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The languages India Speaks


Recently, Home Minister suggested that states should communicate with each other in Hindi rather than English, while stressing that Hindi should not be an alternative to local languages.


GS II- Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. How widely is Hindi spoken in India?
  2. Has it always been this widespread?
  3. And how widely is English spoken?

How widely is Hindi spoken in India?

  • The 2011 linguistic census accounts for 121 mother tongues, including 22 languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution.
  • Hindi is the most widely spoken, with 52.8 crore individuals, or 43.6% of the population, declaring it as their mother tongue.
  • The next highest is Bengali, mother tongue for 97 lakh (8%) — less than one-fifth of Hindi’s count.
  • In terms of the number of people who know Hindi, the count crosses more than half the country.
  • Nearly 13.9 crore (over 11%) reported Hindi as their second language, which makes it either the mother tongue or second language for nearly 55% of the population.

Has it always been this widespread?

  • Hindi has been India’s predominant mother tongue over the decades, its share in the population rising in every succeeding census.
  • In 1971, 37% Indians had reported Hindi as their mother tongue, a share that has grown over the next four censuses to 38.7%, 39.2%, 41% and 43.6% at last count).
  • This begs the question as to which mother tongues have declined as Hindi’s share has risen.
  • A number of mother tongues other than Hindi have faced a decline in terms of share, although the dip has been marginal in many cases.
  • For example, Bengali’s share in the population declined by just 0.14 percentage points from 1971 (8.17%) to 2011 (8.03%).
  • In comparison, Malayalam (1.12 percentage points) and Urdu (1.03 points) had higher declines among the mother tongues with at least 1 crore speakers in 2011.
  • Punjabi’s share, on the other hand, rose from 2.57% to 2.74%.
  • Between 1971 and 2011, the number of individuals who declared their mother tongue as Hindi multiplied 2.6 times, from 20.2 crore to 52.8 crore.
  • The numbers more than doubled for Punjabi, Maithili, Bengali, Gujarati, and Kannada, and almost doubled for Marathi.
  • At the other end of the scale (among the 22 languages listed in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution) were Malayalam, whose numbers rose by under 59% in four decades, and Assamese, rising just over 71% (Chart 3).
What explains Hindi’s high numbers?
  • One obvious explanation is that Hindi is the predominant language in some of India’s most populous states, including Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar.
  • Another reason is that a number of languages are bracketed under Hindi by census enumerators

And how widely is English spoken?

  • Although English, alongside Hindi, is one of the two official languages of the central government, it is not among the 22 languages in the 8th Schedule; it is one of the 99 non-scheduled languages.
  • In terms of mother tongue, India had just 2.6 lakh English speakers in 2011 — a tiny fraction of the 121 crore people counted in that census.
  • That does not reflect the extent to which English is spoken.
Where is English most prevalent?
  • As mother tongue, Maharashtra accounted for over 1 lakh of the 2.6 lakh English speakers.
  • As second language, English is preferred over Hindi in parts of the Northeast.
  • Among the 17.6 lakh with Manipuri (an 8th Schedule language) as their mother tongue in 2011, 4.8 lakh declared their second language as English, compared to 1.8 lakh for Hindi.

-Source: Indian Express

December 2023