If you have the time and patience, then this would be an interesting question to ask any bystander in India: How many languages are spoken in India? My guess is you will get as many different numbers as possible. Every number would be right in their own way but wrong when we have some reliable data. If 100 people are surveyed, the most frequent occurrence or the mode would be 22. That’s the number of scheduled languages as per the Indian Constitution.

The number of languages spoken in India, as per The Economist are 438.

Economist also has a Greenberg diversity index which measures the probability of two random citizens sharing the same mother tongue. An index of 1 being no two people picked at random would be speaking the same language, India’s Greenberg diversity stands at 0.94.

On the sheer number of languages spoken, India stands fourth behind Papua New Guinea (830), Indonesia (719) and Nigeria (514). On the diversity index, India (0.94) stands third behind Papua New Guinea(0.99)  and Congo (0.95).

Language is always a contentious issue in India. So much so that much of India we know now is re-drawn based on languages spoken in a particular region. Language is one of the reason why India is called a sub-continent.

Here’s the Index and the number of languages spoke across countries :

In China, though it has 292 languages, the diversity index is close to 0.5. Probably one of the reasons why Chinese start-ups have much bigger success. North Korea is the other extreme with just 1 spoken language. Cuba has 2 spoken languages and Japan has 15 spoken languages.

Though India celebrates its language diversity, it has been a thorn for many companies trying to crack the Indian market. Especially for the Indian start-ups to get a foothold before the global majors swamp the Indian market. For a company in China, it is simple. Launch a site in Mandarin and be done with it. Tencent Weibo and Sina Weibo are two such examples. To do the same in India, first an English version has to be deployed followed by a Hindi version which has to be followed Tamil, Telugu and Gujarati versions. Indian entrepreneurs aren’t gaining any local advantage to tap India’s massive potential. English, still seems to be the common binder.