No one knows the origins of the thousands of languages that are spoken all over the world. It is estimated that nearly between  to 5,000 to 6,192 languages (depending on classification) are spoken globally. When one travels out of India one recognizes the fact that English is not so universal a language as we think it generally to be. In the European continent, so near to England, English is hardly spoken or in Latin America and in Africa or in Asia. However it is the link language of the world and is greatly used as an official language between countries. This makes it a universally accepted language and it also is now the language of IT, therefore its use is going to increase considerably.

In India three major languages have played very important roles in its history till date. They have been the languages which shaped its history and culture. They were the languages of the elite and at different periods had the status as  official language. They have considerably influenced Indian culture, thought, literature, arts, science, politics, religion etc. The tgree languages are Sanskrit,Persian and English. Today only English is having an influence. 

Indian Language Scenario: 

The census of 2001 in India  has recorded that 29 languages have more than a million speakers while 60 have more than a lakh and 122 have more than 10,000 speakers. 

As per the 1991 census 22 languages had more than a million speakers, 50 had more than a lakh and 114 had more than 10,000 speakers. However it is interesting to note that the 1961 census had recorded 1,652 distinct languages being spoken in India, while the 1991 census recorded 1,576 languages as 'mother tongues' spoken in India.

The government has given official recognition to 22 languages in the 8th Schedule of the Constitution. A few of them are for political reasons and most of them were the basis of forming various States after independence. however there are a few languages which even though spoken by more than a million are not recognised as official languages.

Hindi is the most widely spoken language and is in fact the official language of the Government of India and English is the secondary official language. But in reality the languages of Sanskrit, Persian and English have played a great role in pan Indian history through the ages.

Sanskrit :

Sanskrit is the mother of all Indian languages. It is the language of Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism, all ancient religions of India. Sanskrit has influenced the languages of not only India but Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal and beyond.

Panini, believed to have been born in the 4th century BC in Gandharva near Afghanistan is considered to be the grammarian of Sanskrit. He wrote his Ashtadhyayi, consisting of eight chapters, wherein he set forth 3,959 rules of Sanskrit morphology, syntax and semantics which became the basis for Sanskrit grammar. It is interesting to note that in it Panini refer to previous existing grammar texts thereby giving Sanskrit a more distant origin. Hoewever Panini is supposed to have lived in what is considered to be the end of the Vedic period. His grammar gave rise to Classical Sanskrit as opposed to Vedic Sanskrit. So logical is the grammar of Panini that he has been also called the Indian Euclid.

The ancient Indian Rigveda is written in Vedic Sanskrit around 1500 BC and thus is the oldest of texts in the world. The Upanishads are also supposed to have been written towards the end of the Vedic period in Vedic Sanskrit. The Classical Sanskrit based on Pannini's grammar was to continue for nearly next 2,000 years. It gave Hinduism two eternal epics the Ramayana and Mahabharata. Over such a long period Sanskrit developed into four distinct dialects namely paschimottari (Northern or Western), madhyadesi (Central), purvi (Eastern) and daksini (Southern) covering the entire Indian sub continent and large parts of Asia.

Sanskrit is one of the languages of the Indo-Iranian family of languages. Sanskrit was taught mainly to members of the higher castes mostly Brahmins and there was considerable emphasis on  its correct its pronouncing. It thus was confined to a small but significant and very effective section of the society and existed in conjunction with other languages which are known as the Indo-Aryan languages. It also became the language of the priests and was associated with religious rituals. It also received royal patronage because of the coalition of the ruling and priest classes.

By remaining confined to a select group and refusing to universalize Sanskrit became a static language. With the advent of Islamic rule in Indian sub continent its use went down further. In course of time it has remained restricted to hymns and religious rituals. It is today almost a dead language. However its great contribution in Indian culture was  immense as it existed as a vibrant language  from ancient to middle ages in India. However its everlasting contribution is that out of its womb are born almost all the popular and widely spoken other languages of India.

Sanskrit has greatly influenced Indian languages like Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Assamese, Konkani, Malayalam, Telugu,Gujarati, Kashmiri  etc. It is estimated that anywhere from 50 to 80% of the words of these languages are from Sanskrit. Budhism took it to China, Tibet and beyond contributing many words to these languages. Nepalese is also heavily influenced by Sansksrit.

The Southeast Asian languages of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines are full of Sanskrit words, though today they may have a large number of words from Chinese, Arabic etc languages also.

Sanskrit language has today around 14,000 self reported speakers as per the 2011 census. Very few scholars are pursuing it. It is studied by religious persons to be able to carry out worship  and rituals which are recited in Sanskrit. There is no commercial gain by learning it. In fact it is said that there are more students and colleges teaching Sanskrit in Germany than in India its birth place. 

A once rich and vibrant language Sanskrit has been relegated to a dignified place of honour and finds very few learners even in India where it is the official language of the State of Uttrakhand!!

Persian Language: 

Persian language originated in Iran. Before the British domination in South Asia started in early nineteenth century, Persian was the most widely used second language. In India also it was the same till about 1832 when English language started making inroads as the Mughal period was coming to an end.

Persian influence was brought into India by Muslim rulers especially in 13th century and the Mughals consolidated it from 16th to 19th century. Persian was the official language of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th to the early 16th century and thereafter during the Mughal rule till British ended it in early 19th century. It became the language of the elite and also started influencing other Indian languages especially those of North India. In due course of time the mixture of Persian and Hindi languages gave birth to Urdu language and what is also called Hindustani.

Indo-Persian culture began to blossom from 1206 AD with establishment of the Delhi Sultanate which lasted till 1526 AD when the Mughal empire took over. Till 1707 the Mughal Empire flourished and with death of Aurangzeb that year its decline started. As it was giving way to other regional straps and weakening in the process the British started colonising India and finally in 1839 they abolished the use of Persian as the language of governance and education. Instead the use of English started gaining momentum.

However the influence of Persian was very deep in India especially in northern  and north western parts that it continued to contribute politically. literally and culturally far beyond 1839. The Mughals were great patrons of art and culture and poets and scholars flourished under their patronage. Their contributions enriched the intellectual atmosphere in the country which continues till today and beyond. Persian was associated with high culture and sophisticated poetry,  shayri,ghazals and qawalis

Persian is the language of Iranian origin spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and also Uzbekistan, Iraq,,Kuwait, Azerbaijan and Bahrain. It is also known as Farsi in Iran and was known by this name in India also. An estimated 110 million people are today speaking this language. It had an equally glorious literature before Iran became Islamic and incorporation of many Arabic words enriched it further and its writers continued making very high quality literature. Persian language also traces its origins to earlier than 1500 BC and it has also undergone many changes. Modern Persian is supposed to have come into use from 800 AD on wards and went along with Central Asian kings to large parts of South Asia which they conquered and was made as the official language. The golden period of Indian films till the seventies had songs and dialogues full of Urdu language which has a liberal dose of Persian language.

The advent of English wahe cause of death of Persian language in India.

English Language: 

English language was brought into India by the English traders via the East India Company in the early 1600s. As we know the Company had established its control on major parts of India by 1765. The Christian Missionaries were teaching English to the locals although there was no official pressure to do so. By 1857 the Universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were established by the British and instructions were in English. Increasing number of locals wanted to learn English as it also meant that they could get government jobs as English was the official language of the British in India. It also was learnt by the rich and press also was printing English newspapers.

In course of time the use of English went up as it became a passport for higher learning and seeking professional degrees. Due to multiple languages across the country English also served as link  language both for official and non official purposes. Knowledge of English also got persons jobs. It thus granted a special status to those who could read, write and speak English. Many Indians who could afford, went for higher studies to England and upon return got plum jobs. This increased its appeal still higher.

By the time India became independent English had been firmly established as a language of learning and earning. True to our nature there could be no unity on making Hindi the official working language simply because though it is spoken by the largest numbers still it is restricted to a few northern and central states. Other states have their own local languages. In the South hardly anyone knew Hindi at that time.

Therefore while Hindi was given the status of the national official language, English was the second language and more importantly it is the 'temporary' official language of the  government. Today there is a clamour for children to be taught in English from kinder garden classes itself. In fact English Medium schools are vrery much in demand even though they may demand very high fees. English has now become perhaps the fist language of a significant section of educated Indians. It is very common to find Indians talking in English even when they belong to the same language group. It is also often seen parents teaching English to their toddlers even at the expense of their mother tongue.

After USA and UK, India has the maximum number of persons speaking English. It has helped Indians make a mark in IT sector. English also has enabled Indians to interact with foreigners with ease especially for business purposes. Overall India and Indians have relatively benefited tremendously from English. In fact it looks odd to many to call English as a foreign language in India. It has become almost an Indian language and now it is widely understood with increased spread of education throughout the country. In fact there has evolved an distict Indian English style.

In fact English is the official language in the States of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Meghalaya, and the Union territories of Andaman& Nicobar Islands and Lakshadweep. It is reported that Hindi is spoken by 41% of the population and no other Indian language is spoken by more than 9%. Thus English plays the role of a link language throughout the country. Around 12% of Indians can speak English as a second and third language.

It is interesting to note that English is supposed to be a West Germanic language which was spoken in England in medieval times and is today the most widely  used language. It is the third most native language after Chinese and Spanish. It is the second language in a large number of countries and this is to a large extant due to the wide spread nature of the erstwhile British Empire.

English came to England in the form of a fusion of closely related languages brought by German settlers during the 5th century. It also has lot many words derived from Latin as that was the language of the Church. Over the centuries English absorbed lot many words from nearby European languages like French, Dutch etc. The Old English gave way to Modern English from 1550 on wards when England started becoming a colonial empire.


Today English has attained the status of a world language and has been responsible for 'killing' some languages. Its use is spreading in all areas of human endeavour like science, arts, engineering, technology, entertainment, IT etc. Increasing number of persons throughout the world are learning English. It is becoming a bread and butter language.

In today's India Sanskrit is the language of ancient India relegated to religious sermons and rituals, Persian is almost forgotten and only English is surviving in a very robust manner. It surely is going to become a major language of India in the near to distant future at the expense of all existing Indian languages excepting Hindi to some extent. 

It is now English all the way.

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Comments (1)

  1. Manoj lamba

Sanskrit is mother of all languages. Hindi is important for all Indians. We should respect our languages.

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