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Speaking in Tongues

Feb/19/2023 / by Pratika Yashaswi

4 South Asian languages to learn this International Mother Languages day

Indian scripts
Indian scripts. Shutterstock

South Asia is a region of immense linguistic diversity. You can hear hundreds of languages and dialects within this region. Many of them have been spoken for centuries. While the most widely used languages are Hindi in India, Bengali in Bangladesh, and Urdu in Pakistan, lesser-known South Asian languages such as Pashto, Sindhi, and Tulu also possess a rich history and beauty.

This International Mother Languages Day, let’s explore four lesser-known South Asian languages with fascinating histories and experience them through music and movies.


This Eastern Iranian language is spoken by Pashtuns, one of the largest ethnic groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pashto is an incredibly beautiful language, known for its poetic and lyrical quality. Thus, it’s been the language of choice of much of Central Asia’s most spellbinding religious and literary work. Pashto has an extensive body of folklore, proverbs and stories, often passed down for generations.

One of Pashto’s most famous speakers is Malala Yousofzai, the young Pakistani activist who rose to fame after she survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban.

To hear a Pashto song typical of the style of its region, here’s “Larsha Pekhawar” by Gul Panra and Ali Zafar.


Sindhi, spoken in India and Pakistan, has a long history, with evidence of its usage dating back to the 10th century CE.

Some of the oldest Sindhi literature works go back to the 11th century CE. Its most famous output has been in Sufi and Advaita Vedanta poetry, crossing boundaries of region and religion.

Both Arabic and Persian influences enriched Sindhi over the centuries, making it a unique South Asian language with deep cultural roots. It is the native language of Bollywood stars such as Ranveer Singh and Tamannah, and legendary Sufi singer Abida Parveen.

One of the most popular Sindhi songs is “Ho Jamalo,” which sings of the beauty and vibrance of Sindhi culture.


This Dravidian language is spoken mainly in the Tulunadu region of India’s southwestern states of Karnataka and Kerala. In 2011, Tulu had just under two million speakers, making it a rare South Asian language. Tulu relies primarily on the Kannada script, but some Tulu-speaking communities use their own script, Tigalari.

Actress Aishwarya Rai is one of the most famous Tulu speakers known outside South Asia. She is from Mangalore in Karnataka. Also well-known are filmmaker Rohit Shetty and actress Shilpa Shetty.

Here’s a video of Aishwarya Rai speaking Tulu.

Check out the movie “Pili,” released last week, themed on the tiger dance, an essential aspect of Tulunadu culture, to hear Tulu. Here is a link to the trailer.


Many refer to Dakhni as “Hyderabadi Hindi,” believing it’s a creole, a mix of Hindi, Marathi, Telugu and Kannada. Better described as “Southern Urdu,” it was born when Muslim rule met the linguistic diversity of South India.  Besides Hyderabad, it is also spoken in Bengaluru, where it is called “Banglori Dakhni.”

Among the most well-known speakers of Dakhni is singer Lucky Ali. A great way to experience the Dakhni language is through the film “The Angrez.”


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