India Language and Languages

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Language is diverse in India. Their schools teach 58 different languages. The nation has newspapers in 87 languages, radio programs broadcast in 71 languages, and films are produced in 15 different languages.

The reason behind such diversity is the fact that the Indian subcontinent consists of a number of separate linguistic communities each of which share a common language and culture. The people of India speak many languages and dialects, which are mostly varieties of about 15 principal languages.

Some Indian languages have a long literary history - Sanskrit literature is more than 5,000 years old and Tamil 3,000. India also has some languages that do not have written forms. There are 18 officially recognized languages in India (Konkani, Manipuri and Nepali were added in 1992) and each has produced a literature of great vitality and richness.

All stand for a homogeneous culture that is the essence of the great Indian literature, but each is distinctive in parts. This is an evolution in a land of myriad dialects, and the number of people speaking each language varies greatly. For example, Hindi has more than 250 million speakers, but relatively few people speak Andamanese.

Although some of the languages are called "tribal" or "aboriginal," their populations may be larger than those who speak some European languages. For example, Bhili and Santali. Both are tribal languages, but each have more than 4 million speakers. Gondi is spoken by nearly 2 million people.

The Indian languages belong to four language families: Indo-European, Dravidian, Mon-Khmer, and Sino-Tibetan. Indo-European and Dravidian languages are used by a large majority of India's population. The language families divide roughly into geographic groups. Languages of the Indo-European group are spoken mainly in northern and central regions.

The languages of southern India are mainly of the Dravidian group. Some ethnic groups in Assam and other parts of eastern India speak languages of the Mon-Khmer group. People in the northern Himalayan region and near the Burmese border speak Sino-Tibetan languages.

Speakers of 54 different languages of the Indo-European family make up about three-quarters of India's population. Twenty Dravidian languages are spoken by nearly a quarter of the people. Speakers of 20 Mon-Khmer languages and 98 Sino-Tibetan languages together make up about 2 percent of the population.

The heritage of the ancient and medieval periods of Indian culture is still a part of India today. But when India became exposed to European culture--and eventually became part of the British Empire--it came heavily under the influence of Western ideas. Some Indian writers reacted to the European presence by reviving the ancient values of Hinduism. Other writers eagerly adopted Western forms of writing such as journalism and the novel.

The modern period of Indian literature began in the 1800's, a period of great social change. All the major languages evolved a thriving literature which they still possess. The most important development was the increased importance of prose. Although prose works had existed in earlier Indian literature, most traditional texts (which were largely religious in content or feeling) had been written in verse. During the modern period, Indian prose achieved maturity as a vehicle for expressing a wide range of ideas.

Two related developments helped the process of change. One was the introduction of the printing press by Christian missionaries (scribes had hand-copied texts in earlier times). The other development was the birth of Indian journalism. The spread of Western-style education helped produce a new readership for the new literature. Writers expressed ideas of social reform, and laid great emphasis on realism.