In July 2018, the Government Of India released language data for the 2011 Census of India’s language section, with statistics on Indic language usage and growth.
India as a country is home to many diverse yet interlinked cultures, many of these represented by their very own dialect or language. 22 of these languages have been accorded official status by the Government of India, appearing on the 8th schedule to the Constitution. 96.71% of Indian citizens have one of these 22 scheduled languages as their mother tongue.
(The scheduled languages of India are Assamese, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, Kannada, Kashmiri, Konkani, Malayalam, Manipuri, Marathi, Nepali, Oriya, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, Urdu, Bodo, Santhali, Maithili and Dogri.)
The Census of India’s language data helps serve as an indicator of the demographic aspects of India’s languages, reflecting growth trends in language. These language trends can influence digital usage trends too.
Hindi Continues To Grow
Hindi continues to be the most widely spoken language in India at 43.6% of the population, and continues to grow at a rapid pace, mostly driven by higher population growth in Hindi speaking states. The number of Hindi speakers increased by nearly 25% between 2001 – 2011, an increase of 100 million speakers in absolute numbers.
This is reflected by online usage trends as well. Hindi is the most widely used Indic language online.
According to Reverie’s Digital Indian Language Report, the number of Hindi internet users is comparable to that of the other languages put together.
The Rise Of Migrant Languages & Multilingual Cities
When Indians move to other parts of the country for work, they take their languages along with them. These speakers sometimes learn the local language, but remain more comfortable in their own mother tongue, interacting with other speakers and consuming media and content in it.
In addition, not all people in a state speak the state language as their mother tongue. These speakers account for India’s vast linguistic minorities, often with concentrations in urban areas. For example, Mumbai has significant Hindi & Gujarati speaking minorities in addition to Marathi speakers, and Hyderabad’s Urdu speaking minority is not much smaller than the Telugu speaking majority.
With the latest edition of the Census, we have actual numbers for these speakers. Hindi & Bengali in particular, the 1st and 2nd most spoken languages respectively, have shown large levels of growth.
This has implications for companies looking to localise, as well.
Companies have often used geo-fencing to provide local language interfaces and content to users as a common strategy. All users in a certain geographical region are welcomed with the official language of the region. While this works in most cases, this also excludes a large number of users who may be migrants, or linguistic minorities, both more comfortable in their own language.
According to Reverie’s Digital Indian Language Report, there is already clear evidence of digital usage in languages different from the primary Indic language of a region.
English’s Reach Remains Limited
Although there has been much talk about how India is an English speaking country, the stats do not really back this assumption up. The Census revealed that there are only around 2.6 lakh Indians who listed English as their mother tongue, and around 1 lakh of these speakers are from Maharashtra.
The 2001 Census has data for additional languages (ie, languages not spoken as a mother tongue), and English is listed as an additional language for around 15% of the population.
Companies, however, continue to adopt an English first approach when it comes to building solutions and platforms for India. This is by definition catering to a minority.
Indic Language Readership Stats
Traditional media consumption, where there are fewer technological barriers, has shown greater loyalty to Indian languages.
According to the 2017 Indian Readership Report, 39% of Indians read newspapers. The most widely read English daily, The Times Of India, has a readership of 13,047,000, only has around 1/6th of the readership of India’s most widely read newspaper, the Hindi Dainik Jāgran paper (70,377,000).
It also has fewer readers than the top read newspapers in various other Indian languages – Daily Thanthi (23,149,000, Tamil), Lokmat (18,066,000, Marathi), Malayala Manorama (15,995,000, Malayalam), and Eenadu (15,848,000, Telugu).
This is reflected online too. 106 million Indians consume news in an Indic language, and 55 million of these users do so in Hindi. 99% of Indian language users use their mobile device to access the internet.
The Localisation Path Ahead
It still remains to be seen when companies will start devoting resources to building for other Indian languages as well.
According to a Google-KPMG report from 2017, Indic language internet users have already come to outnumber English language internet users online. There are an estimated 350 million Indian language internet users online today, but only 250 million English internet users in India. It is also common knowledge that a large chunk of this English user base is far more comfortable in their own language and only uses English because of the sub-par user experience non English Indic language internet users face in India.
This can be fixed by implementing a smooth, end-to-end language experience for users across platforms, built on standardized character encoding, quality font & rendering solutions, content localisation involving translation & transliteration, Indian language typing, as well as services like Indian language voice search and chatbots.
All the stats point towards why serving Indian language internet users, and by extension, enabling localisation is becoming more and more important.
Read our Digital Indian Language Report below!