EP 221 . 27 Oct 21

Design of languages

With Ganesh Devy

In the episode

In India, Sir George Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India (1903-1923)—material for which was collected in the last decade of the 19th century—had identified 179 languages and 544 dialects. The 1921 census reports showed 188 languages and 49 dialects. The 1961 census reports mentioned a total of 1652 ‘mother tongues,’ but the data of 1971 showed only 108 mother tongues, which meant 1544 mother tongues were removed. They were removed based on a really ad-hoc parameter. “Only those languages will be included who have more than 10 thousand speakers.” Can’t possibly imagine the impact.


  1. How do you define a language and a dialect?
  2. What are your views on “praman bhasha”? I had read one place where it is said that “praman” is associated with who was / is in power. How true is that according to you?
  3. In your TedX talk, you mentioned, language does not die. It can only be killed. Can you give few examples and explain this a bit in detail?
  4. Why do you say when languages grow, they start to diminish. Sounds counterintuitive. What is this carrying capacity of a language?
  5. How true is that a language thrives more if it’s accommodative? Is evolution of language is organic and unpreventable? What are your thoughts on that?

About Ganesh Devy

Ganesh sir is a thinker, cultural activist, institution builder, linguists, a literary critic and a former professor of English who undertook the project of surveying Indian languages in 2010. If i have to speak about his body of work, I guess it will be more than the episode with him. You will find many of his work links on gndevy.in.