Languages of Varanasi

There are 30 languages in India which are spoken by more than a million of people. India has total 1,635 languages (according to the 2011 census). Hindi is the official language of the republic, with English to support. There are total 22 officially recognized languages.

Banaras has been the heart of the Hindi literature, homing several major names of Hindi literature. It surprises many people that the standard Hindi isn’t only native tongue of the region.

Banarasi Boli

When it comes to naming this native tongue spoken in the Banaras region, things become complicated. There is no definite name for the language. In practice, it is called Banarasi Boli or just Banarasi which literally translates as Banarasi tongue/speaking. Sometimes Theth Boli, and sometimes also Bhojpuri (about which we would discuss later).

Banarasi and Hindi

While standard Hindi is seen fit for official usage, Banarasi Boli is the language of general communication. Another aspect is that the standard Hindi is seen as the language of educated part of the society, while Banarasi Boli is language of everyone– from a villager of a remote village, to a city bank manager. However Standard Hindi (also known as Khari Boli) has become part of daily communication for many families, lately.

Comparison of English, Hindi, and Banarasi

It is important to note that most of people in the region can communicate in standard Hindi with or without difficulty. Hindi and Banarasi co-exist peacefully.

Language scholar B.L. Simon observes:

Banarasi Boli, the speech variety that identifies the Banarasi community, has been maintained over a great many generations. This maintenance of a non-dominant language is in combination with a pervasive and stable bilingualism that community members do not find remarkable. Banarasi Boli as a speech variety identifies the community linguistically; the amount, stability, unremarkableness, and pervasiveness of Banarasi Boli/Hindi bilingualism identifies the community socially…. There are two lingua franca for economic interaction: Banarasi Boli and Hindi. Finally, public compulsory education is provided in Hindi. This has been a deciding factor in establishing the importance, continuance, and expansion, Of Hindi in the Banarasi’s sociolinguistic spectrum…. The result is not a loss Of the local speech and replacement by the more prestigious and prominent Hindi, but rather a utilization of Hindi features to expand the language repertoire.

— in ‘Bilingualism and Language Maintenance in Banaras (1986)’

Is Banarasi Boli really a separate language?

It is debatable. However, if one knows standard Hindi well, it does not mean she/he can communicate in the Banarasi Boli as well. Banarasi Boli shares a large set of vocabulary with Standard Hindi and another Indian languages. But, it also maintains a set of unique words and terms. Although similar, grammars have differences, too.

Banarasi and Bhojpuri

Bhojpuri is among the languages that have high probability of soon joining the league of officially recognised languages by the Indian government. In a theory, Banarasi and Bhojpuri are considered to be the same (or very similar, at least). Bhojpuri is a popular name used for the similar tongues spoken in eastern Uttar-Pradesh and Bihar. These tongues have similarity, yet several differences.

Besides other reasons, ‘Banarasi pride’ plays a good role in making people of Banaras to call their tongue Banarasi instead of Bhojpuri.

Last words

Banarasi Boli comes with very un-organised rules and vocabulary. If you intend to learn a new language to communicate with natives, then Hindi is the most suitable option.

Combine Hindi and English to rule India.

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