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Origins of the Gujarati Language

Gujarati is the official language of Gujarat state, on the west coast of India, with an area of 196,024 square kilometers. Within the Republic of India, Gujarat borders with Rajasthan, Madhyapradesh, and Maharashtra; it also borders with Pakistan to the northwest. The languages spoken in the areas contiguous to the Gujarat within India are Marwari, Hindi, and Marathi. The 1991 census of India reports 40,673,814 speakers, accounting for approximately five percent (4.85%) of the population. This includes Gujaratis living outside Gujarat state, in Maharashtra (Mumbai has a substantial Gujarati population), Rajasthan, Madhyapradesh and Karnatak. Gujarati speakers also reside in many other countries, principally Pakistan, Singapore, Fiji, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United states, and Canada

Gujarati is one of the 22 official language and 14 regional languages spoken in India. It is a language native to the state of Gujarat in western India. There are about 46 million speakers of Gujarati worldwide, making it the 23rd most spoken language in the world. Of these, roughly 45.5 million reside in India, 150,000 in Uganda, 250,000 in Tanzania, 50,000 in Kenya and roughly 100,000 in Pakistan. Gujarati is the chief language of India’s Gujarat state, as well as the adjacent union territories of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli. A considerable population of Gujarati speakers exists in North America and the United Kingdom as well. In the United Kingdom, Leicester (Midlands) and Wembley (North London) are two areas popular with Gujaratis. And in America, states such as New Jersey, New York, California, and Texas are quite popular with Gujaratis. Gujarati was the mother-tongue of both Mohandas K. Gandhi, the “father of India” and Quaid-e Azam Mohammed Ali Jinnah, the “father of Pakistan”.

The history of the language can be traced back to 12th c. CE. A formal grammar of the precursor of this language was written by Jain monk and eminenet scholar Hemachandra-charya in the reign of Rajput king Siddharaj Jayasinh of Patan. This was called Apabhransa grammar, signifying a language which is a corrupted form of languages like Sanskrit and Ardha-magadhi. Earliest literature in the language survives in oral tradition and is traced to two stalwarts, the Krshna devotee and great egalitarian Narasinh Mehta (later a source of inspiration to Mahatma Gandhi) dated to be in the 17th century. The story of Narsinh Mehta himself was composed as a long narrative ballad by Premananda, accorded the title “maha-kavi” or great poet by modern historians of the language. His date is perhaps late 17th century. Other than this a large number of poets flourished during what is now characterised as the bhakti or devotional movement in Hinduism, a movement of the masses to liberate the religion from entrenched priesthood.

Premananda was a “vyakhyan-kar”, a travelling story teller, who narrated his subject in song form and then perhaps elaborated on the lines in prose. His style was so fluent that the long poems running into hundreds of lines were memorised by the people and are still sung during the morning routines. In this sense the oral tradition of the much more ancient Vedas was clearly continuing in India till late. Premananda’s famous poetry-stories deal with epic themes couched in stories of mythical kings, and the puranas. He also wrote a drama based on Narasinh Mehta’s life capturing his simplicity and his disregard for worldly divisions of caste and class.

The Gujarati spoken today takes considerable vocabulary from Persian due the more than five centuries of the rule of Sultan kings who were Muslim. These words occur mostly in reference to worldly and secular matters. The other elements of the language however draw quite a lot on native tribes of the specific region, as listed below under Dialects. Modern exploration into Gujarat and its language is credited to British administrator Forbes. During the nineteenth century at a time when the British rule was more consolidatory and progressive this gentleman explored much of the previous thousand years of the history of the land and compiled a large number of manuscripts. The learned body devoted to Gujarati language is named after him, Farbas Gujarati Sabha with headquarters in Mumbai.

As with most languages, there are regional dialects which differ in some minor regard. Some of them are listed below along with subdivisions.

Standard Gujarati
Saurashtra Standard
Bombay Gujarati

Eastern Broach Gujarati
Ahmedabad Gamadia

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