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Is Hindi the most spoken language in India? Is there a difference between the spoken languages of Hindi and Urdu (the script might be different)? Why does India count Hindi and Urdu as different languages?
According to the 2011 Census, there are 121 languages in India (there are hundreds of dialects). Each one of these 121 languages has more than 10,000 speakers. India does not have a “National Language”. The Indian Constitution recognizes 22 major languages as “Scheduled Languages” of India. English is not one of the “Scheduled Languages” of India.
There are two “Official Languages” in India, namely Hindi and English. These two languages are used by the Government of India for the purposes of communication. The Indian Parliament can conduct it’s business only in English or Hindi. The information in the Indian Passport is in English and Hindi. All proceedings in the Supreme Court of India can only be conducted in English. However, every State in India is free to chose any language as it’s official language.
The Indian Constitution also considers the following languages as “Classical Languages” because of their rich heritage: Sanskrit, Kannada, Malayalam (my mother tongue), Tamil (I’ve lived in Tamil Nadu and I know Tamil), Odia and Telugu.
It is important to note the number of languages and dialects spoken in India will constantly keep hanging. There are long standing issues regarding how to differentiate a language from a dialect and the dialects from each other.
Most Spoken Languages in India.
The following are the most spoken languages in India.
|Language||Number of Speakers (Millions)|
Imposition of Hindi in India.
Since gaining independence from the British on August 15, 1947, the Indian Central government has always tried to impose Hindi on the rest of the nation. This almost led to the break up of a few states from India in the 1960’s. Until the early 80’s, the Indian government used to own the only TV channel in India. The station is called Doordarshan and it is still owned by the government. Doordarshan used to broadcast it’s program only in Hindi (except for a few hours every week when programs in English were broadcast).
In the early 1980’s, the Indian government allowed Doordarshan to broadcast in other languages also. So Indians were able for the most part watch government controlled television in their own language!! This started changing in the late 1980’s with the advent of cable television. In my view this is the first time that most Indians were exposed to the West in a major fashion. Now Indian media is now dominated by private companies most whom support one political party or the other. Now it is the turn of the political parties to brainwash us instead of the national government.
Hindi and Urdu are the same language that uses different scripts (Hindi uses the Devanagari script and Urdu uses Nastaliq which is almost identical to Arabic). When the language is spoken by Hindus it is called Hindi and when the same language is spoken by Muslims it is called Urdu. So in my view these two languages should not be counted separately.
The Indian government also has over the years cleverly manipulated Census data to grossly exaggerate the number of Hindi speakers in the country. Several languages that are similar to Hindi but very distinct nonetheless are considered as Hindi for the purpose of calculation (Good examples are Rajasthani and Bihari). Rajasthan has a population of 69 million people and Bihar has a population of 99 million people.
The stance of the government to promote Hindi is even more baffling considering that the illiteracy rates among the Hindi speakers are some of the highest in India. Why promote a language that many native speakers can neither read or write?
Are Languages in India Similar?
This is a very common question and the answer is no. The 22 “Scheduled Languages” that account for the languages spoken by the vast majority of the people in India are different from each other.
Languages from two different language families are spoken in India. Languages like Hindi, Gujarathi or Marathi belong to the Indo-European Language Family. Languages like Tamil and my mother tongue Malayalam belong to the Dravidian Language Family. English is an Indo-European language.
So in a sense, English is closer as a language to Hindi than Tamil or Malayalam is to Hindi. The Indo-Europeans are a group of people who migrated to India from Central Asia fairly recently (less than 4000 years). They introduced the Indo-European culture that dominates India today (particularly Northern India). 78% of Indians speak an Indo-European language. 20% speak Dravidian languages (overwhelmingly in South India).
Over the years the Indo-European migration theory was considered as heretical. But DNA testing of the peoples of India conclusively show that such a migration indeed has happened.
Who is Sir William Jones (1746 – 1794)?
William Jones was a linguistic prodigy. In addition to Welsh and English (his native languages), he also learnt Greek, Latin, Persian, Arabic and Hebrew. He was also competent in 12 other languages. He was appointed as a Judge in the Calcutta Supreme Court in 1783 (the Capital of British India at that time). He was one of the first Europeans to formally learn Sanskrit.
Sanskrit is a classical language of India and is no longer widely spoken in India (There is very little evidence to show that the language was widely spoken in India at any given time). And among those who spoke Sanskrit, it was not their primary language. It was a holy language and a sacred language, but not a language for everyday communication. There are individuals in India today who can speak Sanskrit, but the language itself became a written language almost 1700 years ago.
Once Sir William Jones learnt Sanskrit, he realized that the ancient Indian language had very strong similarities to Greek and Latin. He is one of the first individuals to propose the theory of a “Indo-European Language Family”. He suggested that Sanskrit, Greek and Latin had a common root. This common source is now known as the “Proto Indo-European Language”. Many words of this proto language have been reverse engineered. There is a lot of research that is being done to find out who spoke the Proto Indo-European Language and about where they lived.
“The Sanscrit language, whatever be its antiquity, is of a wonderful structure; more perfect than the Greek, more copious than the Latin, and more exquisitely refined than either, yet bearing to both of them a stronger affinity, both in the roots of verbs and the forms of grammar, than could possibly have been produced by accident; so strong indeed, that no philologer could examine them all three, without believing them to have sprung from some common source, which, perhaps, no longer exists; there is a similar reason, though not quite so forcible, for supposing that both the Gothic and the Celtic, though blended with a very different idiom, had the same origin with the Sanscrit; and the old Persian might be added to the same family“. – Sir William Jones (Asiatic Society, 1786).
Sir William Jones never went back to the United Kingdom. He died on April 27th, 1794 in Calcutta.
Indian Languages Spoken in Philadelphia.
Almost all the 22 languages that are part of the “Scheduled Languages” of the Indian constitution are spoken in Philadelphia. Most (not all) of the Information Technology workers tend to be from South India (Speakers of Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam). Northeast Philadelphia is home to many immigrates who arrived from the South Indian state of Kerala. They migrated to the United States decades before the IT workers (who mostly started migrating to the United States in the late 90’s). Northeast Philadelphia, in fact, has churches that follow the Malayali Christian traditions, traditions that are very different from that of American Christian traditions.
Do you speak an Indian language?