The Gift of Language

Language is an integral part of a culture in a way you can also say that language helps define a culture. Many countries in the world are multilingual and even multicultural. And there is this one country in the world that is linguistically as well as culturally the most diverse. Yes… you know which country I am talking about it’s … India!

I am an Indian myself and in this blog, I am going to share some trivia about the languages of India which you may or may not be knowing. The list below denotes the 22 official languages of India and the regions where they are predominantly spoken :

  1. Assamese: spoken mainly in the Indian state of Assam, where it is an official language.
  2. Bengali: spoken mainly in West Bengal, Tripura, Assam (Barak Valley).
  3. Bodo: spoken primarily by the Bodo people of North East India, Nepal and Bengal.
  4. Dogri: spoken chiefly in the region of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and northern Punjab.
  5. Gujarati: spoken mainly in the Indian state of Gujarat, where it is an official language.
  6. Hindi: it is the most spoken language in India. It is widely spoken in the Indian states of Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand.
  7. Kannada: spoken mainly in the state of Karnataka.
  8. Kashmiri: spoken primarily in the state of north India of Jammu and Kashmir.
  9. Konkani: the language is mainly spoken in the southwestern coast of India, mainly in Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Goa.
  10. Maithili: mainly spoken in Bihar and a few districts of Nepal.
  11. Malayalam: it is spoken mainly in the Indian state of Kerala.
  12. Manipuri: Manipuri or Meitei is primary language spoken in Manipur, in northeastern India.
  13. Marathi: it predominantly is spoken by the Marathi people of Maharashtra.
  14. Nepali: it is the official language of Nepal and is widely spoken there.
  15. Odia: the language is spoken mostly in eastern India, in the state of Odisha.
  16. Punjabi: it is the native language of Punjab.
  17. Sanskrit: Sanskrit, considered as the lingua franca of ancient India, is widely used in parts of India and is taught as a subject in many schools of India.
  18. Santali: the language is mostly spoken by the people in the states of Odisha, Jharkhand, Bihar, Tripura, Mizoram, Assam, West Bengal.
  19. Sindhi: the language is considered as one of the scheduled languages, officially recognized by the Indian federal government.
  20. Tamil: it is spoken mainly in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
  21. Telugu: Telugu is the prime language in the states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
  22. Urdu: Urdu is the official language of these Indian states- Jammu and Kashmir, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, and Telangana.

But these 22 languages are just a small droplet in an ocean, actually, there are so many languages in India spoken by its 1.3392 billion people that it is hard to pinpoint the exact figure. Each survey has a different report on the exact figure of languages in India. This is because different sources have different ideas for what can be given the label of separate language as opposed to a dialect. According to the survey conducted by “Ethnologue”, there are about 448 languages spoken in India, according to a survey conducted by “People’s Linguistic Survey of India” there is a total of 780 languages spoken in India but according to the survey conducted by “The Indian Census” in which the people could call their mother tongue whatever they call it in their region, the result surprising as it may seem was an astonishing 19,569 languages !!

Most of the languages of India fall into either of the two categories:

  1. Indo-Aryan: it includes most of the languages of northern India for.g.Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi, etc. It consists of approx. 78% of the languages spoken in India.
  2. Dravidian: it includes most of the languages of southern India e.g. Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada, etc. It consists of approx. 19% of the languages spoken in India.

The rest of the languages fall into the category of Austro-Asiatic or Sino-Tibetan or Tai-Kadai etc.

Flowchart of the Dravidian language family

The origin of Dravidian languages is not exactly known however there are theories that the Dravidian languages can be related to the Uralic languages (like Hungarian and Finnish) or the disputed Altaic language family (Turkish, Mongolian, Koren, etc). It is generally thought that the Dravidian was present in India before the arrival of the Indo-European because some of the oldest Dravidian writings include the Tamil Brahmi inscriptions some of which date back to the 3rd or 4th century B.C.E. Similarly, there were some inscriptions discovered of the Telugu(dating back to 400 BCE and 100 BCE)and Kannada language(dating back to the 3rd century). The Malayalam language developed from a dialect of Tamil, or a language very closely related to Tamil, and then became Sanskritised. Dravidian languages have been influenced by Sanskrit a lot, some researches have shown that their vocabulary includes 65% Sanskrit words.

Flowchart of the Indo-Aryan language family

Speaking about the Indo-Aryan languages, they have directly descended from the Sanskrit language. One of the significant features of the Indo-Aryan languages is that they have been significantly influenced by Persian and to a lesser extent Turkic and Arabic because of centuries of largely Turkic Muslim rule. There are a lot of Persian words in Hindi, for example, Sabzi (Vegetables), Kitab(Book), Garam(Hot), etc. Urdu is the Indian language that has been heavily influenced by Persian. Standard Hindi and Urdu both developed from the same Khariboli dialect of Delhi but Standard Hindi is Sanskritised.

The history of languages of India is actually very complex because each language has its own story of development. There are many languages in India that are heading towards extinction in recent years majorly because of the western influence and also due to negligence by the Indian government. These languages are majorly the tribal languages. Some of the languages that are endangered are Aimol, Koiren, Koraga, Kuruba, Tai Nora, Tai Rong, Nihali, etc. Language is very important for every community in this world because it gives us an identity of our own and India is one of them. I believe that our diverse languages are a gift from our ancestors and we need to preserve it for our future generations.