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Hindi (Devanāgarī: or , IAST: , ) is the name given to an Indo-Aryan language, or a dialect continuum of languages, spoken in northern and central Indiamarker (the "Hindi belt").

Native speakers of Hindi dialects between them account for 41% of the Indian population (2001 Indian census). As defined in the Constitution of India, Hindi is one of the two official languages of communication (English being the other) for India's federal government and is one of the 22 scheduled languages specified in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. Official Hindi is often described as Standard Hindi which, along with English, is used for administration of the central government. Hindustani or Standard Hindi is also an official language of Fijimarker.

The term Hindi is used from multiple perspectives of language classification; therefore, it must be used with care. Standard Hindi and standard Urdu are considered by linguists to be different formal register both derived from the Khari Boli dialect: Hindi being Sanskritised and Urdu being additionally Persianised (written with different writing systems, Devanagari and Perso-Arabic script, respectively).


Hindi evolved from Prakrit. Though there is no consensus for a specific time, Hindi originated as local dialects such as Braj, Awadhi, and finally Khari Boli after the turn of tenth century (these local dialects are still spoken, each by large populations). In the span of nearly a thousand years of political subjugation to Muslim rulers (the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire) using Persian as their official language, Khari Boli adopted many Persian and Arabic words. As for the ultimately Arabic words, since almost every one of them came via Persian, their form in Hindi-Urdu does not preserve the original phonology of Arabic.

Current use

Hindi is the most widely spoken of India's official languages. It is spoken mainly in northern states of Rajasthanmarker, Delhimarker, Haryanamarker, Uttarakhandmarker, Uttar Pradeshmarker, Madhya Pradeshmarker, Chhattisgarhmarker, Himachal Pradeshmarker, Jharkhandmarker and Biharmarker. It is second major language in Andaman and Nicobar Islandsmarker and it is also spoken alongside with regional languages like Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi or Bengali throughout north and central India. Hindi is also understood in a few other parts of India as well as in the neighbouring countries of Nepalmarker, Bangladeshmarker and Pakistanmarker.

Hindustani is spoken by all persons of Indian descent in Fijimarker. In Western Viti Levu and Northern Vanua Levu, it is a common spoken language and a link language spoken between Fijians of Indian descent and native Fijians. The latter are also the only ethnic group in the world of non Indian descent that includes majority Hindi speakers. Native speakers of Hindi dialects account for 48% of the Fiji population. This includes all people of Indian ancestry including those whose forefathers emigrated from regions in India where Hindi was not generally spoken. As defined in the Constitution of Fiji (Constitution Amendment Act 1997 (Act No. 13 of 1997), Section 4(1), Hindi is one of the three official languages of communication (English and Fijian being the others). Section 4(4)(a)(b)(c)(d) also states that 4) Every person who transacts business with: (a) a department; (b) an office in a state service; or (c) a local authority; has the right to do so in English, Fijian, or Hindustani, either directly or through a competent interpreter.

Hindi and Urdu

Hindi and Urdu are understood from a linguistic perspective to indicate two or more specific dialects in a continuum of dialects that makeup the Hindustani language (also known as "Hindi-Urdu"). The terms "Hindi" and "Urdu" themselves can be used with multiple meanings, but when referring to standardized dialects of Hindustani, they are the two points in a diasystem.

The term Urdu arose as far back as the 12th century and gradually merged together with Hindi. The term Hindawi was used in a general sense for the dialects of central and northern India. Urdu is the official language of Pakistanmarker and is also an official language in some parts of India.

Linguistically, there is no dispute that Hindi and Urdu are dialects of a single language, Hindustani/Hindi-Urdu. However, from a political perspective, there are pressures to classify them as separate languages. Those advocating this view point to the main differences between standard Urdu and standard Hindi:

  • the source of borrowed vocabulary;
  • the script used to write them (for Urdu, an adaptation of the Perso-Arabic script written in Nasta'liq style; for Hindi, an adaptation of the Devanagari script);
  • Urdu's use of five consonants borrowed from Persian.

Such distinctions, however, are insufficient to classify Hindi and Urdu as separate languages from a linguistic perspective. For the most part, Hindi and Urdu have a common vocabulary, and this common vocabulary is heavily Persianised. Beyond this, Urdu contains even more Persian loanwords while Hindi resorts to borrowing from Sanskrit. (It is mostly the learned vocabulary that shows this visible distinction.)

Some nationalists, both Hindu and Muslim, claim that Hindi and Urdu have always been separate languages. The tensions reached a peak in the Hindi–Urdu controversy in 1867 in the then United Provinces during the British Raj.

With regard to regional vernaculars spoken in north India, the distinction between Urdu and Hindi is insignificant, especially when little learned vocabulary is being used. Outside the Delhi dialect area, the term "Hindi" is used in reference to the local dialect, which may be different from both standard Hindi and standard Urdu. With regard to the comparison of standard Hindi and standard Urdu, the grammar (word structure and sentence structure) is identical.

The word Hindi has many different uses; confusion of these is one of the primary causes of debate about the identity of Urdu. These uses include:
  1. standardised Hindi as taught in schools in North India
  2. formal or official Hindi advocated by Purushottam Das Tandon and as instituted by the post-independence Indian government, heavily influenced by Sanskrit,
  3. the vernacular nonstandard dialects of Hindustani/Hindi-Urdu as spoken throughout much of India and Pakistan, as discussed above,
  4. the neutralised form of the language used in popular television and films, or
  5. the more formal neutralized form of the language used in broadcast and print news reports.

The rubric "Hindi" is often used as a catch-all for those idioms in the North Indian dialect continuum that are not recognised as languages separate from the language of the Delhi region. Punjabi, Bihari, and Chhattisgarhi, 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 Khari Boli 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 term "Urdu" (which is cognate with the English word "horde") descends from the phrase Zabān-e-Urdū-e-Mu`Allah (زبانِ اردوِ معلہ, ज़बान-ए उर्दू-ए मुअल्लह), lit., the "Exalted Language of the [military] Camp". The terms "Hindi" and "Urdu" were used interchangeably even by Urdu poets like Mir and Mirza Ghalib of the early 19th century (more often, however, the terms Hindvi/Hindi were used); while British officials usually understood the term "Urdu" to refer solely to the writing system and not to a language at all. By 1850, there was growing use of the terms "Hindi" and "Urdu" to differentiate among different dialects of the Hindustani language. However, linguists such as Sir G. A. Grierson (1903) continued to recognize the close relationship between the emerging standard Urdu and the Western Hindi dialects of Hindustani. Before the Partition of India, Delhimarker, Lucknowmarker, Aligarhmarker and Hyderabadmarker used to be the four literary centers of Urdu.

The colloquial language spoken by the people 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 Perso-Arabic 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 register 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).


:{|class="wikitable" border="2"
Bilabial Labio-
Retroflex Post-alv./Palatal Velar Glottal
Tap or Flap

Writing system

One of two ways to write the word "Hindi" in Devanagari
Hindi is written in the Devanagariscript. To represent sounds that are foreign to Indic phonology, additional letters have been coined by choosing an existing Devanagari letter representing a similar sound and adding a dot (called a 'nukta') beneath it. For example, the sound 'z', which was borrowed from Persian, is represented by ज़ , which is a modification of the letter which represents the sound 'j' ([ɟ] in IPA). The nukta is also used to represent native sounds, such asड़and ढ़, modifications of the characters and respectively. These modify the voiced retroflex plosivecharacters ड and ढ to retroflex flapsounds.


Hindi is a subject-object-verblanguage, meaning that verbs usually fall at the end of the sentence rather than before the object (whereas in English it is often Subject Verb Object). Hindi also shows split ergativityso that, in some cases, verbs agree with the object of a sentence rather than the subject. Unlike English, Hindi has no definite article (the). The numeral one (एक "ek") might be used as the indefinite singular article (a/an) if this needs to be stressed.

In addition, Hindi uses postpositions(so called because they are placed after nouns) where English uses prepositions. Other differences include gender, honorifics, interrogatives, use of cases, and different tenses. While being complicated, Hindi grammar is fairly regular, with irregularities being relatively limited. Despite differences in vocabulary and writing, Hindi grammar is nearly identical with . The concept of punctuation other than the full stop having been entirely unused before the arrival of the Europeans, Hindi punctuation uses western conventions for commas, exclamation points, and question marks. Periods are sometimes used to end a sentence, though the traditional "full stop" (a vertical line) is also used.


In Hindi, there are two genders for nouns. All male human beings and male animals (and those animals and plants that are perceived to be "masculine") are masculine. All female human beings and female animals (and those animals and plants that are perceived to be "feminine") are feminine. Things, inanimate articles and abstract nouns are also either masculine or feminine according to convention. While this is the same as and similar to many other Indo-European languages such as, Spanish, French, Italianand Portuguese, it is a challenge for those who are used to only the English language, which although an Indo-European language, has dropped nearly all of its gender inflection.


Besides the standard interrogative terms of who (कौन kaun), what (क्या kyā), why (कयों kyõ), when (कब kab), where (कहाँ kahã), how and what type (कैसा kaisā), how many (कितना kitnā), etc, the Hindi word kyā (क्या) can be used as a generic interrogative often placed at the beginning of a sentence to turn a statement into a Yes/No question. This makes it clear when a question is being asked. Questions can also be formed simply by modifying intonation, as some questions are in English.


Hindi has pronouns in the first, second and third person for one gender only. Thus, unlike English, there is no difference between heor she. More strictly speaking, the third person of the pronoun is actually the same as the demonstrative pronoun (this / that). The verb, upon conjugation, usually indicates the difference in the gender. The pronouns have additional cases of accusativeand genitive, but no vocative. There may also be binary ways of inflecting the pronoun in the accusative case. Note that for the second person of the pronoun (you), Hindi has three levels of honorifics:
  • आप ( ): Formal and respectable form for you. Has no difference between the singular and the plural. Used in all formal settings and speaking to persons who are senior in job or age. Plural could be stressed by saying आप लोग ( you people) or आप सब ( you all).
  • तुम ( ): Informal form of you. Has no difference between the singular and the plural. Used in all informal settings and speaking to persons who are junior in job or age. Plural could be stressed by saying तुम लोग ( you people) or तुम सब ( you all). Or "ap sab," formal form of "you all."
  • तू ( ): Extremely informal form of you. Strictly singular, its plural form being . Except for very close friends or poetic language involving God, it could be perceived as offensive in India.

Imperatives (requests and commands) correspond in form to the level of honorific being used, and the verb inflects to show the level of respect and politeness desired. Because imperatives can already include politeness, the word "kripayā", which can be translated as "please", is much less common than in spoken English; it is generally only used in writing or announcements, and its use in common speech may even reflect mockery.

Word order

The standard word order in Hindi is, in general, Subject Object Verb, but where different emphasis or more complex structure is needed, this rule is very easily set aside (provided that the nouns/pronouns are always followed by their postpositions or case markers). More specifically, the standard order is 1. Subject 2. Adverbs (in their standard order) 3. Indirect object and any of its adjectives 4. Direct object and any of its adjectives 5. Negation term or interrogative, if any, and finally the 6. Verb and any auxiliary verbs. (Snell, p93) Negation is formed by adding the word नहीं (nahī̃, "no"), in the appropriate place in the sentence, or by utilizing न (na) or मत (mat) in some cases. Note that in Hindi, the adjectives precede the nouns they qualify. The auxiliaries always follow the main verb. In general, Hindi speakers or writers enjoy considerable freedom in placing words to achieve stylistic and other socio-psychological effects, though not as much freedom as in heavily inflected languages.

Tense and aspect of Hindi verbs

Hindi verbal structure is focused on aspectwith distinctions based on tenseusually shown through use of the verb होना (honā - to be) as an auxiliary. There are three aspects: habitual (imperfect), progressive (also known as continuous) and perfective. Verbs in each aspect are marked for tense in almost all cases with the proper inflected form of होना. Hindi has four simple tenses, present, past, future (presumptive), and subjunctive(referred to as a mood by many linguists). Verbs are conjugated not only to show the number and person (1st, 2nd, 3rd) of their subject, but also its gender. Additionally, Hindi has imperativeand conditional moods. The verbs must agree with the person, number and gender of the subject if and only if the subject is not followed by any postposition. If this condition is not met, the verb must agree with the number and gender of the object (provided the object does not have any postposition). If this condition is also not met, the verb agrees with neither. It is this kind of phenomenon that is called mixed ergativity.


Hindi is a weakly inflectedlanguage for case; the relationship of a noun in a sentence is usually shown by postpositions(i.e., prepositions that followthe noun). Hindi has three cases for nouns. The Direct caseis used for nouns not followed by any postpositions, typically for the subject case. The Oblique caseis used for any nouns that is followed by a postposition. Adjectives modifying nouns in the oblique case will inflect that same way. Some nouns have a separate Vocative case. Hindi has two numbers: singular and plural—but they may not be shown distinctly in all declensions.


Hindi films play an important role in popular culture. The dialogues and songs of Hindi films use Khari Boliand Hindi-Urduin general, but the intermittent use of various dialects such as Awadhi, Rajasthani, Bhojpuri, and quite often Bambaiya Hindi, as also of many English words, is common.

Alam Ara(1931), which ushered in the era of "talkie" films in India, was a Hindustani film. This film had seven songs in it. Music soon became an integral part of Hindustani/ Hindi cinema. It is a very important part of popular culture and now comprises an entire genreof popular music. So popular is film music that songs filmed even 50–60 years ago are a staple of radio/TV and are generally very familiar to an Indian.

Hindi movies and songs are popular in many parts of India, such as Punjab, Gujarat and Maharashtra, that do not speak Hindi as a native language. Indeed, the Hindi film industry is largely based at Mumbaimarker, in the Marathi-speaking state of Maharashtramarker.Hindi films are also popular abroad, especially in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Iran and the UK, and a fan-base is emerging in the rest of Asia-Pacific. These days Hindi movies are released worldwide and have large audiences in the Americas, Europe and Middle Eastern countries.

The role of radio and television in propagating Hindi beyond its native audience cannot be overstated. Television in India was introduced and controlled by the central government until the proliferation of satellite TV made regulation unenforceable. During the era of control, Hindi predominated on both radio and TV, enjoying maximum air-time than any other Indian language. After the advent of satellite TV, several private channels emerged to compete with the government's official TV channel. Today, a large number of satellite channels provide viewers with much variety in entertainment. These include soap operas, detective serials, horror shows, dramas, cartoons, comedies, Hindu mythology and documentaries.

See also



  1. Shapiro (2003), p. 251
  2. Constitution of India, Part XVII, Article 343.
  3. The Union: Official Languages
  4. PDF from india.gov.in containing Articles 343 which states so
  5. Shapiro, M: Hindi.
  6. Bhatia 1996: 32-33.
  7. Shapiro, M: "Hindi"


  • Bhatia, Tej K. Colloquial Hindi: The Complete Course for Beginners. London, UK & New York, NY: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-415-11087-4 (Book), 0415110882 (Cassettes), 0415110890 (Book & Cassette Course)
  • .
  • Grierson, G. A. Linguistic Survey of India Vol I-XI, Calcutta, 1928, ISBN 81-85395-27-6
  • Hock, Hans H. (1991), Principles of Historical Linguistics, Walter de Gruyter, Berlin–New York, ISBN 3-11-012962-0
  • Koul, Omkar N. (1994). Hindi Phonetic Reader.Delhi: Indian Institute of Language Studies.
  • Koul, Omkar N. (2008). Modern Hindi Grammar. Springfield: Dunwoody Press.
  • McGregor, R. S. (1977), Outline of Hindi Grammar, 2nd Ed., Oxford University Press, Oxford-Delhi, ISBN 0-19-870008-3 (3rd ed.)
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • .
  • Taj, Afroz (2002) A door into Hindi. Retrieved November 8, 2005.
  • Tiwari, Bholanath ([1966] 2004) हिन्दी भाषा (Hindī Bhāshā), Kitāb Mahal, Allahabad, ISBN 81-225-0017-X.


Further reading

  • Bhatia, Tej K A History of the Hindi Grammatical Tradition. Leiden, Netherlands & New York, NY : E.J. Brill, 1987. ISBN 90-04-07924-60

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