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 Punjabi.

The Punjabis are known for many things. Some of us instinctively think of their flamboyant, brightly-coloured turbans and distinct upbeat music. Some others might associate this community with butter-laden cuisine, customary harvest rituals, vibrant dance forms, extravagant social lifestyles and in general, zest for life. Be it Honey Singh’s lyrics, sarson da saag references or Bhangra elements, Punjabi is, without a doubt, Bollywood’s favourite go-to spice! In fact, everyone in India knows that no one does a hearty laugh or a ‘big fat Indian wedding’ better than the Punjabis.


Punjabi – what, where and how much?

Punjabi is one of India’s 22 official languages and it is the first official language in Punjab, a region straddling the border between India and Pakistan. This Indo-Aryan language is spoken by about 130 million people across India, Pakistan, the UK, Canada, the UAE, the USA, KSA and Australia, thereby ranking it as the 10th most widely spoken language in the world.


Tracing back the links

Around 600 BC, many regional languages stemmed from Sanskrit in different parts of India. Punjabi was one such language that developed from Sanskrit, through the Shauraseni Prakrit language, which was spoken in the northern and north-western part of India during the 11th century.

Punjabi literature as such hadn’t come into existence until late in the 16th century, and continues to attract a plethora of literary enthusiasts, avid readers, connoisseurs of art and expression from all over the world even today. Its legacy of vociferous & prolific literary writers adds to its rich vocabulary that is laced with influences of Arabic, Parsi and Hindi.


Of scripts and lineages

Despite Punjabi’s rich literary history, it was recognised as an official language only after 1947. Previous governments of Punjab preferred Persian or Hindustani, while the British Empire used Hindi and Urdu as the language of administration for north-western India. The Sikh religion, with its Gurmukhi script, played a special role in standardising and providing education in this language via Gurdwaras, while writers from across religions continued to produce literature.

Speaking of scripts, Punjabi is written with a Devanagri-based Gurmukhi alphabet in India, while in Pakistan it is written using a version of the Urdu alphabet known as Shahmukhi. The written standard for Punjabi in both India and Pakistan is known as Majhi – named after the Majha region of Punjab.


Trending today

Did you know that the Indian language internet user base grew to a whopping 234 million users between 2011 and 2016 (at a CAGR of 41%) at the end of 2016?* With the language internet users in the country expected to account for nearly 75% of India’s internet user base by 2021, and with the sudden race to localise online platforms, apps, ads and write original content in vernacular languages, you definitely want to add Punjabi to your list of target languages!

Here’s another fun fact. It comes as no surprise, and popular video-streaming platforms also confirm, that Punjabi movies are extremely popular in foreign countries with the highest consumption being in Australia followed by the USA, UK, Pakistan and Canada. So what will you be watching this weekend? 🙂

* Statistics from ‘Indian Languages: Defining India’s Internet’: A study by KPMG in India and Google, April 2017


Content curated & SmartRead by: Team Vernac
Author: Alifya Thingna