Languages in India

By | January 5, 2017

India is home to 1652 mother tongues. 33 of which are spoken by people numbering over a lakh. Sanskrit is the overarching language in most of the Indian languages. Officially there are 22 recognized languages. English, in fact, is widely spoken and perhaps is the link between North, North-East and South India.

In the world, there are 6000 languages, of which around 300 languages may survive by the end of the 21st century (languages that will be used in communication, law, market, music, etc.).

Papua New Guinea has 1,100 languages, Indonesia has 700, while Cameroon has 300. Europe is a desert with 60-odd languages. Spain has five.

History of Languages in India:

The earliest language of India was the language of Indus valley civilization, but due to the very low availability of their script, they have not deciphered properly. However, the four major language groups of early India are the Dravidian, the Sino-Tibetan, the Austric and Indo-Aryan.

Sanskrit, the classical language of India, represents the highest achievement of the Indo-Aryan Languages. The beginning of Sanskrit literature may be tracked back to the Rigvedic period. It is the oldest literary language of India, which is more than 5,000 years old and the basis of many modern Indian languages including Hindi and Urdu. Its earliest dialect form, Vedic was spoken by the Aryans. All the classical literature and the Indian epics have been written in Sanskrit.

South Asian language families

South Asian language families. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

The Vedas Belong to Indo-Aryan

Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada are the Dravidian language which evolved during the 7th century A.D. The Austic are the Munda and Kol speeches of central and eastern parts of India. The languages of the Assamese and Khamti (now sparsely spoken by some tribes in the northeastern border) is derived from the Sino-Tibetan.

Scheduled Languages: A schedule – the 8th Schedule was added to the Constitution to indicate all regional languages statutorily recognized. The Schedule originally contained 14 languages as follows:

  1. Assamese,
  2. Bengali,
  3. Gujarati,
  4. Hindi,
  5. Kannada,
  6. Kashmiri,
  7. Malayalam,
  8. Marathi
  9. Oriya
  10. Punjabi
  11. Sanskrit
  12. Tamil
  13. Telugu
  14. Urdu

Sindhi was added in 1962. By the 71st amendment to the Constitution of India, Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali were added to the list in 1992. In 2003, four more languages were added: Bodo, Dogri, Maithili and Santhali (92nd Amendment).

first language of states

The most commonly spoken first language of States and Union territories of India. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Other popular languages in India:

Angika, Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Bundeli, Chhattisgarhi, Hariyanavi, Hindustani, Kanauji, Magadhi, Marwari, Bhili, Gondi, Kodava, Kutchi, Tulu, Mahl.

Popular Dialects:

Nagapuri – Dialect of Hindi, popular in Jharkhand and its nearby areas;
Bhaya – Popular in Bihar;
Bagheli – Dialect ofBaghelhand region of central India.

Derawali – Dialect of Saraiki language, spoken in western Punjab;
Maajhi – Dialect of Punjabi language;
Dakkhini – Dialect of Urdu, popular in the Deccan region of South India;
Hyderabadi Urdu – Dialect as a mixture of Hindi, Urdu, and Marathi;
Mewati – Dialect is spoken in Mewat region of Rajasthan and Haryana.

Pothahari – Dialect of Punjabi and differs from other standard Punjabi dialects in pronunciation;
Hariyanavi or Jatu or Bangaru – Dialect of Hindi, popular in Haryana and the Jats of Delhi;
Khadiboli – Dialect of Hindi, mostly spoken in western Uttar Pradesh

Writing Systems:

Indian languages have corresponding scripts for them. Most languages are written using a script specific to them.

Assamese: assamese,
Gujarati: Gujarati,
Bengali: Bengali,
Devanagiri script: Hindi, Marathi, Angika languages.
Gurmukhi: Punkabi,
Utkal Lipi: Oriya,
Perso-Arabic script: Urdu and sometimes Kashmiri, Saraiki and Sindhi. With this one exception, the scripts of Indian languages are native to India.

Official Languages:

India has as many as 22 officially recognized languages. Article 343 of our constitution dictates that official languages of the Republic of India are Hindi with English as the additional language for official work and the states can legislate their official languages. Along with languages of Indian origin other than Hindi, English, French and Portuguese also enjoy the official language status in some states and Union territories.

So, it is, impossible to impose one among these as the ‘rajbhasha‘ or the national language. A popular misconception among Indians is that India is our national language.

Neither our constitution nor our law mentions a National Language.

The official languages At, 1963, the Official Languages Rules, 1976, and the statutory instruments made by the Department of Official Language decides the exact extent to which and the areas in which, the Union government uses Hindi and English, respectively.

The Constitution provides that

  • all proceedings in the Supreme Court of India and the Higher Courts shall be in English.
  • The Union government shall use both English and Hindi in the most administrative documents that are intended for the public.
  • The central government, acting through the President, can issue certain directives to the government of a state about the use of minority languages for official purposes.
  • The Indian constitution doesn’t specify the official languages to be used for the conduct of their official functions.
  • Authorizes the use of Hindi, or the state’s official language in proceedings of the High Court to the Governor, rather than the state legislature, and requires the Governor to obtain the consent of the President of India, whose in these matters acts on the advice of the Government of India.
  • The official languages act gives the governor power, about the language in which the High Court’s judgments will be delivered.
  • Communication between different states, or from the union government to a state or a person in the state, shall be sent in regulated by the Official Languages Rules.
  • There should be a translation in Hindi/English in the Official Gazette; of any Central/State Act or of any Ordinance promulgated by the President/Governor, or Bills introduced or amendments to be moved in Parliament and for any judgment, decree or order passed or made by the High Court for that State.

English Language In India:

India has two official languages: Hindi and English. English, however, is an associate official language.

In India, English serves three purposes. First, it provides a linguistic tool for administrative communication between the Union and the State governments. It contributes to the cohesiveness of the country, where diverse Indians speak different languages. Second, it serves as a linkage language. Hindi is mainly spoken in North India, but in southern states, where people speak many different languages, English is the lingua Franca. Third, it is the linguistic bridge between Indian and the world.

English is used in the parliament, judiciary, broadcasting, journalism and in the education system. English has become the de facto standard for education, research, commerce and most recently in Internet communications. Using English, one becomes a citizen of the world, almost naturally.