Thursday, August 15, 2013

Indian Independence Day: The Languages of India

Today is Independence Day in India, a celebration of the date in 1947 when the country attained independence from British rule. In honor of the day's celebrations, we're going to look at the incredible linguistic diversity of the world's second-most populous country.

The British Indian Empire in 1909, before independence.
Home to over a billion people, India is teeming with linguistic diversity. Over 30 languages in the country boast over a million speakers, while over 100 have more than 10,000! We've done language profiles on sixteen Indian languages in the past year, all of which have more than 20 million native speakers. 

Since a look at all the languages of India would take weeks to write, we're going to focus on the country's official languages. Standard Hindi is the official language of the government, with English as a secondary official language, undoubtedly due to India's history under British rule.

There are another 22 languages recognized by the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution, most of which are official in specific Indian states and regions. We've grouped them below with their language families.

Indo-Aryan Languages

Nearly 75% of Indians speak Indo-Aryan languages. There are fifteen official Indo-Aryan languages in India. In past weeks, we've written language profiles on Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Maithili, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sindhi, and Urdu, while we'll be covering Assamese in a few weeks.

Dogri, spoken by over 4 million, is at times considered to be a dialect of Punjabi. There's also Kashmiri, spoken in the Kashmir Valley, and Konkani, which is official in the state of Goa. Nepali is spoken in two Indian states located in the Himalayas, but is more prominently known as the official language of the country of Nepal. Finally, there's Sanskrit, the liturgical language of Hinduism which is also used in the religions of Buddhism and Jainism.

A lake in the Himalayan mountains of India.
Dravidian Languages

Over 20% of Indians speak Dravidian languages. We've covered all four of India's official Dravidian languages in our language profiles on Kannada, Malayalam, Tamil, and Telugu.

Other Languages

There are two Tibeto-Burman languages spoken in Himalayan states of India. Manipuri, also known as Meithei, is spoken in the state of Manipur, while Bodo is spoken by over a million people in Assam state.

Santali is India's sole official Austro-Asiatic language. It is spoken in several northeastern Indian states, as well as the countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, and Nepal.

If the 22 official languages of India aren't enough for you, you can also check out our language profiles on the Indian languages of Awadhi, Marwari, and Rajasthani.