India has an immense diversity in food, dress and religion. And no where is this diversity more apparent than the language of India. More than 100 different languages are still spoken in the Asian sub-continent, yet the Indian Constitution declares Hindi, in Devanagari script, to be the official language of India. English is widely recognized as a second “official” language of the country. It is also the authoritative, legislative, and judicial language.
Most of the languages of India belong to two families, Aryan and Dravidian. Languages spoken in the five states of south India belong to the Dravidian family and most of the languages spoken in the north are of Aryan family. The general script of the Aryan languages is noticeably different from the general script of Dravidian languages.
Tourists experience few issues interacting with hotel staff, tour guides, drivers and staff at major sightseeing destinations. It isn’t until one ventures off the beaten path where conversing with locals may be difficult. And even in those circumstances, tourists are never too far away from an English speaking local. In fact, many Indians in addition to speaking English, speak their state or regional language as well as one or two other regional languages. Foreign tourists from Germany, France, China and Japan can even enjoy native speaking tour guides with the proper planning through travel agencies.
Travelers eager to learn small phrases, or more, are best advised to determine the most commonly used language of the region they wish to visit. For example, learning Hindi for a South India journey will yield very frustrating results given the population speaks several regional languages, none of which are Hindi. For travelers to the North, Hindi is an excellent choice. Tourists visiting the Northeast portion of India will be disappointed when their Hindi is met with blank stares. As with the South, many official state languages take precedence over Hindi.
Major Languages Spoken in India
|Assamese||Assamese is an eastern Indo-Aryan language spoken by about 20 million people in the Indian states of Assam, Meghalaya and Arunachal Pradesh, and also spoken in Bangladesh and Bhutan. Assamese is closely related to Bengali and Oriya. Learn more…|
|Bengali||Bengali is the official language of West Bengal. It is an eastern Indo-Aryan language with around 211 million speakers in Bangladesh, the Indian state of West Bengal. Learn more…|
|Gujarati||Gujarati is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by about 46 million people in the Indian states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh. It is the official language of Gujarat. Learn more…|
|Hindi||Hindi is an Indo-Aryan language with approximately 487 million speakers. It is one of the official languages of India and is the main language used in the northern states of Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar. Learn more…|
|Kannada||Kannada is the official language of the South Indian state of Karnataka. Kannada is a Dravidian language spoken by about 44 million people in the Indian states of Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Learn more…|
|Kashmiri||Kashmiri is an Indo-Aryan language with about 4.5 million speakers in India, and Pakistan. Only 55% of the state’s population speaks Kashmiri, yet it is often mistaken as a state language of Jammu & Kashmir. The Kashmiri alphabet was adopted from the Urdu version of the Arabic script. Learn more…|
|Konkani||Konkani, an Indo-Aryan language spoken in the Indian states of Goa, Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra, is the official language in Goa. Konkani is also one of the official languages of India. Approximately 2.5 million people speak Konkani in India. Learn more…|
|Malayalam||Malayalam is another of the Dravidian languages of South India. With an estimated 35 million speakers, Malayalam is spoken in Kerala, the Laccadive Islands and portions of neighboring states of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Learn more…|
|Manipuri||Manipuri, also referred to as Meitei, is one of the official languages of the Northeast Indian state of Manipur. It is a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family, spoken in Manipur, Bangladesh and Myanmar by approximately 1.6 million people. Learn more…|
|Marathi||Marathi is an official language of Maharashtra. It is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by about 71 million people mainly in the Indian state of Maharashtra and neighboring states. Learn more…|
|Odia||Odia is closely related to Bengali and Assamese. It is an Indo-Aryan language, and the official language of Odisha. Including the Indian states of Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand, and Gujarat, 31 million people speak this language. Learn more…|
|Punjabi||Punjabi is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by about 60 million people in Pakistan and the Northwest Indian state of Punjab. It is the official language of Punjab. Punjabi is written in Gurmukhi script, created by the Sikh Guru, Angad. Learn more…|
|Sanskrit||Sanskrit is the classical language of Indian and the liturgical language of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. It is also one of the 22 recognized languages of India. It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest language in the world. Learn more…|
|Tamil||Tamil is a Dravidian language spoken by an estimated 73 million people in the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the country of Sri Lanka. It is the official language of Tamil Nadu. Learn more…|
|Telugu||Telugu is a Dravidian language mainly spoken in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. About 75 million people speak Telugu, the official language Andhra Pradesh. It is also commonly spoken in neighboring states of Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Maharashtra and Chattisgarh, and is one of the 22 recognized languages of India. Learn more…|
|Urdu||Urdu is the national language of Pakistan. It is closely related to and mutually intelligible with Hindi, however, much of Urdu vocabulary comes from Persian and Arabic, while Hindi contains more vocabulary from Sanskrit. Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language with about 104 million speakers. Learn more…|