The writings of the human beings during the entire era of history have reflected the culture, lifestyle, society and the polity of contemporary society. In this process, each culture evolved its own language and created a huge
literary base.
This enormous base of literature provides us a glimpse of the evolution of each of its languages and culture through the span of centuries.

Language in its literary meaning is a system of communication through speech, a collection of sounds that a group of people understand to have the same meaning.

  • A language family includes individual languages related through a common ancestor that existed before the recorded history.
  • Dialect is a form of language spoken in a local area. It is noteworthy that several dialects can be derived from a particular language.
    • If two related kinds of speech are so close that speakers can have a conversation and understand each other, they are dialects of a single language. If comprehension is difficult to impossible, they are distinct languages.

The languages spoken around the various corners of India belong to several language families, where most of them belong to the Indo-Aryan Group of Languages. This Indo-Aryan Group has been born out of the Indo-European Family. However, there are some language groups which are indigenous to the Indian sub-continent.

Classification of Indian Languages

Broadly the Indian languages can be put into six major sub-groups. These are:

  1. Indo-Aryan Group
  2. Dravidian Group
  3. Sino-Tibetan Group
  4. Negroid Group
  5. Austric Group
  6. Others
Classification of Indian Languages
  • These languages have interacted on one another through the centuries and have produced the major linguistic divisions of modern India.
  • The Indo-Aryan and the Dravidian are the dominant groups and together comprises all the major languages of India. They have influenced each other and have, in turn, been influenced by the Austric and SinoTibetan tongues.

Indo-Aryan Group of Languages

  • It is part of the Indo-European family of languages, which came to India with the Aryans. It is the biggest of the language groups in India and accounts for about 74% of the total Indian population.
  • It comprises of all the principal languages of northern and western India such as Hindi, Bengali, Marathi , Gujarati, Punjabi, Sindhi, Rajasthani, Assamese, Oriya, Pahari, Bihari, Kashmiri, Urdu and Sanskrit.
  • This language group is again sub-divided into three groups depending upon the time period of their origin. There are:
    • (i) Old Indo-Aryan Group
    • (ii) Middle Indo-Aryan Group
    • (iii) Modern Indo-Aryan Group

Old Indo-Aryan Group (1500-300 BCE)

  • This group had its development around 1500 BCE and Sanskrit was born out of this group. The earliest proof of Sanskrit is Vedic Sanskrit found in the Vedas, the foundational stone of Hinduism.
  • It is the most ancient language of our country and is one of the 22 languages listed in the Constitution.
Development of Sanskrit
  • The development of Sanskrit grammar began with Panini in the 4th century BCE, with his book Asthadhyayi in which the Language was codified and standardized.
  • Evolution of Sanskrit primarily took place in two stages: Vedic Sanskrit and Classical Sanskrit.
  • Some of the Buddhist literature belonging to Mahayana and the Hinayana school are even written in Sanskrit language.
    • The book Mahavastu of the Hinayan school is a treasure of stories.
    • Lalitavistara, the most sacred Hinayana text was also written in Sanskrit language.
  • Sanskrit is the only language that transcended the barriers of region and boundaries. From north to south and from east to west, there is no part in India that has not contributed to or been affected by the Sanskrit language.
  • The chaste form of Sanskrit developed in between 300BCE to 200BCE. It was refined version of Vedic Sanskrit. The first evidence of the use of Sanskrit can be found in the inscriptions of Rudradamana at Junagarh in the present Southern Gujarat region.
  • However it was Gupta period when the use of Sanskrit in poetries can be traced. This is totally a period of creation of pure literature which is evident in the works as Mahakavyas (epics) and Khandakavyas (semiepics).

Middle Indo-Aryan Languages

  • The Middle Indo-Aryan stage in the evolution of Indo-Aryan languages is thought to have spanned more than a millennium between 600 BCE and 1000 CE, and is often divided into three major subdivisions.
  • The early stage is represented by the Edicts of Ashoka (c. 250 BCE) and by Pali (used by Theravada Buddhists) and Ardha Magadhi (used in Jainism).
    • Pali is the best attested of the Middle Indo-Aryan languages because of the extensive writings of early Buddhists.
    • These include canonical texts, canonical developments such as Abhidhamma, and a thriving commentarial tradition associated with figures such as Buddhaghosa.
  • The middle stage is represented by the various literary Prakrits, especially the Shauraseni language and Maharashtri and Magadhi Prakrits.
    • Prakrit and Ardha-Magadhi language were used in the Jain ‘Agamas’.
    • The term Prakrit is also often applied to Middle Indo-Aryan languages.
    • Prakrit includes:
      • Pali: It was widely spoken in Magadha. It was popular during 5th–1st century BC. It is closely related to Sanskrit, and the texts in Pali were written generally in Brahmi script. The Tripitaka of Buddhism were also written in Pali. It serves as the lingua franca of Theravada Buddhism. It is believed that Buddha himself did not speak in Pali but gave his preachings in Ardha-Magadhi language.
      • Magadhi Prakrit or Ardha-Magadhi: It is the most important kind of Prakrit. Its literary use increased after the decline of Sanskrit and Pali. Buddha and Mahavira perhaps spoke in Ardha-Magadhi. It was the court language of few Mahajanapadas and also the Mauryan dynasty. Several Jain texts and Rock edicts of Ashoka were also written in Ardha-Magadhi. It later evolved into many languages of Eastern India namely Bengali, Assamese, Odia, Maithili, Bhojpuri, etc.
      • Shauraseni: It was widely used to write dramas in the medieval India. It is also called Dramatic Prakrit. It was the predecessor to Northern Indian languages. Jain monks wrote mainly using this version of Prakrit. The oldest text of Digambara Jains, ‘Shatkhandgama’ is written in Shauraseni.
      • Maharashtri Prakrit: Spoken till 9th century AD, it was the predecessor to Marathi and Konkani. It was used widely in Western and Southern India. It was the official language of Satavahana Dynasty. Several dramas were written in it like ‘Gaha Kosha’ by King Hala, ‘Gaudavaho’ (slaying of the King of Gauda) by Vakpati. Elu: Ancient form of modern Sinhala Language of Sri Lanka (it is similar to Pali).
      • Paishachi: It is also called ‘Bhuta-Bhasa’ (dead language). Often regarded as Prakrit, it is considered as an unimportant dialect. Gunadhya’s Brihatkatha, an ancient epic is written in Paishachi.
  • The late stage is represented by the Apabhra as of the 6th century and later that preceded early Modern Indo-Aryan languages. The apabhramsa language developed from Prakrits.
    • Patanjali was the first to use apabhramsa in his Mahabhasya (200 BCE).
    • Major texts and writers are: Pushpadanta’s Mahapurana (Digambara Jain text), Dhanapala’s Bhavisayattakaha, etc.
    • The term is derived from the Sanskrit word Apabhrasta, means a corrupted form of Sanskrit.
    • Mostly Jain religious language and spiritual literature of Siddhas was composed in Apabhramsa language.

Modern Indo-Aryan Languages

  • The languages belonging to this group are Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Gujrati, Marathi, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Sindhi, Odia, Urdu etc.
  • The languages under this sub group developed after 1000 CE. These languages are mainly spoken in the northern, western and eastern parts of India.

Dravidian Group

  • This group comprises mainly of languages spoken in the Southern India. The Dravidian language came into India centuries before the Indo-Aryan.
  • It covers about 25% of the Indian population. Proto-Dravidian gave rise to 21 Dravidian Languages.
  • They can be broadly classified into three groups: Northern group, Central group, and Southern group of Dravidian languages.
    • (i) The Northern group consists of three languages i.e. Brahui, Malto and Kudukh. Brahui is spoken in Baluchistan, Malto spoken in Bengal and Odisha, while Kurukh is spoken in Bengal, Odisha, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh.
    • (ii) The Central group consists of eleven languages viz., Gondi, Khond, Kui, Manda, Parji, Gadaba, Kolami, Pengo, Naiki, Kuvi and Telugu. Out of these, only Telugu became a civilized language and the rest remained tribal languages.
    • (iii) The southern group consists of seven languages viz., Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Tulu, Kodagu, Toda and Kota.
  • However, Among these 21 languages of the Dravidian Group, the major languages of the Dravidian group are:
    • Telugu (numerically the biggest of the Dravidian languages),
    • Tamil (oldest and purest language of the Dravidian family),
    • Kannada
    • Malayalam (smallest and the youngest of the Dravidian family).

Sino-Tibetan Group

  • The Sino-Tibetan or Mongoloid speech family has a considerably vast expanse in India and stretches all over the sub-Himalayan tracts, covering North Bihar, North Bengal, Assam up to the north-eastern frontiers of the country.
  • These languages are considered to be older than the Indo-Aryan languages and are referred to in the oldest Sanskrit literature as Kiratas.
  • Around 0.6% of the Indian population speaks languages belonging to this group .
  • The Sino-Tibetan group is further divided into two subgroups:
    • Tibeto-Burman
    • Siamese-Chinese


  • The Tibeto-Burman languages are divided into four broad groups,
    1. Tibetan: Sikkimese, Bhotia, Balti, Sherpa, Lahuli and Ladakhi,
    2. Himalayan: Kinnauri and Limbu
    3. North-Assam: Abor (Adi), Miri, Aka, Dafla and Mishmi
    4. Assam-Burmese: It is again sub-divided into four main sub-groups, viz. Kuki-Chin, Mikir, Bodo and Naga. Manipuri or Meithi is the most important language of the Kuki-Chin sub-group.


  • Ahom is one of the languages belonging to this group.
  • However this language has now been extinct from the Indian sub-continent.

Austric Group

  • The Austric languages of India belong to the Austro-Asiatic sub-family, which are represented by languages of the Munda or Kol Group, spoken in the central, eastern and north-eastern India and languages of the Mon-Khmer group like Khasi and Nicobarese.
  • These are very ancient languages which have been in existence much before the advent of Aryans and were referred in ancient Sanskrit literature as Nisadas.
  • The most important language of the Austric group is Santhali, which is spoken by over 5 million Santhals and is the largest spoken among the Adivasi languages.
  • Mundari, spoken by about a million Mundas, is another important language of this group.


There are several Dravidian adivasi languages like Gondi, Oraon or Kurukh, Mal-Pahariya, Khond and Parji which are very distinct and cannot be classified in the groups mentioned above.

Difference between Indo-Aryan Group and the Dravidian Group of Languages:

The root words in the two language families are different. There is a different grammatical structure in the two groups.

  • (a) Grammatical structure of Dravidian Family is agglutinative, i.e. the combinations in which root words are united results in little or no change of form or loss of words.
  • (b) The grammatical structure of Indo-Aryan Group is inflected, i.e. a word’s ending or its spelling changes according to its grammatical function in a sentence.

Official Languages of India

  • Part 17 of the constitution of India (Articles 343 to Article 351) makes elaborate provisions dealing with the official language of the Republic of India. Hindi written in Devanagari script is the Official Language of the Union.
  • “Unless Parliament decided otherwise, the use of English for official purposes was to cease 15 years after the Constitution came into effect”, i.e. on 26 January. It means over a period of 15 years since the commencement of the Indian Constitution, Hindi will replace English as the official language. Parliament can decide, if English can be used as official language. This clause led to protests across the nation by the non-Hindi speaking communities against the change in official language from English to Hindi.
  • The protest resulted in the enactment of The Official Languages Act, 1963. This Act declares Hindi in Devanagari script as the official language of the Union. English has been given the status of “subsidiary official language” of the Union.
  • The Constitution of India has also made a provision for each of the Indian States to choose their own official language for communications at the State level. There are many languages listed in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution which may be used by the States for official purpose. Initially, the following fourteen languages were selected under the Eighth Schedule.
    • Assamese
    • Hindi
    • Malayalam
    • Punjabi
    • Telugu
    • Bengali
    • Kannada
    • Marathi
    • Sanskrit
    • Urdu
    • Gujarati
    • Kashmiri
    • Odia
    • Tamil
  • Later Sindhi was added as the 15th language through 21st Amendment Act of 1967.
  • Three more languages were added by 71st Amendment Act, 1992. They are Konkani, Manipuri, and Nepali.
  • 92nd Amendment Act, 2003 added four more languages to the Eighth Schedule. They are Bodo, Maithili, Dogri and Santhali.
  • Thus, at present there are 22 languages in total listed under the eighth schedule of the Indian Constitution.
    • Assamese
    • Bodo
    • Gujarati
    • Kannada
    • Konkari
    • Malayalam
    • Marathi
    • Odia
    • Sanskrit
    • Sindhi
    • Telugu
    • Bengali
    • Dogri
    • Hindi
    • Kashmiri
    • Maithili
    • Manipuri
    • Nepali
    • Punjabi
    • Santhali
    • Tamil
    • Urdu

Official Languages in States

  • Though Hindi is the official language of India, the states may by law adopt any one or more of the languages in use in the state or Hindi as the language or languages to be used for all or any of the official purposes of that state.

Language of communication between Union and States

  • As per Article 346, the official languages for communication between one state and another or between a state and the union are as follows:
    • For the time being the official language of communication of Union i.e. English.
    • If two or more states agree that the Hindi language should be the official language for communication between such states, that language may be used for such communication.

Language of Courts

  • According to the Article 348, language to be used in the Supreme Court and in high courts and for bills acts etc will be in in the English language until parliament by law provides otherwise.

Special directive for promotion of Hindi

  • Article 351 says that it shall be the duty of the Union to promote the spread of the Hindi language, to develop it so that it may serve as a medium of expression for all the elements of the composite culture of India and to secure its enrichment by assimilating without interfering with its genius, the forms, style and expressions used in Hindustani and in the other languages of India specified in the Eighth Schedule, and by drawing, wherever necessary or desirable, for its vocabulary, primarily on Sanskrit and secondarily on other languages.

First Official Language Commission

  • The first official language commission was appointed in 1955 with B.G . Kher as chairman and it submitted its report in 1956 which was presented to parliament in 1957 and examined by a joint parliamentary committee.
  • There is no national language of India. Hindi is not a national language. Neither the Constitution nor any Act defines the word ‘national language’.
  • The Constitution does not specify official language for States for conduct of their official functions. States are free to adopt an official language.
  • The language to be adopted by the States need not be one of those listed in the Eighth Schedule. Several States have adopted an official language which is not listed in Eighth Schedule.
    • Examples:
      • Tripura-Kokborok (belongs to Sino-Tibetan Familly)
      • Puducherry – French
      • Mizoram-Mizo
  • English is not in the list of 22 scheduled languages as per the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
  • Arunachal Pradesh and Nagaland are the only states which have English as their only official language.

Status of Classical Language

Calls for Classical Languages

  • The first call for a classical language was given by Tamil academicians. They claimed that the Sangam anthologies should be considered as classical languages. It’s an ancient language and the old Tamil is the prototype of the Dravidian family of languages.
  • The government took a note and then consulted the experts of the Sahitya Academi. Later a committee was established and some criteria were established to grant the status of Classical Languages.

Criteria for Classical Languages in India

  • The government of India currently follows the following criteria to determine the eligibility of language to be considered for classification as “classical language”:
    1. High antiquity of its early texts/ recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years.
    2. A body of ancient literature/ texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers.
    3. The literary tradition be original and not borrowed from another speech community.
    4. 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.
Current Classical Languages
  1. Tamil (in the year 2004)
  2. Sanskrit (in the year 2005)
  3. Kannada (in the year 2008)
  4. Telugu (in the year 2008)
  5. Malayalam (in the year 2013)
  6. Odia (in the year 2014)
Benefits of the Status
  • Government of India’s resolution states that the following benefits will accrue to a language declared as a “Classical Language”:
    • Two major annual international awards for scholars of eminence in Classical language.
    • A ‘Centre of Excellence for Studies in Classical Languages’ can be set up.
    • The University Grants Commission can be requested to create, to start with at least in Central Universities, a certain number of professional chairs for classical languages for scholars of eminence in Classical Indian Languages.

National Translation Mission

  • National Translation Mission (NTM) is a Government of India scheme to establish translation as an industry in general and, to facilitate higher education by making knowledge texts accessible to students and academics in Indian languages in particular. The vision is to create a knowledge society by transcending language barriers.
  • NTM aims to disseminate knowledge in all Indian languages listed in the VIII schedule of the Constitution through translation.
  • A combination of efforts is made to orient translators, encourage publishers to publish translations, maintain databases of published translations from, into and between Indian languages and to become a clearing house of information on translation. Through these efforts, NTM seeks to establish translation as an industry in India.
  • It is expected to facilitate the modernization of languages by developing new terminologies and discourse styles through translation. Translators would play a significant role in the modernisation process, especially, of the academic discourse in Indian languages.
  • Knowledge text translation is the first step towardsthe goal of establishing translation as an industry. All textual materials meant for the dissemination of knowledge constitute the corpus of Knowledge Texts for NTM.
  • At present, NTM is engaged in the translation of all pedagogic materials related to higher education in 22 Indian languages. NTM aims to open up the vast body of knowledge by translating the higher education texts, available mostly in English, into Indian languages.
  • It is expected that this process will eventually pave the way for the constitution of an inclusive knowledge society.

Linguistic Diversity Index

  • Greenberg’s Diversity Index (LDI) is the probability that two people selected from the population at random will have different mother tongues; it therefore ranges from 0 (everyone has the same mother tongue) to 1 (no two people have the same mother tongue).
  • The ILD measures how the LDI has changed over time; a global ILD of 0.8 indicates a 20% loss of diversity since 1970, but ratios above 1 are possible, and have appeared in regional indexes.
  • The computation of the diversity index is based on the population of each language as a proportion of the total population.
  • The index cannot fully account for the vitality of languages. Also, the distinction between a language and a dialect is fluid and often political.
  • A great number of languages are considered to be dialects of another language by some experts and separate languages by others. The index does not consider how different the languages are from each other, nor does it account for second language usage; it considers only the total number of distinct languages, and their relative frequency as mother tongues.

Lingua Franca

  • A lingua franca, also known as a bridge language, common language, trade language or vehicular language, is a language or dialect systematically used to make communication possible between persons not sharing a native language or dialect, in particular when it is a third language, distinct from both native languages.
  • Lingua franca have been developed around the world throughout human history, sometimes for commercial reasons but also for cultural, religious, diplomatic and administrative convenience, and as a means of exchanging information between scientists and other scholars of different nationalities.
  • The best example is English.

Q.1 The term ‘Aryan’ denotes: [1999]

(a) an ethnic group
(b) a nomadic people
(c) a speech group
(d) a superior race

Q.2 Consider the following languages: [2014]
(i) Gujarati
(ii) Kannada
(iii) Telugu

Which of the above has/have been declared as ‘Classical Language/Languages’ by the Government?

(a) (i) and (ii) only
(b) (iii) only
(c) (ii) and (iii) only
(d) (i), (ii) and (iii)

Q.3 Which one of the following was given classical language status recently? [2015]

(a) Odia
(b) Konkani
(c) Bhojpuri
(d) Assamese

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