Sanskrit and English: there’s no competition

India’s official language numbers show that English is India’s second most popular language

November 24, 2014 07:00 pm | Updated November 16, 2021 05:30 pm IST

Does India really have >more Sanskrit-speakers than English-speakers ? No, absolutely not.

Anecdotally, we’d all agree that the last ten years are likely to have seen a huge jump in the number of English-speakers; English is >now the second biggest language of instruction in primary schools after Hindi.

So India’s official language numbers, over ten years old now, are almost certainly an underestimation of the number of English speakers. Even so, there is little comparison between the number of English and Sanskrit speakers.

In terms of primary languages – what we commonly understand as the “mother tongue” – both English and Sanskrit were miles away from India’s Top 10. Of the123 primary languages counted by the Census – 23 scheduled and 100 non-scheduled – Sanskrit was fifth from bottom in terms of primary languages spoken, with only Persian, Chakhesang, Afghani/ Kabuli and Simte less commonly spoken. English, meanwhile, was the 45th most commonly spoken primary language.

Here are the English and Sanskrit numbers from up close.

But then, there are those who speak a language as their second or third language, India being famously bi- and tri-lingual, and that’s where English really comes into its own. With over 125 million people who speak it to some extent, English came second only to Hindi, which had over 550 million speakers in 2001.

Let’s look again at just English and Sanskrit.

As we said, there’s really no competition.

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