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South Asian Programs

The Department of Asian Languages and Cultures’ South Asian Language Program offers language courses in Bengali, Hindi, Punjabi, Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Urdu, with a view to developing both language skills and cultural and regional awareness.  

South Asia comprises about 11.51% of the continent of Asia and 3.4% of the world’s total land area, covering an area of over 1.9 million square miles. The population of South Asia is about 1.75 billion people, or approximately one quarter of the world’s population. It is considered to be the most densely populated region in the world, and is home to 39.5% of the population of Asia and 24% of the world’s total population.

The region generally includes the countries of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. The major religions in the region are Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Islam, Christianity, and Buddhism.

South Asia is the fastest growing region in the world and is currently experiencing positive economic momentum. Diversity is the salient feature of the region, be it in religion, culture or language. Given the region’s linguistic diversity and long literary history, it is no wonder that South Asia has been described as a linguist’s paradise.

Why Study Bengali?

Bengali, with 189 million native speakers, ranks as the seventh most spoken language in the world. It is the official language of Bangladesh and the Indian state of West Bengal. Bengali belongs to the Indo-European language family and, like many other Indian languages, has Sanskrit as its ancestor. Bengali is closely related to Hindi and Punjabi as they use the similar script, common vocabulary derived from Sanskrit, and the same word order. Bengali has a rich literary tradition that dates back to the 12th century. The famous Bengali philosopher and poet Rabindranath Tagore was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1913. The Bengali movie industries known as Tollywood (India) and Dhallywood (Bangladesh) are very popular because they produce good quality movies.

Bengali Language Courses

ASIANLAN 185: First Year Bengali I

ASIANLAN 186: First Year Bengali II

ASIANLAN 285: Second Year Bengali I

ASIANLAN 286: Second Year Bengali II (Completion of this course with a grade of C- or better meets the LSA Language Requirement)

ASIANLAN 485: Advanced Bengali I

ASIANLAN 486: Advanced Bengali II

Why Study Hindi?

There are 260 million speakers of Hindi, making it the fifth most spoken language in the world. Outside of India, it is spoken by a substantial population in Bangladesh, the U.K., the U.S., and thirteen other nations. Hindi is one of the two official languages of India. Hindi script is similar to that of Bengali and Punjabi. It shares many linguistic features with other Indic languages that have Sanskrit as their common ancestor. It has an old and rich literature that dates back to late Medieval period. Hindi is also the main language of the Bollywood film industry, which produces an astounding number of movies on a variety of topics every year. The Bollywood movie industry has greatly contributed to popularising Hindi around the world.

Hindi Language Courses

ASIANLAN 115: First Year Hindi I

ASIANLAN 116: First Year Hindi II

ASIANLAN 215: Second Year Hindi I

ASIANLAN 216: Second Year Hindi II (Completion of this course with a grade of C- or better meets the LSA Language Requirement)

ASIANLAN 417: Advanced Hindi I

ASIANLAN 418: Advanced Hindi II

Why Study Punjabi?

Punjabi has more than 90 million native speakers around the world and ranks as the tenth most spoken language in the world. It has an old literature that dates back to eleventh century. Punjabi is the language of sacred scriptures of the Sikhs, the official language of the state of Punjab (India), and a language of Sikh and Sufi mysticism and of regional literature among Punjabi Muslims in Pakistan. In Canada, Punjabi is the fourth most spoken language after English, French, and Chinese, while in the U.S. it is spoken by about half a million Punjabi and Sikh immigrants. It shares many linguistic features with other Indic languages that have Sanskrit as their common ancestor. Punjabi is taught at U-M using the Gurmukhi scrip, which has some similarities to Hindi. The Punjabi program at the University of Michigan is the oldest in the U.S.

Punjabi Language Courses

ASIANLAN 145: First Year Punjabi I

ASIANLAN 146: First Year Punjabi II

ASIANLAN 245: Second Year Punjabi I

ASIANLAN 246: Second Year Punjabi II (Completion of this course with a grade of C- or better meets the LSA Language Requirement)

Why Study Sanskrit?

Sanskrit is the gateway to premodern, and especially pre-Islamic, India. It also served as a language of culture and religion and as a lingua franca in Central, East, and particularly Southeast Asia. It was carried into those regions along with the spread of Hinduism and Buddhism. The position of Sanskrit in Asia can be likened to that of Latin in medieval and early modern Europe. Sanskrit is recognized as one of the official languages of India and every university there has a Sanskrit department. Sanskrit is of great value to the cultural self-definition of Hindu communities that have now spread across the globe. To children of Indian cultural background, Sanskrit opens the door to their classical culture. To academic students of Sanskrit, it is a gateway to the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and to the pre-modern history of the subcontinent and beyond. Discovery of Sanskrit by the west in 1770s led to the development of Indo-European linguistics and reconstruction of the Indo-European language family and the cultural and religious pre-histories of Europe. Thus, the historical understanding of languages such as English requires some understanding of Sanskrit. Sanskrit is also the ancestor of a number of the South Asian languages taught at the University of Michigan, including Hindi, Punjabi, and Urdu.

Sanskrit Language Courses

ASIANLAN 151: First Year Sanskrit I

ASIANLAN 152: First Year Sanskrit II

ASIANLAN 251: Second Year Sanskrit I

ASIANLAN 252: Second Year Sanskrit II (Completion of this course with a grade of C- or better meets the LSA Language Requirement)

ASIANLAN 351: Third Year Sanskrit I

ASIANLAN 352: Third Year Sanskrit II

ASIANLAN 451: Advanced Sanskrit I

ASIANLAN 452: Advanced Sanskrit II

Why Study Tamil?

Tamil is one of the oldest surviving classical languages in the world. It has a documented history dating back over 2000 years. It is a Dravidian language, spoken predominantly in South India, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Malaysia, and other South Asian countries. Over 76 million people all over the world presently speak Tamil. Evidence indicates the earliest presence of Tamil people in moder-day Tamil Nadu (India) are the megalithic urn burials, dating from around 1500 BCE and onwards. Tamil has continued to grow and evolve through the centuries and still in the process of evolving and adapting, like any living language by being able to produce works for new scientific discoveries and inventions.

In addition to its multiple spoken dialects, Tamil exhibits different forms: a classical literary style modeled on the ancient language (sankattamiḻ), a modern literary and formal style (centamiḻ), and a modern colloquial form (koṭuntamiḻ) These styles shade into each other, forming a stylistic continuum. Tamil is the only Indian language that has the most ancient non-Sanskritic Indian literature.


Tamil Language Courses

ASIANLAN 155: First-Year Tamil I

ASIANLAN 156: First-Year Tamil II

ASIANLAN 255: Second-Year Tamil I

ASIANLAN 256: Second-Year Tamil II (Completion of this course with a grade of C- of better meets the LSA Language Requirement)

ASIANLAN 455: Advanced Tamil I

ASIANLAN 456: Advanced Tamil II

Why Study Tibetan?

Tibetan literature has an uninterrupted history of at least 1300 years. It includes a vast corpus of indigenous works of great value for the academic study of literary genres, religious praxis, state formation, and the development of canonical systems.  Classical Tibetan is duly famous as the medium for the largest, and most accurate, body of translations of Buddhist texts from India, the majority of which are lost in the original Indian languages. In addition to being essential for the study of Tibetan history, literature, art and religion, classical Tibetan is of scholarly value for the study of South Asian culture and history, Chinese history, and historical linguistics. Modern Tibetan is spoken by a population of approximately six million, in the Tibet Autonomous Region of the China, in other Tibetan cultural regions of China, and in the Tibetan diaspora (with speakers concentrated in India and Nepal, but found increasingly in Europe and North America). With the recent opening of Tibet to foreign travel and research, knowledge of modern Tibetan has become essential for students of any aspect of the region. There are numerous (and mutually unintelligible dialects) of modern spoken Tibetan, and the study of these dialects — essential for the study of cultural practices such as pilgrimage — is becoming an area of research at several institutions, including the University of Michigan.

*Tibetan will not be taught in the 2021-2022 academic year. Please contact the department for more information*

Tibetan Language Courses

ASIANLAN 165: First Year Tibetan I

ASIANLAN 166: First Year Tibetan II

ASIANLAN 265: Second Year Tibetan I

ASIANLAN 266: Second Year Tibetan II (Completion of this course with a grade of C- or better meets the LSA Language Requirement)

ASIANLAN 463: Advanced Tibetan I

ASIANLAN 464: Advanced Tibetan II

Classical Tibetan courses are available upon request. 

Why Study Urdu?

Urdu, with more than 68 million native speakers, ranks as the eighteenth most spoken language in the world. It is the national language of Pakistan and one of the official languages of six India states. Urdu shares many linguistic features with other Indic languages that have Sanskrit as their ancestor, however, it uses Perso-Arabic script. It has a rich literature including a very popular form of love poetry called Ghazal, devotional and Sufi poetry, and is a main source to study, learn and appreciate Indo-Islamic cultural traditions. Urdu has also been used in Indian movies since the start of the movie industry. Furthermore, Urdu skills are crucial for understanding the political, religious, and social mindset of the Urdu speaking community.

Urdu Language Courses

ASIANLAN 171:  First Year Urdu I

ASIANLAN 172: First Year Urdu II

ASIANLAN 271: Second Year Urdu I

ASIANLAN 272: Second Year Urdu II (Completion of this course with a grade of C- or better meets the LSA Language Requirement)

ASIANLAN 471: Advanced Urdu I

ASIANLAN 472: Advanced Urdu II

South Asian Language Program (SALP) Events

Conversation Tables

During the academic year, a language roundtable is held every Thursday for each language taught through the South Asian Language Program. Please contact the SALP Director, Syed Ali, at for more information.

For long-distance participation, you can join via BlueJeans through this link (room #908691956)

SALP Students' Group Video Project Presentations: Friday, November 22, 2019

  • Time: 1:00-4:00 PM
  • Location: TBD

All the students in the South Asian Language Program work in groups of 3 or 4 to produce video projects at the end of the Fall and Winter terms. An event is held for the students and faculty to watch these videos together on the first Friday of December. To view students' projects from previous years, please visit the following sites: Fall 2016Winter 2016, Fall 2015, Winter 2015, and Fall 2014

SALP New Year Celebration: Wednesday, April 15, 2020

  • Time: 4:00-6:00PM
  • Location: 2435 North Quad

The program holds this event to celebrate Bengali, Hindi, and Punjabi New Year. Students have the opportunity to participate in different cultural activities including music, games, and trying different foods.