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Indian Languages
From the ten rupees bill.

As any Indian will tell you, the country has a crapload of cultural diversity. Naturally, this extends to its languages as well (that's languages, not just dialects). India has hundreds of native languages spoken by different ethnic, cultural, and religious groups. At present, 22 of those languages are officially recognized by the Indian constitution (Numerous other languages are recognized by individual states but not officially recognized by the central government), which are listed below. They span several language families including Dravidian (South), Indo-Aryan (everywhere but the South), Tibeto-Burman (Northeast), and Austro-Asiatic (East). And unlike most countries, there are also several different writing systems.

Typically, each state selects its own official language and this language is spoken by the majority of the state's population. This is fairly easy for some regions, especially the South and East, where state borders sharply correlate with linguistic and ethnic divisions. It's harder for states in Western India (which tend to be more cosmopolitan) and for states in the Northeast (which tend to have dozens of small languages instead of one lingua franca). Near state borders, people will either speak the languages of both states, or dialects that are mixtures of the two languages. Those who cross state lines often, like truck drivers, will know several languages. Otherwise, either Hindi or English is used when two people from different parts of the country need to communicate.


Central and Northern Languages
  • Dogri
    • Spoken by 5 million "Dogras" mainly in the western Jammu & Kashmir.
  • Kashmiri
    • Spoken by 5.6 million people in the Kashmir Valley.
  • Punjabi
    • Spoken mainly in the State of Punjab, (and in the Pakistan Punjab) 34 million speakers in India and about 120 million worldwide.

Southern Languages
  • Kannada
    • Spoken mainly in the state of Karnataka (native speakers are called Kannadigas, of whom there are 40 million). It has attained the status of a classical language.
  • Malayalam
    • Spoken in the state of Kerala (33 million speakers, who are called Malayalees/"Mallus"). Since it uses a lot of consonants, it can sound very harsh to those who are not used to it. Sometimes shows up as a token in the media of other regions because of the distinctiveness of the language and the culture surrounding it. It is also said to be the hardest Indian language to learn. If a fictional Indian has an Overly Long Name, it's (unwittingly) a parody of Malayalam names.
  • Tamil
    • Spoken in the state of Tamil Nadu, and also in several countries (61 million Tamils worldwide). Like Malayalam, it uses quickly-altering consonants often and sounds not unlike a pinball machine. Tamil is also said to be the Indian language with the least Sanskrit influence, and it has attained classic language status. Native Tamils are famous for their ethno-linguistic pride and are known to be protective of their linguistic rights (unfortunately, this sometimes leads to the Angry Tamil Man stereotype).
      • Despite it being considered the language least influenced by Sanskrit, closer inspection indicates that their grammatical systems (except inflections) are almost identical, and that there are a great deal of Sanskrit loanwords in the Tamil vocabulary that do not have Tamil equivalents.
  • Telugu
    • Spoken in the states of Andhra Pradesh (49 million) and Telangana (35 million). The third most common Indian language. It was once called "the Italian of the east" because it is a very lyrical language and nearly all words in Telugu end in a vowel. Alongside Tamil, Sanskrit and Kannada, Telugu is also considered a classic language of India.
      • The Telugu-speaking region was divided into two, as while not denying cultural and linguistic links to other Telugu speakers, the inland region of Telangana felt it has a separate identity and history from the Andhra Pradesh on account of its long rule by the Urdu-speaking Muslim Nizams of Hyderabad, as well as different economic interests.

Eastern Languages
  • Bengali
    • Spoken mainly in the sate of West Bengal and Tripura (and the country of Bangladesh). There are 230 million Banglas/Bengalis worldwide (83 million in India), and it is the second most-spoken native language in India. Jana Gana Mana (the national anthem) and Vande Mataram (the national song) are written in a highly Sanskritized register of Bengali (or alternately, a mixture of Bengali and Sanskrit; since Bengali (as with the other Indo-Aryan languages of the North) bears a similar relation to Sanskrit that which French and Italian bear to Latin, it's hard to distinguish).
  • Maithili
    • Mostly spoken in the state of Bihar. About 12 million speakers.
  • Oriya
    • Spoken mainly in the state of Orissa. There are 33 million "Oriyas" worldwide.
  • Santali
    • An official language in the state of Jharkhand. 6 million speakers.

Western Languages
  • Gujarati
    • Gujarati is spoken in the state of Gujarat. There are 46 million Gujaratis/gujjus. It was also the native language of Mahatma Gandhi and Jinnah.
  • Konkani
    • Spoken in the state of Goa. 8 million speakers. Written in no less than five scripts, based on region and religion: Hindus write in Devanagari (the same script as Hindi and Sanskrit), except when they live in Karnataka or Kerala, where they use Kannada and Malayalam script respectively; Konkani-speaking Muslims write in Arabic script; and Goan Catholics write Konkani in Latin script. Technically, however, only Devanagari is official.
  • Marathi
    • Spoken in the state of Maharashtra. There are 70 million Marathi speakers in India. Usually written in Devanagari (and the "Modi" script is essentially a cursive form of Devanagari). Ironically, the Hindi film industry is based in Mumbai, a Marathi-speaking area.
  • Sindhi
    • Mainly spoken in Gujarat, and is also a language of Pakistan (estimated 2 million speakers in India, 40 million worldwide). Also spoken throughout India by groups of people descended from Pakistani emigrants.

North-Eastern Languages
  • Assamese
    • Spoken mainly in the State of Assam. 13 million speakers.
  • Bodo
    • Spoken in the state of Assam by the minority Bodo people. 1.4 million speakers.
  • Manipuri
    • Spoken in the state of Manipur. 1.5 million speakers.
  • Nepali
    • Spoken mainly in the state of Sikkim by 2.9 million people (17 million worldwide)

Not Regionally affiliated
  • Hindi and Urdu
    • Hindi is the most commonly spoken and most well-known language in India. This is because at the time of independence, Hindi had the most speakers. The government at the time wanted it to become the national language, but several ethnic groups protested because they were afraid of losing employment opportunities to native Hindi speakers. In response, the government gave Hindi the status of 'Official Language of the Union' instead. Hindi was never actually made the national language, but the government does endorse its use as a lingua franca by requiring Hindi to be taught as a first or second language in most places. Urdu is an official language of Pakistan, but it is also associated with Indian Muslims. Hindi and Urdu are very similar, to the point of being mutually intelligible. For that reason, it is debatable whether they are separate languages at all. The main differences occur in the higher (literary) registers of both languages, which are nearly identical at the colloquial level. As well, Urdu is usually written in Arabic script, while Hindi is written in Devanagari.
    • Generally speaking, the farther you go from North/Central India, the less Hindi/Urdu you will find. Hindi is not as common in South India as it is in the North. This is because South Indian languages are from an entirely different language family, and also because South Indians have been politically resistant to adopting the language. However, urban South Indians will sometimes use Hindi if there is a Hindi-speaking community in the area. This is especially true in the city of Hyderabad, which has significant Muslim influence in its culture and a large Urdu-speaking minority. Also, people in the southern state of Kerala are known to have high proficiency in Hindi (probably because the state itself is very cosmopolitan and affluent).note  Similarly, the languages of the Northeast tend to be in the Tibeto-Burman family. This, combined with the fact that there are some rather extreme separatist movements in the region, mean that there is not much Hindi spoken there either. English on the other hand is pretty common in the NE region, with several states claiming it as their official language.
  • English
  • Sanskrit
    • A language that is not commonly spoken any more, but is historically very important and has liturgical and ceremonial use. Think of it the way the Western world thinks of Latin.
      • It isn't as uncommon as one may think. For one, it's the "official language" of Uttarkhand (despite no one actually thinking of it that way). In most schools across India, Sanskrit is always a second language option, and overbearing Indian Tiger Moms will almost always push their children into learning it. Some children actually take a fancy to its simplicity (and for the insults) and will learn it—and this is to the point where there are colleges that teach various subjects in the Sanskrit medium!
    • Speaking of Latin, Sanskrit is related to Latin and Greek as all three are descendants of the extinct Proto-Indo-European language. A study of cognates between the three will make this apparent. Since the Indo-Aryan languages are all descendants of Sanskrit or a language closely related to Sanskrit, you can think of them as even more distant relatives, and being Indo-European also very very distantly related to English.


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