Many widely divergent languages with varied dialects in a multi-hued cultural set-up is part of the kaleidoscope of India. In a country with so much regional variation, where in several cases state boundaries have been drawn on linguistic lines, it is but inevitable that 22 national languages are recognized by the Indian constitution. These are spoken now in over 1600 dialects.

As a large and linguistically diverse country, India does not have a single official language. Instead, the Constitution of India envisages a situation where each state has its own official language(s), in addition to the official languages to be used by the Union government.

The languages of the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution

The Eighth Schedule to the Indian Constitution contains a list of 22 scheduled languages. At the time the constitution was enacted, inclusion in this list meant that the language was entitled to representation on the Official Languages Commission, and that the language would be one of the basis that would be drawn upon to enrich Hindi, the official language of the Union. Via the 92nd Constitutional amendment 2003, 4 new languages – Bodo, Maithili, Dogri, and Santhali – were added to the 8th Schedule of the Indian Constitution.

The following table lists the languages set out in the eighth schedule as of May 2007, together with the regions where they are used:

2.Bengali/BanglaAndaman & Nicobar Islands, Tripura, West Bengal
4.DogriJammu and Kashmir
5.GujaratiDadra and Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Gujarat
6.HindiAndaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Bihar, Chandigarh, Chhattisgarh, the national capital territory of Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand.
8.KashmiriJammu and Kashmir
9.KonkaniGoa, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Kerala
11.MalayalamKerala, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep
12.Manipuri (Meithei)Manipur
13.MarathiDadra & Nagar Haveli, Daman and Diu, Goa, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh.
14.NepaliWest Bengal
16.PunjabiChandigarh, Delhi, Haryana, Punjab
17.SanskritListed as a Classical Language of India.
18.SanthaliSanthal tribals of the Chota Nagpur Plateau(comprising the states of Bihar, Chattisgarh, Jharkhand, Orissa
19.SindhiSindhi community
20.TamilTamil Nadu, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Puducherry
21.TeluguAndaman & Nicobar Islands, Andhra Pradesh
22.UrduJammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar

While India’s official language is Hindi in the Devanagari script, English continues to be the official working language. Most Indians living in urban and semi-urban towns are multi-lingual. For many in the metro cities of India, English is virtually their first language, and for many more, it is the second language. Sanskrit, one of the oldest languages of the world, is the language in which the great Indian epics and classical literature have been written.

Hindi is spoken as a mother tongue by about 40 percent of the population, mainly in the area known as the Hindi belt. It is the official language of the Indian Union and of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Arunachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, the national capital territory of Delhi, Jharkhand, Chandigarh and Himachal Pradesh.

Assamese is the state language of Assam and is spoken by nearly 60 percent of the State’s population. The origin of this language dates back to the 13th century. Bengali, also developed in the 13th century, is the official state language of West Bengal. It is spoken by nearly 200 million people worldwide, and is used in neighboring Bangladesh also. Oriya, the state language of Orissa is spoken by nearly 87 percent of its population.

In the south India, Kannada is the State language of Karnataka and is spoken by 65 percent of the state’s population. Malayalam, spoken in Kerala, is an ancient Dravidian language with it’s origin dating thousands of years. Tamil, an ancient Dravidian language at least 2000 years old, is the state language of Tamil Nadu and is spoken by at least 65 million people. Telugu, also a Dravidian language, is spoken by the people of Andhra Pradesh.

Marathi is an Indic language dating back to the 13th century, and is the official language of the western state of Maharashtra. Gujarati, Indic in origin, is the state language of Gujarat and is spoken by 70 percent of the State’s population. Konkani, principally based on classical Sanskrit, belongs to the southwestern branch of Indo-Aryan languages and is spoken in the Konkan region covering Goa and parts of the coastal regions of Karnataka, Kerala and Maharashtra.

Urdu is the state language of Jammu and Kashmir. It is also the language used by the majority of Muslims in India. Written in the Persio-Arabic script, it contains many words from Persian. Kashmiri is a language written in both Persio-Arabic and Devanagari script and is spoken by 55 percent of the population of Jammu and Kashmir. Sindhi is spoken by many in the North-west frontier of the Indian sub-continent comprising both India and Pakistan. In Pakistan, the language is written in the Persio-Arabic script, while in India the Devanagari script is used. Punjabi is an Indic language spoken in the state of Punjab. Although based on the Devanagari script, it is written in Gurmukhi, a script created by the Sikh Guru, Angad in the 16th century.