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Hindi (हिन्दी)
Spoken in: India
Region: South Asia
Total speakers: 180-480 million
Ranking: 5
Genetic classification: Indo-European

   Middle Indo-Aryan

Official status
Official language of: India
Regulated by: Central Hindi Directorate (http://hindinideshalaya.nic.in/hindi/indexhindi.html)
Language codes
ISO 639-1hi
ISO 639-2hin
See also: LanguageList of languages

Hindi (हिन्दी) is a language spoken in most states in northern and central India. It is an Indo-European language, of the Indo-Aryan subfamily. It evolved from the Middle Indo-Aryan prakrit languages of the Middle Ages, and indirectly, from Sanskrit. Hindi derives much of its formal and technical vocabulary from Sanskrit. Due to Muslim influence in Northern India, a large number of Persian, Arabic and Turkish words were adopted, which eventually resulted in the formation of Urdu. Standard or "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. This fact can be observed in North Indian (e.g. 'Bollywood') films. Hindi became the official language[1] (http://indiaimage.nic.in/languages.htm) of India on January 26, 1965, although English and 21 other languages are recognised as official languages by the Constitution of India. There are approximately 1650 dialects spoken across India.

Linguists think of Hindi and Urdu as the same language, the difference being that Hindi is written in Devanagari (Devanāgarī) and draws vocabulary from Sanskrit, while Urdu is written in the Persian script and draws on Persian and Arabic. The separation is largely a political one; before the partition of India into India and Pakistan, spoken Hindi and Urdu were considered the same language, Hindustani. Hindi and Urdu presently have four standard literary forms: Standard Hindi, Urdu, Dakkani (Dakani), and Reekhta. Dakhini is a dialect of Urdu from the Deccan region of south-central India, chiefly from Hyderabad, that uses fewer Persian or Arabic words. Reekhta is a form of Urdu used chiefly for poetry. Beside these Hindi has more than ten dialects used in India.

Hindi, along with Urdu, is the second most-spoken language in the world, after Chinese. (This ranking comes from estimates from the CIA World Factbook for the year 2000; other language rankings differ.) About 500 million people speak Hindi, in India and abroad, and the total number of people who can understand the language may be 800 million. A 1997 survey found that 66% of all Indians can speak Hindi, and 77% of the Indians regard Hindi as "one language across the nation". More than 180 million people in India regard Hindi as their mother tongue. Another 300 million use it as second language. Outside of India, Hindi speakers are 100,000 in the USA; 685,170 in Mauritius; 890,292 in South Africa; 232,760 in Yemen; 147,000 in Uganda; 5,000 in Singapore; 20,000 in New Zealand; 30,000 in Germany. Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, is spoken by about 41 million in Pakistan and other countries. Hindi became one of the official languages of India on January 26, 1965 and it is a minority language in a number of countries, including Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and United Arab Emirates.

Hindi is generally classified in the Central Zone of the Indo-Aryan languages. Hindi is the predominant language in the states and territories of Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Chandigarh, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar,Uttaranchal, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh as well as the cities of Mumbai and Hyderabad. It is not easy to delimit the borders of the Hindi-speaking region.


Dialects of Hindi

Some of the East-Central Zone languages, including and Dhanwar, and Rajasthani languages, including Marwari, are also widely considered to be dialects of Hindi. There has been considerable controversy on the status of Punjabi and the Bihari languages, including Maithili, Bhojpuri, and Magadhi.

Hindi's popularity has been helped by Bollywood, the Hindi film industry. These movies have an international appeal and now they have broken into the Western markets as well.

The beginnings of Hindi literature go back to the Prakrits that are a part of the classical Sanskrit plays. Tulasidas's Ramacharitamanas attained wide popularity. Modern masters include Jaishankar Prasad, Sumitranandan Pant, Maithili Sharan Gupta, Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala', Mahadevi Varma, Sachchidananda Hirananda Vatsyayana 'Ajneya' and Munshi Premchand.

Standardization of Hindi

After independence of India, the Government of India worked on standardizing Hindi, and following changes took place:

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

Common difficulties faced in learning Hindi

  • the phonetic mechanism of some sounds peculiar to Hindi (eg. rda, dha etc)

The distinction between aspirated and unaspirated consonants will be difficult for English speakers. In addition, the distinction between dental and alveoloar (or retroflex) consonants will also pose problems. English speakers will find that they need to carefully distinguish between four different d-sounds and four different t-sounds.

  • even pronunciation of vowels. In English, unstressed vowels tend to have a "schwa" quality. The pronunciation of such vowels in English is changed to an "uh" sound. This is called reducing a vowel sound. The second syllable of "unify" is pronounced "uh" not "ee." The same for the unstressed second syllabe of "person" which is also pronounced "uh" rather than "oh." In Hindi, English-speakers must constantly be careful not to reduce these vowels. Probably the most important mistake here is for English speakers to reduce final "ah" sounds to "uh." This can be especially important because an English pronunciation will lead to misunderstandings about grammar and gender. In Hindi, "vo bolta hai "is "he talks" whereas "vo bolti hai" is "she talks." A typical English pronunciation in the first sentence would be "vo boltuh hai," which will be understood as "she talks" by most Hindi-native speakers.
  • the Verbal concordance
  • Postpositions (ne)
  • Relative-correlative constructions. In English interrogative and relative pronouns are the same word. In "Who are you?" the word "who" is an interrogative, or question, pronoun. In "My friend who lives in Chicago can speak Hindi," the word "who" is not an interrogative, or question, pronoun. It is a relative, or linking, pronoun. We find this pattern with other words: where, when, why, etc. are used both to ask questions and to link words. In Hindi, there are different words for each. The interrogative pronoun tends to start with the "k" sound:" kab = when?, kahaaN = where?, kitna = how much? The relative pronouns are usually very similar but start with "j" sounds: jab = when, jahaaN = where, jitna = how much. Hindi uses these j-sound pronouns where English uses relative pronouns and clauses. In English we say, "I study where she studies" but in Hindi we say this differently. "jahaaN she studies vahaaN I study." Here "jahaaN" means "where" and "vahaaN" means there.
  • Honorifics. For many English speakers, the fact that Hindi uses a three-part system of honorifics in the second person pronoun ("you") is deeply mystifying. It shouldn't be. The more formal pronouns are used in situations in which it's proper to express a degree of social respect. The less formal pronouns depart from this and indicate, on the one hand, intimacy, or on the other, an absence of social respect. The most formal is "aap" and is the safest for foreigners to use in all situations. It is used in situations that range from deeply respectful to the merely businesslike. When first meeting adults, whether at the bank, hotel or a restaurant, we should use "aap." The more intimate "tum" would be acceptable in talking with children or with adults with whom one is on more intimate terms. The safest thing with adults is wait and see what pronoun they use with you. They will almost certainly start off with "aap," but might, over time, start to use "tum" if your relationship becomes more like that of close friends. If your Hindi is too weak to determine whether they are using "aap" or "tum," then by all means, you should use "aap." Many grammars say that foreigners will rarely have the chance to use "tum" with Indian colleagues, but that is true only if one behaves like a "memsahib" or "sahib." The most intimate pronoun for you is "tu." This is only used in situations where there is a total absence of human formality: it is used in addressing animals or God, for example. With humans, it should probably be avoided, even for children. With another adult, the use of "tu" may express the intimacy of lovers (but even here "tum" is safer) or extraordinary anger. What's the connection? All of these situations involve the lack of social respect. Persons from lower socio-economic classes may often simply use a two-part system of honorifics: tu-tum. Foreign speakers of Hindi will probably be wise to not imitate this.
  • Direct and Oblique inflections
  • Optative and Conditional moods
  • Compound verbs

Alphabet and sound system

Template:IPA notice The Devanāgarī script represents the sounds of spoken Hindi almost exactly, so that a person who knows the Devanagari letters can sound out a written Hindi text comprehensibly, even without knowing what the words mean.

There are 11 vowels and 35 consonants in Hindi. Their pronunciation and representation is given below:


Missing image
The vowel phonemes of Hindi

Devanagari IPA X-SAMPA English example Notes
[V] bud Open-mid back unrounded vowel. This vowel is inherent in each consonant letter.
[A(:)] bra Open back unrounded vowel
[I] bid Near-close near-front unrounded vowel
[i(:)] bead Close front unrounded vowel
[U] good Near-close near-back rounded vowel
[u(:)] booed Close back rounded vowel
r[I] ri The consonant r occurring with the vowel i. Its inclusion among vowels is inherited from Sanskrit.
[e(I)] bayed Close-mid front unrounded vowel
[a] bad Open front unrounded vowel (sometimes as in the diphthong (a + i))
o [o(U)] bode (US) Close-mid back rounded vowel
[Q] bod (UK) Open back rounded vowel (sometimes as in the diphthong (a + u))



Hindi has a rich consonant system, with about 38 distinct consonants. (An exact number cannot be given, since the regional varieties of Hindi differ in the details of their consonant repertoire, and it is unclear to what extent certain sounds that appear only in foreign words should be considered part of Hindi.) The traditional core of the consonant system, inherited from Sanskrit, consists of an almost mathematical matrix of 25 occlusives, in which the airstream through the mouth is completely blocked, and 8 sonorants and fricatives. The system is filled out by 6 sounds that originated in Persian and Arabic, but are now considered Hindi sounds.

The 25 occlusives occur in five groups, with each group sharing the same position of articulation. These positions in their traditional order are: dorso-velar, apico-domal (or retroflex), dorso-palatal, apico-alveolar, and bilabial.

In each position, there are five varieties of consonant, with four oral stops and one nasal stop. An oral stop may be voiced, aspirated, both, or neither. This four-way opposition is the hardest aspect of Hindi pronunciation for a speaker of English.

The voiced, unaspirated stops are mostly easy for English speakers. The initial sounds of "get", "jet", "debt", and "bet" are perfect examples of the dorso-velar, dorso-palatal, apico-alveolar, and bilabial positions, respectively. The apico-domal or retroflex position is the hardest for an English speaker: the apex of the tongue must be curled backward and brought into contact with the dome of the palate, well behind the gum-line.

The 4 resonants are y, r, l, and v. These are all like English, except that r is a tap as in Spanish, not an approximant.

ka, kha, ga, gha, rdaa cha, chha, ja, jha, nya ta, tha da, dha, nda ta, tha da, dha, na pa, pha, ba, bha, ma ya, ra, la, va sha, sha2, sa, ha rda, rdha


  1. the consonant sha2 occurs only in words borrowed from Sanskrit.
  2. the consonants rdaa, rda, rdha, nda and nya never occur in the beginning of a word.
  3. the anuswara (dot placed above a vowel) may represent one of these consonants: rda, nda, na, ma. These are pronounced after the vowel. This style is deprecated. eg. <todo>
  4. the visarga (:) placed after a vowel represents ha.
  5. anuswara (.)and visarga (:) are often included in list of vowel letters, but according to the standardized form of Hindi, they are consonants.
  6. the khutma (dot placed below the consonants) indicate Urdu (from Arabic, and Persian) and English sounds that are not present in Sanskrit. eg. qa, kh (as in Khushbu(fragrance)), gh (as in Ghulam(slave)), z, f, etc.
  7. a chandra-bindu sign placed above a vowel to indicate nasalized vowel (anunasika).
  8. an ardha chandra-bindu placed above the vowel aa indicates 'o' sound of English (as in office, college). Some people also use this sign, placed above a, to indicate 'e' (as in bet) sound of English.

[Unfinished section.]

See also

External links

Template:InterWiki Template:Wikibooks

de:Hindi es:Hindi eo:Hindia lingvo fr:Hindi gu:હિન્દી ભાષા hi:हिन्दी hu:Hindi nyelv id:Bahasa Hindi ja:ヒンディー語 ka:ჰინდი li:Hindi lt:Hindi nl:Hindi nn:Hindi pl:Język hindi pt:Lngua hindi simple:Hindi sl:hindijščina sv:Hindi


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