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12th April 2022 (7 Topics)

The languages India speaks


Recently a controversy has arisen due to a suggestion given by Home Minister Amit Shah that states should communicate with each other in Hindi rather than English, while stressing that Hindi should not be an alternative to local languages.


Hindi in India:

  • The 2011 linguistic census accounts for 121 mother tongues, including 22 languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Hindi is the most widely spoken, with 52.8 crore individuals, or 6% of the population, declaring it as their mother tongue.
  • The next highest is Bengali, mother tongue for 97 lakh (8%) — less than one-fifth of Hindi’s count.
  • Nearly 13.9 crore (over 11%) reported Hindi as their second language, which makes it either the mother tongue or second language for nearly 55% of the population.

What explains Hindi’s high numbers?

  • One obvious explanation is that Hindi is the predominant language in some of India’s most populous states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
  • Another reason is that a number of languages are bracketed under Hindi by census enumerators.

How widely is English spoken?

  • Although English, alongside Hindi, is one of the two official languages of the central government, it is not among the 22 languages in the 8th Schedule; it is one of the 99 non-scheduled languages.
  • In terms of mother tongue, India had just 2.6 lakh English speakers in 2011, a tiny fraction of the 121 crore people counted in that census.
  • That does not reflect the extent to which English is spoken. It was the second language of 8.3 crore respondents in 2011, second only to Hindi’s 13.9 crore.
  • If third language is added, then English was spoken — as mother tongue, second language or third language — by over 10% of the population in 2011, behind only Hindi’s 57%. Bengali was third at about 9%.

Schedule Languages:

The eighth schedule includes the recognition of the following 22 languages:

  • Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Odia, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bodo, Santhali, Maithili and Dogri are the 22 languages presently in the eighth schedule to the Constitution.
  • Of these languages, 14 were initially included in the Constitution. Subsequently, Sindhi was added in 1967; Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali were added in 1992; and Bodo, Dogri, Maithili and Santali were added by the 92nd Amendment Act of 2003.

Classical Languages:

  • Currently, six languages enjoy the ‘Classical’ status: Tamil (declared in 2004), Sanskrit (2005), Kannada (2008), Telugu (2008), Malayalam (2013), and Odia (2014).
  • All the Classical Languages are listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution.
  • The guidelines for declaring a language as ‘Classical’ are:
    • High antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years.
    • A body of ancient literature/texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers.
    • The literary tradition is original and not borrowed from another speech community.
    • The classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.

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