The Languages of India: 2011

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This is a collection of articles archived for the excellence of their content.



Districts with the most and least number of languages/ 2011

Sruthy Susan Ullas & Petlee Peter, Sep 4, 2021: The Times of India

Cities that speak 100+ languages, as in Sep 2021
From: Sruthy Susan Ullas & Petlee Peter, Sep 4, 2021: The Times of India

Bengaluru is the district where the most number of languages are spoken in the country, says a recent analysis of the 2011 Census by two academicians.

No less than 107 languages arThe other districts where more than 100 languages are spoken are Dimapur of Nagaland (103) and Sonitpur of Assam (101), says the analysis by Shamika Ravi, a non-resident senior fellow of Brookings Institution, and Mudit Kapoor, an associate professor of economics at Indian Statistical Institute. The least diverse districts include Yanam (Puducherry), Kaimur (Bhabua, Bihar), Kaushambi and Kanpur Dehat (Uttar Pradesh) and Ariyalur (Tamil Nadu). In these districts, less than 20 languages are spoken.

In Bengaluru, the total percentage of people who speak Kannada is 44%. The other major languages include Tamil (15%), Telugu (14%), Urdu (12%), Hindi (6%), Malayalam (3%), Marathi (2%), Konkani (0.6%), Bengali (0.6%) and Odia (0.5%). Languages like Pochury, Kondh, Sangtam and Wancho have the least number of speakers.

The authors point out that the census covers all languages irrespective of the size of the population that speaks it. The linguistic diversity refers to mobility and, in turn, economic outcomes. “Mobility is a good marker for economic dynamism... Language is a good proxy for talent. When people speaking very different languages are coming to one place, the driving force is economy and job opportunities. The language tree for Bengaluru shows there are people from far and wide,” said Shamika Ravi.

She also pointed out that while 100-plus languages is a lot, melting pots like New York feature 600-plus languages.

Popularly spoken languages

2001: 45% know Hindi; 25% declared Hindi as mother tongue

Bharti Jain, June 28, 2018: The Times of India


Bengali remains the second most spoken language while Marathi has replaced Telugu in third place

Sanskrit was the least spoken of the country’s 22 scheduled languages

Tamil Nadu had the second highest number of people with English as their mother tongue, while Karnataka was a close third

The percentage of Indian population with Hindi as their mother tongue has risen to 43.63% from 41.03% in 2001, according to data on language released on Tuesday as part of Census 2011. Bengali remains the second most spoken language while Marathi has replaced Telugu in third place.

Sanskrit was the least spoken of the country's 22 scheduled languages. With just 24,821 persons listing it as their mother tongue, it was slotted below Bodo, Manipuri, Konkani and Dogri languages in terms of number of speakers.

Among the unscheduled languages, around 2.6 lakh people listed English as their first spoken language in the 2011 census, of which 1.06 lakh were in Maharashtra. Tamil Nadu had the second highest number of people with English as their mother tongue, while Karnataka was a close third. Bhili/Bhilodi, spoken in Rajasthan, was the most spoken unscheduled language with 1.04 crore speakers, followed by Gondi with 29 lakh speakers.

While the percentage of people in India who listed Bengali as their mother tongue went up to 8.3% of the total population from 8.11% in the 2001 census, Marathi speakers as a percentage of the population grew from 6.99% in 2001 to 7.09% in 2011. Those returning Telugu as their mother tongue were down from 7.19% to 6.93%.

Urdu was ranked seventh, down from the sixth slot it occupied in 2001. Urdu speakers were down to 4.34% of the population compared to 5.01% in 2001. Gujarati, with 4.74% speakers, replaced Urdu in the sixth spot.

According to Census authorities, mother tongue is defined as the language spoken in childhood by the person's mother to the person or, where the mother has died in the person's infancy, the language mainly spoken in the person's household during childhood.

While 96.71% of the country's population returned one of the 22 scheduled languages as their mother tongue in the 2011 census, 3.29% returned other languages as their mother tongue.

Top 10 languages in India/ 2011

Manash Gohain, June 4, 2019: The Times of India

Top 10 languages in India, % of population, 2011
From: Manash Gohain, June 4, 2019: The Times of India
The Languages of India, presumably as in 2011
The growth of Hindi
The dialects of Hindi
From: Sep 17, 2019: The Times of India

See graphics:

Top 10 languages in India, % of population, 2011

The Languages of India, presumably as in 2011
The growth of Hindi
The dialects of Hindi

State edu boards to decide on choice of languages

New Delhi:

Amid an uproar from southern states, the Centre on Monday dropped the controversial reference to the three-language policy from the draft National Education Policy The earlier draft read, “The study of three languages by students in Hindi-speaking states would continue to include Hindi and English and one of the modern languages from other parts of India, while the study of languages by students in non-Hindi speaking states would include the regional language, Hindi and English”.

This has been revised to, “In keeping with the principle of flexibility, students who wish to change one or more of the three languages they are studying may do so in Grade 6 or Grade 7, so long as they are able to still demonstrate proficiency in three languages (one language at the literature level) in their modular board examinations some time during secondary school.”

The choice of available languages would be left to the state boards. Over the past two days, the government fielded external affairs minister S Jaishankar and finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman to clarify that there was no move to alter the three-language formula. Given BJP’s plans for political expansion in south India after gains in Telangana and Karnataka, the government is at pains to distance itself from the row. Speaking to TOI, the HRD secretary said the document was a progressive one, recommending radical changes in restructuring of undergraduate programmes, bringing all research activities under one platform with Rs 20,000-crore funding, suggesting a new regulatory framework for higher education institutions and bringing pre-primary education under the academic calendar.

“The report recommends some radical measures like restructuring of undergraduate programmes by bringing in broad spectrum changes. Another important recommendation the NEP committee made is on the National Research Foundation to bring in all research work under one roof,” R Subrahmanyam said.

How widely the various languages are spoken

Kabir Firaque, April 12, 2022: The Indian Express

Growth of Hindi as mother tongue; Mother tongues by speakers, 2011; Growth of Hindi vs. other mother tongues, 1971-2011
From: Kabir Firaque, April 12, 2022: The Indian Express
% of people who reported Hindi as their mother tongue in census 2011
From: Kabir Firaque, April 12, 2022: The Indian Express

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 (Chart 2).

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 (Chart 1).

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%.

Perhaps absolute numbers can present a better picture of Hindi’s growth. 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, according to Dr Ganesh Devy, chairman of the People’s Linguistic Survey of India, a ongoing project to map the languages of the country.

“In 2011, there were 1,383 mother tongues reported by people, and hundreds were knocked out. These mother tongues were then grouped into languages. You will find that under Hindi, they have listed nearly 65 mother tongues. Among them is Bhojpuri, and 5 crore people have reported Bhojpuri as their mother tongue, but the census has decided that Bhojpuri is Hindi,” he said.

Citing other examples, he said, “If one were to knock out the other languages merged with Hindi, the total figure goes down to 38 crore.”

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. It was the second language of 8.3 crore respondents in 2011, second only to Hindi’s 13.9 crore. If third language is added, then English was spoken — as mother tongue, second language or third language — by over 10% of the population in 2011, behind only Hindi’s 57%. Bengali was third at about 9%. Dr Devy felt the count should be higher. “Can you believe that in India, only 2.6 lakh speak English as their primary language? You take a very rapid census of Delhi or Kolkata or Chennai, for families who have moved in for white-collar jobs. You’ll notice that English is their language for day-to-day affairs. Yet it is still seen in the eyes of the government as a foreign language. It is still not a scheduled language in India, when it should be,” he said.

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.

Hindi mother tongue of 25%, spoken by 44%, Bangla 2nd most-spoken/ 2011

D P Satish, June 28, 2018: News18

Source: Census 2001

According to 2001 Census figures, just 45 per cent people speak or know Hindi. But, just 25 per cent people in India have declared Hindi as their mother tongue. A little over 25 crore actually speak Hindi, says Census 2001.

The remaining people speak variants of Hindi like Bhojpuri, Magadhi, Maithili, Garhwali, Dogri, Rajasthani, Marwari, Haryanvi etc. All put together, the speakers of Hindi and its dialects are about 45 per cent.

It proves that remaining 55 per cent speak non-Hindi languages and the majority people in India don't even know Hindi.

According to the 2001 Census, 42 crore people speak or understand Hindi all over India. But, only 25 crore declared Hindi as their mother tongue. 8.5 crore people speak Bengali, 7.5 crore people speak Telugu, 7 crore speak Marathi and 6 crore speak Tamil.

5 crore speak Urdu, 4.6 crore speak Gujarati, 4 crore speak Kannada, 3.5 crore speak Malayalam, 3.3 crore speak Oriya, 3 crore speak Punjabi, 1.5 crore speak Assamese, 64 lakh speak Santhali and 55 lakh speak Kashmiri languages.

People in the north eastern states speak more than 50 different dialects. Tribals in non-Hindi speaking and non-north eastern states also speak different dialects. These dialects have nothing to do with Hindi or its variants. The languages like Konkani, Tulu, Kodava, Beary, which are spoken in Karnataka also have nothing to do with Hindi.

What India speaks

HINDI: Mother tongue of 25 per cent Indians. More than 41 per cent Indians claim that they know Hindi

BENGALI: Mother tongue of 8 per cent Indians

TELUGU: Mother tongue of 7 per cent Indians

MARATHI: Mother tongue of 7 per cent Indians

TAMIL: Mother tongue of 6 per cent Indians

URDU: Mother tongue of 5 per cent Indians

GUJARATI: Mother tongue of 4 per cent Indians

KANNADA: Mother tongue of 4 per cent Indians

MALAYALAM: Mother tongue of 3 per cent Indians

ORIYA: Mother tongue of 3 per cent Indians

PUNJABI: Mother tongue of 3 per cent Indians

ASSAMESE: Mother tongue of 1 per cent Indians

See also

The Languages of India

The Languages of India: 1909

The Languages of India: 2011

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