What languages are spoken in India? India enjoys incredible linguistic diversity. As a translation company that works with clients across the Indian subcontinent, we often convert one local language to another. People speak hundreds of different languages in India. And our language experts translate the most common Indian tongues, all of which we examine below, including Hindi and English.
You will find 22 languages that receive constitutional recognition in India. Of these 22 languages, at least 528 million people speak Hindi, and 24,821 use Sanskrit.
The Constitution of India recognizes 22 official languages. Also called scheduled languages, these languages include Hindi and Urdu, but not English. However, parliamentary proceedings and legal hearings use English.
So, what is the official language of India? Read on to find out more about the two official languages!
The 2011 Census of India identified 270 mother tongues with 10,000 or more speakers each. They include “123 mother tongues grouped under the Scheduled Languages […] and 147 mother tongues grouped under the Non-Scheduled Languages.” The non-scheduled languages include Gangte (16,000 speakers) and Bhili (10 million speakers).
Inhabitants of the Indian subcontinent spoke proto-Dravidian languages in the 4th century BCE. These languages started to become more distinct from one another about 1,000 years later.
The native languages of India fall into the following language families: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Austro-Asiatic, Tai-Kadai, and Sino-Tibetan. Indo-Aryan and Dravidian language families constitute the majority of native tongues spoken in India. A small minority in India speak languages from other language families.
What language is spoken in India? The Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution recognizes 22 languages. People from disparate regions of the country speak these languages, giving each language a unique identity. Let’s review India’s vibrant linguistic heritage.
Residents of Assam speak Assamese, the state’s official language and the easternmost Indo-European language. Over 15 million people communicate in Assamese, which serves as the lingua franca for the region. Assamese first emerged in the 7th century CE.
The language consists of four distinct dialect groups: Eastern Central, Kamrupi, and Goalpariya.
Bengali, also called Bangla, remains one of India’s most spoken languages. With 97 million native speakers, only Hindi enjoys more use within the country. Its widespread usage means clients often call our team at Tomedes for Bengali translation services.
In the neighboring country of Bangladesh, Bengali is the most spoken language, with 98% of Bangladeshis speaking it fluently. People also speak it in West Bengal, Tripura, and the Barak Valley in Assam. Many Bengali speakers live in Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Uttarakhand.
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Bodo, also called Boro, is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken mainly in Northeast India, Assam, Nepal, Bengal, and the Bodoland autonomous region. Written using the Devanagari script since 1963, Bodo has 1.4 million speakers. Before 1963, writers used the Latin and Assamese scripts, though some scholars believe that Bodo once had its written language, called Deodhai, which has gone extinct.
Nearly 2.6 million residents of the Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir speak Dogri as their native tongue. Some people in northern Punjab and Himachal Pradesh also use several variations of it.
Linguists once considered Dogri a dialect of Punjabi, but it now enjoys the status of a separate language, commemorated by its insertion into the Constitution in 2001.
The Indian state of Gujarat is home to the Indian native language of Gujarati, which has some 55 million native speakers. An Indo-European language, Gujarati operates as an official language in Gujarat, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu.
Gujarati represents the eighth most-spoken language in India, with around 4.5% of the population listing it as their mother tongue.
Hindi is the main language in India and the fourth most widely used native language on the planet. At Tomedes, we regularly provide Hindi translation services to Indian clients and foreigners looking to do business within India. Our Hindi localization services help companies trade efficiently with India.
Nine states list Hindi as an official language, including the “Hindi belt,” which runs across north India. You will find numerous dialects and pidgin versions of Hindi in use across the country.
Standard Hindi is mutually intelligible with standard Urdu, increasing its usefulness and popularity.
With around 44 million native speakers, known as Kannadigas, Kannada has been designated one of India’s classical languages. It maintains an unbroken literary history that spans more than a millennium. A Dravidian language, Kannada gets the most use as the official state language of Karnataka in Southwestern India. People also speak Kannada in parts of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala, and Goa.
The Kashmiri language has around 6.7 million speakers, most of whom reside in the Jammu and Kashmir territory, where it enjoys recognition as an official regional language. In the Kashmir Valley, students must learn Kashmiri to reach secondary school.
English speakers find it fascinating to learn Kashmiri due to its unusual verb-second word order. It also has three writing systems: the Sharada, Devanagari, and Perso-Arabic scripts. In addition, Kashmiri speakers sometimes use the Roman script when writing informally online or via text.
Indians speak Konkani along India’s western coast. Around 2.2 million native speakers use the state of Goa’s official language, sometimes as a minority language in Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala, Gujarat, Dadra and Nagar Haveli, and Daman and Diu. Konkani spawned several dialects, some of which share only partial mutual intelligibility.
The Indo-Aryan Maithili language has around 13.5 million speakers in India, most of whom reside in the states of Bihar and Jharkhand. Maithili is also the second most spoken language in Nepal.
Widely spoken in Kerala, Lakshadweep, and Puducherry, Malayalam is used by around 2.8% of the total Indian population, or 34.8 million speakers. Many Malayali expats use Malayalam in Gulf countries after taking the language with them.
Interestingly, academics debate the origins of Malayalam. Some scholars believe it derived from Middle Tamil, while others think it developed from Proto-Dravidian and Proto-Tamil-Malayalam.
In Manipur, Assam, and Tripura, many people speak Manipuri, a tonal Sino-Tibetan language spoken largely in Northeastern India. Manipuri, also known as Meitei, has over 1.7 million native speakers. It gained constitutional recognition in 1992, and UNESCO classifies it as a vulnerable language.
An official language in both Maharashtra and Goa in western India, Marathi has 83 million native speakers, making it the third most widely spoken language in the country. An Indian native language spoken for well over a millennium, Marathi produced some of the oldest literary works found in all contemporary Indian languages.
With just 2.9 million speakers, Nepali plays a minor role in Indian culture. In addition to the state of Sikkim, West Bengal’s Darjeeling Sadar subdivision and Kalimpong district have significant Nepali-speaking populations.
Another classical language in India with an extensive literary history, Odia factors heavily into daily life within the state of Odisha. An Indo-Aryan language, it has roughly 37.5 million native speakers, including 82% of Odisha residents. Some Indians living in West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh also speak Odia.
Punjabi has over 33 million native speakers in India, making it the country’s 11th most-spoken language. Many people in Pakistan also speak the language.
Spoken in the state of Punjab in northwest India, Punjabi provides an excellent example of an Indo-European language that stands out within its language group due to the use of lexical tone.
With just over 24,000 native speakers, Sanskrit represents India’s least-spoken scheduled language. However, Sanskrit has operated as the liturgical language of Hinduism for 3.5 millennia.
The lingua franca of ancient and medieval India, Sanskrit remains a living language despite its status as one of the oldest documented Indo-European languages. Its influence spawned several daughter languages within modern-day India, including Hindi, Bengali, and Gujarati.
Santhali, also called Santali, served primarily as an oral language until Pandit Raghunath Murmu developed the alphabetic Ol Chiki in 1925. The language has around 7.3 million native speakers in Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Mizoram, Odisha, Tripura, and West Bengal.
More than 2.7 million Indians speak Sindhi, an Indo-Aryan language used across the northern part of the Indian subcontinent. However, no state has declared Sindhi an official language. However, it operates as a medium of study in some Indian schools and an optional third language in Rajasthan, Gujarat, and Madhya Pradesh.
One of the major languages in India, Tamil remains on the lips of more than 69 million Indians. A Dravidian language, Tamil enjoys official language status in Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. Indians also speak it in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
One of the world’s longest-surviving classical languages, Tamil produced an incredible literary history that dates back over two millennia.
Over 81 million people in India speak Telugu as their mother tongue, with speakers of this classical language spread across Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry, and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It ranks as the fourth most natively spoken language and one of the few primary languages in India to receive an official designation in more than one state.
Urdu, also called Lashkari, is a Persianised standard register of the Hindustani language. It has 50.7 million native speakers in India, with official status in Delhi, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal.
India recognizes Hindi and English as the two official languages at the national level. The Constitution of India tried to make Hindi the sole official language of the country. However, this idea met a lot of resistance from non-Hindi-speaking Indian citizens. As a result, English and Hindi remain the official languages of India.
The educated segment of Indian society often uses English in their daily lives. Major news channels and newspapers in the country report in English as well. However, everyone else turns to Hindi when they do not speak English. Hindi acts as a lingua franca for most of the country. Bollywood movies and radio stations often use Hindi or a mix of the two official languages.
Hindus carry out religious ceremonies and rituals in Sanskrit, from which Hindi originates. The number of people speaking Sanskrit has dwindled because many people in India prefer Hindi instead. Christian communities in India often use English or vernacular languages at church.
Article 348 (1) (a) of the Constitution of India states that all legal procedures in the Supreme Court and High Courts use English. However, Article 348 (2) in the Constitution of India also authorizes the use of Hindi and regional languages for official purposes in the High Court of a state after approval from the President of India.
96.71% of India’s population speaks one of the country’s 22 scheduled languages. However, the language in use will vary by region.
What do Indians speak in the north? Hindi, Punjabi, and Kashmiri remain the three most common north Indian languages. The Tomedes team works with all three languages, localizing our translations to suit regional Indian markets. To discover why businesses should localize content for the Indian market, click the link below.
Read more: Why You Need to Localize to Win Over the Indian Market
What language do they speak in Northeast India? The Northeast hosts a cluster of languages, including Nepali, Assamese, Tenyidie, Manipuri, Bengali, Nissi, Khasi, Mizo, and Ao.
What language do Indians speak in the south? As you head to the south of India, you will encounter people who speak Telugu, Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, and several other languages.
Along the west coast of India, you can hear people speaking Konkani, Gujarati, Marathi, and Bhili.
India enjoys a rich linguistic heritage, making it a fascinating study for those interested in languages. Asking “What are the official languages in India?” is just the start! Now that you know the answer, you can decide which language you want to learn first.
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