Are you thinking of learning Hindi? This Indian language is spoken by over 500 million people worldwide, so you’ll definitely have someone to talk to.
Although India doesn’t have a national language, Hindi is an official language of India, along with Telugu, Tamil, Bengali, Punjabi and many others. The government has long been pushing to make it the national language of India next to and eventually supplanting English as the administrative language, but speakers of other Indian languages have opposed this scheme, fearing India’s language diversity will suffer if everyone has to learn Hindi in school. This lead to the Official Languages Act in 1963, where the official languages of India are listed, only one of which is Hindi.
The constitution may have specified two official languages (English and Hindi), but no national language!
Hindi is a tongue spoken in parts of northern India but has attained a universal appeal through Indian movies and literature. Many Indians speak Hindi as a second language, even if their first language might be Marathi or Kannada. In fact, most Hindi are multilingual.
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History of the Hindi Language
Hindi is a Hindustani tongue spoken in North India from the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. Ultimately, it derives from Vedic Sanskrit, a language spoken and written in the 2nd millennium BC. (The Dravidian languages of southern India developed from entirely different roots.)
Vedic Sanskrit probably dates to about 1500 BC. As languages do, it evolved constantly; the form now known as Classical Sanskrit dates to about 800 BC. Many of the classical texts of Indian literature are written in Sanskrit. It is still taught in India, much as Latin is still taught in Europe as the root of classical literature and science.
Most of the Indo-European languages of India came from Prakrit, a group of languages that evolved from Vedic Sanskrit, some of them as early as 500 BC. Depending on the region, Prakrits became purely literary languages (Dramatic Prakrits were almost exclusively used for poetry or plays) or evolved from a court language into a vernacular.
Apabhramsha refers to the dialects derived from Prakrit, in use from around 500 AD to the 13th century. They slowly evolved into separate languages. Most of the North Indian tongues were distinct languages by the 12th century AD.
Under the Delhi Sultanate (13th to 16th centuries) and later the Moghul Empire (until the 18th century), much of northern India was ruled by Persian monarchs. As such, it was inevitable that Persian words and phrases should influence the emerging Hindustani language, providing a lot of vocabulary and some points of grammar. The native languages spoken at the time were called Khariboli; Hindustani was a variation used by the northern Indian upper class.
Hindi and Urdu
With the fall of the Moghul Empire and other Indian kingdoms, the British Empire set up an administration to rule over their new colonial territories - and were looking for a native tongue to set up as an official language. They chose Hindi (which they called Urdu).
When India became independent and the state of Pakistan was formed, Hindi was among the official languages of India, while Urdu became the national language of Pakistan. They are both variants of the same language, but with some differences as we shall see.
Different Dialects of Hindi
When we speak of the Hindi language, we are not talking about a unified language. Apart from the standardised Hindi learned in schools, there are many dialects of Hindi. Most of them are localised, but some similar dialects can be found in very different areas of the world.
However, it is important to note that early linguists often classified a local language as a Hindi dialect even though it was really a separate language. Thus, you might find Bihari or Rajasthani listed as a Hindi dialect, even though they’re not.
Hindi and Urdu
In the whole question of Hindi dialects, the most difficult part is figuring out the difference between Hindi and Urdu. Both are Hindustani languages, and on the vernacular level, they are both mutually intelligible. Their grammar is almost identical. A Pakistani will be able to communicate with someone from Delhi. The main difference is in their vocabulary and their alphabet:
- Hindi is written with the Devanagari script and is more heavily influenced by Sanskrit.
- Urdu is written using a variation of the Arabic alphabet and has more Persian words.
However, a Hindi speaker might have trouble with Urdu poetry and literature, and vice-versa, as the literary register tends to rely more heavily on words and phrases derived from their main linguistic influence.
Are Hindi and Urdu dialects of Hindustani, or simply registers of the same language? We’ll leave this one to the linguists.
Other Hindi dialects
Hindi is usually divided into two dialect groups:
- The Eastern Hindi dialects of Awadhi, Bagheli and Chhattisgarhi.
- The Western Hindi dialects of standard Hindi, Braj Bhasha, Haryanvi, Bundeli and Kannauji.
There are also a number of Hindi pidgins and Creoles throughout the world. In India itself, a pidgin form of Hindi has become a lingua franca in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, while a form of Hindi is the common trade language on the Andaman Islands.
The Influence of Hindi on Other Languages
Perhaps surprisingly, Hindi has not donated a lot of loan words to Asian languages outside of India itself. Its greatest influence is on other languages of India and Pakistan, and one particular European language: English.
The influence of Hindi on other Indian languages
Many Indians who do not speak Hindi as their mother tongue will have learned it as a second language, speak a pidgin form of the language or at least understand it.
This is in part due to the government’s wish to promote Hindi as a national language. Though it has always been unsuccessful in this regard, various implementation schemes have made Hindi widely known throughout India. And while speakers of Gujarati, Tamil, Nepali or Punjabi object to learning Hindi in school, they don’t mind using it to communicate with other Indians or using phrases they learned from Hindi movies.
For the other great disseminator of Hindi is Bollywood. Though the Bollywood capital Mumbai (Bombay) is in the state of Maharashtra, where they mostly speak Marathi, a lot of Bollywood films are in Hindi. So much so that the film industry has spawned a dialect, Bombay Hindi (with a lot of loan words from Marathi).
Interestingly, Bollywood’s success in making Hindi words and phrases popular in other Indian languages stems from the fact that their films also feature a lot of other Indian tongues. Thus, native speakers of Tamil or Marathi will go see a film in which Hindi is also spoken, and learn to speak Hindi that way!
Bollywood is also a great equalizer in the Hindi/Urdu controversy. The Hindi spoken in Bollywood movies has a lot of Urdu words in it, making Hindi-speakers more familiar with Urdu vocabulary. On the other side of the coin, Bollywood’s popularity in Pakistan brings more Hindi-specific terms closer to Urdu speakers.
Hindi words in English
The colonial period introduced a great number of Hindi words into the English language. They were brought over by Indian slaves and settlers moving to other English colonies and even to England itself, but also by the colonial governors, plantation owners, merchants and soldiers who lived, administered and fought with Hindi speakers. Not all terms of Indian origin come from Hindi, either (curry, for example, comes from Tamil), but Hindi loan words include “avatar”, “dinghy” (a type of boat), “chit” (from chitti, a letter or note), "jodhpurs" (named after a region where the men wore similar trousers), "pundit" (a priest or scholar) or "typhoon".
In turn, many of these words made it into other European languages through English, though the Dutch and Portuguese, who traded with India, may have borrowed some directly.
As you can see, Hindi is a fascinating language whose roots go back to Antiquity. It is also a dynamic language, changing with the times, and a wonderful way to learn more about India and the Hindu culture of northern India especially.
So why not take a Hindi speaking course with a Superprof tutor? There are many native speakers eager to teach you the Devanagari alphabet, Hindi vocabulary and popular expressions, so you can watch Hindi movies in the original in no time!