Hindi was the fastest growing language in India at 25.19 percent adding close to 10 crore speakers between 2001-2011.
Kashmiri (22.97 percent), Gujarati (20.4 percent), Manipuri (20.07 percent), and Bengali (16.63 percent) are the second, third and fourth fastest growing languages, respectively, according to new census data.
Hindi (52 crore speakers) and Bengali (9.7 crore speakers) remain the most spoken and the second most spoken language across the country.
There are now 2.6 lakh people who deem English as their mother tongue; up from 2.26 lakh in 2001, an increase of 14.67 percent.
The most number of English speakers are from Maharashtra (1.04 lakh) followed by Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.
Sanskrit remains the least spoken among the scheduled languages – officially recognised – with 24,821 speakers despite an increase of 76 percent from 2001.
Two scheduled languages have witnessed a drop in the number of people referring to them as their mother tongues: Urdu declined by 1.58 percent and Konkani by 9.54 percent.
Of the 99 unscheduled languages, Bhili/Bhilodi continue to have the most speakers (10.4 crore marked it as their mother tongue), up from 9.5 crore in 2001.
Gondi retained its second position with 2.9 crore speakers, up from 2.7 crore in 2001.
Bhili/Bhilodi is predominantly spoken by the Bhil people who are native to Gujarat, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
Gondi is spoken by the Gonds who primarily inhabit Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Maharashtra, Bihar and Karnataka.
Tamil (-5 percent) and Malayalam (-10 percent) speaking population are falling across most states in north India even as Tamil Nadu and Kerala saw over 33 percent increase in the number of Hindi, Bengali, Assamese and Odia speakers, indicating a reverse migration trend from earlier decades when people from the two southern states migrated in large numbers to the north, The Times of India reported on June 28, 2018.
“Ascertaining the number of native speakers of a particular language by using census data can be misleading,” Ganesh Devy, founder-director of the Bhasha Research and Publication Centre, told IndiaSpend.
There are factors such as migration (domestically and internationally) which tend to distort figures. Further, the census gives tribals limited options with respect to choosing a language. Therefore, it is not uncommon to see more speakers under a scheduled language when in reality they may speak a non-scheduled language.Ganesh Devy, Bhasha Research And Publication Centre
“Similarly, people living in border areas are given only one option to select as their native language even if they have more than one,” he added.
The Central government is responsible for the promotion of the scheduled languages. Non-scheduled languages like English, Bhili/Bhilodi and Gondi don’t feature on the list.
In 2011, speakers of the scheduled languages accounted for 96.77 percent of India’s population, up from 96.52 percent in 2001 despite a 13 percent increase in the number of non-scheduled language speakers between 2001-2011.
Marathi with 8.3 crore speakers displaced Telugu (8.1 crore) to become the third most common mother tongue after Hindi and Bengali.
Gujarati, which was ranked seventh in 2001 with 4.6 crore speakers, moved ahead of Urdu to occupy the sixth spot with 5.5 crore speakers in 2011.
Urdu dropped from the sixth place in 2001 (5.1 crore speakers) to the seventh place in 2011 with 5 crore people mentioning it as their mother tongue.
Kannada was constant at eighth place with the number of speakers increasing from 3.7 to 4.3 crore.
Konkani speakers in Karnataka and Kerala might put Kannada/Malayalam as their mother tongue as opposed to Konkani, which could explain the drop in the number of Konkani speakers, Devy said.
“Given the global backdrop against terrorism, Urdu speakers might be reluctant to declare it to be their mother tongue. Therefore, the number of native Urdu speakers has fallen despite the Muslim population increasing by around 30 million between 2001 and 2011.”
The increase in Manipuri speakers, Devy added, could be attributed to international immigration — foreigners settling down in Manipur and learning Manipuri in the hope of getting an Indian passport.
The number of Gujarati speakers might have been over-reported owing to the electoral scam in 2007 wherein a large number of fake voter identification cards were reported, Devy said.
“A better way to determine the presence of a language is to look at the number of websites on the internet in that language.”
(Pallapothu, an MSc Student from the Symbiosis School of Economics is an intern with IndiaSpend)
This article has been published in arrangement with IndiaSpend.