Classical Languages of India

What is Classical Language?

A classical language is a language with a literature that is classical. According to UC Berkeley linguist George L. Hart, a Classical Language should be,

  • Ancient
  • Independent tradition that arose mostly on its own, not as an offshoot of another tradition.
  • It must have a large and extremely rich body of ancient literature.

Calls for Classical Languages

The first call for a classical language was given by Tamil academicians. They claimed that the Sangam anthologies should be considered as classical languages. The government took a note and then consulted the experts of the Sahitya Academi. Later a committee was established and some criteria were established to grant the status of Classical Languages.

Criteria for Classical Languages in India

The Government of India currently follows the following criteria to determine the eligibility of language to be considered for classification as “classical language”:

  1. High antiquity of its early texts/ recorded history over a period of 1500-2000 years.
  2. A body of ancient iterature/ texts, which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers.
  3. The literary tradition is original and not borrowed from another speech community.
  4. The classical language and literature being distinct from modern, there may also be a discontinuity between the classical language and its later forms or its offshoots.

Current Classical Languages of India

Tamil was the first Classical Language of India. The government declared Tamil in 2004 and Sanskrit in 2005 as classical languages. These two languages are undoubtedly parental sources for many languages belonging to the Indo-European family and the Dravidian family of linguistic groups.

Later the government declared Kannada and Telugu (in 2008) as classical languages of India. In 2013, Malayalam was also given the status of classical language. In 2014, Odiya was also given the status of the Classical language.

Classical Languages of India 

1. Tamil (since 2004)

Tamil is a Dravidian language predominantly spoken by the Tamil people of India and Sri Lanka, and by the Tamil diaspora, Sri Lankan Moors, Burghers, Douglas, and Chindians. Tamil is an official language of two countries: Sri Lanka and Singapore. It has official status in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu and the Indian Union Territory of Puducherry.

2. Sanskrit (since 2005)

Sanskrit is the primary liturgical language of Hinduism; a philosophical language of Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism; and a literary language and lingua franca for the educated of ancient and medieval South Asia. As a result of transmission of Hindu and Buddhist culture to Southeast Asia and parts of Central Asia, it was also a language of high culture in some of these regions during the early medieval era. When Sanskrit had stopped being used as a main language and lingua franca it was only spoken and used by people of the higher class. It was also used as a court language in some kingdoms of South Asia after Sanskrit became a language for the upper class.

3. Telugu (since 2008)

Telugu is a South-central Dravidian language native to India. It stands alongside Hindi, English and Bengali as one of the few languages with official primary language status in more than one Indian state, Telugu is the primary language in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and the union territory of Puducherry. There are also significant linguistic minorities in neighbouring states. It is one of six languages designated a classical language of India by the country’s government

4. Kannada (Since 2008)

Kannada is a Dravidian language spoken predominantly by Kannada people in India, mainly in the state of Karnataka, and by significant linguistic minorities in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Kerala, Goa and abroad. The language has roughly 38 million native speakers who are called Kannadigas (Kannadigaru). It is one of the scheduled languages of India and the official and administrative language of the state of Karnataka.

5. Malayalam (since 2013)

Malayalam is a Dravidian language spoken across the Indian state of Kerala by the Malayali people and it is one of 22 scheduled languages of India. Designated a “Classical Language in India” in 2013, it was developed into the current form mainly by the influence of the poet Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan in the 16th century. Malayalam has official language status in the state of Kerala and in the union territories of Lakshadweep and Puducherry. It belongs to the Dravidian family of languages and is spoken by 38 million people.

6.Odiya (since 2014)

Odia is a language spoken by 4.2% of India’s population. It is a classical Indo-Aryan language that is spoken mostly in eastern India, with around 33 million native speakers globally, as of 2007.I t is the predominant language of the Indian state of Odisha where native speakers make up 75% of the population and are also spoken in parts of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, and Andhra Pradesh.

Odia is one of the many official languages of India; it is the official language of Odisha and the second official language of Jharkhand. The language is also spoken by a sizeable population of at least 1 million people in Chhattisgarh.

Facts about Languages

  • India doesn’t have a national language!! Hindi and English are considered as official languages only.
  • Hindi is the 4th most spoken language in the world.
  • Even languages like Bengali and Punjabi are spoken by most people across the world than famous languages like German and French.
  • A total of 122 languages are each spoken by more than 10,000 people.
  • There are nearly 1652 dialects in India.
  • Tamil is the oldest language in the world.

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