No country in the world comes close to matching the linguistic diversity of India — just the number of ‘mother tongues’ in the country, as listed in the 1961 Census, is 1652!
The Constitution of India does not give any language the status of national language. The official language of the Union Government of the Republic of India is Hindi. The Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution lists 22 languages, which have been referred to as scheduled languages and given recognition, status and official encouragement.
In addition, the Government of India has awarded the distinction of classical language to Tamil, Sanskrit, Kannada, Telugu, Malayalam, and Odia due to their long history of 1500-2000 years. All Indian languages fall into one of these 4 groups: Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, Sino-Tibetan and Afro-Asiatic. The extinct and endangered languages of the Andaman islands form a fifth family.
Here are 10 facts about Indian languages that you may not know about:
1. Hindi is the 2nd most spoken language in the world (ahead of English and Spanish), Bengali the 7th most and Punjabi the 10th most.
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Over 970 million people in the world speak Hindi. Bengali and Punjabi have about 250 million and 120 million speakers respectively worldwide, ahead of popular languages like German and French.
2. Hindi was known by different names at different stages of its evolution in different eras. It was known as Apabhramsa at its earliest stage.
Kalidas, a renowned Sanskrit scholar and literary playwright in ancient India, composed a romantic play titled Vikramorvashiyam in Apabhramsa in 400 AD.
3. Did you know that Malayalam, the language spoken in the southern Indian state of Kerala, is the longest palindrome (a word that reads the same backwards and forwards) in the English language?
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4. In Mumbai, there is a Gujarati family, that speaks only in Sanskrit. In Mattur village in Karnataka, people speak in Sanskrit to each other.
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Here are 6 more amazing facts about Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages known to mankind:
- NASA scientist Rick Briggs once said that Sanskrit is the only unambiguous language in existence.
- Sanskrit is the most computer friendly language.
- 14 universities in Germany offer Sanskrit as a subject.
- Sanskrit uses many synonyms for each subject. For instance, there are 100 synonyms for the word ‘elephant.’
- Sanskrit is the state language of Uttarakhand
- Sanskrit is supposed to belong to the same family as Latin. That is why there are many words ending in ‘um’ in both languages.
5. Brahui is a Dravidian language, with its roots in India, spoken by approximately 1 million people in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Dravidian languages, a family of about 23 languages that includes languages like Tamil, Telugu and Kannada, are unrelated to any other known language family and are spoken mostly in South India.
6. In 1999, UNESCO declared February 21 as International Mother Language Day to commemorate the Bengali Language Movement in 1952.
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The Bengali Language Movement was a political movement in former East Bengal (today Bangladesh), advocating the recognition of the Bengali language as an official language of the then Dominion of Pakistan in order to allow its use in government and education.
7. Did you know around 99% of Urdu verbs have their roots in Sanskrit and Prakrit?
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Although Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, it is also one of India’s official languages. Urdu, like Hindi, is a form of Hindustani.
8. George Bush, former President of the USA, had allocated a budget of $114 million for teaching Hindi in the US.
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Hindi was to be a part of the curriculum from kindergarten to the graduate level, considering the importance of Hindi as a common native language of Indian Americans. However, the plan was not carried through once Obama became President.
9. All Indian scripts come from the same script – Brahmi. Writing came much later to India than to other parts of the world. Hence, both Tamil and Sanskrit have extremely strong oral traditions.
10. Kannada language has the second oldest written tradition of all vernacular languages of India. More than a thousand notable writers have contributed to the wealth of the language.
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Current estimates of the total number of epigraphs written in Kannada range from 25,000 by the scholar Sheldon Pollock to over 30,000 by the Sahitya Akademi, making Karnataka state “one of the most densely inscribed pieces of real estate in the world.”