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Hindi Languages

Hindi, an Indo-European language spoken mainly in Northern and Central India is the official language of the central government of India. It is part of a dialect continuum of the Indo-Aryan family, bounded on the northwest and west by Panjābī, Sindhī, and Gujarātī; on the south by Marāthī; on the southeast by Orīyā; on the east by Bengālī; and on the north by Nepālī. Seeing the popularity of Hindi, BBC World Service started News in Hindi in 1940.

Hindi also refers to a standardized register of Hindustani that was made one of the official languages of India. The grammatical description in this article concerns this standard Hindi.

Hindi is often contrasted with Urdū, another standardized form of Hindustani that is the official language of Pakistan and also an official language in some parts of India. The primary differences between the two are that Standard Hindi is written in Devanāgarī and has supplemented some of its Persian and Arabic vocabulary with words from Sanskrit, while Urdu is written in Nastaliq script, a variant of the Persio-Arabic script, and draws heavily on Persian and Arabic vocabulary. The term "Urdu" also includes dialects of Hindustani other than the standardized languages. Other than these, linguists consider Hindi and Urdu to be the same language.


Hindi is classified as a language belonging to the Indo-European family of languages. It comes under the Indo Iranian branch of the Indo-Aryan division of that family of languages.



Hindi is the predominant language in the states and union territories of Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh. Outside these areas, Hindi is widely spoken in cities like Mumbai, Chandigarh, Ahmedabad, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad, all of which have their own native languages but harbour large communities of people from various parts of India.

Local variations of Hindi are counted as minority languages in several countries, including Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Number of speakers

Hindi is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, due to the large population of India. According to the 1991 census of India[1] (which encompasses all the dialects of Hindi, including those that might be considered separate languages by some linguists—e.g., Bhojpuri), Hindi is the mother tongue of about 337 million Indians, or about 40% of India's population that year. According to SIL International's Ethnologue[2], about 180 million people in India regard standard (Khari Boli) Hindi as their mother tongue, and another 300 million use it as a second language. Outside India, Hindi speakers number around 8 million in Nepal, 890,000 in South Africa, 685,000 in Mauritius, 317,000 in the U.S.[3], 233,000 in Yemen, 147,000 in Uganda, 30,000 in Germany, 20,000 in New Zealand and 5,000 in Singapore, while the UK and UAE also have notable populations of Hindi speakers. Hence, according to the SIL ethnologue (1999 data), Hindi/Urdu is the fifth most spoken language in the world. According to Comerie (1998 data), Hindi-Urdu is the second most spoken language in the world, with 330 million native speakers.

Because of Hindi's extreme similarity to Urdu, speakers of the two languages can usually understand one another, if both sides refrain from using specialized vocabulary. Indeed, linguists sometimes count them as being part of the same language diasystem. However, Hindi and Urdu are socio-politically different, and people who self-describe as being speakers of Urdu would question their being counted as as native speakers of Hindi, and vice-versa.

Official and social status

A general belief prevails that Hindi is "the national language" of India, but this is erroneous: the eighth schedule of the Indian constitution lists a number of languages recognised as being "National languages" and Hindi is one of them. However, Hindi enjoys a special status in India, as per the Indian constitution.

Official status

The Constitution of India, adopted in 1950, declares Hindi in the Devanagari script the "official language (rājabhāshā) of the Union" (Art. 343(1)). It was envisioned that Hindi would become the sole working language of the central government by 1965, with state governments being free to function in languages of their own choice. This has not, however, happened. There was widespread resistance to the alleged imposition of Hindi on non-native speakers, which resulted in the passage of the Official Languages Act (1963). This act providing for the continued use of English, indefinitely, for all official purposes, by the central government. However, the constituitonal directive to the central government to champion the spread of Hindi was retained and has strongly informed the policies of the central government.

At the state level, Hindi is the official language of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana and Delhi. Each of these states may also designate a "co-official language" (usually Urdu) which is used equally with Hindi by the relevant state government. Similarly, Hindi is accorded the status of co-official language in several states.

Social status

While the central government has sedulously promoted the spread of Hindi, its official status is not reflected in social importance. As with other south Asian language groups, even native speakers of Hindi, if elite, are usually facile in English. Education in English is a prerequisite for social status. English remains the sole language of higher education in every field of learning except Hindi literature itself.

Since the elite can use English, Hindi has been particularly weak on the Internet. As a barometer, the Devanagari fonts and keyboards used on computers today were not standardized within India - earlier government standards such as the 8-bit ISCII (Indian Script Code for Information Interchange) or the GIST keyboard were never widely adopted. The present system was finally standardized only during Unicode deliberations. Indeed, Hindi unicode standards were finalised based on inputs from scholars hailing from Fiji and other countries. It is only when Unicode became the dominant standard that a number of changes were sought by the Indian government.

At the informal level, (as between friends, colleagues and co-workers) the use of Hindi is growing, even among non-native speakers. Hindi is often used if the speakers in question hail from different (linguistic) provinces and belong to a social strata that has not accessed English education. In the future, Hindi, along with English, could well become the lingua franca of India.


Hindi evolved from Sanskrit, by way of the Middle Indo-Aryan Prakrit languages and Apabhramsha of the Middle Ages. There is no consensus for a specific time where the modern north Indian languages such as Hindi emerged, but c. 1,000 AD is commonly accepted.[4] Over nearly a thousand years of Muslim influence such as when Muslim rulers controlled much of northern India during the Mughal Empire, many Persian and Arabic words were borrowed into Hindi.

Standard Hindi

After independence, the Government of India worked on standardizing Hindi, instituting the following changes:

  • standardization of Hindi grammar: In 1954, the Government of India set up a committee to prepare a grammar of Hindi; The committee's report was released in 1958 as "A Basic Grammar of Modern Hindi"
  • standardization of Hindi spelling
  • standardization of the Devanagari (Devanāgarī) script by the Central Hindi Directorate of the Ministry of Education and Culture to bring about uniformity in writing and to improve the shape of some Devanagari characters.
  • scientific mode of transcribing the Devanagari alphabet
  • incorporation of diacritics to express sounds from other languages.


Standard Hindi derives much of its formal and technical vocabulary from Sanskrit. Standard or shuddha ("pure") Hindi is used only in public addresses and radio or TV news, while the everyday spoken language in most areas is one of several varieties of Hindustani, whose vocabulary contains words drawn from Persian and Arabic. In addition, spoken Hindi includes words from English and other languages as well.

Vernacular Urdu and Hindi are practically indistinguishable. However, the literary registers differ substantially; in highly formal situations, the languages are barely intelligible to speakers of the other. It bears mention that in centuries past both Sanskrit and Persian have been regarded as the languages of the elite, even by those of differing ethnic and religious backgrounds.

There are two principal categories of words in Standard Hindi:

  • tatsam words: These are the words which have been directly lifted from Sanskrit to enrich the formal and technical vocabulary of Hindi. Such words (almost exclusively nouns) have been taken without any phonetic or spelling change. Among nouns, the tatsam word could be the Sanskrit uninflected word-stem, or it could be the nominative singular form in the Sanskrit nominal declension.
  • tadbhav words: These are the words that might have been derived from Sanskrit or the Prakrits, but have undergone minor or major phonetic and spelling changes as they appear in modern Hindi. They also include words borrowed from the other languages.

Similarly, Urdu treats its own vocabulary, borrowed directly from Persian and Arabic, as a separate category for morphological purposes.

Hindi from which most of the Persian, Arabic and English words have been ousted and replaced by tatsam words is called Shuddha Hindi (pure Hindi). Chiefly, the proponents of the so-called Hindutva ("Hindu-ness") are vociferous supporters of Shuddha Hindi.

Excessive use of tatsam words sometimes creates problems for most native speakers. Strictly speaking, the tatsam words are words of Sanskrit and not of Hindi—thus they have complicated consonantal clusters which are not linguistically valid in Hindi. The educated middle class population of India can pronounce these words with ease, but people of rural backgrounds have much difficulty in pronouncing them. Similarly, vocabulary borrowed from Persian and Arabic also brings in its own consonantal clusters and "foreign" sounds, which may again cause difficulty in speaking them.

Urdu and Hindi

Standard Urdu and Standard Hindi are recognised as being distinct languages. There are two fundamental distinctions between them:

  • the source of borrowed vocabulary (Persian/Arabic for Urdu and Sanskrit for Hindi); and
  • the script used to write them in (for Urdu, an adaptation of the Persian alphabet written in Nasta'liq style; for Hindi, an adaptation of the Devanagari script).

Colloquially, the distinction between the Urdu and Hindi is nearly meaningless. This is true over much of North India, where neither learned vocabulary nor writing is used. Outside the Delhi dialect area, the term "Hindi" may be used in reference to the local dialect, which may be very different from both Hindi and Urdu.

The word Hindi has two uses; confusion of these is one of the primary causes of debate about the identity of Urdu.

The rubric "Hindi" is often used as a catch-all for those idioms in the North Indian dialect continuum that are not recognized as languages separate from the language of the Delhi region. Panjabi, Bihari, and Chhatisghari, while sometimes recognised as being distinct languages, are often considered dialects of Hindi. Many other local idioms, such as the Bhili languages, which do not have a distinct identity defined by an established literary tradition, are almost always considered dialects of Hindi. In other words, the boundaries of "Hindi" have little to do with mutual intelligibility, and instead depend on social perceptions of what constitutes a language.

The other use of the word "Hindi" is in reference to Standard Hindi, the Khariboli register of the Delhi dialect of Hindi (generally called Hindustani) with its direct loanwords from Sanskrit. Standard Urdu is also a standardized form of Hindustani. Such a state of affairs, with two standardized forms of what is essentially one language, is known as a diasystem.

The colloquial language spoken by villagers and the lower classes of Delhi is indistinguishable by ear, whether it is called Hindi or Urdu by its speakers. The only important distinction at this level is in the script: if written in the Arab-Persian script, the language is generally considered to be Urdu, and if written in devanagari it is generally considered to be Hindi. However, since independence the formal registers used in education and the media have become increasingly divergent in their vocabulary. Where there is no colloquial word for a concept, Standard Urdu uses Perso-Arabic vocabulary, while Standard Hindi uses Sanskrit vocabulary. This results in the official languages being heavily Sanskritized or Persianized, and nearly unintelligible to speakers educated in the other standard (as far as the formal vocabulary is concerned).

These two standardized registers of Hindustani have become so entrenched as separate languages that often nationalists, both Hindu and Muslim, claim that Hindi and Urdu have always been separate languages. However, there are unifying forces as well. For example, it is said that Indian Bollywood films are made in "Hindi", but the language used in most of them is the same as that of Urdu speakers in Pakistan. The dialogue is frequently developed in English and later translated to an intentionally neutral Hindustani which can be easily understood by speakers of most North Indian languages, both in India itself and in Pakistan.

Sociolinguistics of Hindi


Sociolinguists have traditionally given what they call as four major variants of Hindi, viz.,

  • High Hindi, the standardized Hindi (based on the Khariboli dialect), written in devanagari script, which contains numerous Sanskrit loanwords, including those introduced more recently to enrich the technical and poetical vocabulary and to reduce reliance on words of Perseo-Arabic origin. Traditionally, this is the register spoken by the urban Hindu population of north India and is the form of Hindi taught in Indian schools and used in television news and newspapers. Today, High Hindi with many Persian, Arabic and English loanwords is the spoken form of this language in much of the north India, and is used in Hindi films, drama and television serials.
  • Dakhini, spoken in the Deccan plateau region in and around Hyderabad, similar to Urdu but with fewer words derived from Perseo-Arabic in its vocabulary.
  • Rekhta, a form of Urdu used in poetry.
  • Urdu, a variant of Hindi (and also based on the Khariboli dialect), but written in Perseo-Arabic script. It utilizes a more extensive Persian and Arabic vocabulary and fewer Sanskrit loanwords, especially in its formal register. Before the Partition of India, Urdu's linguistic area was similar to that of High Hindi, but it was more commonly spoken as a mother tongue by Muslims and was identified as a cultural expression of Islam in north India.


Hindi in the broad sense is a dialect continuum without clear boundaries. For example, both Nepali and Panjabi are sometimes considered to be Hindi (based on the high level of mutual intelligibility for Panjabi and Hindi especially), though they are more often considered to be separate languages. Hindi is often divided into Western Hindi and Eastern Hindi, and these are further divided. Following is a list of principal Hindi dialects; boldface indicates those that are classified as separate languages by some linguists.

  • Hindustani, including standard Hindi (or 'High Hindi') and standard Urdu, as well as regional dialects of Urdu. Standard Hindi is the principal official languages of India, while standard Urdu is the official language of Pakistan and the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Urdu has a rich literary history, being the language of the Mughal court second only to Persian
  • Khadiboli or Sarhindi, spoken in western Uttar Pradesh; the dialect that forms the basis for Standard Hindi. It is understood and spoken throughout the Indian subcontinent, from Afghanistan, the borders of Iran, to the borders of Burma,and in the south, it is understood in Sri Lanka. It is the lingua franca of the Indian subcontinent, irrespective of political boundaries or official policies.
  • Chhattisgarhi (sometimes spelled "Chattisgarhi"; also known as Lahariya or Khalwahi), spoken mostly in the recently created state of Chhattisgarh
  • Bagheli, spoken mostly in the Baghelkhand region of the state of Madhya Pradesh
  • Awadhi, spoken mostly in central Uttar Pradesh, the area formerly comprising the kingdom of Awadh or "Oudh"
    • Fijian Hindustani, a form of Awadhi spoken by Fijians of Indian descent
  • Bihari, mostly spoken in the state of Bihar, which in turn is comprised of several principal dialects:
    • Angika
    • Bhojpuri
    • Sarnami - a form of Bhojpuri with Awadhi influence spoken by Surinamers of Indian descent
    • Maithili, now an official language of Bihar
    • Magahi
    • Vajjika
  • Rajasthani, mostly spoken in the state of Rajasthan, and also comprised of several notable (sub)dialects:
    • Marwari
    • Bagri
    • Mewati
    • Mewari
    • Dhundhari
    • Shekhawati
  • Braj Bhasha, in a vaguely defined region of north central India, centered on Delhi
  • Bundeli, mostly spoken in the Bundelkhand region and the Jhansi district of Uttar Pradesh
  • Hariyanvi, Bangaru or Jatu, mostly spoken in the state of Haryana
  • Kanauji, mostly spoken in Kanauj, Uttar Pradesh
  • The Eastern Hindi dialect centered on the Hindu holy city of Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh, with a strong influence on the Sanskritized learned vocabulary of standard Hindi
  • Bambaiya Hindi, the dialect of the city of Bombay (Mumbai); the basis for the language of many popular Bollywood films

These dialects demonstrate a variety of influences including the adjacent Iranian, Dravidian, and Tibeto-Burman language families.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia