India – A Microcosm of Linguistic Unity in Diversity

Last Updated August 16, 2016

Image courtesy: India Charts

India is a perfect example of unity in diversity. Take geography for example – from the snow-capped Himalayan mountain peaks in the north to the arid deserts of Rajasthan in the west. Then there is a multitude of religions – Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism – and even religions within religions called sects. And then comes the linguistic diversity of our country – to be precise, India has 22 major languages, written in 13 different scripts, with over 720 distinct dialects. This was aptly surmised by the eminent sociologist A R Desai when he said:

‘India presents a spectacle of museum of tongues.’

True that. And this spectacle we are talking about is on the verge of celebrating 70 years of its independence from the British rule. That makes it 70 whole years of Indian languages revamping, progressing and evolving themselves. Why? Well, as speakers of a particular language change from generation to generation, so do their needs. For instance, English was spoken back in 1947 when India attained independence and so is it spoken now – the two having a world of a difference between them. The English in the olden times was the common functional language of the masses, and today it is a combination of many regional varieties (including, of course, Hinglish words and the popular SMS lingo).

Five Fun Facts about Indian Languages

1.Which is India’s national language?

A.Surprisingly enough, we don’t have one! We have designated ‘official’ languages, specified ‘classical’ languages but no national language.

2.Which Indian language(s) boast of more speakers in the whole world than French or German?

A.Hold your breath – it’s Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi. Individually.

3.Which word is the second longest palindrome in the English language?

A.Our very own – MALAYALAM of Kerala.

4.Which is the most computer-friendly language?

A.According to NASA scientist Rick Briggs, Sanskrit is the most precise, predictable and computer-friendly language.

5.Which is the fourth most spoken language in the world, even more than English?

A.Hindi, our official language (after Mandarin).

English, English everywhere…Really?

Image courtesy: Keep calm-o-matic

All the time and everywhere? Well, not really, except if you’re a student of one of the so-called elite   private English medium schools in the country which take upon themselves the responsibility of reprimanding you even if a single non-English word escapes your lips.

It is a fact that the English language is akin to our window to the whole world, thanks to the 21st century revolution which involves the internet, emails and mobile phones. Also, effective English communication is considered to hold us in good stead on the professional front too.

However, it won’t be wrong to say that we’re coming a full circle in terms of the importance of other regional languages catching up. By way of illustration, have a look at these headlines from leading National dailies in the months gone by:

2014: PM Narendra Modi greets the nation in 18 languages on the occasion of India’s 68th Independence Day (from Gujarati to Kannada, Punjabi to Assamese – the address had them all).

2015: Hike Messenger, India’s first home-grown messaging platform, adds support for 8 Indian vernacular languages (users would now be able to choose and access a keyboard in the selected local language).

2016: DU aspirants opting for modern Indian languages stand to gain up to 10% additional marks (the modern Indian languages include Punjabi, Tamil, Urdu, Telugu and Bengali).

2016: Microsoft and Google to provide email in Indian languages (we might just be able to have our email ID in our own Indian language soon!).

Messaging and emailing started initially in English, but now it is branching out to the vernacular languages. We were taught to speak in English and only in English in school, but now universities are offering additional marks as an incentive to move on to other languages. And logging in to our email accounts using our own language rather than English? The icing on the cake!

In Conclusion

This Independence Day, let us also celebrate the linguistic diversity of India in addition to independence. There would be no better way than to sum it up with the words Shashi Tharoor penned down when India was celebrating its 61st Independence Day:

‘Indian nationalism is a rare animal indeed. The French speak French, the Germans speak German, the Americans speak English – but Indians speak Punjabi, or Gujarati, or Malayalam, and it does not make us any less Indian.

It is a reality that pluralism emerges from the very nature of our country; it is a choice made inevitable by India’s geography, re-affirmed by its history and reflected in its ethnography. Let us celebrate our Independence on August 15 in a multitude of languages, so long as we can say in all of them how proud we are to be Indian.’

Jai Hind!

Related Posts

Summa Linguae uses cookies to allow us to better understand how the site is used. By continuing to use this site, you consent to this policy.

Learn More