Do you speak “Indian”? How do you all speak English so well? Do you all say Namaste? These are some questions every South Asian has been asked at some point. You may have heard that Indians speak in different languages, but do you know how they manage to communicate even though each one has a different native tongue? Do you know how people manage communicating through different languages in South Asia?
Let’s get started from the very beginning.
What are Indo-Aryan Languages?
Indo-Aryan languages are dialects or languages spoken by people in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka that have branched out from Indo-Iranian and Indo-European language families.1 Though these languages have their roots from the same language families, they developed and evolved through different paths, which were all influenced by cultural exchange, imperialism, and the development of different linguistic regions.
What are Dravidian languages?
Dravidian languages are spoken by over 215 million people around the world. The main languages are Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam, each with their individual literary history & traditions.5
There are many theories of how Dravidian languages was brought to India but it may well be indigenous to the land.6
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How did certain factors influence the development of these languages?
Many sub-languages have descended from Sanskrit and sacred texts called the Vedas, which have resulted in many languages that are now spoken in the Indian subcontinent.1,2 As conquerors have slipped in and out of the land, many vernacular dialects have continued to be influenced by outsiders: the adaptation of foreign languages by Mughal emperors from Persia have led to the combination of Persian, Arabic, and Turkic elements that can be found in many dialects like Bengali, Punjabi, and Gujarati.3
Many centuries later, as the Indian subcontinent was divided into different states and countries, these dialects began to further evolve, containing different linguistic aspects within them, which is why India has 22 official languages but more than 19,500 different mother tongues.4
So how are people communicating through different languages in South Asia despite these “language barriers”?
Although different linguistic states have their own means of communication, people must be able to communicate using a common language that is different from their own. This is what is known as a lingua franca.1
After the British invaded India and established its Empire, the Indian subcontinent was divided into modern day India and Pakistan, where Hindi became the official language in India and Urdu, in Pakistan.1,4 However, as a means of communication to sustain travel and trade, Hindi-Urdu was used within different linguistic states as a standard for communication. This resulted in bilingualism within the people of the Indian subcontinent. And the dialectal evolution of earlier times continued, resulting in greater diversity within the Indo-Aryan languages.
We will not get into the Indo-Aryan vs Dravidian language debate today. But it is important to understand that the Indian subcontinent consists of a wide range of languages with different dialects.
Hindu – Urdu as the lingua franca in South Asia
The modern fast paced society demands the usage of second, or even third languages. Learning multiple languages is in high demand, leading to changes in the education system, more exposure to multiple languages etc.
As dialects within proximal geographic regions evolves, it is important to consider how multilingualism plays such an important factor in today’s society. Hindi-Urdu has become the lingua franca to majority population across India. And English is now widespread as the co-official language in Indian society.
Hindi is the lingua franca of the Hindi Belt in India and several other countries in Asia making Hindi the fourth most spoken language in the world.
At Kula Village, we strongly believe languages are connectors and not barriers. Check out our full collection of multilingual learning toys & games.
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- Cardona, George. “Indo-Aryan Languages.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 28 Mar. 2017, www.britannica.com/topic/Indo-Aryan-languages.
- Turner, Sir Ralph Lilley. “A Comparative Dictionary of the Indo-Aryan languages”. Digital Dictionaries of South Asia. Oxford University Press (original), University of Chicago (web version).
- “Overview of Indo-Aryan languages”. Encyclopædia Britannica.
- Jain, Danesh; Cardona, George (26 July 2007). The Indo-Aryan Languages
- Krishnamurti, Bhadriraju (2003), The Dravidian Languages, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-77111-0
- Steven Roger Fischer (3 October 2004). History of Language. Reaktion books. ISBN 9781861895943.