Official Languages of India

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The Eighth Schedule of the Constitution lists out the official languages of India. Originally the Eighth Schedule contained only fourteen languages. These were Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu and Urdu. Sindhi was made one of the Official Languages of India by the 21st Amendment of the Constitution done on 10th April, 1967. By the 71st Amendment of the Constitution, Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali have been added to the Schedule in 1992 taking the total number to eighteen. The 92nd Constitutional Amendment of 2003 added four new languages to the Eighth Schedule, which include Bodo, Dogri, Maithili and Santali. In 2004, the Government of India decided to accord the status of a “Classical Language in India” to languages that meet certain requirements. Accordingly, Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada and Telugu have been declared as classical languages.



Assamese is believed to have originated in the 13th century A.D. It is similar to Bengali, but originated in parallel, from the ‘Magadhi Prakrit’, which later evolved into the ‘Kamrup Apabhramsa’. It is included in the eastern-most group of the New Indo-Aryan languages along with Bengali and Oriya. It is the state language of Assam and is spoken by nearly 60% of the state’s population. It is spoken by over 13 million people in India i.e. by 1.55% of the total population.



Bengali is an important Indo-Aryan language belonging to the Indo-European Family. It is the official language of West Bengal and Tripura, and is also spoken in Assam and Andaman & Nicobar Islands. Globally there are over 210 million speakers of Bengali, including 83 million in India (8.1%) and 120 million in Bangladesh. The origin of Bengali script can be traced to the ‘Siddhamatrika lipi’ (710 A.D.), which developed into ‘Gaudi’ or ‘Proto Bengali’ script during 11th to 13th century A.D. The formative period of Bengali can be traced to 950/1000 A.D. to 1200/1350 A.D. as evident from the ‘Carya songs’ (‘Caryapadas’ or ‘Caryagitis’) composed by the Sahajiya Buddhists. Specimens of the Old Bangla can also be traced to the commentary on the ‘Amara kosa’ by Pandit Vandya written around 1159 A.D. ‘Brajabuli’ is an early poetic form of Bengali. During 1500-1800 A.D., Bengali absorbed a large number of Arabic, Persian and Turkish words into its vocabulary.



Gujarati is an Indo-Aryan language spoken mainly in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and other parts of India. It is the official language of Gujarat and is spoken by nearly 46 million people in India, which represents about 4.5% of the total population of India and over 70% of the state’s population. It emerged as an independent language around 1000 A.D. The oldest Gujarati works in the form of Prakrit are referred as ‘Nagara Apabhramsa’ or ‘Sauraseni’. The Gujarati script is related to the Devanagari script and its basic vocabulary is derived from Sanskrit and Prakrit. Currently the speech form of the Nagar Brahmins of Ahmedabad is accepted as the standard colloquial dialect. There are four major dialects of Gujarati: ‘Surti’, ‘Kathiawadi’, ‘Patani’ and ‘Charotari’, besides numerous other dialects like ‘Gamadia’, ‘Anawla’, ‘Brathela’, ‘Vadodari’, ‘Kharwa’, ‘Kakari’ and ‘Tarimuki’ (‘Ghisadi’).


Hindi :

Hindi is a modern Indo-Aryan language, which is a descendent of Sanskrit. It passed through various stages of evolution from Classical Sanskrit to Pali-Prakrit and ‘Apabhramsha’ before emerging in its modern form in the 10th century A.D. The source of modern Hindi is ‘Khariboli’, which is a direct descendant of ‘Sauraseni’. Hindi is also referred as ‘Hindavi’, ‘Hindustani’ and ‘Khari-Boli’. Hindi has numerous dialects such as ‘Braj’, ‘Bundeli’, ‘Kanauji’, ‘Bangru’, ‘Awadhi’ and ‘Chattisgarhi’ among others. Hindi has fifty four alphabets, including fourteen vowels and thirty three consonants and is written in the Devanagari script.

Hindi is the official language of India and is also the state language of the states of Bihar, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan. It is spoken extensively in diverse parts of the world, especially those with a high percentage of immigrant Indians. It is spoken natively by 257.92 million people and an additional 180 million people speak the different dialects of Hindi as per the 2001 Census data. It is the third largest spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese and English.



Kannada is a major literary language belonging to the Dravidian family. It is the State language of Karnataka and is spoken by 65% of the state’s population. All over India it is spoken by 37.92 million people, constituting nearly 4% of the total population. The earliest written document in Kannada is the ‘Halmidi’ inscription which is dated about 450 A.D. In the ‘Gathasaptasati’ of Halaraja belonging to the 2nd century A.D. some pure Kannada words have been used. The literary tradition of Kannada can be traced back to the 9th century A.D. There are four major dialects of Kannada: ‘Mysore/Bangalore’; ‘Mangalore’; ‘Dharwar’ and ‘Kalaburgi’.



Kashmiri is an Indo-Aryan language which is spoken by about 55% of the population of Jammu and Kashmir. Kashmiri and its dialects are spoken by 5,527,698 people in India, which include ‘Kishtwari’ (33,429), ‘Siraji’ (87,179) and others (44,741). Incidentally, the official language of Jammu & Kashmir is not Kashmiri but Urdu. Kashmiri is written in both the Devanagari and Persio-Arabic scripts. Its other important dialects include ‘Bakawali’, ‘Bunjwali’, ‘Miraski’, ‘Poguli’, ‘Rambani’, ‘Riasi’, ‘Zayoli’ and ‘Zirak-Boli’.



Konkani is the southern-most language of the Indo-Aryan family and borders with the Dravidian languages like Kannada, Tulu and Malayalam. It is principally spoken in the Konkan region by around 2.42 million people in India (2001 Census). Konkani seems to have originated in Goa and later spread into the neighbouring regions owing to the migration of high class Brahmins after the arrival of the Portuguese. Some scholars, however, argue that linguistically Konkani is an independent language having affinities with Bengali, Hindi and Gujarati, than with Marathi. Konkani has been referred as a distinct language in ‘Suma Oriental’ (1513-1515), a travel account by the Portuguese Tome Pires.

The earliest reference to Konkani language is found in Sant Namdeo’s ‘Gatha Gaulan’ of the late 14th century A.D. The earliest Konkani inscription dates back to 1187 A.D. The earliest available grammar of Konkani was Thomas Stephens’s ‘Arte de Lingoa Canarim’ (1640). In 1626 Diogo Ribeiro compiled the first Portuguese-Konkani bilingual dictionary called ‘Vocabulario da Lingoa Canarim’, while the Konkani Bible was published in 1808 A.D. The Portuguese did not make any efforts to promote the language, resulting in Konkani remaining mostly as a language of oral communication among the people.

Active promotion of the Konkani language began only in the 19th century with the organisation of the first All India Konkani Conference in Karwar in 1939. The Sahitya Akademi recognized Konkani as a literary language in 1976. Konkani became the official state language of Goa in February 1987, and finally it was included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution as one of the national languages in 1992. Its major dialects are: ‘Malavani’, ‘Chitpawani’ and ‘Gomantaki’. Konkani does not have its own script but is written in four different scripts viz., ‘Nagari’, Roman, Kannada and Malayalam. The ‘Nagari’ script has been adopted as the official script for Konkani in the state of Goa.


Malayalam :

Malayalam is the youngest member of the Dravidian languages. It is spoken by about thirty three million people in India, which constitutes 3.21% of the total population, and is the official language of Kerala. Malayalam emerged as an independent language around 10th century A.D. Scholars have divided the history of Malayalam into three periods: ‘Karintamileskalam’ (825-1325 A.D.), ‘Malayanmakkalam’ (1325-1675 A.D) and ‘Malayalakalam’ (1675 onwards). In earlier days the colloquial language of Kerala was called “Tamil” and the literary Tamil was described as “pantittamil”. The ‘Leela Thilakam’ a Sanskrit work on grammar belonged to the second period which was characterised by intermingling of Sanskrit and Malayalam in literature in a perplexing manner. The earliest Malayam script was ‘Vatteluttu’, which was used until the 17th century A.D., and was followed by other scripts like ‘Kooleluttu’ and ‘Malayaanma’. It depicts dialectical variations in the north, south and central Kerala. Some of its dialects are: ‘Kayavar’, ‘Malabari’, ‘Moplah’, ‘Nagari-Malayalam’, ‘Namboodiri’, ‘Nasrani’, ‘Nayar’ and ‘Pulaya’.


Manipuri :

Manipuri or ‘Meithei’ is the official language of Manipur and is spoken by about 1.46 million people. It belongs to the Kuki-Chin sub-group of the Tibeto-Burman languages. According to W. Ibohal Singh (1986), old Manipuri developed in 800 A.D. as a product of Prehistoric Indo-Aryan and Tibeto-Burman group of languages. It is widely believed that the mixed dialect of ‘Chakha’ (‘Sakiya’), ‘Khu’ (‘Khu-nu’), ‘Lei’ (‘Lei-nu’), ‘Nga’ (‘Nga-nu’) and ‘Nung’ (‘Nung-ba’) provided the basic foundation of Manipuri. The Sakiyan dialect of Manipuri is the oldest and contained many Pali words. Its other important dialects include: ‘Loi’, ‘Pangal’ and ‘Bishnupuriya’. In 1616 A.D. an indigenous ‘Meitei script’ was developed, which was a combination of the Brahmi and indigenous scripts, but was soon replaced by the modern Bengali-Assamese script. Manipuri was used in copper plate grants issued by the kings, royal stone edicts and royal Chronicles like the ‘Cheitharol Kumbaba’.


Marathi :

Marathi, which belongs to the Indo-Aryan family of languages, is the official language of Maharashtra. It is spoken by 71.70 million people in India, which constitutes around 7.5% of the total population. The origin of Marathi dates back to around 1000 A.D. when a Marathi inscription dating 980 A.D was found at the foot of the statue of Gomateshwara at Shravanabelagola in Mysore. The use of Old Marathi is also indicated in later inscriptions such as the edict of King Aparaditya (1183 A.D.), Pandharpur inscription (1273 A.D.) and inscriptions at Parel, Patan and Pur. John Fryer’s ‘A new account of East India Persia’ (1698 A.D.) was perhaps the earliest text where a mention is made of the Marathi language. Scholars differ about the origin of Marathi. While some believe that Marathi originated from Sanskrit, the most prevalent view is that it developed from a form of Prakrit called the ‘Maharashtri Apabhramsa’. The major dialects of Marathi are: ‘Standard Marathi’, ‘Warhadi’, ‘Nagpuri’, ‘Ikran’ and ‘Gowlan’, while its sub-dialects are ‘Ahirani’, ‘Chitpavani’, ‘Dangi’, ‘Khandeshi’ and ‘Samavedi’. Marathi does not have its own script and is written in the Devanagari.


Nepali :

Nepali is an Indo-Aryan language, which is the official language of Nepal and also one of the official languages of India (since 1992). Globally it is spoken by about 17 million people, including 2.86 million in India (2001 Census). It is spoken in parts of West Bengal, Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, besides Haryana, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh. It enjoys the official status in Sikkim and in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district. Originally the language was referred as ‘Khaskura’ and later as ‘Gorkhali’, ‘Khas-bhaashaa’, ‘Parbatiya’ and ‘Lhotshammikha’ before the current name was adopted. Its principal dialects are ‘Gorkhali’ and ‘Palpa’. It is written in Devanagari script, although in earlier times use of ‘Takri script’ and ‘Ranjana script’ was also reported.


Oriya :

Oriya is the official language of Orissa and is spoken by over 32 million people in India, constituting 3.5% of the total population. Oriya is also referred as ‘Odri’, ‘Utkali’, ‘Vadiya’ and ‘Yudhia’. This Indo-Aryan language was derived from Magadhi Prakrit and its modern form came into existence around the 10th century A.D. Its dialects include, ‘Proja’, ‘Relli’, ‘Sambalpuri’, ‘Mughalbandi’, ‘Southern Oriya’, ‘Bhatri’, ‘Halbi’ and ‘Koraput Oriya’.


Punjabi :

Punjabi is an Indo-Aryan language that is spoken by nearly 29 million people in India, which constitutes 2.8% of the country’s population. It is the official language of Punjab and the second official language of Haryana. It originated from Apabhramsa of the region and shows the characteristics of Sanskrit and Prakrit in it. It is written in a 16th century script called ‘Gurumukhi’, created by the Sikh Guru Angad, which is based on the Devanagari script. The principal dialects of Punjabi are ‘Bagri’, ‘Bilaspuri’, ‘Kahluri’, ‘Majhi’, ‘Doab’, ‘Bhatyiana’, ‘Powadhi’, ‘Malwa’, and ‘Rathi’. Some scholars consider ‘Lahnda’ or ‘Lahndi’ as the language of Western Punjab, as opposed to the Eastern Punjab. Dr Mohan Singh (1950) mentions that ‘Avahat’, ‘Bhaka’, ‘Bhut Bhaka’, ‘Jatki’ and ‘Paisaci’ are the other names of Punjabi.


Sanskrit :

Sanskrit is perhaps the oldest of the Indo-Aryan languages and is the mother for many other languages in India. It is one of the 22 National languages of India. It has also been declared as a ‘classical language’ of India in 2005. It is the liturgical and literary language of India, in which volumes of valuable prose, poetry and drama works have been written. As per the 2001 Census, it is spoken by about 14,000 people in India.


Sindhi :

Sindhi is an Indo-Aryan family belonging to the Northwest group. It is spoken by 1.69 million people in India (2001 Census) and is declared as one of the National languages of India. It is generally accepted that Sindhi is of Sanskrit-Prakrit origin and absorbed the characteristics of different languages like ‘Bahawalpuri’, ‘Baluchi’, ‘Brahui’, ‘Gujarati’, ‘Kashmiri’, ‘Multani’, ‘Marwari’ and ‘Pashto’. As it evolved, it also assimilated several Hindi, Arabic and Persian words in its vocabulary. In India, Sindhi is written in the Devanagari script, while in Pakistan it is written in the Perso-Arabic script. The principal dialects of Sindhi include ‘Bhatia’, ‘Jadeji’, ‘Kachchhi’, ‘Kayasthi’, ‘Lari’, ‘Lasi’,  ‘Thareli’, ‘Thari’ and ‘Visholi’.


Tamil :

Tamil is the oldest of all the Dravidian languages, being at least two thousand years old. It is one of the official languages of India and also the official language of Tamil Nadu and Puducherry. It was the first language to be declared as a ‘classical language’ in India in 2004. It is spoken by 60.79 million people in India. It has a rich literary history dating back to 600 BC. Its principal dialects include: ‘Adi Dravida’, ‘Aiyar’ and ‘Aiyangar’ (Brahmin dialects), ‘Arava’, ‘Burgandi’, ‘Kasuva’ (jungle tribal dialect), ‘Kongar’, ‘Korava’, ‘Korchi’, ‘Madrasi’, ‘Parikala’, ‘Pattapu Bhasha’, ‘Tigalu’, ‘Harijan’, ‘Sanketi’, ‘Hebbar’, ‘Mandyam Brahmin’ and ‘Secunderabad Brahmin’.


Telugu :

Telugu is the most widely spoken of the Dravidian languages. In India, Telugu is spoken by around 74 million people, which forms about 8% of the total population of the country. It is one of the official languages of India and the official language of Andhra Pradesh, and the Yanam area of Puducherry. It is one of the four ‘classical languages’ recognized by Government of India.

The origin of the word ‘telugu’ (‘tenugu’) is a matter of debate. While some consider it to be derived from ‘trilinga’ or ‘trikalinga’ referring to the three temples at Srisailam, Drakasharamam and Kaleshwaram, others believe that it is derived from the word ‘talaing’. Marepalli Ramachandra Shastri says that ‘telugu’ must have been derived from a derivative of the Gondi language, ‘telunga’, referring to people who are white in complexion. Telugu is also referred as ‘Andhra-bhasa’ or the language of the ‘Andhras’, denoting tribes found on the south of the Vindhya Mountains. The word ‘Andhrapathamu’ was used in the inscriptions found in the Bellary district (220 A.D.).

Some Telugu words were found in the Nagarjuna Hill inscriptions belonging to 250 A.D. The first complete Telugu inscription, found in Erragudipadu, Cuddapah district, pertains to the period of the Renati Cholas and dated about 575 A.D. The modern standard Telugu had its beginnings in the 10th century A.D. and was enriched by contacts with other languages such as Sanskrit and Prakrit in the ancient times and Urdu and English in the modern times. Telugu has various dialects that include: Berad, Dasari, Dommara, East Godaveri, Golari, Guntur, Kamathi, Komtao, KondaReddi, Nellore, Rayalseema, Salewari, Srikakula, Telangana, Telugu, Vadaga, Vadari and Vishakapatnam.


Urdu :

Urdu is one of the official languages of India, the state language of Jammu and Kashmir and the second official language of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. It is spoken by 51.53 million persons in India, which is 5.25% of the population. It is the mother tongue of a majority of the Muslims in India. Urdu appeared to have evolved in the 12th and the 13th centuries A.D. from ‘Khari Boli’ under the Delhi Sultanate in Delhi and the surrounding areas. As a literary language, it started first in the Deccan in the 15th and 16th centuries and then established itself in northern India in the 18th century. Urdu was the second official language along with English under the British rule. Urdu was also the second official language of the Hyderabad State under the Nizams, but in 1884 it replaced Persian as the official language of the State. Urdu is written in the Persio-Arabic script and has absorbed many words from Persian, Arabic, Hindi, English and other languages. Urdu has been known by various names at different points of time in different parts of India e.g. ‘Dakhni’, ‘Deccani’, ‘Dehlvi’, ‘Gujri’, ‘Hindvi’, ‘Hindi’, ‘Rekhta’, ‘Zaban-e-Hindustan’ and ‘Zaban-e-Urdu-e-Mualla’.

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