About... Desi Languages


India is a linguistically diverse country with over 1.3 billion people speaking more than 19,500 languages and dialects. However, according to the 2011 Census of India, the total number of mother tongues spoken in the country is 1,369. Out of these, the top 10 most widely spoken languages in India are:

(Image Source for the header image)

  1. Hindi – 41% of the population
  2. Bengali – 8.1% of the population
  3. Telugu – 7.9% of the population
  4. Marathi – 7.9% of the population
  5. Tamil – 6.7% of the population
  6. Gujarati – 4.6% of the population
  7. Urdu – 4.2% of the population
  8. Kannada – 3.6% of the population
  9. Odia – 3.1% of the population
  10. Punjabi – 2.9% of the population
Language region maps of India Filpro, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Distribution of Language speakers

Below is the sentence “What is your name?” translated into the scripts of the top 10 Indian languages with their English transliteration:

  1. Hindi: Devanagari script: आपका नाम क्या है?
    • How to say it: Āpkā nām kyā hai?
  2. Bengali: Bengali script: তোমার নাম কি?
    • How to say it: Tomar nam ki?
  3. Telugu: Telugu script: మీ పేరు ఏమిటి?
    • How to say it: Mī pēru ēmiṭi?
  4. Marathi: Devanagari script: तुमचं नाव काय आहे?
    • How to say it: Tumacha nāv kāy āhe?
  5. Tamil: Tamil script: உங்கள் பெயர் என்ன?
    • How to say it: Ungaḷ peyar enna?
  6. Gujarati: Gujarati script: તમારૂં નામ શું છે?
    • How to say it: Tamārūṃ nām shuṃ che?
  7. Urdu: Perso-Arabic script: آپ کا نام کیا ہے؟
    • How to say it: Aap ka naam kya hai?
  8. Kannada: Kannada script: ನಿಮ್ಮ ಹೆಸರು ಯಾವುದು?
    • How to say it: Nimma hesaru yavudu?
  9. Oriya: Odia script: ତୁଙ୍କ ନାମ କେଉଁଠିକ?
    • How to say it: Tunka nāma keuthik?
  10. Punjabi: Gurmukhi script: ਤੁਹਾਡਾ ਨਾਮ ਕੀ ਹੈ?
    • How to say it: Tuhāḍā nām kī hai?

The age of these languages varies widely. For example, Tamil is one of the oldest surviving classical languages in the world, with a history dating back over 2,000 years. On the other hand, Hindi is a relatively modern language that emerged in the 19th century.

Most of the major languages in India have their own scripts. For example, Hindi and Marathi use the Devanagari script, while Tamil has its own script known as Tamil script. However, there are some languages that do not have their own script and use the script of another language. For example, Urdu uses the Arabic script, while Konkani and some other languages use the Roman script.

Many Indian languages have their own works of famous literature. For example, the Sanskrit epic poem, the Ramayana, is one of the most famous works of literature in India and has been translated into many Indian languages. Other notable works include the Tamil epic poem, the Silappatikaram, and the Bengali novel, Devdas.

India has a wide variety of dialects in addition to its languages.

For example, Hindi has several dialects, including Bhojpuri, Braj, and Haryanvi. Tamil has several dialects, including Madras Tamil, Coimbatore Tamil, and Tirunelveli Tamil. Other examples of dialects in India include Punjabi, Bengali, and Marathi.

To get an idea about how widely dialects vary – let’s look at Telugu, #3 on the list above – since it’s widely spoken but in a smaller geographic area:

Telugu has several dialects that are spoken in different regions of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Some of the major dialects of Telugu include:

  1. Andhra dialect: This dialect is spoken in the coastal districts of Andhra Pradesh, including Krishna, Guntur, and East Godavari. It is considered to be the standard dialect of Telugu.
  2. Rayalaseema dialect: This dialect is spoken in the Rayalaseema region of Andhra Pradesh, which includes the districts of Anantapur, Kadapa, Kurnool, and Chittoor. It is characterized by its distinctive pronunciation and vocabulary.
  3. Telangana dialect: This dialect is spoken in the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh, which includes the districts of Hyderabad, Rangareddy, and Medak. It has a unique vocabulary and pronunciation that sets it apart from other Telugu dialects.
  4. Vadaga dialect: This dialect is spoken in the border areas between Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. It has been heavily influenced by Tamil and has a distinct vocabulary and pronunciation.

Overall, Telugu is a rich and diverse language with a long history and cultural significance. It is the third most spoken language in India and is widely used in literature, films, and music.

In addition to the top four most widely spoken languages listed above (Hindi, Bengali, Telugu, and Marathi), some other notable Indian languages and their dialects include:

  1. Tamil – dialects include Madras Tamil, Coimbatore Tamil, and Tirunelveli Tamil
  2. Gujarati – dialects include Kachchi, Surati, and Kathiawadi
  3. Kannada – dialects include Mysore Kannada, Mangalore Kannada, and Gulbarga Kannada
  4. Malayalam – dialects include Travancore Malayalam, Cochin Malayalam, and Palakkad Malayalam.

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