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Indo-Aryan Branch 

indo-aryan

Indo-Aryan languages represent the easternmost branch of the Indo-European language family. They are spoken by close to one billion people in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, parts of the Himalayas, and in Sri Lanka. There are 219 Indo-Aryan languages, some of which are yet to be definitively classified (Ethnologue). There is also a far-flung Indo-Aryan speaking diaspora encompassing U.S., Canada, U.K., South Africa, Fiji, Trinidad, and Mauritius.

Most scholars subscribe to the hypothesis that the original homeland of Indo-Aryan speaking people was an area located northwest of the Indian subcontinent bordered by the Caspian sea in the east and Afghanistan in the north. From there, they migrated to the south and east sometime in the 2nd millennium BC.

Indo-Aryan languages have gone through several stages in their history:

  • Old Indo-Aryan languages, as represented by Sanskrit, preserved in numerous sources as the liturgical language of HinduismBuddhismJainism.
  • Middle Indo-Aryan languages.The earliest preserved Middle Indo-Aryan languages were used for literary, philosophical and religious works, dating to the 3rd century BC. The most advanced stages of Middle Indo-Aryan are found in Apabhramsa (meaning ‘corrupt, non-standard’) dialects used for literary purposes before the 6th century AD. All Middle Indo-Aryan varieties can be subsumed under the term Prakrit ‘natural, ordinary,’ referring to spoken vernaculars as opposed to the refined language represented by Sanskrit ‘excellently made.’
  • Modern Indo-Aryan languages which include most of the modern languages of India. They are represented in numerous literary documents from the 12th century on.

The table below lists modern Indo-Aryan languages with at least 3 million speakers.

Language
Number of speakers
Where spoken primarily
180 million 1st language and 300 2nd language speakers
India, Pakistan
207 million 1st and 2nd language speakers
Bangladesh, India
Urdu 60.5 million 1st language and 104 million 2nd language speakers Pakistan, India
Marathi 68 million India
89 million
India, Pakistan
46 million
India
32million
India
26.5 million
India
25 million
India
21 million
Pakistan, India
20.5 million
India, Nepal
Nepali 17.2 million Nepal, India
Assamese 15 million India
14 million
Pakistan
14 million
Bangladesh
Sinhala (Sinhalese)
13 million
Sri Lanka
13 million
India
13 million
India
Haryanvi 13 million India
11.5 million
India
11 million
India
Sylheti 10.3 million Bangladesh
Dhundari 9 million India
Konkani 7.6 million India
Mewati 5 million India
Kashmiri 4.6 million India
Shekhawati 3 million India

Status
Many Indo-Aryan languages have official or co-official status in their respective countries.

India AssameseBengaliBodoDogriGondiGujaratiHindiKashmiriKonkani,
MaithiliMarathiMeiteiNepaliOriya,Eastern PanjabiSanskritSindhiUrdu
Pakistan Urdu
Bangladesh Bengali
Nepal Nepali

 

Dialects

Most major Indo-Aryan languages form a continuum of regional varieties, many of them mutually intelligible due to significant lexical similarity. Whether some of them are dialects of one language or separate languages is often difficult to establish on purely linguistic grounds. Since India and Pakistan are also home to Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic languages, it is not surprising that India’s Indo-Aryan languages have been influenced by the languages of their non-Indo-European speaking neighbors.

In addition to regional differences, Indo-Aryan languages encompass a number of social dialects associated with caste, as well with religious differences that affected the selection of writing systems for languages that are spoken by Hindus and Moslems, e.g., Hindi vs UrduEastern vs Western Panjabi. Bilingualism and multilingualism is a norm in the Indian subcontinent. Speakers of many languages, Indo-Aryan, Dravidian, and Austro-Asiatic, live side-by-side and are able to communicate with each other on a daily basis. They learn each other’s language not in school, but informally through daily contact. As a rule, schools do not teach more than three languages, one of which is English.

Both Hindi and English are extensively used in addition to regional languages. Education in English continues to be a prerequisite for social status. English remains the sole language of higher education in almost every field of learning. Code-switching between regional languages, Hindi and English is extremely common, especially among educated Indians.

Structure

Sound system
The sound systems of Indo-Aryan languages have several features that distinguish them from the rest of Indo-European languages. Not all these features are present in all Indo-Aryan languages.

Vowels
Most Indo-Aryan languages make a distinction between long and short vowels. In addition, many also distinguish between oral and nasal vowels. There are no vowel sequences.

Consonants
The consonant inventories of some of the major Indo-Aryan languages are given below (from Wikipedia). Although there is some of variation among the consonant systems of the Indo-Aryan languages, most of them incorporate the following features:

  • Most consonants can be doubled (geminated). Consonant length affects word meaning.
  • Contrast between aspirated and unaspirated stops and affricates, including voiced ones, e.g., /p/—/pʰ/, /t/—/tʰ/, /k/—/kʰ/ , /b/—/bʰ/, /d/—/dʰ/, /g/—/gʰ/, /tʃ/ – /tʃʰ), /dʒ/ – /dʒʰ/. Aspirated consonants are produced with a strong puff of air.
  • Contrast between and apical and retroflex stops, affricatesnasals and rhotics, e.g., /t/—/ʈ/, /d/—/ɖ/, /tʃ/ – /ʈʃ/, /n/ – /ɳ/, /r/ -/ɽ/. Apical consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, whereas retroflex consonants are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth.
  • Many languages have a rich complement of nasals.
  • Limited use of consonant clusters.
  • Absence of word-final consonants.

Stress and tone
Stress in many Indo-Aryan languages normally falls on the penultimate (i.e., next to the last) syllable of a word. Thus, position of stress alone does not affect word meaning. A few languages have tones. Panjabi, for instance, has three tones: High, Mid, and Low. The tone of a word is a pitch pattern permanently associated with it. A change of tone changes the meaning of a word.

Grammar
Indo-Aryan languages are inflectional, i.e., they use prefixes and suffixes to signal grammatical relations.

Nouns

  • Nouns are inflected for number, gender, and case.
  • The number of cases varies from language to language. Overall, there is a tendency for modern Indo-Aryan languages to lose the numerous case distinctions of Sanskrit.
  • Post-positions rather than prepositions govern noun cases. Post-positions require the use of the oblique case.
  • Modifiers agree with the nouns they modify in number, gender, and case.

Verbs

  • Verbs are marked for person, number, tense, aspect, and mood.
  • Verbs agree with their subjects in person and number.
  • There is an honorific 2nd person marked in the pronoun and in the verb form.

Honorifics
Indo-Aryan languages are rich in honorifics that cover formal and informal relationships. Honorifics may be expressed in different ways (prefix, suffix, or replacement). For instance, in Hindi, the traditional honorific is a suffix. Mahatma Gandhi was often referred to as Gandhi-ji.

Word Order
The normal word order is Subject-Object-Verb. The position of the verb is fixed, but the other constituents may move around, depending on semantic andpragmatic considerations. Modifiers precede nouns they modify.

Vocabulary
Due to the influence of Hinduism, most Indo-Aryan languages derive their high-level vocabulary from Sanskrit. As a result of the Moslem influence in Northern India, they also has many PersianArabic and Turkish loanwords. Due to the influence of Islam, Urdū vocabulary has a greater percentage of loanwords from Persian and Arabic than does the vocabulary of Hindi. Indo-Aryan languages have also borrowed vocabulary from their non-Indo-European neighbors, e.g.,Bengali has many loanwords from Austroasiatic languages, while Marathi has a large number of loanwords from Dravidian languages spoken to the south.

Below are some kinship terms in four Indo-Aryan languages that show similarities and differences.

.
Man
Woman
Mother
Father
Child
Hindi
purusha, ādamī
nārī, strī
mātā
pitā
baccā
Urdū
ādmī , mard
oarat
mān, ammi
wālid, bāp, abbu
bachchā
Bengali
purush, mānush
nārī, mohilā
mā, āmmā, mātā, mātri
bābā, pitā
bachchā
Panjabi
admi, manokh, parokh
aurat
man, mata
bap, pitt, pita
balak, bachcha

Below are the numerals 1-10 in five Indo-Aryan languages.

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Hindi/Urdu
ek
do
trīn
car
pānc
che
sāt
ath
nau
das
Gujarati
ek
be
treņ
cār
pãc
cha
sāt
āţh
nav
das
Oriya
ek
du’i
trini
chāri
pānjch
cha’a
sāt
āth
na’a
dash
Bhojpuri
e:k
dui
ti:n
ca:ri
pã:c
cæ
sa:t
a:t
nao
das
Sindhi
hiku
ba
ţī
cāre
pañja
chaha
sata
aţha
nava
daha

Writing

Indo-Aryan languages are written in several scripts, many of which are derived from the Brāhmī script Devanāgarī, while Moslems tend to use the Perso-Arabic script.

One script – many languages
The Devanāgarī script is used for writing Sanskrit and serves as the official script for Hindi and a number of other languages (see below). There are some differences in the way the Devanāgarī script is used for writing HindiMarathiNepali, and other languages. Urdū and a few other Indo-Aryan languages are written in the Perso-Arabic alphabet.

One language – many scripts
Some languages are written in more than one script. For instance, Kashmiri is written in DevanāgarīPerso-Arabic, and Roman scripts; Bhojpuri is written inKaithi and Devanāgarī; Panjabi is written in DevanāgarīPerso-Arabic, and Gurmukhi.

The scripts that have evolved from the Brāhmī script are called syllabic alphabets, or abugidas. They contain symbols for consonants and vowels. The consonants have an inherent vowel, usually [a], which can be changed to another vowel or suppressed by diacritics placed over or under the consonants. Vowels are represented by separate symbols when they occur at the beginning of words or in isolation. Special conjunct symbols are used when two consonants occur together.

Letter ‘a’
Script
Language
Bengali 
Bengali is a early Devanāgarī-derived script that appeared in eastern South Asia around the 11th century AD. It is currently used in Bangladesh and in the state of West Bengal in India.
BengaliAssameseMeiteiSylheti
Devanāgarī
Devanāgarī is a descendant of the ancient Brāhmī script of India. Many languages in India useDevanāgarī or its local variations. The name Devanāgarī consists of deva ‘deity’ + ‘nagari ‘city.’
HindiMarathiSanskritSindhi,PanjabiNepali,
Maithilii, Magahi,MarwariChhattsgarhi
Gujarati
Gujarati script is an adaptation of the Devanāgarī script. It was used for routine correspondence and record-keeping until the 19th century.
Gujarati
Oriya
Oriya script is based on an early form of the Bengali script.
Oriya
Gurmukhi
The Gurmukhi script was created for writing Panjabi by a Sikh guru in the 16th century. It is based on a variant of the Sarada script which, in turn, is based on the Brāhmī script. Gurmukhi consists of guru ‘sage’ + mukhi ‘mouth.’
Panjabi
Sinhala
The Sinhala alphabet is a descendant of the ancient Brāhmī script of India. It dates back to the 3rd-2nd centuries BC. The earliest surviving literature in Sinhala dates from the 9th century AD.
Sinhalese
Kaithi
Kaithi is a script dating back to the 16th century. It was widely used during the period of theMughal Empire. In 1880s, during the British Raj, it was recognized as the official script of the law courts of Bihar, India. It is used for writing Bhojpuri.
Bhojpuri
Perso-Arabic
An adaptation of the Arabic script used to write Urdū since the 12th century AD.
UrdūAwadhiPanjabi

Difficulty

Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Indo-Aryan languages?
Indo Aryan languages are considered to be Category II languages in terms of difficulty for native speakers of English.

6 Responses to Indo-Aryan Branch

  1. Pingback: What is India's population in 2013? | Population Fun

  2. Parin Shah

    Dear Irene Thompson,
    Gujarati script is STILL in the vogue and also in official use by the government of Gujarat in correspondence! Gujarati language is officially written ONLY in Gujarati script.
    [PS: I am a resident of Gujarat.]

     
  3. Anup SInha

    Please mention a language Bishnupuriya a Indo-Aryan family Caste sl no. 04, Please mention and see more details India Census report 2001.

     
    • Irene Thompson

      Thank you for the suggestion, but we cannot include many of the world’s languages, only a small number of them.

       

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