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Number of Speakers: 46 million

Key Dialects: Standard Gujarati (Saurashtra Standard, Nagari, Bombay Gujarati, Patnuli, Ahmedabad City Gujarati), Gamadia Gujarati (Gramya, Surati, Anawla, Brathela, Eastern Broach Gujarati, Charotari, Patidari, Vadodari, Ahmedabad Gamadia, Patani), Parsi Gujarati, Kathiawari Gujarati (Jhalawadi, Sorathi, Holadi, Gohilwadi, Bhawnagari, Mer), Kharwa Gujarati, Kakari Gujarati, Tarimuki Gujarati (Ghisadi), and East African Gujarati.

Geographical Center: Gujarat State, India.

Gujarati is an official national and regional language of India. It is spoken by approximately 46 million people, making it the twenty-third most widely spoken language in the world today. In India, some 45.5 million people speak the language. Outside India, Gujarati is spoken by a quarter of a million people in Tanzania, 150,000 in Uganda, 100,000 in Pakistan, 50,000 in Kenya, and roughly 12,000 in Zambia. Smaller groups of Gujarati speakers are found in Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Fiji, Malawi, Mauritius, Oman, Réunion, Singapore, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Zimbabwe. Gujarati was the native language of Mohandas K. Gandhi.

Gujarati is a Central Zone Indo-Aryan language of the Indo-European language family. It is most closely related to Punjabi and Hindi.

Of the key dialects listed above, four are traditionally recognized as comprising the major dialects of Gujarati: Standard Gujarati (as spoken in the area extending from Baroda to the Gujarat capital Ahmedabad), Surati, Kathiawari, and Patani. Very little descriptive work exists on the linguistic properties of these principal dialects and the degrees to which various other dialects are mutually intelligible. The primary dimension along which all dialects seem to vary is the vocabulary. The tendency seems to be that the northern Gujarati dialects tend to borrow heavily from Arabic and Persian, while the southern dialects borrow more from Hindi, English, and Portuguese. Nonetheless, all dialects make use of a fair number of loan words from each of these languages. Although dialects also vary along the phonological dimension, the degree to which dialects manifest syntactic or morphological differences is virtually non-existent.

Gujarati is written in its own distinct abugida script (i.e. a system where each consonant has an inherent vowel). The Gujarati orthography is similar in many ways to the Devanagari script, but does not contain the line at the top of the letters that is characteristic of Devanagari. Similar to Devanagari, the Gujarati script is written from left to right and is phonetic. The letters of the alphabet are traditionally divided into three groups: vowels, stops, and other consonants. A total of 47 characters and several diacritics comprise the Gujarati script.

The Gujarati phoneme inventory consists of eight vowels and twenty-four consonants, depending on the analysis. In addition, two diphthongs are attested. As in many Indic languages, a number of retroflex articulations are employed. As a result, Gujarati has fairly extensive stop and nasal series. Five stop consonants are attested and there are four varieties of nasal articulations. The syllable structure of the language is (C)(C)V(C)(C). Within a syllable, consonant clusters are tolerated, but typically occur in onset position (i.e. before the syllable’s vowel). Within the word, consonant clusters in initial and medial positions occur freely. Word-final clusters in the language, however, are greatly restricted: only [h], [r], [k], and nasal/semivowel clusters are tolerated in this position. Sequences of two to three vowel sequences are attested, but usually occur across morpheme boundaries. Stress typically falls on the penultimate syllable of a word, however, if the penultimate vowel in a word with more than two syllables is schwa, stress falls on the preceding syllable.

Morphologically, Gujarati is an agglutinative language. That is to say, grammatical information is encoded by way of affixation (largely suffixation), rather than via independent freestanding morphemes. Gujarati nouns inflect for number (singular, plural), gender (masculine, feminine, neuter), and declension class (absolute, oblique). The absolute form of a noun is its default or uninflected form. This form is used as the object of the verb, typically when inanimate, as well as in measure or temporal (point of time) constructions. There are seven oblique forms in Gujarati, corresponding more or less to the case forms: agentive/nominative, accusative-dative, instrumental, ablative, genitive, locative, and vocative. All cases except for the vocative are distinguished by means of postpositions. The vocative form takes no postposition, but may be preceded by a vocative particle or term of address. Gujarati verbs inflect for tense, aspect (perfective, imperfective), mood (indicative, imperative, subjunctive, conditional), voice (active, passive), person, number, and gender (the latter in aspectual forms only). In this way, Gujarati verbs agree with their subjects, as is the case with other Indic languages. Adjectives inflect for gender, number, and case, and thus agree with the nouns they modify. Adverbs do not inflect. With respect to morphology, Gujarati and Punjabi are nearly identical.

Syntactically, Gujarati is a head-final SOV language. Postpositions are attested, but prepositions are not. With respect to the structure of the noun phrase, adjectives, non-adjectival modifiers, and relative clauses precede the nouns they modify. Inside the verb phrase, indirect objects precede direct objects and negative, modal-auxiliary, and interrogative elements precede the main verb. Adverbs typically follow the subject and precede the object(s) of the verb. Embedded clauses follow their verbal complements.

Gujarati is one of India’s twenty-two official languages. It is also one of India’s fourteen official regional languages. In this latter capacity, it is the state language of Gujarat in western India, where it is taught in schools and used in government, mass media, trade and commerce, education, and in everyday communication. In addition to the citizens of Gujarat and such neighboring union territories as Daman, Diu, Dadra, and Nagar Haveli, Gujarati is spoken as a first language by a number of indigenous groups such as the Keer tribe. Gujarati has a considerably well-developed and world-renowned literature. Roughly 30% of all Gujarati speakers are literate in a second language (Gordon 2005). With regard to diaspora, several of the largest groups of Gujarati-speaking populations outside India are found in the United Kingdom and in the United States. With respect to the UK, the two greatest concentrations are found in Wembley and Leicester. In the United States, most Gujarati-speaking groups are found in New Jersey, New York, Texas, and California. In all such communities, language use is vibrant and employed in a number of forms of communication such as newspaper publications, radio, and everyday communication.

As is the case with the other languages of the Indo-Aryan family, Gujarati is a descendent of Sanskrit (via Prakrit and Apabhransa). In particular, Gujarati has its origins in Puranic Sanskrit (500-50 B.C.), a group of 18 epic poems that are a direct offshoot of the Mahabharata school of natural epic poetry of the post Vedic period of Sanskrit literature. Gujarati language history can be traced back at least to the twelfth century during the reign of Rajput King Siddharaj Jayasinh of Anilwara when a grammar of the linguistic precursor of Gujarati (Apabhransa) was written by Hemachandra-Charya. The first literary records of Gujarati were in the oral tradition and can be dated back to the seventeenth century. As a result of continual invasion and conquest over the course of its history, the language has been influenced by a number of languages, among them Persian (Farsi), Arabic, Hindi/Urdu, Portuguese, and English.

Buch, Hasit H. 1979. An Introduction to Gujarati Language. Gujarat: Director of Languages, Gujarat State.

Cardona, George. 1965. A Gujarati Reference Grammar. Philadelphia: The University of Pennsylvania Press.

Cardona, George. 2003. The Indo-Aryan Languages. New York, New York: Routledge.

Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Editor). 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.

Masica, Colin P. 1991. The Indo-Aryan Languages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mody, J.J. 1973. A Comparative Study of English and Gujarati Syntaxes. Baroda: The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda Press.

Patel, M.S and J.J. Mody. 1960. The Vowel System of Gujarati. Baroda: The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda Press.

Suthar, Babu. No Date. Gujarati Language and Literature. Available at:

Tisdall, William St. Clair. 1986. A Simplified Grammar of the Gujarati Language. New Delhi: Asian Educational Services.

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