History of Indian languagesAbout the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC the citizens of the Indus migrated eastward (Ganges plains) and westward (Iran and Afghanistan). By about 1000 BC, the two language branches, Indic and Iranian, had probably separated.
The history of the Indian language branch is often divided into three main stages: (1) Old, comprising Vedic and classical Sanskrit; (2) Middle (from about the 3rd century BC), which embraces the vernacular dialects of Sanskrit called Prakrits, including Pali; and (3) New or Modern, (from about the 10th century AD), which comprises the modern languages of the northern and central portions of the Indian subcontinent.
Vedic Sanskrit, the language used in the Vedas, the sacred Hindu scriptures, is the earliest form of Sanskrit, dating from about 1500 BC to about 200 BC. A later variety of the language, classical Sanskrit (from about 500 BC), was a language of literary and technical works. Even today, it is still widely studied in India and functions as a sacred and learned language.
The Middle Prakrits existed in many regional varieties, which eventually developed literatures of their own. Pali, the language of the Buddhist canonical writings, is the oldest literary Prakrit. It remains in liturgical use in Sri Lanka, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), and Thailand.
The Prakrits continued in everyday use until about the 12th century AD, but even by about the 10th century, the Modern Indo-Aryan vernaculars had begun to develop. Today, about 750 million people in India alone speak one of the three languages, as do more than 100 million in Bangladesh. The number of languages is difficult to specify. Roughly 35 are of some significance, particularly Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Bihari, Gujarati, Kannada, Malayalam, Marathi, Oriya, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Tamil, and Telugu, each of which has at least 10 million speakers.
Two major varieties of Hindi are spoken; Western Hindi, which originated in the area around Delhi, includes literary Hindi and Urdu and Eastern Hindi is spoken mainly in central Uttar Pradesh and eastern Madhya Pradesh; its most important literary works are in the Awadhi dialect (or Hindustani). It referred to the mixed Western Hindi-Urdu language that developed in the camps and marketplaces around Delhi, was spread throughout India from the 16th to 18th century, and functioned as a lingua franca among the different language groups.The dialect that has been chosen as India's official language is Khariboli in the Devnagari script. Other dialects of Hindi are Brajbhasa, Bundeli, Awadhi, Marwari, Maithili and Bhojpuri.
Bihari is actually the name of a group of three related languagesBhojpuri, Maithili, and Magahispoken mainly in northeastern India in Bihar. Despite its large number of speakers, Bihari is not a constitutionally recognized language of India. Even in Bihar, Hindi is the language used for educational and official matters.
Despite their separate names, Hindi and Urdu are actually slightly different dialects of the same language. The main differences lie in their vocabulary sources, scripts, and religious traditions. Hindi vocabulary derives mainly from Sanskrit, while Urdu contains many words of Persian and Arabic origin; Hindi is written in the Devanagari script, and Urdu in a Persian Arabic script. Hindi is spoken mainly by Hindus; Urdu is used predominantly by Muslimsin India as well as throughout Pakistan.
Bengali is spoken in West Bengal and by almost the entire population of Bangladesh. Like Hindi, it is descended from Sanskrit, and has the most extensive literature of any modern Indian language.Oriya, Bengali and Assamese all come from the same Eastern Magadhi Apabhramsa and are considered to be sister languages.
Punjabi (Panjabi), spoken in the Punjab, a region covering parts of northeastern India and western Pakistan, was the language of the gurus, the founders of the Sikh religion. The sacred teachings of Sikhism are recorded in Punjabi in the Gurmukhi script, which was devised by a Sikh guru. In India, Punjabi is close to the Hindi language; to the west, in Pakistan, Punjabi dialects differ markedly.
Sindhi is actually an offshoot of some of the dialects of the Vedic Sanskrit. Sindh, on the north west of undivided India, had always been the first to bear the onslaught of the never-ending invaders, and as such absorbed Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, English and even Portuguese. Sindh is where Persian and Indian cultures blended
Other significant Indic languages include Sinhalese, the official language of Sri Lanka; and Romani, the language of the Roma (Gypsies), which originated in India and was spread throughout the world. The Sanskrit origin of Romani is apparent in its sounds and grammar.
The origin of most scripts for the Indic languages can ultimately be traced to Brahmi, which is of North Semitic derivation. Devanagari, a development of Brahmi, is used for Nepali, Marathi, and Kashmiri (by Hindus), as well as for Hindi, Sanskrit, and the Prakrits. Gujarati, Bengali, Assamese, and Oriya all have individual writing systems derived from Devanagari. A Persian Arabic script is used for Urdu, Sindhi (also written in Devanagari), and Punjabi.
About 23 Dravidian languages are spoken by an estimated 169 million people, mainly in southern India. The 4 major Dravidian tongues are recognized as official state languagesTamil in Tamil Nadu, Telugu in Andhra Pradesh, Kannada (Kanarese) in Mysore, and Malayalam in Kerala. They have long literary histories and are written in their own scripts. Telugu is spoken by the largest number of people; Tamil has the richest literature, is thought to be extremely ancient, and it is spoken over the widest area, including northwestern Sri Lanka. Other Dravidian languages have fewer speakers and are, for the most part, not written. The Dravidian languages have acquired many loan words from the Indic languages, especially from Sanskrit. Conversely, the Indic languages have borrowed Dravidian sounds and grammatical structures.
Other Language Groups
The 12 or so Munda languages are spoken by people in scattered pockets of northeastern and central India. Of these, Santali is the most important, having the largest number of speakers and being the only Munda tongue that is written. Like the Dravidian languages, the Munda languages are known to have existed in India prior to the migration of people, from the Indus valley down southwards.
Linguists consider the Munda languages to be related to the Mon-Khmer languages of Southeast Asia in a larger grouping called the Austro-Asiatic family. One Mon-Khmer language, Khasi, is spoken within India, in Assam Province. A fewSino-Tibetan languages are also spoken along Indias borders, from Tibet to Myanmar.
- Sanskrit is the oldest language in the world. It is older than Latin.