In India, I found a race of mortals living upon the Earth, but not adhering to it, inhabiting cities, but not being fixed to them, possessing everything, but possessed by nothing - India | Apollonius by Tyana

India is a land of many - many cultures, many religions, many languages, many sports, many topographies, and so on and so forth. If you have ever appeared for a national level competitive exam, the IAS general knowledge, for example, you surely would have come across these questions about what makes India diverse, yet unified? The key to answering this question is to understand what makes India so unique and the center of study of so many different types of researchers.

If you look at it closely, India is probably the only country in the world that has no national language. The number of India official languages is 22, but none of them are national languages. Each region in India is marked by its own uniqueness when it comes to culture and language. The answer to the question of how many official languages does India have is simple -22. These are scheduled languages as recognized by the Indian Constitution. 

Read on to find out about the most widely-spoken languages in the Indian culture today.

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What is the Significance of English in Indian Languages?

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English - One of the 22 India official languages | Image Source: Pixabay

With no national language, each Indian state or Union Territory (UT) has its own official language. Article 343(1) in the Constitution of India states that Hindi in the Devanagari script will be adopted as the official language of the Indian Union, but this has never really been executed in practice. Almost all official proceedings like Parliament sessions are carried out either in English or Hindi. States and the Center too typically use either of these two languages for their official businesses of running the nation. During the British rule, the India official languages were Hindi, Urdu, and English.

In present day India, all Indian states have been given the autonomy to adopt their own official language. The Constitution of India has enlisted 22 scheduled languages and English is one of them. As per the 2011 census, there are close 30 lakh people in India who are native English speakers or use English as their mother tongue.

Bengali - The Sweetest of All Indian Languages

Bengali alphabet
The Bengali community is ingrained in the Indian culture since the beginning of its political history.

Although many argue that Hindi is the national language of India, no one language is recognized officially as the national language by the Constitution. It is definitely one of the 22 scheduled Indian languages, but it doesn't have the status of national language. India is divided by regional and language diversities. This means that each specific region has their own official language. And Bengali is the official language of the state of West Bengal.

The history of Bengal and the influence of Bengal culture is quite significantly seen in the evolution of the Bengali language. There are, however, many differences between spoken and written Bengali. This is primarily because of the influence of Bengali literature under the leadership of stalwarts like Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim Chandra, Michael Madhusudan Dutta, and others. Thanks to them Bengali has come to be recognized as a language of rich culture and there are a few million speakers of the language all around the world.

Bengali belongs to the Indo-Aryan family of languages and is also referred to as Bangla. The Bangla region of the Indian subcontinent including Bangladesh and the state of West Bengal recognizes Bangla as their official language, although the two dialects are quite different. It is the lingua franca of Bangladesh and is the second most widely spoken of all official Indian languages after Hindi. You will find more than 200 million native Bengali speakers across the world making it the 6th most widely spoken global language.

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Learn Telugu - One of the Top Indian Languages

A newspaper in Telugu.
Telugu is one of the primary Indian languages spoken across parts of South India.

The states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have adopted Telugu as their official language. And Andhra Pradesh tourism has really helped spread the language to other parts of India as well. And then there is the larger Telugu diaspora found in other parts of the world where people have migrated to and still speak Telugu as their mother tongue. Globally, more than a million people speak Telugu as their first or second language.

A part of the Dravidian family of languages, Telugu is spoken predominantly by the people of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Along with Hindi, Bengali, English, Tamil, and Marathi, Telugu is one of the 22 India official languages. Amongst the UTs, the Yanam district of Puducherry also recognizes Telegu as its official language. The Telugu language has also been conferred the status of an Indian classical language by the national government.

Best of Indian Languages - Marathi

Marathi
The Marathi dialect is distinct from the Hindi or Sanskrit languages | Image Source: Visualhunt | Image Courtesy: Baba Bhatkanti

India is the cradle of human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend, and the great grandmother of tradition. Our most valuable and constructive materials in the history of man is treasured up in India only - Mark Twain

Just like Hindi and Bengali, the Marathi language also belongs to the Indo-Aryan family of languages and is spoken predominantly by the Marathi people residing in the Maharashtra region of India. Enlisted as one of the 22 official Indian languages, Marathi is the official language of Maharashtra and the joint official language of Goa. There are close 100 million speakers of Marathi in India, according to the 2011 census. It is ranked 10th in the list of most widely spoken native language in the world and has the third largest number of native speakers in India after Hindi and Bengali. There is a standard Marathi dialect and the Varhadi dialect that are used widely in the language. Koli, Ahirani and Malvani Konkani are also influenced by Marathi language.

Other Indian states where there is a significant Marathi-speaking population include Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, and Karnataka. There is also a significantly large Marathi diaspora residing in countries like Australia, Canada, Israel, Mauritius, New Zealand, USA, and the UK.

Derived from early Prakrit, Marathi has also got traces of Sanskrit. Although there is very little proof to substantiate the latter claim, there is no denying that Marathi has been derived from a combination of multiple languages including Hindi. There are many loanwords from Hindi and several similar sounding words as well.

Best of Indian Languages - Learn Tamil

Tamil culture
The Tamil language is heavily influenced by its culture and heritage | Image Source: Pixabay.com | Image Courtesy: Kalai Selvi N

Tamil is another of the 22 India official languages. According to the history of Indian culture, it is one of the first languages to be conferred the status of a classical language. It is also one of the longest-surviving in this category across the world. Classical Tamil literature has made its mark as one of the greatest classical traditions globally.

The first documented Tamil literature works have been found from 2000 years ago. The oldest extant literature among all Dravidian languages is Sangam literature which marks the earliest period of Tamil literature, dated between 300 B.C. to 300 A.D. UNESCO's Memory of the World Register records two earliest manuscripts of India which were written in Tamil.

Tamil grammar is marked by derivational morphology that uses plenty of suffixes to mark number, cases, class of nouns, and verb tenses. The distinctive feature of Tamil language grammar is the fact that its scholarly vocabulary and metalinguistic terminology is Tamil unlike Indo-Aryan languages that rest on Sanskrit.

Urdu - One of the Most Unique Indian Languages

Urdu script
Urdu history dates back to many centuries and is intricately woven into the Indian heritage and culture | Image Source: Visual Hunt | Image Courtesy: liber (the poet)

The Turkish word, "Ordu" is the genesis of the term Urdu. It literally translates into a military camp and was used extensively during the British era when Hindu and Muslim soldiers fought together on behalf of the Crown. Hindi and Arabic speakers needed a common language to communicate during wars and that is how Urdu came into being. It was only after his death in 1707 that the language started moving to South India as well and Urdu became the product of the spoken Hindi and the distinct dialect used by Muslims who ruled over the Deccan region.

The literary Urdu speech that arose in the late 15th century was called Dakhni, which is a non-literary Indo-Aryan language. You will find traces of the Dakhni script in Islamic literature which was used extensively in the region south of the Vindhyas (currently the Deccan region or South India). The use of Hindi was quite restricted in this region and the Urdu dialect too became quite distinct from its North Indian counterpart. The Urdu script in the Deccan region had a distinct Perso-Arabian touch which was in stark contrast to the Urdu used in the North. Among the main regions where Dakhni was practiced by quite a number of people, the regions of Bijapur, Golconda, Gujarat, Aurangabad, and Bidar stood out.

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