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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.

Indo-Aryan: 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.

Dravidian:  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 Kudukh. 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).

Sino-Tibetan:  The Sino-Tibetan or 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 Kanauri and 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.  Manipuri or 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 Tipra (Tirupuri).  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:  The 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 Nisadas.  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 Adivasi languages.  Mundari, spoken by about a million Mundas, is another important language of this group.

Others:  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.


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