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Language Family & Official language of India: Constitutional and Legislative provisions

Indian language Family

The Indian languages belong to the following four linguistic groups:

  • The Indo-European family(Aryan)
  • The Dravidian family(Dravidian)
  • Austric family(Nishada)
  • Sino-Tibetan family (Kirata).

The Indo-Aryan language:

  • Spoken by 75% of Indians.
  • Its core area is known as the Khari Boli region, comprising of Harayana and western Uttar Pradesh.
  • The most widely spoken languages of this group are Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Urdu, Gujarati, Punjabi, Assamese, Odia and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka.
  • Its offshoots include Dardi, Kohistani, Kashmiri, Chhattisgarhi, Rajasthani, Nepali, and Pahari.

Dravidian language family

  • The second largest language family
  • Spoken by approximately 20%
  • It is mainly spoken in Andhra Pradesh (Telugu), Karnataka (Kannada), Kerala (Malayalam) and Tamil Nadu (Tamil).

The Austric Family

  • The Austric languages are spoken by the tribal groups of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Meghalaya, Odisha and West Bengal.
  • These languages belong to two main branches: (1) Munda (Santhali), and (2) Mon-Khmer (Khasi and Nicobari).
  • Of the two, Mon Khmer (Khasi) is confined to the Khasi and Jaintia Hills of Meghalaya and the Nicobari to Nicobar Islands, while Munda language is spoken by the tribal of Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and West Bengal.

The Sino-Tibetan Family

The Sino-Tibetan is spoken mainly in the Himalayan belt. It has three major sub-divisions.

  • Tibeto-Hiamalayan: It compromises Chamba, Lahuli, Kannauri, and Lepcha in Himachal Pradesh. The Balti, Bhutia, Ladakhi and Tibetan languages are spoken in the northern parts of the Jammu and Kashmir state. the Bhutia and Kainnauri are the dominant languages in Himachal Pradesh.
  • The North Assami and Arunachal Pradesh: In north Assam and Arunachal Pradesh the main languages are Abor, Aka, Assami, Dafla, Miri and Mishmi.
  • The Assam-Mayanmari (Burmese): These languages are spoken by the Assamese, Bodo, Kochin, Kukichin, Miri, Naga,and Xaxa, tribes

Official languages

  • Prior to Independence, in British India, English was the sole language used for administrative purposes
  • Article 343 (1) of the Constitution of India states “The Official Language of the Union government shall be Hindi in Devanagari script.” Unless Parliament decided otherwise, the use of English for official purposes was to cease 15 years after the constitution came into effect, i.e. on 26 January 1965
  • With the approachment of the date, opposition by non-Hindi states increased and so Jawaharlal Nehru ensured the enactment of the Official Language Act, 1963, which provided that English “may” still be used with Hindi for official purposes, even after 1965.
  • As 1965 approached, India’s new Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri prepared to make Hindi paramount with effect from 28 January 1965.
  • This led to widespread agitation, riots, self-immolations and suicides in Tamil Nadu. The split of Congress politicians from the South from their party stance, the resignation of two Union ministers from the South and the increasing threat to the country’s unity forced Shastri to concede.
  • As a result, the proposal was dropped, and the Act itself was amended in 1967 to provide that the use of English would not be ended until a resolution to that effect was passed by the legislature of every state that had not adopted Hindi as its official language, and by each house of the Indian Parliament.

National language of India

  • The Constitution of India does not give any language the status of National Language


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