The Languages of India: Mutual intelligibility

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To what extent are the major languages of India mutually comprehensible? I can infer something on that matter from the information on the linguistic kinship of those languages but I cannot objectively say how much the speakers of one would understand of the other\s.

Also, I am interested, how common is the knowledge of some other Indian language in India? Which are the most common non-native languages that Indians would be likely to know?
 
  • Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    I was in an Indian grocery here in Australia last week, and was chatting with the owners.

    One of the owners is from north India and the other from south India.
    They speak to each other in English, as neither understands the other's mother tongue.

    They remarked that some of their customers find this odd, and assume that because they are both from India they must speak the same language.
     

    BehindtheDoor

    Member
    Spanish Spain
    There are hundreds of languages in India. In the north, most of the languages belongs to the Indoeuropean group, Indo-iranian branch, while in the south the languages are pre-idoeuropean (if I remember correctly, of a group called "Dravidic"). So, a southern language is as understable to an Hindi-speaker as Basque is understable to an English speaker. In a word, "nothing".

    The most extended languages in India are English and Hindi.
     
    I remember from my trip to the North last year that everybody seems to understand hindi, even if they don't speak it. There are other languages like Tamul in the south and Penjabi in the North (totally different from one another and from Hindi), and most people do indeed speak a little English, though not necessarily a lot!
     

    Dr.Appalayya

    Senior Member
    India;Telugu
    In Hyderabad, people can understand Hindi, Urdu and Telugu. About 50% can speak all three languages.Urdu and Hindi are similar to some extent.

    Telugu, Kannada, Tamil and Malayalam are Dravidan languages spoken in South of India. Telugu and Kannada scripts look alike, but it does not mean all Telugu people can understand Kannada. In the city of Bangalore of Kannada speaking state, almost 50% of the people understand Telugu and Tamil. Though Hindi is a North Indian language, in southern cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore, many people understand it. Teluge is the second most widely spoken language, next to Hindi. Telugu is one of top 10 most widely spoken languages in the world.

    Marathi and Gujarathi look alike. Each of other understand the other language. Hindi is understandable to both Marathis and Gujarathis.
    Oriya and Bengali of north coast look alike. They can understand each other. Besides that, they both understand each other. Assamese and Bengali look alike. In all these linguistic areas, Hindi is invariably spoken and and understood. Punjabi and Hindi, are two principal languages in New Delhi.Every Panjabi understands Hindi more than his mother tongue Panjabi.
     

    Outsider

    Senior Member
    Portuguese (Portugal)
    As has been said, the southern languages are mostly Dravidian, which I'm sure makes them quite unintelligibile to speakers of the northern languages. As for the Indo-European languages, it seems they are not that far apart from each other (perhaps like the Romance languages?) I understand that in Gandhi's time there was talk of forging a common standard version of them (a Dachsprache), but it seems to have failed due to local rivalries. The winner, in the middle of all this: English.
     
    Thanks, Dr. Appalayya. My corporate professorial respect to you for the detailed explanation. I realise that English has the role of an inter-Indian language. But in the countries with a multitude of cultures and languages I often wonder about how close are the ties between and whether there are any stereotypes or prejudices by one group against studying the language of the other.
     

    Dr.Appalayya

    Senior Member
    India;Telugu
    In India, fortunately, language is not a ground for steretypes or negative opinions. Everybody is worried about either his own language or learning better English. But one does not hate other laguage or other Language learners. We Telugu people opine in inner circles, that Tamilians are more concerned about their language and tend to promote their language. Another noteworthy point is that in India, language brings many people on to a common meeting ground so much so they love and favor people speaking their language even to the disregard of other language groups. Hindi people favor Hindi-speaking people and Tamil people favor Tamil-speaking people.
     

    siddusom

    Member
    India, Tamil
    Dr. Appalaya,
    Your synopsis is very aptly stated.
    Indians to this day do not have a strong feeling of connection between themselves.
    I, myself, an expatriate, have this feeling. The cultures themselves have fundamental
    differences. Telugu people have different customs than do Oriya people. The geography and culture rift is undeniable. People in many people in Punjab wear turbans while some people in Southern India shave their heads. The adjective Indian itself serves as a generalization to outsiders.
    The Indian nation is a collection of individual, different cultured nation-states. And their cooperation is what is put at risk in many cases. Our history shows how many nations have seceded, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, and Sri Lanka (not sure). All of these countries were at one point part of India.
    I think the development of a sense of recognition and respect is what is the solid future for Indians, as a whole and not to nationalize all of these separate nation-states.
     

    MarX

    Banned
    Indonesian, Indonesia
    Hello!

    My friend who comes from Kerala told me that Keralans, whose mother tongue is Malayalam, learn Hindi at school, but forget it pretty soon because they don't really use it.
    Their everyday language is Malayalam, and if they ever meet a Hindi-speaker from the North, they'd most likely use English.

    Indonesia also has hundreds of languages, but someone from Papua who meets another person from Aceh would use Indonesian to communicate with each other, and it would occur to no Indonesians to use a European language to communicate with each other.

    Grüsse,


    MarK
     

    Henryk

    Senior Member
    Germany, German
    My friend who comes from Kerala told me that Keralans, whose mother tongue is Malayalam, learn Hindi at school, but forget it pretty soon because they don't really use it.
    Their everyday language is Malayalam, and if they ever meet a Hindi-speaker from the North, they'd most likely use English.
    Hi, :)

    I've read and been told that in the north English and Hindi are most often used in conversations between people whose native language isn't mutually intelligible, in the south it's English and any Dravidian language.

    I'd like to know whether the acquisition of English from the first grade is really standard in whole India or just in some parts of the country. A friend of mine who's a native speaker of Jaffna Tamil told me it's everywhere like that but I'd like to have it confirmed by someone who lives there and maybe can prove otherwise. (He grew up in Germany and is actually Sri Lankan) What I can remember as well is that he can quite well understand Malayalam when it's spoken at a normal pace (it doesn't need to be slow but shouldn't be too fast). But they're, of course, not as similar as Urdu and Hindi.

    What about Hindi? What role does it play exactly in the states in which it's not the "regional language"? Is it really learnt later (than English) at school everywhere (Tamil Nadu apart where it's optional). (if at all?)

    How's English taught in first grade in India? What teaching methods are used?
     

    Sarasaki

    Senior Member
    India - English & Kannada
    I've read and been told that in the north English and Hindi are most often used in conversations between people whose native language isn't mutually intelligible, in the south it's English and any Dravidian language.
    Henry, I will answer to the point. I can write so much on this subject (not because I know a lot, but because it is quite complicated :D) that this might end up looking like a thesis! Yes, you can say that about the usage of Hindi/English/Dravidian languages, but it not the case throughout the country. Imagine for example the case of a Hindi speaking guy meeting a Keralite who speaks only Malayalam....

    I'd like to know whether the acquisition of English from the first grade is really standard in whole India or just in some parts of the country.
    No, it is not standard. The medium of instruction in schools can be English, the state language or Hindi. Far as I know (I could be wrong, please correct me if I am wrong) schools run by the state governments use the state language as the medium of instruction.

    What about Hindi? What role does it play exactly in the states in which it's not the "regional language"? Is it really learnt later (than English) at school everywhere (Tamil Nadu apart where it's optional). (if at all?)
    For schools that teach in English or the state language, Hindi is taught from the age of 10 upto the age of 15.

    How's English taught in first grade in India? What teaching methods are used?
    I cannot give a technical insight into the teaching methodology. But from what I see happening at my childrens' school, for starters, teachers speak in English. The alphabets are taught, three letter words, four letter words, simple sentence constructions are taught. By now kids can read simple sentences (4-5words). By the time they are about 7 years old, grammar is introduced (so they know the basics: genders, singular/plural, tenses, nouns, verbs, etc).

    I am a South Indian. My mother tongue is Kannada. I went to a school that used English as the medium of instruction. I know Hindi because I was expected to learn it in school and now I have lots of North Indian friends with whom I speak in Hindi. I learnt Tamil, Konkani and Tulu from my neighbours and a bit of Malayalam from colleagues at work. Like all this is not enough, I am now trying to learn Spanish :cool:.
     

    panjabigator

    Senior Member
    Am. English
    Two threads may be of some use to you: Indic languages: How similar are they? and Hindi: In which parts of India is it spoken?

    Also, I am interested, how common is the knowledge of some other Indian language in India? Which are the most common non-native languages that Indians would be likely to know?
    In my experience, bilingualism is very common in India, however I can only speak for the north. North Indians are typically bilingual in their regional tongue and Hindi or English, or at least the ones I encountered were. The learning of regional tongues, however, is not very common there; it would be weird to many to see a Hindi or Bengali speaking person trying to learn Panjabi through a pedagogic setting (it would even be odd for a Panjabi Hindu too!). People scoffed at me when I told them I was studying Panjabi in India because it was "useless"; I was told to study Sanskrit instead.
     

    Montaigne

    Senior Member
    French, France
    I remember that, back in 1965, when I was staying at Baghwant Singh's (Khushwant' s brother) place in Delhi, one of his sons, Preminder who spoke Punjabi and English, took lessons in Hindi, a language he didn't master at all in spite of its closeness to Punjabi.
    It appears that intercomprehension is somewhat difficult even for languages belonging to the same group.
     

    panjabigator

    Senior Member
    Am. English
    Well, in Delhi, there some places where you just don't have to learn Hindi at all (I think North Delhi). There are so many Panjabi speakers in that region speaking Panjabi would just be a better decision.

    I wouldn't be surprised if he could read or even write Hindi well. Many people have problems with speaking.
     

    shaloo

    Senior Member
    English
    I'm a South Indian too and I speak my mother tongue-Telugu, Hindi and Kannada apart from English and French.
    I find Tamil comprehendable... but I take time in phrasing the sentence in my reply. I haven't pursued Tamil seriously, but I have a feeling that it cannot be very difficult (as a matter of fact, all the Dravidian languages have a common vocabulary base). And also the grammar structure is very similar (unlike English & French and more like French & Spanish)... So, most South Indians can pick up a another SI language if they have a ear for it.

    Like say:
    mom is ma (hindi) amma (telugu, kannada, tamil) amme (malayalam)
    dad is papa (hindi) nanna (telugu) appa (kannada, tamil) achhan (malayalam)

    If you observed the translations for dad:
    the p sound is common in hindi, kannada, tamil
    the n sound is common in telugu, malayalam

    That was just one example and in another case, the vocabulary might seem similar between other language pairs (say hindi-telugu, tamil-malayalam, telugu-kannada etc...)
    Also agreed that there are tons of fine intricacies in any language, but what I'm trying to tell is that the mutual intelligibility would mostly depend on factors like one - your keenness in listening & understanding, two - correlating it to your mother tongue etc...

    I feel North Indian languages also share the grammar & vocab base as they have originated from devanagari.
    Somebody's who has decent language skills in Hindi might find learning Marathi, Gujarathi, Punjabi, Bengali or Oriya comfortable.

    And please don't get baffled..!
    This is the viewpoint of somebody whose mother tongue is a South Indian language and having been exposed to at least one SI, NI and IE languages each, that's what I feel about being able to understand a non-native Indian language.

    Nevertheless, it varies from one invidual to another individual, their exposure, underlying interest, etc...
     
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    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Shaloo, you might want to read John J Gumperz, e. g.:
    Gumperz, John J., und Robert Wilson, Convergence and Creolization — A Case from the Indo-Aryan/Dravidian Border in India, in: Dell Hymes (ed.) 1971
    Gumperz did extensive research on Indian languages; and in this case he describes with his co-author a society where Indo-Aryan and Dravidian local languages came to develop similar grammars - that is, for those locals who spoke both languages it was rather easy to translate from one language into the other as the grammars of both adapted to each other.

    Nevertheless both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian language significantly were different languages, there wasn't mutual intelligibility worth mentioning - it was only that in this region it was rather easy to learn the other (not related) language, but you still had to learn it.

    Those examples however
    Like say:
    mom is ma (hindi) amma (telugu, kannada, tamil) amme (malayalam)
    dad is papa (hindi) nanna (telugu) appa (kannada, tamil) achhan (malayalam)
    are not good to proove any point at all. In many languages there are similar words for father and mother (English pa, pop, etc.and ma, mom, etc., for example).
    And this for completely different reasons, there are already two or three related threads about this in the Etymology & History of Languages forum. (I'm too lazy to search for them right now.)

    That was just one example and in another case, the vocabulary might seem similar between other language pairs (say hindi-telugu, tamil-malayalam, telugu-kannada etc...)
    Between the Dravidian language I can imagine that they exist; but with Hindi? - Well, there might be quite some Hindi words (being to some extent a 'dominant' language in India) which were loaned by Dravidian languages (especially, probably, concerning mass media - Bollywood also might play a role - and religion), but I would think that vocabularies between Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages would differ hugely.

    (...) but what I'm trying to tell is that the mutual intelligibility would mostly depend on factors like one - your keenness in listening & understanding, two - correlating it to your mother tongue etc...
    That of course alway is important: whoever wants to understand certainly does understand much more than someone who is not willing.

    I feel North Indian languages also share the grammar & vocab base as they have originated from devanagari.
    If you mean Sanskrit, okay; if not - see Frank's post. ;)
    Somebody's who has decent language skills in Hindi might find learning Marathi, Gujarathi, Punjabi, Bengali or Oriya comfortable.
    Those are all languages of the Indo-Aryan branch; naturally it would be rather easy for a (willing) Hindi speaker to learn one of those, you're surely right here.
    But surely it's different with Dravidian, right?
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    I agree with most of your post, Sokol, but for the ancestry of modern Indo-Aryan languages, I prefer to say that they have descended from vernaculars that were contemporary with the learned Sanskrit.
    I don't disagree with you on that. ;)
    (That is to say: I realise that your statement is so much better formulated than mine; further I have to say that Sanskrit certainly is not my field of expertise.)

    But as for Sanskrit: what do you think, was there any significant impact of Sanskrit as learned by educated Indians on Indo-Aryan vernaculars, be it lexicological or grammatical?
    If so it could have been an influence keeping modern Indo-Aryan regional languages ... well: under one roof, so to speak (working against them drifting away from each other).

    (I only applied in my mind the Latin analogy to India - and Latin did have influence in medieval Europe - but situation in India surely was different.)
     

    shaloo

    Senior Member
    English
    Shaloo, you might want to read John J Gumperz, e. g.:
    Gumperz, John J., und Robert Wilson, Convergence and Creolization — A Case from the Indo-Aryan/Dravidian Border in India, in: Dell Hymes (ed.) 1971. Gumperz did extensive research on Indian languages; and in this case he describes with his co-author a society where Indo-Aryan and Dravidian local languages came to develop similar grammars - that is, for those locals who spoke both languages it was rather easy to translate from one language into the other as the grammars of both adapted to each other.
    Nevertheless both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian language significantly were different languages, there wasn't mutual intelligibility worth mentioning - it was only that in this region it was rather easy to learn the other (not related) language, but you still had to learn it.
    Firstly, thanks for referring John Grumperz... I'll try to get that.
    And well, since I'm a native speaker of a Dravidian language living in India, I feel that most of the largely-spoken languages (Dravidian or Aryan) are pretty well related. A non-native Indian can find these differences better because he might have started pursuing this area after a good amount of exposure to one or more other languages and majorly, because its all foreign to him. Something that seems natural to me is looked by him from a different angle, a new perspective and thats when you find that its so different.
    Between the Dravidian language I can imagine that they exist; but with Hindi? - Well, there might be quite some Hindi words (being to some extent a 'dominant' language in India) which were loaned by Dravidian languages (especially, probably, concerning mass media - Bollywood also might play a role - and religion), but I would think that vocabularies between Indo-Aryan and Dravidian languages would differ hugely.
    A generalization might not be made there, nor can it be concluded that the vocabulary was loaned from Hindi or by Hindi (Sanskrit would be a better attribution for most of the Standard Telugu), but I'm sure standard Hindi and standard Telugu share quite a bit. But Hindi with a lot of influence of Urdu will unquestionably differ.There are many examples of both these languages sharing the similar vocab.
    A few examples: (those that I can think of, this moment)
    English... Standard Hindi... Standard Telugu... Spoken Hindi... Spoken Telugu

    book - pustak - pustakam - kitaab - pustakam
    marriage - vivaah - vivaaham - shaadi - pelli
    grammar - vyaakaran - vyaakaranam - same
    programme - kaaryakram - kaaryakramam - same
    magazine - patrika - patrika - same
    house - grih - griham - ghar - illu
    vehicle - vaahan - vaahanam - gaadi - bandi
    language - bhaasha - bhaasha - same
    sentence - vaakya - vaakyam - same
    day - din - dinam - din/roz - roju
    star - nakshatra - nakshatram - taara - taara
    cloth - vastra - vastram - kapda - batta
    weapon - astra - astram - hathiyaar - aayudham
    year - varsh - varsham - saal - samvatsaram/ vasantam/ yedaadi

    Parts of Speech would mostly be different and if one can get them right, things would be easy... as I mention of the standard vocab in both these languages, for example. Regional variations are a different question altogether and there are many dialects, which even native speakers sometimes cannot follow.

    (This is not an exhaustive list and there are other synonyms for each of them in both the languages, in both the forms (written & spoken) depending on certain factors like colloquialism, its influencing language etc)
    (especially, probably, concerning mass media - Bollywood also might play a role - and religion)
    Bollywood is a very new thing!
    And Bollowood Hindi doesn't much affect the Dravidian languages per se... yeah, a few expressions or slang might be considered "cool" by college-goers, but I don;t think it impacts the languages as much.

    If you mean Sanskrit, okay; if not - see Frank's post.
    O yeah, I indeed meant Sanskrit, sorry for not being clearer.
    Those are all languages of the Indo-Aryan branch; naturally it would be rather easy for a (willing) Hindi speaker to learn one of those, you're surely right here.
    But surely it's different with Dravidian, right?
    Yes, for a Dravidian with no exposure to Hindi at all, it could be a little challenging.
     
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    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    But as for Sanskrit: what do you think, was there any significant impact of Sanskrit as learned by educated Indians on Indo-Aryan vernaculars, be it lexicological or grammatical?
    My impression is that there was a huge influence in vocabulary already during Sanskrit (S) times, to the point that the first westerners who looked into Dravidian languages (D) thought that they were Indo-European!

    There are also several S borrowings from D, but it seems that there are more words borrowed from S to D than in the other direction. The reverse holds for grammar.
     

    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    My impression is that there was a huge influence in vocabulary already during Sanskrit (S) times, to the point that the first westerners who looked into Dravidian languages (D) thought that they were Indo-European!
    That is quite interesting. ;)

    Also seems to explain why there seems to be quite some common vocabulary between both Indo-Aryan and Dravidian as stated by Shaloo even though both language families aren't related.
     

    astlanda

    Senior Member
    Estonian maamurre
    Those examples however
    Quote:Originally Posted by shaloo
    Like say:
    mom is ma (hindi) amma (telugu, kannada, tamil) amme (malayalam)
    dad is papa (hindi) nanna (telugu) appa (kannada, tamil) achhan (malayalam)

    are not good to proove any point at all. In many languages there are similar words for father and mother (English pa, pop, etc.and ma, mom, etc., for example).
    :)
    It looks like Finnish might be a good candidate to Dravidan branch:

    1.
    mom is amma (telugu, kannada, tamil) amme (malayalam)
    "ämmä" is an old woman in Finnish.

    2.
    dad is appa (kannada, tamil) achhan (malayalam)
    and "appi" means 'father in law' in Finnish.

    As for grammatical influence - it seems to have been mutual.
    The gender system in Dravidan languages seems to be borrowed from Indo Aryan. From the other side at least the grammar of Sinhala or Singalese seems to have Dravidan influence.
     

    shaloo

    Senior Member
    English
    :) It looks like Finnish might be a good candidate to Dravidan branch:
    1.mom is amma (telugu, kannada, tamil) amme (malayalam)
    "ämmä" is an old woman in Finnish.
    "amma" is also used:

    1) to address a woman, who's a total stranger to you... (for eg., may be a fruit vendor)
    2) as a term of endearment... by parents to their daughter, an elder brother to his sister etc (that's not much with the youngsters, but as they grow up, affection seems to increase with time :) )
     

    astlanda

    Senior Member
    Estonian maamurre
    "amma" is also used:

    1) to address a woman, who's a total stranger to you... (for eg., may be a fruit vendor)
    2) as a term of endearment... by parents to their daughter, an elder brother to his sister etc (that's not much with the youngsters, but as they grow up, affection seems to increase with time :) )
    It's off topic, but the finnish "ämmä" could be used to address several kinds of female persons, which I won't list here. Estonian "ämm" means "mother in law" and "ema" stands for "mother" etc etc.

    Some linguists think, that Dravidan group is related to Uralic, but it's an off topic chat here.
    Maybe we could start a separate thread for that. I'm interested indeed in clearing up this matter.
     

    capsi

    Member
    Bengali,Hindi,English
    Originally Posted by shaloo
    A generalization might not be made there, nor can it be concluded that the vocabulary was loaned from Hindi or by Hindi (Sanskrit would be a better attribution for most of the Standard Telugu), but I'm sure standard Hindi and standard Telugu share quite a bit. But Hindi with a lot of influence of Urdu will unquestionably differ.There are many examples of both these languages sharing the similar vocab.
    A few examples: (those that I can think of, this moment)
    English... Standard Hindi... Standard Telugu... Spoken Hindi... Spoken Telugu

    book - pustak - pustakam - kitaab - pustakam
    marriage - vivaah - vivaaham - shaadi - pelli
    grammar - vyaakaran - vyaakaranam - same
    programme - kaaryakram - kaaryakramam - same
    magazine - patrika - patrika - same
    house - grih - griham - ghar - illu
    vehicle - vaahan - vaahanam - gaadi - bandi
    language - bhaasha - bhaasha - same
    sentence - vaakya - vaakyam - same
    day - din - dinam - din/roz - roju
    star - nakshatra - nakshatram - taara - taara
    cloth - vastra - vastram - kapda - batta
    weapon - astra - astram - hathiyaar - aayudham
    year - varsh - varsham - saal - samvatsaram/ vasantam/ yedaadi
    Well, what you have given as examples of standard Hindi are actually Sanskrit words which are common for all languages derived from Sanskrit, like Bengali. All north-Indian languages are from Sanskrit.

    Sanskrit is a language of Indo-Iranian/Indo-European group and all south-Indian languages are from Dravidian group, they are totally different in their origin. But 3500yr of use of Sanskrit as language of the religion[like Latin in europe] had a great influence in all South-Indian languages.

    Hindi and Urdu are sister languages. Both are mix of local north-Indian dialects[like Hindustani] Farshi,Arabic,Turkis,Sanskrit etc. The only difference is that Urdu heavily borrows words from Farshi/Arabic and Arabic scripture due to muslim influence whereas Hindi from Sanskrit and its scripture, thats why Urdu and Hindi speaker can understand each other except those words taken from Sanskrit or Farshi/Arabic.
     
    Last edited by a moderator:

    MarX

    Banned
    Indonesian, Indonesia
    "amma" is also used:

    1) to address a woman, who's a total stranger to you... (for eg., may be a fruit vendor)
    2) as a term of endearment... by parents to their daughter, an elder brother to his sister etc (that's not much with the youngsters, but as they grow up, affection seems to increase with time :) )
    I don't think it's a Uralic-Dravidian thing. It's probably something universal.

    In Indonesian, we also have emak. I don't know how to write it, but the E is pronounced like a schwa, and the M sounds like -mm-. The K represents a glottal stop (not really a K sound).

    Similar to that we also have embak. Similar to "emak" just with an additional B. "Embak" is used to address girls or young women.


    PS: The other thread was closed, and I don't know if creating a new thread would be worth it, and if it was, I wouldn't know what title to give.


    Groetjes
     

    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    Well, what you have given as examples of standard Hindi are actually Sanskrit words which are common for all languages derived from Sanskrit, like Bengali. All north-Indian languages are from Sanskrit.

    Sanskrit is a language of Indo-Iranian/Indo-European group and all south-Indian languages are from Dravidian group, they are totally different in their origin. But 3500yr of use of Sanskrit as language of the religion[like Latin in europe] had a great influence in all South-Indian languages.

    Hindi and Urdu are sister languages. Both are mix of local north-Indian dialects[like Hindustani] Farshi,Arabic,Turkis,Sanskrit etc. The only difference is that Urdu heavily borrows words from Farshi/Arabic and Arabic scripture due to muslim influence whereas Hindi from Sanskrit and its scripture, thats why Urdu and Hindi speaker can understand each other except those words taken from Sanskrit or Farshi/Arabic.
    Good points, but I prefer to regard modern north Indian languages (MIA) as descendants of not Sanskrit, the development of which was rather stopped by grammarians like Panini at ca. 350 BCE, but of various common Prakrits, contrasting with the more learned Sanskrit. Different Prakrits evolved to corresponding Apabhramshas, which in turn gave rise to MIA's.

    As an example, Hindi, Panjabi and Gujarati go back to Shauraseni-Apabhramsha, coming from the Shauraseni Prakrit, which is a slightly different route than Bengali and Oriya, that have their roots in Maghadhi-Apabhramsha from Magadhi Prakrit. Those Prakrits, with a common ancestry of Vedic Prakrits, perhaps going back to 1500 BCE, were different from one another, and different from their contemporary Sanskrit. Pali is yet another line from Vedic Prakrits.

    It's quite possible to construct sentences that, if spoken, could equally well be regarded as Hindi as Urdu. On the other hand, there are Urdu and Hindi translations of the Lord's prayer that only coincide in two words, becaues of the preference for wpords of Sanskrit or Persian/Arabic heritage.
     

    IndianMan

    New Member
    Bengali
    Well I can say that all the north Indian languages are mutually intelligible to a certain extent..maybe about 70-80 %. So as a non-native if you learn Hindi you can pretty much understand all the north Indian languages. I being a Bengali can understand Assamese, Oriya, Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi to quite an extent. As for the South Indian languages I think Telugu and Kannada have been more influenced by Sanskrit....I can understand certain words in Telugu. I think if you learn any one of the South Indian languages namely Tamil, Telugu, Tulu, Kannada or Malayalam and you can pretty much understand the rest...I would suggest Telugu for the beginner...so far
     

    bakshink

    Senior Member
    punjabi
    A very interesting discussion indeed. One thing about Punjabi and Punjabees I can say with certainty is that most of those who went to the schools other than the state run schools can hardly read or write Punjabi even though they (might have) learnt it from fifth to eighth standard in schools.But all educated Punjabees can understand Hindi which they may have learnt form 1st standard to 10th standard or may not have learnt at all in the schools.( I am not aware if there are any schools in Punjab where Hindi is not taught at all)
     

    Black_Sept

    New Member
    Hungarian & Romanian
    Well I can say that all the north Indian languages are mutually intelligible to a certain extent..maybe about 70-80 %. So as a non-native if you learn Hindi you can pretty much understand all the north Indian languages.
    I appreciate you straightforward approach.

    It is usually very hard to get even a reasonable grasp of the relationships between languages which have little to no connection with your own (linguistic) culture; I mean sometimes the same language has 2 or more names/prestige varieties/official forms etc. (Hindi-Urdu, Malaysian-Indonesian etc.) other times several mutually unintelligible varieties are labeled together as one language etc.

    A think a good way to understand is to relate to languages that you are familiar with; for me those are the languages spoken in Europe.

    From what you wrote I think north Indian languages could be compared to some Slavic languages (higher mutual intelligibility like between russian and ukrainian ); although some other posts suggested more of a Romance languages type of model (lower m.i. as between spanish & french). Or maybe germanic (english vs. german)?

    Of course none of these 'models' is valid linguistically; but I'd just like to get a good 'feel' of the Indian language situation.
    I was hoping some of you can relate to the European situation and maybe compare and contrast a little?
     

    IndianMan

    New Member
    Bengali
    Hello,

    Thanks for the reply. Well I can certainly say that North Indian languages are much more closer to each other than English-German or Spanish-French. I learnt German a little...so I can tell. I believe Sanskrit is more closely related to Latin than Proto-Slav .... so the North Indian Languages are closer to the Romance Languages. However the Romance languages have diversified more from each other than have the North Indian languages...so the greater extent of mutual intelligibility....I hope this helps....will be happy to clarify any other details
     
    I have not read the whole of this thread so excuse me for any repetitions. There is one more thread on a similar topic where you can get some insight into Indian languages. Here I will try to keep it brief, let us see how do I succeed.

    India has 15 languages identified as major languages, but in practice there are about 25. Including minor languages which are not so broadly spoken it will be 100+. Including regional localizations they could be in thousands. But broadly Indian languages are classified in two categories. North Indian languages and South Indian languages. Major South Indian languages include Tamil, Kannada, Malyalam, and Telugu. Rest is implied as North Indian Languages.

    But for the sake of clarity on your question, I will suggest a further classification among the North Indian Languages. Languages spoken in central India (Delhi, Himachal, Punjaab, Rajsthaan, Gujraat, Mahaaraashtra, Haryaanaa, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Bihaar, Orissaa, Bengal), languages spoken in western border (Punjab, J&K), and languages spoken in Eastern India (Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Arunachal).

    South Indian languages bear resemblance. A south Indian friend told me he could understand all South Indian languages to some extent even as he could not speak them all. People who are living in cities tend to have this tendency more. Whereas the people living in villages are more likely to be accustomed to their own language only.

    Any educated city dweller in north India will understand all North Indian languages to a large extent even if he can't speak much. But even then he will be able to say the most common phrases used in these languages easily.

    Punjabi and Kashmere are two languages who have great influence from Sindhi (Indo-arabian) languages. A Punjabi speaker can probably understand more of Kashmere/Sindhi/Pashto than rest of Indians.

    East Indian languages are different from the other and since the number of speakers of these languages is much smaller in comparison they have not impacted major languages as such. However, it is not known to me how much they themselves have "imported" from other languages or how much of mutual intelligibility exists amongst them.

    Due to 800 years of association with Indo-arabian and Indo-european languages, Indian languages have enriched a great deal. Even a complete illiterate in North India has 200+ English words and 500+ Urdu words in his vocabulary.

    The bottom line is that, within their language family, there is a great deal of mutual intelligibility among Indian languages. And if you can speak any of Hindi or English, you will be good in 80-90% of India.


    To what extent are the major languages of India mutually comprehensible? I can infer something on that matter from the information on the linguistic kinship of those languages but I cannot objectively say how much the speakers of one would understand of the other\s.

    Also, I am interested, how common is the knowledge of some other Indian language in India? Which are the most common non-native languages that Indians would be likely to know?
     
    I was hoping some of you can relate to the European situation and maybe compare and contrast a little?
    One contrast: European languages all use the same script - Roman. Indian languages all use different scripts.

    Some comparisons: Bangla and Oriya are like American and British English. Or could I say like Czhec and Slovak. But on the other hand Maraathi and Himaachali would be like French and Spanish.

    Semantic (not exact) comparison to European languages: Latin could be equated to Sanskrit which is the mother of all Indian languages. Hindi is simplified Sanskrit or modern day version of Sanskrit, so still plays the role of the bridge language. In that sense English could be equated to Hindi as a most widely spoken language and descendant of Latin. Whereas German, Swede, Finnish can be equated to Maraathi, Gujraati, Bangla etc.
     
    Sanskrit is a language of Indo-Iranian/Indo-European group and all south-Indian languages are from Dravidian group, they are totally different in their origin.
    Sorry friend, that's not true. Even if Sanskrit is grouped with Indo-Iranian/Indo-European family, it's language from "Vedic" family. And it dates back far far before any of these languages of Indo-Iranian/Indo-European group were born. Languages of Dravidian family do share a lot with Sanskrit.

    But 3500yr of use of Sanskrit as language of the religion[like Latin in europe] had a great influence in all South-Indian languages.
    Sanskrit is much older than 3500 years. At least as old as Harappa civilization. The age of ancient Hindu text itself, most of which are in Sanskrit, is estimated at more than 10000 years old. I read it somewhere, if I can recall it I can provide reference.
     
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    IndianMan

    New Member
    Bengali
    Just a clarification...Punjabi and Sindhi are Indo-Aryan languages. Kashmiri is a Dardi language (part of the larger Indo-Iranian group) and Pashto(again part of the larger Indo-Iranian group) is an Iranian language....although I do agree that a Punjabi or Sindhi speaker in north-western India will better understand Kashmiri and Pashto due to proximity influence and not due to inherent similarity in language
     

    IndianMan

    New Member
    Bengali
    Sorry the above post should read Dardic ....One more clarification...there is nothing as Indo-Arabian language family....
     

    xjm

    Senior Member
    English - USA
    It's important to keep in mind that calling any language Indo-European doesn't mean that language is only Indo-European in its heritage. It only classifies the language in terms of its genetic relationships in the tree model. The tree model is useful because it helps explain the similarities and mutual intelligibilities between historical and modern languages, but it is also an oversimplification of the complex histories of languages.

    Languages that are genetically unrelated (say, Hindi and Telugu) can nonetheless have shared vocabularies and similar phonetics because of longterm contact between them.

    For example: Urdu is genetically Indic (Indo-Aryan), but a lot of the Urdu lexicon comes from Persian, which is not considered Indic. (Similarly, English is genetically Germanic, but a lot of its lexicon comes from Old French.)

    Sorry friend, that's not true. Even if Sanskrit is grouped with Indo-Iranian/Indo-European family, it's language from "Vedic" family. And it dates back far far before any of these languages of Indo-Iranian/Indo-European group were born. Languages of Dravidian family do share a lot with Sanskrit.

    Sanskrit is much older than 3500 years. At least as old as Harappa civilization. The age of ancient Hindu text itself, most of which are in Sanskrit, is estimated at more than 10000 years old. I read it somewhere, if I can recall it I can provide reference.
    Hopefully it is not too off-topic to reply to this. A citation would be helpful here, because your remarks are not correct as far as I know. I believe I have read that there is some evidence that elements of Vedic culture may be that ancient, but from a linguistic perspective that's very unlikely of Sanskrit itself. The RigVeda (oldest of the Vedas and the earliest attested Sanskrit text) dates from 1500 BCE.

    Undoubtedly the Proto-Dravidian language(s) heavily influenced the Proto-Indo-Aryan language(s) as it diverged from Proto-Indo-European, but one can't really call any of those "proto" languages Sanskrit, at least not in a linguistic sense.

    Back to the original question--my understanding is that there is a high degree of mutual intelligibility across the purple blob on this map:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Template:Distribution_of_languages_in_the_world

    That region is called the Indic or Indo-Aryan belt and can be treated as one big dialect continuum. In such a continuum, languages close to each other might be almost entirely mutually intelligible, but languages that are at opposite ends of the continuum might have far less in common. The groupings often correspond to actual regional geography; for example, Delhi dialects of Hindi have more in common with Punjabi than Benares dialects do. If I had to guess, I'd say Marathi and Bengali are probably less mutually intelligible, and speakers of these two languages would probably use standard Hindi to communicate. Edit: here is a map that breaks the Indic area down by subgroup:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Indoarische_Sprachen_Gruppen.png
     
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    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    Hi,
    Sanskrit which is the mother of all Indian languages.
    That's a view popular among Hindutva groups, but not among serious linguists.

    Sorry friend, that's not true. Even if Sanskrit is grouped with Indo-Iranian/Indo-European family,
    There is not one single sound linguistic reason not to group Sanskrit within the Indo-European family (or the Indo-Iranian sub branch), no matter the special status Sanskrit has among certain Indian political groups.

    it's language from "Vedic" family. And it dates back far far before any of these languages of Indo-Iranian/Indo-European group were born. Languages of Dravidian family do share a lot with Sanskrit.
    I am sorry, but this is not the mainstream view at all.
    In WR and IIR, we deal with academic views and linguistics and not with Hindutva political pseudo-linguistics and propaganda.

    Sanskrit is much older than 3500 years. At least as old as Harappa civilization. The age of ancient Hindu text itself, most of which are in Sanskrit, is estimated at more than 10000 years old. I read it somewhere, if I can recall it I can provide reference.
    This kind of pseudo-linguistic statements can be found on almost every single Hindutva website.


    Frank
     
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    Frank, sorry to say, I will comment further in this thread but if you can get rid of this false fear of HIndutva agenda or whatever you call it. I don't need to justify my stand. I just would like to modify one of my sentences I wrote above and you have quoted - "Sanskrit which is the mother of all Indian languages." That's a huge generalisation I have made and when I read it back I realize its not true. I would like to more appropriately say - "Most mainstream languages spoken in India have originated from Sanskrit, with a noted exception being Urdu and similar languages".

    Rest, try to get rid of your self obsessed political view point and then may be I can come back and comment. Until then it seems that anything which is not a mainstream academic view is pseudo, political, and agenda sort of stuff. Nice way to hide the fact that you have a closed mind and are unable to debate/accept facts that you don't agree with/are not comfortable with. Now, go figure, where is the agenda.
     
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    Frank06

    Senior Member
    Nederlands / Dutch (Belgium)
    I just would like to modify one of my sentences I wrote above and you have quoted - "Sanskrit which is the mother of all Indian languages." That's a huge generalisation I have made and when I read it back I realize its not true. I would like to more appropriately say - "Most mainstream languages spoken in India have originated from Sanskrit, with a noted exception being Urdu and similar languages".
    In one thread you say that Hindi is quite similar to Sanskrit, that Hindi originated from Sanskrit.
    In another thread, you write that Hindi and Urdu are basically the same language (give and take the well known differences).
    And in this thread you insist that Urdu has not originated from Sanskrit. You write "Urdu and similar languages"... Do you mean Urdu and Hindi, or is Hindi all of a sudden not similar enough to Urdu anymore?
    Where's the logic?

    Frank
     
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    sokol

    Senior Member
    Austrian (as opposed to Australian)
    Semantic (not exact) comparison to European languages: Latin could be equated to Sanskrit which is the mother of all Indian languages. Hindi is simplified Sanskrit or modern day version of Sanskrit, so still plays the role of the bridge language. In that sense English could be equated to Hindi as a most widely spoken language and descendant of Latin. Whereas German, Swede, Finnish can be equated to Maraathi, Gujraati, Bangla etc.
    This analogy is very much misleading - I feel it is necessary to state this here.

    Neither is Hindi "simplified Sanskrit" nor is it a good analogy to compare Hindi with English - the only "Englishness" which could be attributed to Hindi is that it is (as English) kind of a lingua franca on the Indian subcontinent (if not to the same degree as English, of course).
    And the analogy with Germanic languages and Finnish is even more out of place.

    Sorry friend, that's not true. Even if Sanskrit is grouped with Indo-Iranian/Indo-European family, it's language from "Vedic" family. And it dates back far far before any of these languages of Indo-Iranian/Indo-European group were born.
    Sorry but this is not true.
    Sanskrit is just about as old, or young, as any other ancient Indo-European languages; in fact the oldest IE language attested*) is neither Sanskrit nor Iranian nor Greek or Latin, it is Hittite.
    Which of course doesn't mean that Hittite were the oldest IE language - that'd be nonsense to claim.
    *) With a considerable text corpus. Hittite text corpus isn't huge but still quite large, considering the time when they lived.

    We know that approximately 5000-4500 years ago the IE family began to split; then, there was no Sanskrit nor Hittite but only their predecessors.

    Sanskrit is much older than 3500 years. At least as old as Harappa civilization. The age of ancient Hindu text itself, most of which are in Sanskrit, is estimated at more than 10000 years old. I read it somewhere, if I can recall it I can provide reference.
    Wrong again.
    We know for sure that Harappan civilisation was not at all an Indo-European civilisation: Indo-Aryans only entered the subcontinent when Harappan culture already was in decline.

    Also it has been well established by generations of linguists (as said above) that the Indo-European family split about 5.000 years ago - and that no Sanskrit existed then.
    There's no need to discuss this - this is common consensus amongst linguists (which of course too includes plenty of Indian linguists, in case you might hold against me that I am European).

    Sanskrit only was codified when the Indo-Aryan tribes had well settled in their new home; of course it was based on Indian dialects - but it wasn't the language spoken by the population: it was rather the language used in cult and literature.
    As is the case with standard languages all over the world, codified Sanskrit (as written) wasn't the language spoken in the streets - as well as Cicero's Latin never was spoken by ordinary people who stuck to their Vulgar Latin.


    Oh - and for good measure, a link to a relevant quote in Wiki:
    >The association of the IVC witht he city-dwelling Dasyus remains alluring because the assumed timeframe of the first Indo-Aryan migration into India corresponds neatly with the period of decline of the IVC seen in the archaeological record. The discovery of the advanced, urban IVC however changed the 19th century view of early Indo-Aryan migration as an "invasion" of an advanced culture at the expense of a "primitive" aboriginal population to a gradual acculturation of nomadic "barbarians" on an advanced urban civilization, comparable to the Germanic migrations after the Fall of Rome, or the Kassite invasion of Babylonia.<
    Or in other words: Indo-Aryan tribes migrated to the Indus valley (in the late Harappan period, approx. 3800-4000 years ago) and over centuries assimilated to their culture from which modern Indian culture eventually emerged.
     
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    Lugubert

    Senior Member
    One contrast: European languages all use the same script - Roman. Indian languages all use different scripts.
    Totally wrong. There are lots of varieties of the Roman script. Swedish has åäö, Danish and Norwegian åæø, Icelandic also þð, Spanish has ll and ñ, and more. Look yourself for the multitude of Slavonic varieties, and add Greek. Hindi and Marathi have almost no differences in their Devanagari use, Rajasthani, Bihari etc. even less.
    Hindi is simplified Sanskrit or modern day version of Sanskrit
    The differences between Sanskrit and Hindi grammars are to me much greater than the similarities. Three genders to two, eight noun cases to two (and rarely a third), rather free verb placement to compulsory sentence finals, for starters.

    And genetically, it isn't Sanskrit that begat Hindi and its siblings, but Prakrits and Apabhramshas that evolved when formalized Sanskrit froze.
     

    panjabigator

    Senior Member
    Am. English
    May I suggest some texts that provide solid arguments over the subject of Sanskrit and Indo-Aryan Invasion? I don't mean to plug certain authors, but this thread just seems to polemical for me and so I think this post is warranted.

    Romila Thapar Early India: from the Origins to AD 1300
    Ayesha Jalal and Sugata Bose Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy
    Thomas Trautmann The Aryan Debate

    Not.A.Linguist, perhaps you are well intentioned in your posting, but your posts are full of some problematic generalizations that have been dismissed in South Asian scholarship. I believe these texts will address your concerns.
     

    Wordmaven

    New Member
    American English
    We know for sure that Harappan civilisation was not at all an Indo-European civilisation: Indo-Aryans only entered the subcontinent when Harappan culture already was in decline.

    Also it has been well established by generations of linguists (as said above) that the Indo-European family split about 5.000 years ago - and that no Sanskrit existed then.
    There's no need to discuss this - this is common consensus amongst linguists (which of course too includes plenty of Indian linguists, in case you might hold against me that I am European).
    The Aryan Invasion Theory which states that Indo-Aryans entered India from Eurasia around 1500 BC is not supported by DNA evidence from south Asia.
    In fact the evidence supports a very different picture; both north and south Indian populations have been stable since 8000 BC.

    A recent Archeology Online editorial on this very topic is titled, "Harappan Horseplay" and well worth looking up, I can't post the link but anyone who is interested can find it.

    As for your statement that 'we know for sure Harappan civilization was not Indo-European', eh, a lot of people 'know' things that they need to re-examine; take a look at the sign list posted below and see what results you get when you use it to decipher a Harappan seal.

    (That sign list is illegible due to size but if you want a link to the article it is from, pm me.)
     

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