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National and Kapodistrian

University of Athens
School of Philosophy
Faculty of English Studies

Language and Culture (8th Semester):


Professor Sophia Papaefthymiou-Lytra

LANGUAGES AND ALPHABETS IN INDIA


ALEXANDER MICHAEL-HADJILYRA (99362)

Language and Culture: Languages and Alphabets in India

LANGUAGES AND ALPHABETS IN INDIA


With an area of 3.287.590 Km2, India is the seventh largest country in the world; with regard to
population, it is second to China (1.192.225.812 - 2006 estimation). The Constitution officially
recognises 23 languages: Hindi and English - used by the Central Government for official
purposes - and 21 other local state languages. Although their exact number varies from 1576
(1991 census) to 1652 (1961 census), an estimated 850 mother tongues are used daily in India1.
Many of these mother tongues are considered to be dialects of one or the other language, so the
estimated number of languages is 216 to 387, grouped under 114 languages2.
Of all these languages, 18 are spoken by 96,286% of the population; the remaining 3,714% speak
the rest of the languages. The 21 largest languages (excluding Hindi) are also called scheduled
languages, i.e. languages that are considered candidates of a 3rd official language. Below is a list
of the percentages of these languages3:
Language
Assamese
Bengali
Bodo*
Dogri*
Gujarati
Hindi**
Kannada
Kashmiri

Percentage

1,560 %
8,299 %
0,146 %
0,011 %
4,850 %
41,219 %
3,906 %
0,007 %

Language
Konkani
Maithili**
Malayalam
Manipuri
Marathi
Nepali
Oriya
Punjabi

Percentage

0,210
9,262
3,622
0,151
7,451
0,248
3,346
2,788

%
%
%
%
%
%
%
%

Language
Sanskrit
Santali*
Sindhi
Tamil
Telugu
Urdu
English

Percentage

0,006 %
0,622 %
0,253 %
6,321 %
7,873 %
5,176 %
0,022 %

India is not only multilingual and multicultural, it is also multiscriptural. In the context of
Southeast Asia, it is an unwritten law that every language that respects itself uses its own
alphabet/script. In the subcontinent of India, there are more than 15 scripts, and - apparently a different script may not be a boundary between Indian languages.
Most of the Indic alphabets come from the Brahmic family, and are conventionally called Abugida
scripts. The most prominent script is Devanagari (udueuvunuuguru), which is used to write several North
Indian languages (Bhili, Bhojpuri, Bihari, Hindi, Konkani, Marathi, Sanskrit, Sindhi and
sometimes Kashmiri, Romani - even English). Other scripts of this family include Assamese
(uAusumuuyuu), used for Assamese, Bengali (ubuuuluuluiupui), used for Sanskrit and Eastern Indian
languages, Gujarati (uguuujuruutu), used for Gujarati, Kutchi and occasionally Sanskrit, Gurmukhi
(uguuurumuuuu), used for Punjabi, Kannada (ukunuunuD), used for Banjari, Kannada, Kodagu, Konkani, Tulu
and occasionally Sanskrit, Malayalam () used for Malayalam and occasionally Sanskrit,
Oriya (), used for Oriya and Sanskrit, Siddham (
), used for Sanskrit and Japanese (),
Sinhala (
), used for Sinhala, Tamil (utumuihLL), used for Saurashtra, Tamil and occasionally
Sanskrit, and Telugu (utueuluuuguu), used for Telugu and occasionally Sanskrit. Other than using
Devanagari (ukuuumuuru), Kashmiri (ukuouuuur, )is written using Perso-Arabic Scripts or Sharada, just
like Sindhi (, usuiunuuu). Rabha language uses Assamese in Assam, Roman in Meghalaya and
Bengali in West Bengal. Finally, the Roman script is used in the state of Nagaland for some
tribal languages.
1

. 527 mother tongues have less than 10.000 speakers each and are, therefore, considered unclassifiable.
. 19 Indo-Aryan languages (75,278%), 17 Dravidian languages (22,531%), 14 Austro-Asiatic languages (1,132%), 62 TibetoBurmese languages (0,965%), English (Germanic language, 0,021%) and Arabic (Semito-Hamitic language, 0,003%).
Unidentified languages or languages with less than 10.000 speakers cover 0,07% of the population.
3
. 1991 Census. Languages followed by an asterisk (*) became scheduled languages after 1991. Maithili (official language since
2003) is considered by many to be a dialect of Hindi (therefore, the percentage of Hindi should be modified to 31,957%).
2

Alexander-Michael Hadjilyra April 2006

Language and Culture: Languages and Alphabets in India

The Brahmi scripts family tree.

Alexander-Michael Hadjilyra April 2006

Languages in India