Just before leaving for home today, my colleague called her mother in India and spoke to her in Tulu. It was fascinating because, although I am familiar with a number of Indian languages, I could not understand a single word.
Most Indian languages are based on Sanskrit or at least have some association with Sanskrit, which gives them many common words.
“How many Indian languages are there,” my team leader asked. I had to look it up.
‘India has 22 officially recognised languages. But around 33 different languages and 2000 dialects have been identified in India.’
The three languages most spoken are:
- Hindi (spoken by 180 million people)
- Telegu (spoken by 70 million people)
- Tamil (spoken by 66 million people)
Hindi–I can read, write, understand a fair amount, and speak self consciously.
Kannada and Malayalam–I can recognise and understand a little. Telegu and Bengali–I can recognise. Tamil–I can speak and understand well, but cannot really read and write.
People did not always speak so many languages. Genesis 11 gives an amazing account of what happened in the land of Shinar after the flood:
Verse 1 reads like this:
Now the whole earth had one language and one speech.
Circumstances change entirely as recorded in the next few verses, for Verse 9 reads like this:
Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the LORD confused the language of all the earth; and from there the LORD scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
That must have been a terrible time for the people who lived then, and to this day our languages divide us all. However, it is not all gloom and doom, for God wants for people everywhere to come to faith in Him, repent of their sins, and be saved in the Name of Jesus. All those who come thus to Him are one in Him.
. . . for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
I look forward to the day when Babel’s effects will be reversed and all of God’s people will understand one another.
For now, I am thankful for English.