How many languages are spoken in India?

India is home to many major languages. Its linguistic landscape is so rich and varied, it is simply impossible to speak about an ‘Indian language’, as if there were only one. According to a 2011 consensus, India has more than 19,500 languages and dialects, of which almost 1,369 are considered as dialects and 121 are considered languages. ‘The Indian Language’ is actually 22 separate languages, all of which are recognized by the constitution as the official languages: Bengali, Hindi, Maithili, Nepalese, Sanskrit, Tamil, Urdu, Assamese, Dogri, Kannada, Gujarati, Bodo, Manipur, Odia, Marathi, Santali, Telugu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Malayalam, Konkani and Kashmiri. Sanskrit and Tamil are the only two official classical languages.

What are India’s Official Languages?

Hindi is the official language of India’s central government, along with English. However, individual state legislatures can adopt any regional language as their state’s official language. The most widely spoken languages in India are Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Urdu, Kannada, Odia and Malayalam. Hindi is actually the fourth most natively-spoken language in the world, with almost 530 million people speaking it as a first language in India alone. From a linguistic perspective, Hindi belongs to the huge family of Indo-European languages, and it stems from Sanskrit, which – like English – is written from left to right, and most of its words are pronounced as they’re written. The name ‘Hindi’ is of Persian origin and stands for “the language of the land of the Indus River”. It came from the Persian-speaking Turks who invaded the plains of the Gangj and Punjab in the early 11th century. The Hindi Belt refers to the areas of India, mostly in the North, where Hindi is the official language: Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh.

Along with these, English, as one of the official languages of India’s federal government, (apart from Hindi) has been taught in schools in India from the 1800s. Today, English is no longer considered a foreign language because most people of India speak English, Hindi and one mother tongue. After almost 100 years of colonization, Indians adapted English to their own culture, which is why Indian English is very different than Standard English (the so-called “Hinglish”). English doesn’t have a very strong presence in the general social life of India, except in the upper classes, and the business sector. In fact, English is considered to be the unofficial language of business in India, especially in very lucrative sectors such as technology and customer service. Many children grow up in a bilingual environment, either because their parents speak different languages or because their community originates from another part of the country. Most private schools incorporate several languages into their curriculums, while public schools, which are generally attended by working-class children, mostly teach the everyday language spoken in that part of the country, although throughout the years there has been an effort to incorporate more English classes as well.