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The languages India Speaks

Context:

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.

Relevance:

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

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October 2022
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