The number of languages listed for India is
418. Of those, 407 are living languages and 11 are extinct.
At present India has 18 officially recognised languages which are
mentioned in the Eight Schedule of the Constitution.
Hindi in the Devanagari script is the official language of the Union of
India while the regional languages are the official languages of the state.
English is the second official language and is also the authoritative,
legislative and judicial language.
English is also the state language of Nagaland and Meghalaya.
Indian languages have evolved from
different stocks and are closely associated with the different ethnic groups of
India. Broadly the Indian languages
can be put into six groups: 1) Indo-Aryan, 2) Dravidian, 3) Sino-Tibetan, 4)
Negroid, 5) Austric and 6) Others. These languages have interacted on one another through the
centuries and have produced the major linguistic divisions of modern India. The
Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian are the dominant groups and together comprises all
the major languages of India. They have influenced each other and have, in turn,
been influenced by the Austric and Sino-Tibetan tongues.
This is the most important family of Indian
languages and comprises of all the principal languages of northern and western
India such as Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Gujarati, Punjabi, Sindhi, Rajasthani,
Assamese, Oriya, Pahari, Bihari, Kashmiri, Urdu and Sanskrit. It is part of the Indo-European family of languages, which
came to India with the Aryans. It
is the biggest of the language groups in India and accounts for about 74% of the
total Indian population.
This is the second most important group
and comprises mainly of languages spoken in the Southern India. This group of
languages does not have any relationship with the language groups outside the
Indian sub-continent. The Dravidian language came into India centuries before the
Indo-Aryan. It covers about 25% of
the Indian population. According to the Russian linguist M.S. Andronov,
Proto-Dravidian gave rise to 21 Dravidian Languages. They can be broadly
classified into three groups: Northern group, Central group, and Southern group
of Dravidian languages. The
Northern group consists of three languages i.e.
Brahui, Malto and
Brahui is spoken in Baluchistan,
Malto spoken in Bengal and Orissa, while
Kurukh is spoken in Bengal, Orissa, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh. The
Central group consists of eleven languages viz.,
Gondi, Khond, Kui, Manda, Parji, Gadaba,
Kolami, Pengo, Naiki, Kuvi and Telugu.
Out of these, only Telugu became a
civilized language and the rest remained tribal languages. The southern group
consists of seven languages viz., Kannada,
Tamil, Malayalam, Tulu, Kodagu, Toda and
Kota. However, the major languages of the Dravidian group are: (i) Telugu
(numerically the biggest of the Dravidian languages), (ii) Tamil (oldest and
purest language of the Dravidian family), (iii) Kannada and (iv) Malayalam
(smallest and the youngest of the Dravidian family).
Mongoloid speech family has a considerably vast expanse in India and
stretches all over the sub-Himalayan tracts, covering North Bihar, North Bengal,
Assam up to the north-eastern frontiers of the country.
These languages are considered to be older than the Indo-Aryan languages
and are referred to in the oldest Sanskrit literature as
Kiratas. Most of these languages
belong to the Tibeto-Burman sub-family, with the exception of
Ahom (now extinct) which belonged to
the Siamese-Chinese branch. The
Tibeto-Burman languages are divided into four broad groups, viz. Tibetan,
Himalayan, North-Assam and Assam-Burmese.
The important Indian languages of Tibetan group include
Sikkimese, Bhotia, Balti, Sherpa, Lahuli
and Ladakhi, which are all dialects of
Tibetan. The important languages of the Himalayan group are
Limbu. The North-Assam
(Northeast Frontier) Group includes a number of languages like
Abor (Adi), Miri, Aka, Dafla and
Mishmi. The Assam-Burmese group is
numerically and culturally the most important of the Tibeto-Burman sub-family.
It is again sub-divided into four main sub-groups, viz.
Kuki-Chin, Mikir, Bodo and
Naga. This group also includes
other languages like Singhpho of Assam
and Mogh of Tripura, which are
offshoots of the languages spoken in Myanmar.
Meithi is the most important language of the Kuki-Chin sub-group.
The Bodo sub-group includes such dialects as
Bodo, Rajbangsi, Koch, Mech, Rabha, Dimasa,
Kachari, Chutiya, Garo, Haijong and the
Mikir has strong affinities to the
Bodo and is spoken in the Mikir Hills
and Parts of Sibsagar district in Assam.
The principal languages of the Naga sub-group are
Angami, Sema, Ao, Lotha, Mao, Konyak, Kabui and Lepcha.
Austric languages of India belong to
the Austro-Asiatic sub-family, which are represented by languages of the Munda
or Kol Group, spoken in the central, eastern and north-eastern India and
languages of the Mon-Khmer group like
Khasi and Nicobarese.
These are very ancient languages which have been in existence much before the
advent of Aryans and were referred in ancient Sanskrit literature as
The most important language of the Austric group is
Santhali, which is spoken by over 5
million Santhals and is the largest spoken among the
Mundari, spoken by about a
million Mundas, is another important language of this group.
There are several Dravidian
adivasi languages like
Gondi, Oraon or
Kurukh, Mal-Pahariya, Khond
and Parji which are very distinct and
cannot be classified in other groups.