(Last Updated on : 12/02/2009)
A language family is an assemblage of languages interlinked by bloodline from a mutual ancestor, identified as the proto-language of that family. Similar to biological families, the substantiation of relationship is discernible through shared characteristics. In a likewise manner, the languages of India may be aggrouped by major language families. The biggest of these Indian language families in terms of speakers is represented by the Indo-European family. Indo-Europeans are largely exemplified by its Indo-Aryan language family
branch (accounting for approximately 700 million speakers), but also encompassing minority languages like Persian, Portuguese or French and English as colloquial lingo. The second largest is counted as the Dravidian language family
, accounting for approximately 200 million speakers. Other minor linguistic families comprise the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman language families
(with approximately 10 and 6 million speakers, respectively). Kashmiri is considered as a Dardic language, possessing roughly 4.6 million speakers in India. A completely isolated language, the Nihali language, is also included within the Indian language family bunch. Indo-Pacific language family is a comparatively later invention and research, still under the process of maturation and sophistication.
One striking fact that can be noticed in the context of Indian language families and their germination into prosperity is that the majority bunch have been derived from outside and foreign sources. Ancient India had remained witness to several Persian and European invasions, leading to a synthesis of literature and language, post the Indus Valley Civilization. As such, leaving aside the Dravidian literature and language and syntax structure, all the language families in India and their descend into the contemporary world owe their originations to overseas hands and minds.
The Austroasiatic family of languages includes the Santal and Munda languages in eastern India, together with the Mon-Khmer languages spoken by the Khasi and Nicobarese within the country. The Austroasiatic languages under the Indian language families are believed to have been mouthed all through the Indian subcontinent by hunter-gatherers, who were later absorbed first by the agriculturalist Dravidian settlers and later by the Indo-Europeans from Central Asia. The Austroasiatic family is also conceived to be the first to be spoken in ancient India. Some are also of the faith that the family was a division of an Austric super-stock of languages, together with the Austronesian language family.
Joseph Greenberg (a prominent and disputed linguist and Africanist anthropologist, acknowledged for his work in both typology and language classification), had first traced the Indo-Pacific language family line in 1971. The languages comprise the Andamanese languages of the Andaman Islands and the Nihali language of central India. These mentioned languages grouped under minor languages in Indian language families, are believed to be Indo-Pacific languages related to the Papuan languages of New Guinea, Timor, Halmahera, New Britain, etc. Nihali has been demonstrated to bear associations with Kusunda of central Nepal. However, the projected Indo-Pacific relationship has not been established through the comparative method and has been highly disregarded as presumption by most comparative linguists. Nihali and Kusunda are spoken by hunting populace, residing amidst forests. Both languages have accepted several loan words from other languages, Nihali having loans from Munda (Korku), Dravidian and Indic languages.