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Introduction
19 Feb 2021

  • The Indian subcontinent consist of a number of separate linguistic communities each of which share a common language and culture. The people of India speak many languages and dialects which are mostly varieties of about 22 principal languages.
  • Some Indian languages have a long literary history- Sanskrit literature is more than 5,000 years old and Tamil 3,000. India also has some languages that do not have written forms. There are 22 officially recognized languages in India and each has produced a literature of great vitality and richness.
  • Though distinctive in parts, all stand for a homogeneous culture that is the essence of the great Indian literature. This is an evolution in a land of myriad dialects. The number of people speaking each language varies greatly. For example, Hindi has more than 250 million speakers, but relatively few people speak Andamanese.
  • Although some of the languages are called tribal or aboriginal, their populations may be larger than those that speak some European languages. For example, Bhili and Santhali both tribal languages, each have more than 4 million speakers. Gondi  is spoken by nearly 2 million people. 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 major 6 language families:

  • Indo-Aryan Group
  • Dravidian Group
  • Sino-Tibetian Group
  • Negroid
  • Austic (Mon-Khmer)
  • Others

Indo-Aryan 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-Aryan 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 Mon-Khmer group.
  • People in the Northern Himalayan region and near the Burmese border speak Sino-Tibetan languages.
  • Speakers of 54 different languages of Indo-Aryan family make up about three-quarters of India’s population.
  • Twenty Dravidian languages are spoken by nearly a quarter of the people.
  • Speakers of 20 Mon-Khmer language and 98 Sino-Tibetan languages together make up about 2 per cent of the population.

Indo-Aryan Group

  • It began with the advent of Aryans.
  • It is the largest group of language in India.
  • Sanskrit was born out of this group only.
  • Around 600 BC, Prakrit language developed under this group.Prakrit Language
  • Prakrit is considered to be the language of common man because it was a casual language and did not have strict rules. On other hand, Sanskrit was used by elites and learned people.
  • For example, Vedas used Sanskrit whereas Agmas of Jains used Prakrit language.
  • Apabhramsa was developed by 6th to 7th century. It includes dialects other than Sanskrit or Prakrit.
  • Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Marathi, Sindhi Oria etc. are the modern version of Sanskrit language. These languages developed in different geographical areas.

Dravidian Group

There are three Dravidian groups based on the geographical area, Norther, Central and Southern.

  • The Northern group includes Brahui, Malto and Kurukh.
  • The Central group includes Gondi, Khond, Manda, Telegu and others.
  • The Southern group includes Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam and other 4 languages.

Among all the languages in Dravadian group, the major languages are:

  • Tamil: It is one of the classical language like Sanskrit. Its history can be traced to tge age of Tolkappiyam, the earliest Tamil grammar.Tamil Language
  • Telegu: It has the greatest influence of Sanskrit language among the Dravidian languages. Nannaya’s translation of the Sanskrit Mahanharata into Telugu is the first piece of work in Telegu language.
  • Kannada: It also exhibits influence of Sanskrit.
  • Malayalam: Pacha Malyalam i.e. the pure Malayalam stream consist of ballads and folk songs. Malayalam is influenced by Tamil and is the smallest and the youngest language in Dravidian Group.

Sino-Tibetan Group

  • Languages under this group belong to Mongoloid family.
  • Geographical areas include Himalayas, North Bihar, Bengal and Assam.
  • Examples include: Ahom, Sikkimese and Ladakhi etc.

Austric Group

  • Santhali language spoken by Santhal tribes of Jharkhand and Bihar belongs to this group.

Ancient Scripts of India

A script is the way to write words and sentences, also called as orthography. Most of the ancient scripts in India are developed from the Brahmi script. Some of the ancient scripts of India are:

Indus Script

  • Indus script includes symbols developed during Indus Valley Civilization.

Brahmi Script

  • It is the oldest writing system. It is usually written left to right.
  • It was deciphered by James Princep.
  • It is contended as the mother of scripts.
  • Examples: Rock cut edicts of Ashoka.

Kharosthi script

  • It was used in ancient Gandhara.
  • It is mostly written right to left.

Gurumukhi Script

  • It developed from the Sarada script which was used to write Sanskrit and Kashmiri.
  • Guru Granth Sahib is written in this script.

Devanagari Script

  • It is used for more than 120 languages including Hindi, Marathi Bodo and others.
  • It is written from left to right.

Urdu Script

  • It is written from right to left.
  • It developed from the Persian alphabets.