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422 Million Hindi Mother Tongue speakers in 2001, how many English speakers?
Peter Friedlander (Saturday 3rd May 2008).
The data on mother tongue speakers of languages in India according to the 2001 census has finally been released, in 2007. The number of mother tongue Hindi speakers was then 422,048,642, or around 41% of the Indian population ('Census of India - Statement 4'). It was also on an upward trend, Hindi speakers having risen from 37% in 1971 to 41% in 2001 ('Census of India - Statement 5'). The only information on English in the 2001 Census reports published so far is that there were only 226,449 English mother tongue speakers.
The data on second language speakers from the 2001 census has still not been released. So its hard to tell how many people in India speak Hindi, and how many speak English. I am sure that the figures are substantially higher than for mother tongue speakers.

The magazine India Today published a survey in 1997 which claimed a third of Indians spoke English, which some now take to suggest that India has 350 million English speakers ('English Pushing'). I find this hard to believe. But, maybe Newspaper readership can give us a ball park figure on the real number of speakers, well readers really, of Hindi and English.

The National Readership Survey in 2006 estimated there were 204 million readers of daily newspapers in India, and that 40 percent (81.6 million) were readers of Hindi papers and 10 percent (20.4 million) were readers of English papers. (Ram, 2007) The top selling Hindi newspapers were the Dainik Jagran (with 21.2 million readers) and Dainik Bhaskar (with 21 million readers). In comparison the biggest readership for an English paper was the Times of India with 7.4 million ('NRS 2006 - Key Findings'). This shows that one out of every five Hindi speakers now reads a Hindi newspaper.

The latest IRS (Indian Readership Survey, a different organisation from the NRS) figures for the first quarter of 2008 show that Hindi Newspaper readership has now reached around 185 million copies a day and English readership is around 34 million a day ('IRS 2008 R1: Dainik Jagran continues the lead'). I can't find figures on total readership for this quarter at the moment, but presume that Hindi and English again make up only half of readership, the other 50% being in the other Indian languages.

I would suggest that newspaper readership is a rough indicator of functional 'knowing' of a language. English readership is now at about 10% of the level of Hindi readership; so that probably reflects the number of English speakers in India. I would make that then a rough figure of around 40 million people who speak English in India, compared with the at least 400 million who are mother tongue Hindi speakers. The things that make this fuzzy are that maybe readership would actually be higher amongst more educated English speakers, and lower amongst the less educated Hindi speakers. That might tend to mean that ten percent was still the upper limit for speakers of English in India, and that maybe the number of people who know Hindi in India, as opposed to mother tongue speakers, must be well over 500 million by now.

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Texts and Translations © Peter G. Friedlander unless otherwise indicated.