India is a country of rich cultural diversity where 22 officially recognised languages and over 1650 dialects are spoken across 29 states and 7 union territories, as in 2019. The 2011 Census of India last listed 1369 ‘mother tongues’, however, our country has been a witness to a great number of tongues over the centuries. One such distinctive and culturally rich language is Marathi.
It is no news that every language shares an intimate connection with the culture and history of the people who speak it. This language too, comes from a land that is steeped in culture and history. Whether it’s the opulence of the Peshwas and Marathas, the mesmerising tradition of the bhakti movement or the powerful literature of revolutionaries of our independence movement, Marathi has always been the ideal bridge connecting people to its rich past. It is a language that has inspired not just the works of literary stalwarts like PL Deshpande and PK Atre but also the gifted creators of warli paintings, Kolhapuri chappals and paithani sarees, not to mention the Laavani, a famous folk dance performed to the beats of a dholki. Let’s learn a little more about ‘Marathi’.
How many and where?
Marathi (मराठी) belongs to the Indo-European language family and is one of the 22 official languages of India, spoken by about 89 million people as their first language, mostly in the western state of Maharashtra. Despite differences among the various dialects in pronunciation and vocabulary, standard Marathi is said to be based on the speech and syllables of educated speakers of Pune, the second largest city of Maharashtra after Mumbai, while literary Marathi is based on older versions of the language, which differs significantly from spoken Marathi.
Believed to be derived from Sanskrit through a Prakrit dialect called Maharashtri around the 1st-2nd centuries AD, it was the most widespread Prakrit dialect of its time. In fact, today’s Marathi-speaking and Kannada-speaking parts of India spoke Maharashtri Prakrit for centuries, until about 875 AD. Maharashtri gradually evolved into Marathi in the 15th and 16th centuries.
Tracing back the links
The earliest evidence of written Marathi dates back to 700 AD. It is known to have a long literary history, right from some religious writings in the 12th centuries to the first English book that was translated into Marathi in 1817, and the first Marathi newspaper that appeared in 1835. With the advent of large scale printing, the then used Brahmi-based Modi script proved very difficult for typesetting and 1950 onwards, all Marathi correspondence and chronicles were written with the Devanagiri alphabet.
Since most Indian languages belonging to the Indo-Aryan language family were derived from early forms of Prakrit, Marathi’s grammar also proved to be similar to that of other Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi, Bengali and Punjabi, thereby making it easier to pick up the other languages if you already spoke one.
KPMG India and Google’s 2017 report ‘Indian Languages – Defining India’s Internet’ has predicted that by 2021, the number of Hindi internet users is expected to be more than English users at 201 million; while Bengali, Marathi, Telugu and Tamil users are expected to form 30 per cent of the total Indian language internet user base. In light of this, several digital platforms and content providers have adopted a regional content strategy to reach out to the 1.3 billion population of India, after realising the limited potential of consumers in the urban pockets of India. The future of the language industry in India is indeed headed towards the vernacularisation of all content across domains, an effort made by industries and the government alike.
Content curated & SmartRead by: Team Vernac
Author: Alifya Thingna