The Languages of South Asia and Their Relations with the Outside World

South Asia or the Indian sub-continent as it is commonly known has many languages spoken which have been influenced through many years by the outside invasions.

South Asia or the region comprising the Indian sub-continent has hundreds of languages being spoken even today. But these languages did not just develop locally, foreign influences have had a great impact. If we look at India particularly then it can be seen that there hundreds of languages and thousands of dialects spoken, which are very much alive and in active use. Pakistan too has many languages spoken, like Punjabi,Urdu,Sindhi,Pashto,Kashmiri,Balochi, just to name a few. Then there are countries such as Bangladesh or Nepal, where more or less there is one main language of the whole country, like Bangla or Bengali for Bangladesh and Nepali for Nepal. Then there is Sri Lanka in the South, with a bitter history of Civil War, which too was only their due to the ethnic and linguistic divisions of the people of Sri Lanka.

Now coming to the foreign influences on the linguistics of the Indian sub-continent. The earliest known civilization here were known to be the Indus Valley people. Then there are findings of the invasion of the Aryan tribes, who are stated to be from eastern Europe or a nearby region. They are said to be of caucosoidal heritage. The local people living in South Asia were mainly brown Dravidians and locals. After the Aryan invasion, the Indus Valley Civilization was completely destroyed and the Dravidian tribes had been pushed into the south by the invading Aryans. Most Historians believe that it was the Aryans who had started the religion of Hinduism, but even today we know that there were many Dravidian and local Indian elements which were absorbed into Hinduism. Sanskrit is supposed to be one of the oldest Indo-European languages, and it is supposed to be one of the purest. So the first impact of the coming of the Aryans would have beent he spread of sanskrit, which later lost its use amongst the general public due to the development of Prakrit. It is from Sanskrit that modern Indian languages such as Hindi,Bengali,Gujarati,Marathi,Kashmiri etc developed. It is known that the Aryans did not just come once but they kept coming in repeated invasions.The invasion of the Aryans was probably the most important and significant in the History of the South Asian region but it was not the only influence on the linguistics of the region.

The attacks by Muslim invaders on South Asia are recent compared to the Aryan invasions. Muslims had already subdued Persia and the Zoarastrians had fled to South Asia. But muslims were to soon become the masters of this region too. Persia and South Asia had shared a similar culture and traditions for many years, this was mainly due to the fact that in both regions the Aryans had come and settled. Then there was trade in the times of Alexander the Great, between the Indian kingdoms and Persia. It is known that the huge but bulky armies of the Indian Rajas were no match for swift Islamic armies from Central Asia and Persia. The Persian language had already been greatly influenced by Arabic and after the consolidation of Islamic rule and the establishment of the Mughal Empire,there were great influences made by Persian and Persianized Arabic words on the Indian languages, due to which the language which we know today as Urdu formed.

Then there are the modern influences, by the British empire, these have not been completely absorbed by the people of South Asia, but many terms have become part of daily usage in Hindustani. The English language has a good presence in almost all contries in this region. Another important influence is that of the Mongoloidal languages which can be clearly seen in the North-East of India and the Himalayan region.

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Drona Negi
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Dr. Johnson C Philip
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Drona Negi
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Posted on Apr 17, 2010