What Languages Are Spoken In India?

What Languages Are Spoken In India?

The answer to the question of what languages are spoken in India is a complicated one. 

India is a big country, the seventh largest in the world, with over 1.3 billion people. 

Historically, the Indian people developed a vast array of cultural and religious practices that set them apart from one another – this also meant that many areas developed their own language or dialect. 

So how many languages are spoken in India? 

Ethnologue says that the total number of languages in India is 453. 

According to the Indian constitution, 22 languages of India are official languages. Included in the list of India official languages: Hindi, Bengali, Maithil, Nepalese, Sanskrit, Tamil, Urdu, Assamese, Dogri, Kannada, Gujarati, Bodo, Manipur, Oriya, Marathi, Santali, Telugu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Malayalam, Konkani, and Kashmiri.

Many of the other languages of India are considered dialects or variations of the 22 official languages that are recognized by the Indian constitution.  

Why are there so many languages in India?

As we mentioned, India is a big continent that has traditionally been home to a vast majority of people. It has also been subject to waves of migration and colonization where people from elsewhere traveled and settled in India, bringing their own languages, customs, and religions.

The number of religions in India is an example of how diverse and rich their culture is. 

Hinduism, which was born in India, is still the majority religion; followed by Islam which was brought over by the Turks and Afghans who built empires in the continent. 

Other major religions are Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism and Jainism. 

They also have the largest remaining population of Zoroastrians and Baha’I in the world.

The majority of the languages that are spoken in India are Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages. These are languages that developed in the Indian continent and spread to the nearby areas. 

Many dialects were developed from these languages, sometimes mixing both with an element of Persian or Farsi.

Persian was the lingua franca of India for a long time, starting from when the Turkish and the Afghans came to India and established ruling dynasties, most notably the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Dynasty. 

When India was colonized by the British, they replaced Persian with English as the official language and English continues to be a common language in the subcontinent. 

What are the official languages of India?

The Indian government is a federation, where power is distributed between the union government and the state governments of which there are 28. 

According to Article 345 of the Indian constitution, depending on the state, the official language of a state can be changed to one of the 22 official languages.  

According to Article 346, for the central government, it is Hindi and English that are the official languages.

Here is a table with the list of 22 official languages and the area where they are officially used.

Language

Area

Assamese

Assam

Bengali

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Tripura, West Bengal

Bodo

Assam

Dogri

Jammu and Kashmir

Gujarati

Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Gujarat

Hindi

Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunchal Pradesh, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himchal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand

Kannada

Karnataka

Kashmiri

Jammu and Kashmir

Konkani

Goa, Karnataka

Maithili

Bihar

Malayalam

Kerala, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep

Manipuri

Manipur

Marathi

Dadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman and Dui, Goa, Maharashtra 

Nepali

Sikkim, West Bangal

Oriya

Orissa

Punjabi

Chandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab

Sanskrit

A classical language of India

Santhali

The Santhal tribes of the Chota Nagpur Plateau in the states of Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, and Orissa

Sindhi

The Sindhi community

Tamil

Tamil Nadu, Andaman & Nicobar, Kerala, Puducherry

Telugu 

Adaman & Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh

Urdu

Andrah Pradesh, Delhi, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu

 

Many Indians grow up to be bilingual as, depending on where they are, they will learn the official language of the state at home and at school and have Hindi lessons as well.  

Depending on their family circumstances, they might also speak a dialect. 

As one of India’s official languages is English, classes may also be offered to Indian children at school. 

English as a medium of instruction is also seen at the higher education levels.

Top 5 languages in India according to number of speakers

Most people in India speak at least an official language and maybe a regional dialect or an official language. 

Here’s a brief rundown of the languages with the most number of speakers in India.

1. Hindi

As the official language of the central government, Hindi is common and often taught in schools, regardless of what the official language of the region is. 

With this in mind, it’s not surprising that Hindi is the most commonly-spoken language in India.

Not only is Hindi common in India, but it’s also the common language of the diaspora. 

If you run into someone of Indian descent who has settled in a European country or somewhere else in Asia, if they still speak an Indian language it will be Hindi. 

According to Ethnologue’s list of the top 200 most spoken languages, Hindi is the third most spoken language with 637 speakers all over the world. 

According to a 2011 Census, the total number of speakers of Hindi in India is 57.9%.

Hindi is the most common first language in India, with 43.63% saying that it was their first language. 

It is also the language with the most number of second language speakers.

Hindi is an Indo-Aryan language that arose in Northern India. 

2. English

English was brought to India by the British when they colonized the subcontinent. 

It became the language of public instruction in the 1830s and replaced Persian as the official language in 1835. 

Around 10.67% of the Indian population said that they could speak English, however only .02% said that it was their first language. 

It is more common as a second language, coming second only to Hindi. It is, however, the most commonly cited third language.

While Hindi and regional official languages are still used in the educational system, English is also a major language in education. 

According to the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, the number of English-medium school students in India had increased from 15 million during the school year 2008-2009 to 29 million in 2013-2014.

English is officially the language of the Judiciary of India. 

It is the only official language of the judiciary, unless the state government has mandated that the regional language be used in the courts. 

Currently, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajastan use Hindi instead of English.

3. Bengali

Bengali is an Indo-Aryan language that was spoken by the Bengali’s who were native to the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent. 

Bengali is the third most common language spoken in India, with 8.85% saying they can speak Bengali. 

It is also rather common outside of India with 264 million speakers, making it the 7th most common spoken language in the world.

Of the Bengali speakers in India, 8.03% said it was their first language. 

That makes it the second most common first language in India after Hindi. It isn’t a very common second or third language in India, with just about 9 and 1 million speakers respectively.

4. Marathi

Marathi is the fourth most common spoken language in India, with around 99 million speakers, or 8.18% of the population. 

It is the 15th most common language in the world with around 95 million speakers.

Around 6.86% of people in India who say they can speak Marathi consider it their first language. It is a relatively common second language, with around 12 million speakers.  

5. Telugu

Around 7.77% or 94 million of the population of India speak Telugu. 

Most speakers, 6.70% consider it their first language. Around 11 million consider it their second language, while only 1 million of those surveyed answered that it was their third language. 

Telugu has about 93 million speakers around the world, making it the 16th most common language according to Ethnologue. 

Conclusion

If you are thinking of traveling to India for leisure or business, you would be smart to pick up a few phrases of English or Hindi. 

As these are common languages in India, chances are you can make yourself understood by speaking one of these.

If, however, you are thinking of spending a long period of time in a particular area of India, it would be best for you to do some research on what the official and common language is for that area. 

Either way, you’ll definitely become richer in language and culture knowledge.

What are the main languages in India?

Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Nepalese, Maithili, Tamil, Sanskrit, Assamese, Urdu, Dogri

What are top 3 languages spoken in India?

Hindi, Bengali and Marathi

Which language is the oldest in India?

Sanskrit

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