languages of this group are Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, and Odia. Aside from the Indo-Aryan languages, other Indo-European languages are also spoken in India, the most prominent of which is English, as a lingua franca, the rest being minority languages such as Persian, Portuguese and French.
Dravidian language family
The second largest language family is the Dravidian language family, accounting for some 200 million speakers, or 26%. The Dravidian languages are spoken mainly in southern India and parts of eastern and central India as well as in parts of northeastern Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh. The Dravidian languages with the most speakers are Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, and Kannada. Besides the mainstream population, Dravidian languages are also spoken by small scheduled tribe communities, such as the Oraon and Gond tribes. Only two Dravidian languages are exclusively spoken outside India, Brahui in Pakistan and Dhangar, a dialect of Kurukh, in Nepal.
Austroasiatic language family
The Austroasiatic language family (austro meaning South) is the autochthonous language in South Asia and Southeast Asia, other language families having arrived by migration. Austroasiatic languages of mainland India are the Khasi language and and Munda language group, including Santhali. The languages of the Nicobar islands also form part of this language family. With the exceptions of Khasi and Santhali, all Austroasiatic languages on Indian territory are endangered.
Tibeto-Burman language family
The Tibeto-Burman languages, a subfamily of Sino-Tibetan language family, comprising those languages of that language family not related to Chinese, are well represented in India. However their inter-se relationships are not discernible, and the family has been described as "a patch of leaves on the forest floor" rather than with the conventional metaphor of a "family tree".
Tibeto-Burman languages are spoken across the Himalayas in the regions of Ladakh, Himachal Pradesh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, Arunachal Pradesh, and also in the Indian states of West Bengal, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Manipur, Tripura and Mizoram. Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in India include Karbi, Meitei, Lepcha, as well as many varieties of several related Tibetic, West Himalayish, Tani, Brahmaputran, Angami–Pochuri, Tangkhul, Zeme, Kukish language groups, amongst many others.
Great Andamanese language family
- the Great Andamanese, comprising a number of extinct languages apart from one highly endangered language with a dwindling number of speakers.
- the Ongan family of the southern Andaman Islands, comprising two extant languages, Önge and Jarawa, and one extinct tongue, Jangil.
In addition, Sentinelese, an unattested language of the Andaman Islands, is generally considered to be related and part of the language family.
The only language found in the Indian linguistic panorama considered as a language isolate is Nahali. The other language isolates found in the rest of South Asia include Burushaski, a tongue spoken in Gilgit–Baltistan (northern Pakistan), Kusunda (in western Nepal) and Vedda (in Sri Lanka). The validity of the Great Andamanese language group as a language family has been questioned and it has been considered as a language isolate by some authorities.
The language families in India are not necessarily related to the various ethnic groups in India, specifically the Indo-Aryan and Dravidian people. The languages within each family have been influenced to a large extent by both families. For example, many of the South Indian languages; specifically Malayalam and Telugu, have been highly influenced by Sanskrit (an Indo-Aryan language). The current vocabulary of those languages include between 70-80% of Sanskritised content in their purest form.
Urdu has also had a significant influence on many of today's Indian languages. Many North Indian languages have lost much of their Sanskritised base (50% current vocabulary) to a more Urdu-based form. In terms of the written script, most Indian languages, except the Tamil script nearly perfectly accommodate the Sanskrit language. South Indian languages have adopted new letters to write various Indo-Aryan based words as well, and have added new letters to their native alphabets as the languages began to mix and influence each other.
Though various Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages may seem mutually exclusive when first heard, there is a much deeper underlying influence that both language families have had on each other down to a linguistic science. There is proof of the intermixing of Dravidian and Indo-Aryan languages through the pockets of Dravidian based languages on remote areas of Pakistan, and interspersed areas of North India. In addition, there is a whole science regarding the tonal and cultural expression within the languages that are quite standard across India. Languages may have different vocabulary, but various hand and tonal gestures within two unrelated languages can still be common due to cultural amalgamations between invading people and the natives over time; in this case, the Indo-Aryan peoples and the native Dravidian people.
In British India, English was the sole language used for administrative purposes as well as for higher education purposes. When India became independent in 1947, the Indian legislators had the challenge of choosing a language for official communication as well as for communication between different linguistic regions across India. The choices available were:
- Making "Hindi", which a plurality of the people (41%) identified as their native language, the official language, though only a minority of these "Hindi" speakers spoke Hindi proper.
- Making English, as preferred by non-Hindi speakers, particularly Kannadigas and Tamils, and those from Mizoram and Nagaland, the official language. See also Anti-Hindi agitations.
- Declare both Hindi and English as official languages and each state is given freedom to choose the official language of the state.
The Indian constitution, in 1950, declared Hindi in Devanagari script to be the official language of the union. Unless Parliament decided otherwise, the use of English for official purposes was to cease 15 years after the constitution came into effect, i.e. on 26 January 1965. The prospect of the changeover, however, led to much alarm in the non Hindi-speaking areas of India, especially in South India whose native tongues are not related to Hindi. As a result, Parliament enacted the Official Languages Act in 1963, which provided for the continued use of English for official purposes along with Hindi, even after 1965.
The official languages of the Union Government (not the entire country) are Hindi and English. According to the article 343 (1) of the Constitution of India, "The Official Language of the Union government shall be Hindi in Devanagari script."
The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution of India lists 22 languages. The table below lists the 22 languages set out in the eighth schedule as of May 2008, together with the regions where they are used.
The government of India has given the scheduled languages the status of official language. The number of languages given this status has increased through the political process.
Some languages with many speakers still do not have official language status, the largest of these being Bhili/Bhiladi with some 9.6 million native speakers (ranked 14th), followed by Garhwali with 2.9 million speakers, Gondi with 2.7 million speakers (ranked 18th) and Khandeshi with 2.1 million speakers (ranked 22nd). On the other hand, 2 languages with fewer than 2 million native speakers have recently been included in the 8th Schedule for mostly political reasons: Manipuri/Meitei with 1.5 million speakers (ranked 25th) and Bodo with 1.4 million speakers (ranked 26th).
Article 345 of the constitution authorizes the several states of India to adopt as "official languages" of that state — which people of that state can then use in all dealings with all branches of the local, state and federal governments — either Hindi or any one or more of the languages spoken in that state. Until the Twenty-First Amendment of the Constitution in 1967, the country recognised 14 official regional languages. The Eighth Schedule and the Seventy-First Amendment provided for the inclusion of Sindhi, Konkani, Meiteilon and Nepali, thereby increasing the number of official regional languages of India to 18. At present there are 22 official languages of India.
The individual states, the borders of most which are or were drawn socio-linguistic lines, can legislate their own official languages, depending on their linguistic demographics. For example, the state of Andhra Pradesh has Telugu as its sole official language, the state of Karnataka has Kannada as its sole official language, the state of Gujarat has Gujarati as its sole official language, the state of Maharashtra has Marathi as its sole official language, the state of Rajasthan has Marwari, the state of Punjab has Punjabi as its sole official language, the state of Odisha has Odiya as its sole official language, the state of Tamil Nadu has Tamil as its sole official language, while the state of Telangana has Telugu and Urdu as its official languages, the state of Kerala has Malayalam and English as its official languages, the state of Jammu and Kashmir has Kashmiri, Urdu, and Dogri as its official languages, the state of Assam has Assamese and Bodo as its official languages, and Bengali in the Barak Valley.
Hindi is the most prominent language spoken in the country.
British colonial legacy has resulted in English being the primary language for government, business and education. Despite the fact that Hindi serves as a lingua franca over large parts of India, there is considerable opposition to the imposition of Hindi in the southern states of India, and English has emerged as a defacto lingua franca over much of India.
Ethnolinguistically, Sanskrit has been the root of the most of the major languages in India.
In 2004, the Government of India declared that languages that met certain requirements could be accorded the status of a "Classical Language in India". Languages thus far declared to be Classical are Tamil (in 2004), Sanskrit (in 2005), Telugu (in 2008), Kannada (in 2008), Malayalam (in 2013) and Oriya - now called Odia (in 2014).
In a 2006 press release, Minister of Tourism & Culture Ambika Soni told the Rajya Sabha the following criteria were laid down to determine the eligibility of languages to be considered for classification as a "Classical Language",
High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500–2000 years; a body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers; the literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community; the classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.
The Government has been criticised for not including Pali as a classical language, as experts have argued it fits all the above criteria.
As per Government of India's Resolution No. 2-16/2004-US(Akademies) dated 1 November 2004, the benefits that will accrue to a language declared as "Classical Language" are
- Two major international awards for scholars of eminence in Classical Indian Languages are awarded annually.
- A 'Centre of Excellence for Studies in Classical Languages' is set up.
- The University Grants Commission be requested to create, to start with at least in the Central Universities, a certain number of Professional Chairs for Classical Languages for scholars of eminence in Classical Indian Languages.
Other local languages and dialectsIn addition, the 2001 census identified the following native languages (i.e. languages and dialects) having more than one million speakers. All were grouped under Hindi or Odia.
|Languages||No. of native speakers|
India has hundreds of languages in use. Therefore, choosing any single language as an official language presents serious problems to all those whose "mother tongue" is different. However, all the boards of education across India, recognize the 'need' for training people to one common language. This results in many complaints: There are many complaints that in North India, non-Hindi speakers have language trouble. Similarly, there are numerous complaints that all North Indians have to undergo considerable difficulties on account of language when traveling to South India. It is common to hear of incidents that result due to friction between those who strongly believe in the chosen official language, and those who follow the thought that the chosen language(s) do not take into account everyone's preferences. Local official language commissions have been established and various steps are being taken in a direction to reduce tensions and friction.
There are some significant conflicts over linguistic rights in India. The first major linguistic conflict, known as the Anti-Hindi agitations of Tamil Nadu, took place in Tamil Nadu against the implementation of Hindi as the sole official language of India. Political analysts consider this as a major factor in bringing DMK to power and leading to the ousting and nearly total elimination of the Congress party in Tamil Nadu. Strong cultural pride based on language is also found in other Indian states such as Bengal, Maharashtra and in Karnataka. To express disapproval of the imposition of an alien language Hindi on its people as a result of the central government overstepping its constitutional authority, the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka made the state languages mandatory in educational institutions.
However, in Andhra Pradesh , Telangana and Kerala, in the majority of the schools, students have to learn English and one chosen regional language (Telugu, Urdu or Hindi, Malayalam) as the main language subjects, and learn another language (Telugu, or Hindi, or Special English) as a special language subject. So, usually they learn three in total.
The Government of India attempts to assuage these conflicts with various campaigns, coordinated by the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, a branch of the Department of Higher Education, Language Bureau, and the Ministry of Human Resource Development.
Most languages in the Indian republic are written in Brahmi-derived scripts, such as Devanagari, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Odia, Eastern Nagari - Assamese/Bengali, etc., though Urdu is written in a script derived from Arabic, and a few minor languages such as Santali use independent scripts.
Various Indian languages have corresponding scripts for them. Hindi, Marathi and Angika are languages written using the Devanagari script. Most languages are written using a script specific to them, such as Assamese with Assamese/Axomiya, Bengali with Bengali, Punjabi with Gurmukhi, Odia with Utkal Lipi, Gujarati with Gujarati, etc. Urdu and sometimes Kashmiri, Saraiki and Sindhi are written in modified versions of the Perso-Arabic script. With this one exception, the scripts of Indian languages are native to India. (See ISO 15919 regarding Romanization of Indian languages.). Languages like Kodava and Tulu that do not have a script have taken up the scripts of the local official languages as their own and are generally written in the Kannada script.
North Indian Brahmi found in Ashok pillar.
The Halmidi inscription, the oldest known inscription in the Kannada script. The inscription is usually dated to the 450 CE - 500 CE period.
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