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Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India | History for UPSC CSE

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  • Language- a system o f communication through speech, a collection of sounds that a group of people understand to have the same meaning (literary’ meaning).
  • Language family- includes individual languages related through a common ancestor that existed before the recorded history.
  • Dialect- a form of language spoken in a local area.
  • Several dialects can be derived from a particular language.
  • Most of the languages spoken in India belong to Indo-Aryan group, born out of Indo-European family.

Classification of Indian Languages
Languages in India- classified into following:
Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India | History for UPSC CSE

Indo Aryan Group of Languages

  • Branch of larger Indo-European family which with the advent of Aryans.
  • Largest language group of India - spoken by 74% Indians.
  • Sub-divided into three groups based on time period of their origin.

(i) Old Indo-Aryan Group

  • Development around 1500 B.C. & Sanskrit was born out of it.
  • Upanishads, Puranas & Dharmasutras- in Sanskrit.
  • Sanskrit is the mother of many Indian languages.
  • Development of Sanskrit- helped in understanding diversity & richness of our culture.
  • Sanskrit- most ancient language of our country & one of 22 scheduled languages.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Majority of the languages spoken across India belong to -
View Solution

Development of Sanskrit
(a) Sanskrit grammar- began with Panini’s book Asthadhyayi, 400 B.C. - oldest book in Sanskrit grammar.
(b) Buddhist literature from Mahayana & Hinayana school- in Sanskrit language.
(c) Book Mahavastu (Flinayana school) a treasure o f stories; Lalitavistara (most sacred Mahayana text) & Ashvagosha’s Buddhacharita- in Sanskrit.
(d) All parts of India (north, south, east, and west) had been affected by Sanskrit language.
(e) Chaste form of Sanskrit (refined version of Vedic Sanskrit) - developed between 300 BC to 200 BC.
(f) First evidence of use of Sanskrit- inscriptions of Rudradamana at Junagarh in present Southern
(g) Gujarat region.
(h) Gupta period- use of Sanskrit in poetries.
(i) This was a period of creation of pure literature as seen in Mahakavyas (epics) & Khandakavyas semi-epics).
(j) This period was called period of unique creation, because a variety of literary works developed during this reign & ornate style was used in literary works.
(k) Features of places developed in Gupta period- use of Sanskrit language by characters of high varna & use of Prakrit language by women and shudras.

(ii) Middle Indo-Aryan Group

  • 600 BC to 1000 AD
  • Started with development of Prakrit.
  • Prakrit- was natural, original, casual, etc, and didn’t have strict rules of usage & was a common tongue.
  • Prakrit- broader term under which all Middle Indo-Aryan group languages are clubbed together.
  • Languages like Ardha-Magadhi, Pali (used by Theravada Buddhists), Apabhramsha- originate from Prakrit.
  • Prakrit- common people but Sanskrit- orthodox with fixed rules & used by learned people or elites like Brahmins.
  • Writing texts in was relatively a late development in comparison to Sanskrit.
  • Jain ‘Agamas’ used Prakrit & Ardha-Magadhi language.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Consider the following statements –
1. The Sanskrit language belongs to the Dravidian group.
2. It is among the 22 languages listed in the Constitution.
Which of the above statement(s) is/are correct?
View Solution

Prakrit includes:
(a) Pali:

  • Widely spoken in Magadha.
  • Popular during 5th- 1 st century BC.
  • Closely related to Sanskrit, & texts in Pali were written in Brahmi script.
  • Tripitaka of Buddhism- written in Pali.
  • Serves as lingua franca of Theravada Buddhism.
  • Buddha did not speak in Pali but preached in ardha-magadhi language.

(b) Magadhi Prakrit or Ardha-Magadhi:

  • Most important kind of Prakrit.
  • Use increased after decline of Sanskrit & Pali. 1000 AD & started with development of Prakrit.
  • Buddha & Mahavira spoke this, which was the court language of few Mahajanapadas & also Mauryan dynasty.
  • Jain texts & Rock edicts of Ashoka were written in it.
  • It evolved into languages of Eastern India like Bengali, Assamese, Odia, Maithili, Bhojpuri, etc.

(c) Shauraseni:

  • Used to write dramas in medieval India.
  • Predecessor to Northern Indian languages.
  • Jain monks wrote mainly in this version.
  • Important text of Digambars, ‘Shatkhandgama’ is written in it.

(d) Maharashtri Prakrit: Spoken till 9th century AD.

  • Predecessor to Marathi & Konkani.
  • Widely used in western & southern India.
  • Official language of Satavahana dynasty.
  • Several drama like ‘Gaha Kosha’ by King Hala, ‘Gaudavaho’ (slaying of the king of Gauda) by Vakpati, were written in it.

(e) Elu:

  • Ancient form of modem Sinhala language of Sri Lanka.
  • Similar to Pali.

(f) Paishachi:

  • Also called 'Bhuta-Bhasa’ (dead language)
  • Gunadhya’s Brihatkatha (6th century), an ancient epic is written in it.
  • Regarded as an unimportant dialect.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Which of the following is the most ancient language of India?
View Solution

(a) Apabhramsa’ (corrupt or non-grammatical)
(b) Developed by 6th-7th century
(c) Apabhramsa- umbrella term meaning dialects other than Sanskrit or even Prakrit.
(d) Represents transition from Middle to Modem Indo-Aryan Group of languages.
(e) Became a literary language & was used to write several texts, legends, etc.
(f) By 7th century, it developed its own identity as Bhamaha, a renowned poet of 6th or 7th century of Kashmir, divided poetry into Sanskrit, Prakrit, and also Apabhramsha & Dandin said that Apabhramsa is the dialect of common folk.
(g) Many Jain monks & scholars wrote extensively in it.
(h) Major texts & writers: Pushpadanta’s Mahapurana (Digambara Jain text),
(i) Dhanapala’s Bhavisayattakaha, etc.

(iii)  Modern Indo-Arvan Group

  • Includes- Hindi, Assamese, Bengali, Gujrati, Marathi, Punjabi, Rajasthani, Sindhi, Odia, Urdu etc.
  • Developed after 1000 AD.
  • Mainly spoken in northern, western & eastern parts of India.

Dravidian Group

  • Comprises languages spoken in southern India.
  • Spoken by 25% of the Indians
  • Proto Dravidian gave rise to 21 Dravidian languages.
  • Broadly classified into three groups:

(i) Northern Group

  • Consist of three languages, i.e., Brahui, Malto & Kurukh.
  • Brahui- Baluchistan, Malto- tribal areas of Bengal and Odisha- Kumkh in Bengal, Odisha, Bihar & Madhya Pradesh.

(ii) Central Group

  • Consists of eleven languages i.e., Gondi, Khond, Kui, Manda, Parji, Gadaba, Kolami, Pengo, Naiki, Kuvi and Telugu.
  • Only Telugu became civilised language & is spoken in Andhra Pradesh & Telangana whereas others are tribal languages.

(iii)  Southern Group

  • Includes seven languages- Kannada, Tamil, Malayalam, Tulu, Kodagu, Toda and Kota. Tamil oldest among all these.
  • Among these 21 languages of the Dravidian Group, four major languages are:
  • Telugu (numerically largest of all Dravidian languages),Tamil (oldest and purest form of language), Kannada, Malayalam (smallest and youngest of Dravidian group).

Sino- Tibetan Group

  • Belong to Mongoloid family
  • Stretch to all Himalayas, North Bihar, North Bengal, Assam and North-Eastern frontiers.
  • Older than Indo-Aryan languages.
  • Referred to in oldest Sanskrit literature as Kiratas.
  • Spoken by 0.6% of Indians.
  • This group is further divided into:

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Consider the following
1. Prakrit has been derived out of Pali.
2. Pali language is older than Sanskrit
Which of the above statement is/are correct?
View Solution

(i) Tibeto-Burman
(a) Languages under it are further divided into four groups.
(b) Tibetan: Sikkimese, Bhutia, Balti, Sherpa, Lahuli and Ladakhi
(c) Himalayan-Kinnauri and Limbu
(d) North Assam-Abor, Miri, Aka, Dafla and Mishmi
(e) Assam-Burmese-Kuki-chin, Mikir, Bodo and Naga.
(f) Manipuri or Meithi is the most important languages spoken under Kuki-chin under the sub-group.

(ii) Siamese-Chinese

(a) Ahom, already extinct in India belongs to this group.


  • Belong to Austro-asiatic sub-family which are represented by languages of Munda or Kol group.
  • Spoken in Central, Eastern & North-Eastern India.
  • Some of them also belong to Mon-Khmer group, vig. Khasi & Nicobarese.
  • Existed much before advent of Aryans & referred to in ancient Sanskrit literature as Nisadas.
  • Santhali- spoken among by Santhal tribals of Jharkhand, Bihar & Bengal- most important language under this group.
  • All Austro-asiatic languages on Indian territory are endangered except Khasi & Santhali.


  • Includes Dravidian adivasi languages like Gondi, Oraon, Praji, etc. which are very distinct and cannot be classified in the groups mentioned above.

Difference between Indo-Arvan Group and the Dravidian Group of Languages

  • Root words in two groups are different.
  • Different grammatical structure in two group.
  • Grammatical Structure of Dravidian family is agglutinative, i.e. combinations in which roots words are united with little or no change o f form or loss o f words whereas that of Indo-Aryan group is inflected, i.e. words ending or its spelling changes according to its grammatical function in a sentence.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Which of the following did not find its origin from Prakrit language?
View Solution


  • Article 343 (1) of the Constitution- “The Official Language of the Union Government shall be Hindi in Devanagari script.” “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 1965.
  • After 15 years, parliament had the freedom to decide on the usage of English for official purposes- this led to protests across nation by the non-Hindi speaking communities against change in official language from English to Hindi.
  • Protest resulted in enactment of Official Language Act, 1963.
  • Act declares Hindi in Devanagari script as the official language of the Union.
  • English- “subsidiary official language” of the union.
  • Constitution made a provision for each states to choose their own official language
  • Languages listed in Eighth Schedule of the Constitution can be used by States for official purpose.
  • Initially following 14 languages were selected under Eighth Schedule:(i) Assamese
    (ii) Hindi
    (iii) Malayalam
    (iv) Punjabi
    (v) Telugu
    (vi) Bengali
    (vii) Kannada
    (viii) Marathi
    (ix) Sanskrit
    (x) Urdu
    (xi) Gujarati
    (xii) Kashmiri
    (xiii) Odia
    (xiv) Tamil
  • 21st Amendment Act o f 1967- Sindhi added as 15th language. 71st Amendment Act, 1992- Konkani, Manipuri & Nepali were added.
  • 92nd Amendment Act, 2003 added Bodo, Maithili, Dogri & Santhali.
  • At present 22 languages are listed under eighth schedule.
  • No national language of India.
  • Hindi- not a national language.
  • Constitution or any Act doesn’t define national language.
  • Constitution does not specify official language to be used States. They are free to adopt it.
  • Language adopted by States- has to be listed in Eighth Schedule but several States have adopted official language which are not listed.
    Tripura-Kokborok (belongs to Sino-Tibetan familly), Puducherry - French, Mizoram-Mizo
  • English- official language of Nagaland & Meghalaya.
  • English- not in list of 22 scheduled languages in Eighth schedule.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Buddhist scripts were mainly written in
View Solution


  • Criteria to be a “Classical Language’’, as determined by Government o f India in 2004.
    (i) High antiquity of 1500-2000 years;
    (ii) A body of ancient literature/texts;
    (iii) Original literary tradition be & not borrowed from another speech community;
  • Languages classified as classical:
    (a) Tamil in 2004
    (b) Telugu in 2008
    (c) Malayalam in 2013
    (d) Sanskrit in 2005
    (e) Kannada in 2008
    (f) Odia in 2014
  • Government- criticised for not including Pali though it fits all the abovementioned criteria.


  • Following benefits accrue to a “Classical Language” :
    (i) Two major international awards for scholars of eminence in Classical Indian Languages to be awarded annually.
    (ii) ‘Centre of Excellence for Studies in Classical Languages’ will be set up.
    (iii) University Grants Commission will be requested to create and to start with at least in the Central Universities, a certain number of Professional Chairs for Classical
    (iv) Languages for scholars of eminence in Classical Indian Languages.


  • Government of India scheme to facilitate higher education by making knowledge texts accessible to students and academies in Indian languages.
  • Aim- to disseminate knowledge in all Indian languages listed in Eighth Schedule of the Constitution through translation.
  • Efforts are made to orient translators, encourage publishers to publish translations, maintain databases of published translations from, into & between Indian languages.
  • It is expected to facilitate modernisation of languages by developing new terminologies & discourse styles through translation.
  • Knowledge text translation- first step towards establishing translation as an industry.
  • Textual materials for 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.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Consider the following languages:
1. Telugu
2. Tamil
3. Kannada
4. Malayalam
5. Konkani
Which of the above languages belong to Dravidian Group?
View Solution

Objectives of the Mission

  • Certification and training of translators in different areas.
  • Generation &maintenance of databases.
  • Conducting short-term orientation courses under Translator Education Programme.
  • Promotion of machine aided translation between English & Indian languages.
  • Development of translation tools such as dictionaries & thesauri.
  • Offer fellowships & grants for Natural Language Processing & translation related research projects.
  • Promote visibility’ to translators & translation activities by organising events like book launches for translations, regional translation festivals, discussions, book exhibitions, etc.

Linguistic Diversity Index

  • Is the probability that two people selected from population at random will have different mother tongues.
  • Itranges from 0 (everyone has same mother tongue) to 1 (no two people have same mother tongue).
  • Index of Linguistic Diversity (ILD)- measures how LDI has changed over time.
  • 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.
  • Computation of diversity index- based on population of each language as a proportion of total population.
  • Distinction between a language & a dialect is fluid and often political.
  • Many languages are considered to be dialects of another language.
  • Index:
    (i) Can’t fully account for vitality of languages
    (ii) Doesn’t consider how different languages are from each other
    (iii) Doesn’t account for second language usage
    (iv) Only considers the total number of distinct languages & their relative frequency as mother tongues.

Lingua Franca

  • 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.
  • Also known as bridge language, common language, trade language or vehicular language.
  • Are developed for commercial reasons; cultural, religious, diplomatic and administrative convenience, and as a means of exchanging information between scientists and other scholars of different nationalities.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Consider the following statements –
1. Tamil is numerically the largest of all Dravidian languages.
2. Telugu is the smallest and youngest of the Dravidian Group.
which of the above is/are correct?
View Solution

(i) Script- a standard for representing the parts of a spoken language by making specific marks on a medium (Paper, rocks, birch-bark, etc).
(ii) Also known as writing system or orthography. It is
(iii) Two ancient scripts in India- Brahmi script & Kharosthi script.
(iv) Brahmi is the mother of scripts- Because most ancient & modem scripts in India are developed from Brahmi- Devanagari, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Odia, Assamese/Bengali, etc.
(v) Urdu- written in a script derived from Arabic.
(vi) Santhali- independent scripts.
(vii) Following are some scripts:

Indus Script

(i) Corpus of symbols produced by Indus Valley Civilization.

(ii) Most inscriptions - extremely short.

(iii) Not clear if these symbols constitute a script used to record a language.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Which is the oldest language belonging to Dravidian Group?
View Solution

Brahmi Script
(i) Oldest writing systems.
(ii)  Used in Indian subcontinent & Central Asia during final centuries BCE & early centuries CE.
(iii)  Believed to be derived from contemporary Semitic script or may be Indus script.
(iv)  All surviving Indie scripts in South East Asia are descendants of Brahmi.
(v) Best-known Brahmi inscriptions- rock-cut edicts of Ashoka in north-central India dated to 250-232 BCE & was deciphered James Prinsep (1837).
(vi) Written from left to right.
(vii) It is an abugida, that is each letter represents a consonant, while vowels are written with obligatory diacritics called matras in Sanskrit, except when the vowels commence a word.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:What is the National language of India?
View Solution

Gupta Script
Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India | History for UPSC CSE
(i) Belongs to Gupta Empire
(ii) Was used to write Sanskrit.
(iii) Descended from Brahmi & gave rise to Nagari, Sharada & Siddham scripts.
(iv) Gave rise to many important scripts of India like- Devanagari, Gurmukhi script for Punjabi Language, Assamese script, Bengali script and Tibetan script.
(v) Descendents of Brahmi script- collectively called Brahmic scripts.

Kharosthi Script
(i) 3rd Century BC - 3rd Century AD
(ii) Ancient script used in ancient Gandhara (present Afghanistan & Pakistan) to write Gandhari Prakrit & Sanskrit.
(iii) Sister script of Brahmi.
(iv) Deciphered by- James Princep.
(v) Also an abugida like Brahmi.
(vi) Includes a set of numerals similar to Roman numerals like I, X, etc.
(vii) Mostly written right to left but some inscriptions show left to right direction also.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Considering the following –
1. Tamil
2. Telugu
3. Kannada
4. Malayalam
5. Odia
Which of the following have been declared as classical language?
View Solution

Vatteluttu Script
(i) Abugida writing system
(ii) Origin- South India.
(iii) Developed from Tamil-Brahmi.
(iv) Is one of the three main alphabet systems developed by Tamil people to write Granthi or Pallava alphabet & Tamil script.

Kadamba Script
(i) Marks the birth o f a dedicated script for writing Kannada.
(ii) Descendant of Brahmi
(iii) Developed during the reign of Kadamba dynasty (4th-6th centuries).
(iv) Later became Kannada-Telegu script.

Grantha Script

(i) Widelyused- sixth century & 20th centuries.

(ii) By Tamil speakers in South India, in Tamil Nadu & Kerala, to write Sanskrit and classical language Manipravalam.

(iii) In restricted use in traditional Vedic schools.

(iv) Evolved from Brahmi script in Tamil Nadu.

(v) Malayalam script- direct descendant of Grantha as are Tigalari & Sinhala alphabets.

Sarada Script
(i) Sarada or Sharada script- abugida writing system.
(ii) Of Brahmic family
(iii) Developed around 8th century.
(iv) Used for writing Sanskrit & Kashmiri.
(v) Its use became restricted to Kashmir, & is now rarely used except by Kashmiri
(vi) Pandits for ceremonial purposes.

Gurmukhi Script
(i) Developed from Sarada script.
(ii) Was standardised during 16th century by Guru Angad.
(iii) Guru Granth Sahib is written in this script.
(iv) Most commonly used by Sikhs & Hindus for writing Punjabi.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:Which of the following language is not listed in the Eighth schedule of the Constitution?
View Solution

Devanagari Script
(i) Abugida alphabet o f India & Nepal.
(ii) Written from left to right.
(iii) Is used for over 120 languages, including Hindi, Marathi, Nepali, Pali, Konkani, Bodo, Sindhi & Maithili
(iv)  One of the most used & adopted writing systems in the world.
(v)  Also used for classical Sanskrit texts.

Modi Script
(i) Used to write Marathi.
(ii) Was an official script to write Marathi until 20th century when Balbodh style of Devanagari script was promoted as the standard writing system for Marathi.
(iii) Urdu, Kannada, Gujarati, Hindi & Tamil are also known to have been written in Modi.

Urdu Script
(i) Right-to-left
(ii) Modification of Persian alphabet (derivative of Arabic alphabet in 13th century).
(iii) Closely related to development ofNastaliq style of Perso-Arabic script.
(iv) Extended form- Shahmukhi script, which is used for writing other Indo-Aryan languages of North Indian subcontinent like Punjabi & Saraiki.
(v) Indian literary styles have undergone considerable changes. Spread of Buddhism from India- influenced scripts of Sri Lanka, Tibet & South-East Asia.
(vi) Indian writing tradition- also been changed due to advent of Islam in India.

Question for Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India
Try yourself:By the 92nd Amendment Act, 2003 which of the following language was not added to the eighth schedule?
View Solution

The document Nitin Singhania: Summary of Languages in India | History for UPSC CSE is a part of the UPSC Course History for UPSC CSE.
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