South Asia

Being one the most densely population regions of the world, South Asia is known for both its linguistic richness and its ancient literary (both oral and written) tradition. The languages spoken here are among those with the largest number of native speakers on a global scale and are distributed across four main families.

The largest of the families spoken on the Indian subcontinent is Indo-European, uniting mostly Indo-Aryan languages, but also including significant Iranian and Nuristani minorities. The family has been present and dominant in the region for roughly three millennia. The classical language is Sanskrit, with a literature equal in volume to the literature of Greek and Roman antiquity combined. The oldest form of it is found in the Rigveda, a collection of hymns on which multiple layers of subsequent religious and scientific texts are based.

Languages belonging to the Dravidian family have been present on the subcontinent since before the arrival of Indo-Aryan. They likewise have a rich and old literature and were probably once spoken across the entire region but today are mostly concentrated in its southern part (with the exception of Brahui, spoken in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan). Four languages of the family – Telugu, Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam – account for almost 80% of all Dravidian speakers.

Likewise surely present in the subcontinent before Indo-Aryan are the Austroasiatic languages, spoken in Central India, far from their Southeast Asian homeland. Several of them are highly endangered.

Tibeto-Burman languages form a continuous belt along the Himalaya Mountains, stretching from Kashmir to the Bay of Bengal.

South Asia also has its share of language isolates, those being Burushaski, Kusunda and the severely endangered Nihali.

Being home to such a multitude of languages makes South Asia a treasury of both well-established and lesser-known language varieties and continues thus to attract an avid interest of researchers and learners.

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