Language
Hindi emerges as the most-spoken mother tongue, according to data released recently based on 2011 Census, with more than 43% of people in India speaking some dialect of the language.
PTI/File photo

Data released by the Indian government on the languages and mother-tongues spoken in the country, based on Census 2011, show that Hindi and its various dialects continue to be the most spoken language in India, with more than 43% of the country declaring it their mother-tongue. While the speakers of several south Indian languages, and English, grow faster than the previous decades, they are losing their share in the overall percentage of speakers in the country.  

Released by the office of the Registrar General & Census Commissioner, the data reveals that Hindi is the mother tongue of nearly 55 crore people in India, with about 8% people holding Bengali as their mother tongue, followed by Marathi at just over 7%. Among India’s 22 scheduled languages, Sanskrit is the least spoken, with just about 25,000 speakers listing it as their mother tongue.

The Census records a ‘mother tongue’ as the “the language spoken in childhood by the person’s mother to the person”. It makes a distinction between scheduled and non-scheduled languages. Scheduled languages are those which are listed in the 8th schedule of the Constitution. While Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam are scheduled languages, English is a non-scheduled language.

South Indian languages grow, but not fast enough 

Of the four most spoken languages in India – Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam, all barring Kannada have seen a steady decline in the overall percentage of speakers in the country, and this despite the actual number of people speaking them have grown. This is likely to be due to the faster growth of Hindi-speaking population. 

The number of Telugu speakers by percentage of the total population of India has slipped from the third spot to the fourth place in 2011 Census. While 6.93% of India speaks Telugu now, it was 7.19% as part of data collected by the 2001 census.

There was a decrease in the percentage of Malayalam and Tamil speakers in the overall population too. Malayalam saw a decline from 3.21% to 2.97% and Tamil from 5.91% to 5.89%. While Tamil is the fifth most spoken language, Malayalam is in the 10th spot.

Kannada is the only major south Indian language that has seen a marginal increase to 3.73% from 3.69% (in 2001) in terms of percentage of speakers in the overall population. It has also stayed consistent as the language with the 8th most number of speakers in the country.

However, when it comes to growth of Scheduled Languages, all four languages have seen an increase over the decades. With 6.90 crore Tamil speakers as compared to 6.07 crore in the 2001 census, Tamil recorded an increase of 13.54% from the last decade.

Telugu, meanwhile, recorded a 9.63% increase since the 2001 census, with 8.11 crore people speaking Telugu, as per the 2011 data.

There are 3.48 crore Malayalam speakers, a rise of 5.36% since 2001. Kannada recorded a 15.99% increase when compared with the 2001 census numbers. According to the 2011 census, there are 4.37 crore Kannada speakers.  

Comparatively, Hindi recorded a sharp growth in the last decade, recording a rise of 25.19%. Although, Sanskrit is the least spoken mother tongue, it witnessed a 75.60% jump since the 2001 census - the biggest growth recorded for any scheduled language.  

English as mother-tongue 

Of the nearly 2.6 lakh people who listed their mother tongue as English, about 1 lakh were in Maharashtra, followed by nearly 25,000 in Tamil Nadu, and about 23,000 in Karnataka. All three states maintain their top spots in terms of the number of people who list English as their mother tongue. As part of the 2001 census, almost 97,000 in Maharashtra, over 25,000 in Tamil Nadu, and nearly 18,000 in Karnataka listed English as their mother tongue. 

The total number of those who listed English as their mother tongue figure is up 14.6% from the 2001 census, which was at nearly 2.3 lakh.