A number of separate linguistic communities, each of which shares a common language and culture, exist on the Indian subcontinent. Fifteen principal languages serve as the base for many dialects that the people of India speak.
Sanskrit and Tamil literature share a long history of more than 5,000 years and 3,000 years respectively. Some Indian languages also do not have written forms. A total of 18 languages are officially recognised in India and each has produced a literature of great vitality and richness.
The number of people speaking each language varies greatly too. For example, Hindi has more than 250 million speakers, but relatively few people speak Andamanese.
Although some of the languages are called "tribal" or "aboriginal", their populations may be larger than those that speak some European languages. For example, Bhili and Santali, both tribal languages, each have more than 4 million speakers. Nearly 2 million people speak Gondi. India's schools teach more than 50 different languages. The nation has newspapers in nearly 90 languages, radio programmes in 71, and films in 15 languages.
The Indian languages belong to four language families: Indo-European, Dravidian, Mon-Khmer, and Sino-Tibetan. Indo-European and Dravidian languages are used by a large majority of India's population. The language families divide roughly into geographic groups.
Languages of the Indo-European group are spoken mainly in northern and central regions. The languages of southern India are mainly of the Dravidian group. Some ethnic groups in Assam and other parts of eastern India speak languages of the Mon-Khmer group. People in the northern Himalayan region and near the Burmese border speak Sino-Tibetan languages. Speakers of 54 different languages of the Indo-European family make up about three-quarters of India's population. Twenty Dravidian languages are spoken by nearly a quarter of the people. Speakers of 20 Mon-Khmer languages and 98 Sino-Tibetan languages together make up about 2 per cent of the population.
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