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Indian languages

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Official Languages

India's official language is Hindi written in the Devanagri script. It is the primary tongue of 30% of the people. While English enjoys associate status, it is widely spoken and is one of the most important languages for national, political, and commercial communication. Other official languages of India include Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, as well as Bangla or Bengali, the official language of Bangladesh.

Linguists think of Hindi and Urdu as the same language, the difference being that Hindi is written in Devanagari script and draws vocabulary from Sanskrit, while Urdu is written in Arabic script and draws on Persian and Arabic.

The States are free to decide their own regional languages for internal administration and education, so there are 18 official languages spoken throughout the country. Bengali, Telugu, Marathi, Tamil, Urdu, Gujarati, Malayalam, Kannada, Oriya[?], Punjabi, Assamese[?], Kashmiri[?] and Sindhi[?], are among the official languages which are also widely spoken.

Sanskrit though an official language has generally not been not used for conversation, though spoken Sanskrit classes and youth camps are becoming more widespread. It is mainly used in Hindu rituals and ceremonies or as part of daily prayers by Hindus worldwide.

In all there are 24 different languages, each spoken by a million or more persons; as well as millions of other languages and dialects.

Alphabets of Indian Languages

Indian languages have corresponding distinct alphabets. With the exception of Urdu the alphabets of all these languages are Indo-European, hence derived from the Aramaic alphabet. We conjecture below on the relation of the alphabet to the Greek alphabet.

Urdu Alphabet[?]

Urdu writing is quite complex due to the fact that the language derives its sources from Persian and Arabic as well as Hindustani, the dialect of the Gangetic plains, formalised in modern Hindi. It is believed that Urdu is closest to Tadjik[?], the language of a province on the outer periphery of the Persian Empire. This is the region to which the Mughal dynasty traced its ancestry. The word Urdu is supposed the mean the "royal camp" or the "military encampment". Presumably this is where Persian bureacrats, Arabic scholars and Hindustani landlords or land record holders or accountants came together, giving rise a new mixed language.

Phonetic Alphabet

A remarkable feature of the the alphabets of Indo-European origin is the manner in which it is organised. It is organised according to phonetic principle, unlike the Roman alphabet which has a random sequence of letters. The classification is as follows

voiceless consonants voiced consonants nasals
un-aspirated aspirated un-aspirated aspirated
guttural k kh g gh ng
palatal ch chh j jh ny
retroflex t th d dh nn
dental t th d dh n
bilabial p ph b bh m
vowel based y r l w
aspirations s sh sh h

This classification is observed in all the languages under discussion. Additionally each language has a few special letters signifying sounds specific to that language, as also a few symbols representing composite sounds.

Finally, the list of vowels is separately specified, as follows

a, aa, i, ee, u, oo, e, ai, o, ou, um, (a)h Additionally in Vedic Sanskrit, rr, rrr, lrr, lrrr

Note that the list read as pairs represents shorter and longer versions of same vowel. Here the first a is like u in bus. (a)h is special to Sanskritised words, occurring in word endings as in duhkh(a)h, Buddhist term for pain of human condition. It is impossible to say any of the consonants without the associated vowel and the default way of saying a consonant attaches the neutral a sound to it.

In languages of Eastern India like Bangla, Oriya[?] and Assamese, a is spoken almost o.

The classification of these sounds is universal. Every language in India has a corresponding symbol, and also, with some modifications, the corresponding sound. In fact we may be tempted to think that all languages at least of the Indo-European family have the corresponding alphabets, give or take a few, and sometimes give or take a row or column.

For instance, English has t and d of the third row, but th and dh of fourth row. (In fact in English th spelt in all the articles and common nouns is actually the pronunciation of dh, the aspirated d). In French on the other hand, third row is absent, but t and d of the fourth row are used. English does not have the th and dh of the third row.

For nasals, Sanskrit imposes considerable systematics. The above scheme records that the nasal occurring in conjunction with any given row has a sound characteristic that row. For instance the nasalisation occurring in the word "Ganga" is that of the first row, while the nasalisation occurring in the words "India" or "integral" are character- istically front palatals. Speakers of any language have to necessarily speak in this manner though they never realise it.

The classification of the "vowel generated" may seem rather curious. The belief here is that y sound arises from conjunction of ee with a, w sound arises from trying to say u (as in put) or oo in conjunction with a. Old Sanskrit of Rig Veda has two more vowels, rr and lrr, as also their corresponding longer versions. It is likely that the rr was guttural like the French r, more akin to a vowel than a consonant. The lrr remains a mystery for being classified a vowel. But this classification then explains r (as in run) and l (as in long) simply as conjunction of these vowels with the a sound.

The economy of this classification in the fact that effectively each of the five main rows is generated by one letter, the others are systmeatic modifications of the same. In modern Tamil, a great simplification of alphabet has been achieved by having only one symbol for each of the five rows, the specific hardening and aspiration understood from context while reading. Tamil indeed spells Gandhi and Kanti as same.

External Link

  • [1] (http://www.aczone.com/) Resources for typesetting Indian languages in LaTeX.

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