By Arun Chitnis
For a country as big as India and with a population that is just as large (it is the second most populous country in the world), it is no surprise that the spoken languages are just as varied and as large.
For anyone who wants to learn an Indian language, the undertaking is bound to be daunting because of the additional task of learning the particular script form of that language.
National And State Languages
Trying to learn all of them would certainly take more than a lifetime or two. Consider this fact – till date, the country has 15 national languages recognized by the Constitution. Within this multitude of languages, there are over 1,600 dialects on record, so far.
In addition to these, there are 18 languages recognized by the Indian constitution as state languages. These state languages are used in schools and in official transactions within their respective states.
They are Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada (Kanarese), Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Meithei (Manipuri), Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.
The citizens of the former Indian states (and now independent countries – Pakistan and Bangladesh) speak Urdu and Bengali, respectively.
Official And Working Languages
Today, Hindi is recognized as India’s official language. It is spoken by about 20% of the population, especially in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. However, taking into consideration the number of languages spoken all over the country, English is the official working language.
No single common language is spoken on the Indian subcontinent, except Hindi and English, which are the co-official national languages of India. Both languages are used as lingua franca all over these linguistic regions.
For many educated Indians, English is virtually their first language. Most Indians, however, are multi-lingual and it is only their second language.
Hindi And Urdu
Hindi and Urdu are actually slightly different dialects of the same language. Their main difference lies in their vocabulary roots, scripts and religious backgrounds.
The Hindi vocabulary mainly comes from Sanskrit. It is written in Devanagari (a script form) and spoken mainly by Hindus. Hindi itself has two major varieties: western and eastern Hindi. Both are spoken by more than 400 million people.
Urdu has words with Persian and Arabic origins, and written in the Persian-Arabic script. Urdu is spoken by Muslims in India and in Pakistan.
All the Indian languages belong themselves to two major linguistic families: the Indo-European and Dravidian groups. The others come from Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman groups and other small isolated languages.
The Indo-Aryan group (part of the Indo-European family) is spoken by about 74% of the population. The Dravidian is spoken by around 24%.
Another major language is Bengali. It is spoken by almost the entire population of Bangladesh, and in West Bengal state. Bengali was the language of the Nobel Prize winning Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore.
Like Hindi, Bengali is also descended from Sanskrit and has the most extensive literature of any modern Indian language. It has around 200 million speakers and developed as a language in the 13th century.
Punjabi is spoken in the Punjab region which covers parts of northeastern India and western Pakistan. It is often referred to as the language of the gurus, the founders of the Sikh religion and is similar to the Hindi language. The secret teachings of Sikhism are in Punjabi.
To summarise, these are the major languages in use in India. Each one has a number of speakers that run into millions – some of them, more than the population of an average-sized country.
Learning an Indian language is an intimidating but satisfying task, considering that each language has a culture that is as rich as any country’s.
© Arun Chitnis is a professional content and copywriter, proof-reader and editor. He wields his pen on a diverse range of topics, but his primary areas of interest are medical and lifestyle issues, family dynamics, parenting, natural health, home improvement, real estate, humor and fiction.
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