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The Indian subcontinent consists of a number of separate linguistic communities each of which share a common language and culture. It has been said that India is a living Tower of Babel! There are fifteen national languages recognized by the Indian constitution and these are spoken in over 1600 dialects. Add to this a population of over 900 million today, and the remark would seem to be true.

The number of people speaking each language varies greatly. For example, Hindi has more than 250 million speakers, but relatively few people speak Andamanese. India's schools teach 58 different languages. The nation has newspapers in 87 languages, radio programmes in 71, and films in 15.

Classification of Indian Languages:
The Indian languages belong to four language families: Indo-European, Dravidian, Mon-Khmer, and Sino-Tibetan. Indo-European and Dravidian languages are used by a large majority of India's population. The language families divide roughly into geographic groups. Languages of the Indo-European group are spoken mainly in northern and central regions. The languages of southern India are mainly of the Dravidian group. Some ethnic groups in Assam and other parts of eastern India speak languages of the Mon-Khmer group. People in the northern Himalayan region and near the Burmese border speak Sino-Tibetan languages.

Official Languages:
Hindi Hindi is the principal official language of India. Sanskrit and 16 regional languages are also official languages. English has the status of an "associate" language. Hindi is the native language of more than a third of India's people, and many others speak Hindi as a second language. Only about 2 per cent speak English but it serves as a common language among most educated Indians, and people use it for many official and administrative purposes.

Organization by State:
In general, Indians who speak the same language live in the same state. At least one major language is spoken in each state. Some states have been created from parts of others to unite members of a language group.

Although the states are organized according to languages, each state has speakers of minority languages. The number of speakers of minority languages varies greatly from state to state. For example, 30 per cent of the population of Tripura speak minority languages, but in Kerala there are only a few. Nagaland and Arunachal Pradesh have no majority language. A state may have more than one official language, with each language serving a specifically designated purpose or being used in a certain region.

Following are most of the languages that recognized by the
Indian Constitution as the Official Languages of India:

ASSAMESE ( 14,604,000 SPEAKING IN INDIA ) is the state language of Assam and is spoken by nearly 60 percent of the State's population. The origin of this language dates back to the 13th century. According to researchers, Assamese is a sibling of Bengali, the parent language being Sanskrit. The Assamese pronunciation of words derived from Sanskrit is such as to render the supposition of Bengali origin. However a section of researchers say that the two languages were derived in parallel from Sanskrit.

Assamese and Bengali have contrasting systems of accentuation. Assamese follows the pan-Indian system of penultimate stress, while Bengali has an initial stress. There are not many linguistic works in Assamese.


BENGALI ( 196,000,000 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is the language spoken by the people of West Bengal. The origin of this language is traced back to the tenth century. The ancestors of this language are the Indo-Aryan. The Bengali script originated from the Brahmi alphabets.

Bengali has two literary styles - Sadhubhasa and Chaltibhasa. Sadhubhasa is the traditional literary style based on the sixteenth century Bengali. This style makes use of compound words as in Sanskrit.

Chaltibhasa is the dialect based style spoken in Bengal. Chaltibhasa makes use of colloquial words and phrases. Writers favor this style of Bengali. The great Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore composed the Indian National Anthem in Bengali. His literary work "Geetanjali", in Bengali, won him the Nobel Prize. Bengali is also spoken by the people of Bangladesh.


GUJARATI ( 44,000,000 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is the language of Gujarat. The Gujarathi script is similar to the Hindi script, except for the horizontal line over the letters.

Gujarati is Indic in origin and has branched out from the Indo-European group of languages. It is the language of the Indian immigrants in East Africa, Britain, and America.

Father of India, Mahatma Gandhi originated from Gujarat and spoke Gujarati. Variation of the language is spoken by people from the desert region of Kutch, an extension of the Rajasthan Thar desert, and is called Kacchi. Similar dialects are spoken in different parts of Gujarat State.


HINDI ( THE RASHTRABHASHA - 182,000,000 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is the mother tongue of most Indians. It is an expressive language that has descended from Sanskrit and Urdu. Devnagri is the script of Hindi. The Dravidians, Turkish, Arabs, Portuguese and the English have influenced this language.

Hindi poems and songs convey emotions using simple words. Several dialects of Hindi are used in literature works. Some of them are Marwari, Braj, Avadhi, Bhojpuri. Most of the official communications from the Central Government of India are made in Hindi.


KASHIMIRI ( 4,381,000 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is spoken in the state of Jammu and Kashmir, in the north of India. Kashmiri is analytic like the modern Indian languages of Sanskritic stock, and also synthetic like the Old Indo-Aryan. Thus, this language possesses the characteristics of both the languages.

According to researchers, Kashmiri has descended from the Vedic speech. References to rivers and mountains in Kashmir, are made in the hymns of the Rig Veda. Kashmiri script is similar to Urdu.


KONKNNI ( 2,060,741 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is spoken by the people of Mangalore, Goa, parts of Bombay and Kerala. It is an independent language that closely resembles Marathi, Tulu and Hindi.

The Konknni language does not have a script of it's own and uses Devanagiri. Most of the Konknni literature that was developed before the Portuguese conquest is lost. The present day Konknni literature developed during the 20th century.


KANNADA ( 33,664,000 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is the state language of Karnataka and is spoken by 65 percent of the state's population. It belongs to the Dravidian family, and dates back to the 9th Century as an independent language.


MARATHI ( 64,783,000 SPEAKING IN INDIA ) is the language spoken by the people of Maharastra. It is the southern most Indo-Aryan language, which has its roots in Sanskrit. Marathi is also said to be a descendent of Maharastri, a Prakrit language, spoken by the people of Maharastra. The Marathi script, Balbodh, is a modified version of the Devanagiri script.

Marathi is a language that has been constantly under the influence of other languages and has been through continuous transformation to what it is today. Marathi words are categorised into tatsam, words derived fom Sanskrit, and tadbhav, words which have been modified from the Sanskrit word. Marathi has also absorbed a few words of Kannada and Telugu. The dialects of Marathi are Varhaddi, spoken in Vidarba region, and Dangii, spoken in Maharastra-Gujarat border.


MALAYALAM ( 34,014,000 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is the language spoken by the people of Kerala, the southern state of India. It is a part of the Dravidian languages. Malayalam compositions are of three types.

  • Pattu - Classical songs of the Tamil tradition
  • Manipravalam - An interspersing of Sanskrit with Malayalam
  • Folk songs

    There are a lot of devotional compositions and hymns in Malayalam. Swathi Thirunal is a notable King who has written a lot of Keerthanas or Kruthis - praises of the God in Malayalam. He also patronized Malayalee poets and literary artists.


    ORIYA - THE LANGUAGE OF THE EASTERN INDIA is a branch of the Indo-Aryan family. It is the official language of the State of Orissa, where the Oriya speaking population comprises around 82% of the total population. Oriya is found recorded as far back as the 10th Century. However, its literary career began only in the 14th Century.


    PUNJABI ( 70,833,844 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is a language that belongs to the Indo-Aryan family and is the official language of the State of Punjab. Punjabi, though very ancient, turned literary around the 15th Century. From the 19th Century, Punjabi showed vigorous development in all branches of literature. It is written in Gurmukhi script, created by the Sikh Guru, Angad.

    SINDHI ( 19,675,000 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is spoken by a great number of people. It belongs to the Indo-Aryan family and preserved some of the archaic characteristics of the Indo-Aryan script.


    SANSKRIT ( 194,433 SPEAKING IN INDIA ) The Sanskrit tongue most probably entered the Indian subcontinent with an early migration of Indo-European people. Sanskrit is no longer a spoken language, but continues to be used in religious ritual, and its Classical form is still cultivated as a literary language.

    Sanskrit is divided into two general categories, the more ancient Vedic Sanskrit (assumed to have been spoken from approximately 1500-200 B.C.) and Classical Sanskrit (approximately 500 B.C.- 1000 A.D.).

    As the Latin language evolved into the Romance languages in Europe, Sanskrit gave rise to a variety of dialects that in time became separate languages. In modern India there are a number of languages that descend from Sanskrit, such as Sindhi, Marathi, Bengali, Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. Romany, the dialect of the Gypsies in western Asia and Europe, is also descended from Sanskrit. The Dravidian languages, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam are also spoken in India, as are certain Iranian and Sino-Tibetan languages.


    TAMIL ( 62,000,000 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is the language spoken by the people of Tamil Nadu. It is a member of the Dravidian family of languages. Acording to legends, Tamil is about ten thousand years old, and is connected with prehistoric ancient civilizations.

    Tamil literature consists of Urainadai - text, and Cheaiyul - poem. Agananoru and Purananoru are poetical verses, that explain the lifestyle of people. Tamil literature is vast, and there exits numerous literary works. Agathiyar, Tholkapiyar are renowned for formulating the Tamil grammar. Thirukkural by Thiruvalluvar has 1331 couplets, under 133 sections, that explain the code of ethics. This literary work has been translated in many foreign languages.

    Silapathigaram, the story of Kannagi who burnt Madurai; Manimegalai, a saint who worked for the cause of society, are some of the famous literary works. Barathiar, a renowned freedom fighter is a Tamil poet, who has written numerous poems.


    TELUGU ( 73,000,000 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) Originally, Andhra was the name of a nomadic tribe. The place where they finally settled was named Andhra and the language spoken by them was called "Andhra Bhasha". Different tribes in the region spoke different dialects of Andhra Basha. Telugu, spoken by the tribes Dravida, Yaksha and Naga is the language spoken by the people of Andhra Pradesh today. It took over a thousand years for the Telugu language to evolve. Telugu belongs to the family of Dravidian languages. It resembles Tamil, Kannada, and Tulu.

    The Sathavahanas were the local officials of the Maurya rulers of North. They were the mediators between the people of North and South India. The Satavahana kings conversed in the language, Prakruth.

    Prakruth, which was the unrefined form of Sanskrit was considered as the official language of the Kings. The dialects of Prakruth became the local languages of the people. A lot of Buddhist books have been written in Prakruth. However, Telugu language was spoken by the King's subjects. Inscriptions of Telugu words on rocks were first observed after the Sathavahana period.

    URDU ( 56,584,000 SPEAKING IN THE WORLD ) is the State language of Jammu and Kashmir and is spoken by more than 28 million people In India. Urdu and Hindi have proceeded from the same source i.e., Khariboli. Urdu is written in the Persio-Arabic script and contains many words from the Persian language.