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What Languages Are Spoken in India?

by OFER TIROSH 2020-07-01 06:56:06
What Languages Are Spoken in India?

What language is spoken in India? That’s a bigger question than it appears! India is home to incredible linguistic diversity. As a translation company working with clients across the Indian Subcontinent, Tomedes is well used to converting one Asian language to another. How many languages are spoken in India? Hundreds! Within India, our language expertise covers a wide range of official tongues, all of which we explore below. 

These include two official languages: Hindi and English. There are also 22 official languages of India at state and/or regional level, all of which have constitutional recognition. Of these 22 languages, native speaker numbers range from 528 million (for Hindi) to 24,821 for Sanskrit (all figures we’ve used in this article are taken from the Census of India 2011 and refer to native speakers, unless otherwise stated). In total, India is home to 447 living languages, according to Ethnologue, while the 2011 census reports there are 270 identifiable mother tongues with 10,000 or more speakers each. 

The 22 Official Languages of India

India’s 22 official languages are technically known as ‘scheduled languages,’ which means that they are recognised at a regional level and recognised within the Constitution of India. Hindi is one of these 22 official languages of India, but English is not, despite English being used (alongside Hindi) for parliamentary business and other legal and political proceedings. 

What are the 22 languages in India? Read on to find out! 

Assamese

Assamese is an official language in the state of Assam, making it the eastern-most Indo-European language. It has over 15 million native speakers and is widely spoken across Assam, serving as a lingua franca for the local region. Assamese has been spoken since at least the 7th century CE. 

The language has four distinct dialect groups, with standard Assamese based on the Eastern group (the others are Central, Kamrupi and Goalpariya

Bengali

Bengali (also called Bangla) is one of India’s most spoken languages. With 97 million native speakers, it is second only to Hindi in terms of speaker numbers within the country. Its widespread usage means that clients often call on Tomedes to provide Bengali translation services for them, for both business and personal purposes. 

In Bangladesh, Bengali is the most spoken language, with 98% of Bangladeshis speaking it fluently. It is also spoken in West Bengal, Tripura and the Barak Valley area of Assam. Significant numbers of speakers can also be found in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Uttarakhand.

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Bodo

Also called Boro, Bodo is a Sino-Tibetan language spoken mainly in Northeast India, Nepal and Bengal, as well as in Assam and the Bodoland autonomous region. The language has 1.4 million speakers and is written using the Devanagari script, which it has used since 1963. Prior to that, it used Latin and Assamese script, though some scholars believe that it previously had its own script – Deodhai – which has been lost to the sands of time. 

Dogri

With nearly 2.6 million native speakers, Dogri is spoken mainly in the Jammu region of Jammu and Kashmir, as well as in northern Punjab and in Himachal Pradesh. Several varieties of it are spoken. 

Dogri was considered to be a dialect of Punjabi at one point but is now classed as a language in its own right. It was added to the constitution in 2001. 

Gujarati

The Indian state of Gujarat is home to the Gujarati language, which has some 55 million native speakers. An Indo-European language, it is not only an official language in Gujarat, but also in Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu.

Gujarati is the sixth of the primary languages of India in terms of native speaker numbers, with around 4.5% of the population listing it as their mother tongue. 

Hindi

Hindi is not only the main language in India, it’s also the fourth most widely used native language on the planet. Tomedes regularly provides Hindi translation services to clients both within India and in countries looking to do business with those in India. Our Hindi localization services are also sought out by those looking to trade productively with India. 

Nine states list Hindi as an official language and it is spoken across the ‘Hindi belt,’ which runs across parts of north, central, east and west India. It is used as a lingua franca in other parts of India as well, with numerous dialects and pidgin versions of Hindi in use across the country. 

Standard Hindi is mutually intelligible with standard Urdu, increasing its usefulness as a lingua franca within India. 

Kannada

With around 44 million native speakers, who are known as Kannadigas, Kannada has been designated as one of India’s classical languages. It has an unbroken literary history that spans more than a millennium. A Dravidian language, it is mainly spoken in Karnataka in Southwestern India, where it is an official state language, as well as in parts of Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Kerala and Goa. 

Kashmiri

The Kashmiri language has around 6.7 million speakers, most of whom reside in the Jammu and Kashmir territory, where it is recognised as an official regional language. In the Kashmir Valley area of the region, Kashmiri has been a compulsory language to learn in schools up to secondary level since 2008. 

Kashmiri is an interesting language for English-speakers to learn, thanks to its unusual verb-second word order. It also has three writing systems: the Sharada, Devanagari and Perso-Arabic scripts. In addition, Kashmiri speakers also sometimes use the Roman script when writing informally, particularly online. 

Konkani

Konkani is a language spoken along India’s western coast. It has around 2.2 million native speakers and is the official language of the state of Goa, as well as being a minority language in other areas (including Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala, Gujarat and Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu). In addition to standard Konkani, the language has a number of dialects, some of which are only partially mutually intelligible. 

Maithili

The Indo-Aryan Maithili language has around 13.5 million speakers in India, mostly located in the Bihar and Jharkhand states. Maithili is also the second most spoken language in Nepal. 

Malayalam

Widely spoken in Kerala, as well as in Lakshadweep and Puducherry, Malayalam is spoken by around 2.8% of the total Indian population, which equates to some 34.8 million speakers. It is also widely used in Gulf countries, thanks to significant numbers of Malayali expats taking the language with them. 

Interestingly, the origins of Malayalam are a matter of some debate among academics, with some arguing that it’s an offshoot of Middle Tamil and others believing that it developed from Proto-Dravidian and Proto-Tamil-Malayalam. 

Manipuri

Manipuri, also known as Meitei, is a tonal Sino-Tibetan language spoken largely in Northeastern India, in the Assam and Tripura states. It has over 1.7 million native speakers and has been recognised in the Constitution of India since 1992. UNESCO has classified it as a vulnerable language.  

Marathi

An official language of both Maharashtra and Goa in Western India, Marathi has some 83 million native speakers, making it the third most widely spoken language in the country. A language spoken in India for well over a millennium, Marathi has some of the oldest literary works of all Indian languages still in use today. 

Nepali

With just 2.9 million speakers, Nepali is not one of the major languages in India. However, the state of Sikkim and the Darjeeling Sadar subdivision, along with the Kalimpong district of West Bengal are all home to significant Nepali-speaking populations. 

Odia

Another designated classical language in India, thanks to its extensive literary history, Odia is largely spoken in the state of Odisha. An Indo-Aryan language, it has roughly 37.5 million native speakers, including 82% of Odisha residents, as well as Indians living in some areas of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. 

Punjabi

What languages are spoken in India as well as in neighbouring countries? Punjabi is one such language. It has over 33 million native speakers in India, making it the country’s 11th most spoken language, and is also the most widely spoken language in Pakistan. 

Spoken in the Punjab region of northwest India (and eastern Pakistan), Punjabi is an Indo-European language that stands out within its language group due to its use of lexical tone. 

Sanskrit

With just over 24,000 native speakers, Sanskrit is India’s least widely spoken scheduled language but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important. Indeed, Sanskrit is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism and has a history spanning 3.5 millennia. 

The lingua franca of ancient and medieval India, Sanskrit remains a living language to this day, as well as having the accolade of being one of the oldest documented Indo-European languages. Its influence can be seen in a number of daughter languages within modern-day India, including Hindi, Bengali and Gujarati.  

Santhali

Santhali (also called Santali) was a largely oral language until the development of Pandit Raghunath Murmu’s alphabetic Ol Chiki in 1925, which is now widely used to write Santhali in India. The language has around 7.3 million native speakers in India, mainly spread across Assam, Bihar, Jharkhand, Mizoram, Odisha, Tripura and West Bengal. 

Sindhi

Sindhi is spoken natively by more than 2.7 million Indians. It is an Indo-Aryan language that is used across the northern part of the Indian Subcontinent. Sindhi is interesting in terms of its status as, while it is one of India’s 22 scheduled languages, it is not an official language in any Indian state. However, it is legislated as a medium of study in Indian and is an optional third language in the Rajasthan, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh states. 

Tamil

One of the major languages in India, Tamil is spoken natively by more than 69 million Indians. A Dravidian language, it is officially spoken in both Tamil Nadu and Puducherry, as well as being a minority language in Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

One of the world’s longest-surviving classical languages, Tamil has an incredible literary history that dates back over two millennia. 

Telugu

81 million people in India speak Telugu as their mother tongue, with speakers spread across Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Puducherry and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. It is the fourth most natively spoken language in the country and is one of only a few primary languages of India that is an official tongue in more than one state. Telugu is also another of India’s designated classical languages. 

Urdu

Urdu, which is 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 Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, as well as in Delhi. 

How Many Languages Are Actually Spoken in India?

What languages are spoken in India? Far more than the 22 scheduled tongues! The 2011 Census of India identified 270 mother tongues with 10,000 or more speakers each. Those include, “123 mother tongues grouped under the Scheduled Languages … and 147 mother tongues grouped under the Non-Scheduled languages.”

These non-scheduled languages range from those with comparatively few speakers, such as the 16,000 or so people who speak Gangte natively, to major tongues with over 10 million speakers, such as Bhili. 

In terms of how many languages in India can be considered as primary languages, it can be helpful to look at what percentage of the population speaks each one. Hindi leads the pack, being spoken natively by 43.63% of Indians. 

What do Indians speak in significant numbers other than Hindi? Well, 8.03% of the population speak Bengali, 6.86% speak Marathi, 6.70% speak Telugu, 5,70% speak Tamil, 4.58% speak Gujarati and 4.19% speak Urdu. All other Indian languages are spoken by less than 4% of the country’s population each. In total, India is home to 60 languages with over a million speakers each. 

The Main Languages per Region

96.71% of India’s population speak one of the country’s 22 scheduled languages natively. Languages vary across India’s regions. 

North India

What do Indian people speak in the north of the country? Hindi, Punjabi and Kashmiri are the three most commonly spoken languages in North India. The Tomedes team is well used to working with all three of these languages, as well as with localizing translations to suit the Indian market in each of the regions in which these languages are used. To discover more about why it’s so important to localize for the Indian market, click the link below. 

Read more: Why You Need to Localize to Win Over the Indian Market

Northeast India

What language do they speak in India in the Northeast? The Northeast of the country is home to a cluster of languages, including Nepali, Assamese, Manipuri, Bengali, Nissi, Khasi, Mizo and Ao. 

South India

What language do Indians speak in the south of the country? As you head further south in India, it is Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam that you are most likely to hear. 

Western India

Along the western coast of India, meanwhile, it is languages such as Konkani, Gujarati, Marathi and Bhili that are most widely spoken. 

Final Word

India is a country with a rich linguistic heritage, making it a fascinating study for those with an interest in languages. Asking, “What are the 22 official languages of India?” is just the start! 

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