India, with a unique mix of cultures, religions and beliefs, is home to many languages. Languages spoken in India belong to several language families, the major ones being the Indo-Aryan languages spoken by 75% of Indians and the Dravidian languages spoken by 20% of Indians. According to Census of India of 2001, India has 122 major languages and 1599 other languages. For the convenience of people, and to make our lives easier (relatively), the Constitution of India has recognised 22 languages as the official languages of India.
While Hindi may be the popular (and national) language of communication, there are many dialects that are understood state wise. For example, the northerners are known for their precise Hindi, while the southerners prefer Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam.
But according to a recent report by The People’s Linguistic Survey of India (PSLI), more than half of the languages spoken by India’s 1.3 billion people may die out over the next 50 years. “At least 400 Indian languages are at the risk of dying in coming 50 years,” G.N. Devy, the chairman of PSLI, said. “Each time a language is lost, the corresponding culture is killed”, Devy said, adding that India had already lost 250 languages in last five decades.
In a small attempt to preserve our many languages, first, get yourself familiarised with as many languages you can know of, if not speak them, right here. Starting with the official ones:
- Hindi: Hindi, written in Devanagari script, is the most prominent language spoken in the country. Hindi (or Hindustani) is the native language of most people living in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Chandigarh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, and Rajasthan.
- Bengali: Native to the Bengal region, Bengali is the fifth most spoken language in the world. Bengali language has developed a rich cultural base spanning art, music, literature and religion.
- Telugu: Telugu is the most widely spoken Dravidian language in India. Telugu is an official language in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and the union territory of Puducherry. It is one of the languages with classical status in India.
- Marathi: It is the official language and co-official language in Maharashtra and Goa states of Western India respectively, and is one of the official languages of India. Marathi has the fourth largest number of native speakers in India. Marathi has some of the oldest literature of all modern Indo-Aryan languages, dating from about 1200 AD.
- Tamil: Tamil is predominantly spoken in Tamil Nadu, Puduchery and many parts of Sri Lanka, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Malaysia, Singapore, Mauritius and throughout the world. Tamil is one of the longest surviving classical languages in the world.
- Urdu: After independence, Modern Standard Urdu, the Persianised register of Hindustani, became the national language of Pakistan. During British colonial times, a knowledge of Hindustani or Urdu was must for officials. Urdu had 70 million speakers in India, and is an official language in the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Telangana that have significant Muslim populations.
- Gujrati: Native to Western regions of India, Gujarati is descended from Old Gujarati (c. 1100 – 1500 CE), the same source as that of Rajasthani.
- Kannada: Kannada language has 2800 years of history, one of the oldest living languages in the world. It has the second oldest written tradition of all vernacular languages of India.
- Malayalam: Malayalam has official language status in Kerala and in the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry and is spoken by some 38 million people. Malayalam originated from Middle Tamil (Sen-Tamil) in the 7th century.
- Odia: Odia is primarily spoken in the Indian state of Odisha and has over 40 million speakers. It was declared as a classical language of India in 2014. Native speakers comprise 80% of the population in Odisha.
- Punjabi: Punjabi is one of the prominent languages of India with about 33 million speakers. In Pakistan it is spoken by over 60 million people and is written in the Shahmukhi alphabet. It is mainly spoken in Punjab and neighboring areas.
- Assamese: Asamiya or Assamese language is most popular in the state of Assam and Brahmaputra Valley, having more than 10 million speakers.
- Maithili: It is one of the largest languages in India and the second largest language in Nepal. Spoken widely in the eastern state of Bihar, it is at least 1,000 years old.
- Garo: Garo, or A·chik (as it is called among the natives), is a language spoken in the Garo Hills districts of Meghalaya, some parts of Assam, and in small pockets in Tripura. Garo has been witnessing an immense growth in its printed literature lately.
- Khasi: Khasi is an Austroasiatic language spoken primarily in Meghalaya by the Khasi people. It is also spoken by a sizeable population in Assam and Bangladesh. Khasi is rich in folklore and folktale, and behind most of the names of hills, mountains, rivers, waterfalls, birds, flowers, and animals there is a story.
- Kokborok: It is the native language of the Borok people of the Indian state of Tripura and neighbouring areas of Bangladesh. Kókborok has existed since at least the 1st century AD, when the historical record of Tipra Kings began to be written down. The script of Kókborok was called “Koloma”.
- Konkani: Official language of Goa, Konkani has a rich history, datingback to 981 AD.
- Manipuri: Also known as Meitei, it is predominantly spoken in the southeastern Himalayan state of Manipur, Assam, Tripura, Bangaladesh and Myanmar. It is currently classified as a vulnerable language by UNESCO.
- Mizo: The Mizo language, or Mizo ṭawng, is a language spoken natively by the Mizo people in the Mizoram, Chin State in Burma, and the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. The language is also known as Lushai, a colonial term, as the Lusei people were the first among the Mizos to be encountered by the British in the course of their colonial expansion.
- Nepali: Also called Gurkha, Gorkhali, Gurkhali, or Khaskura, is derived from Sanskrit. It is the official language of Nepal, spoken chiefly by Pahari people in Nepal and by a significant number of Bhutanese and some Burmese people.
- Santhali: Until the nineteenth century, Santhali remained an oral language and all shared knowledge was transmitted by word of mouth from generation to generation. The Ol Chiki script for Santali was developed by Guru Gomke Pandit Raghunath Murmu in 1925.
- Sanskrit: It is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, a philosophical language of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism, and a literary language of ancient and medieval India and Nepal. As one of the oldest Indo-European languages for which substantial written documentation exists, Sanskrit holds a prominent position in Indo-European studies. According to 2001 Census of India, only 14,135 Indians reported Sanskrit to be their first language.
So, how many languages do you speak from the above list? Tell us in the comments below.
– Sources: Wikipedia, Maps of India, Read Me India, Quora.