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Hindi (हिन्दी)
Spoken in: India
Region: South Asia
Total speakers: 480 million native
Ranking: 2
Genetic classification: Indo-European


Official status
Official language of: India
Regulated by: Central Hindi Directorate [1]
Language codes
ISO 639-1 hi
ISO 639-2 hin
See also: LanguageList of languages

Hindi (हिन्दी) is an Indo-European language spoken mainly in North and Central 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 Orīya; on the east by Bengālī; and on the north by Nepālī.

Hindi also refers to a standardized register of Hindustani that was made the official language[2] of India on January 26, 1965, although English and 21 other languages were also recognised as official languages by the Constitution of India. The grammatical description in this article concerns standard Hindi.

Hindi is often contrasted with Urdu, another standardized form of Hindustani that is the official language of Pakistan and some states in India. The primary differences between the two are that Standard Hindi is written in Devanāgarī and has been partially purged of its Persian and Arabic vocabulary, which was replaced by words from Sanskrit; while Urdu is written in a variant of the Persian alphabet and draws heavily on Persian and Arabic vocabulary. The term Urdu also includes dialects of Hindustani other than the standardized 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, and Chattisgarh. It is also widely spoken the cities of Mumbai and Hyderabad. It is not easy to delimit the borders of the Hindi-speaking region, as Hindi merges gradually into neighboring languages.

Varieties of Hindi are minority languages in a number of countries, including Fiji, Mauritius, Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and United Arab Emirates.

Number of Speakers

Hindi in the broader sense is the second-most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin. About 500 million people speak Hindi natively, in India and abroad, and the total number of people who can understand the language may be 800 million. According to 1991 census[3] 40.22% of the Indian population can speak Hindi, and 77% of the Indians regard Hindi as "one language across the nation".

More than 180 million people in India regard Standard Hindi as their mother tongue, making it the fourth-most spoken language in the world. Another 300 million use it as second language. Outside of India, Hindi speakers number 100,000 in the USA, 685,170 in Mauritius, 890,292 in South Africa, 232,760 in Yemen, 147,000 in Uganda, 8 million in Nepal, 5,000 in Singapore, 20,000 in New Zealand, 30,000 in Germany.


Main article: History of Hindi

Hindi evolved from Sanskrit, by way of the Middle Indo-Aryan prakrit languages and Apabhramsha of the Middle Ages.

As a standardised register of Hindustani, Hindi became the official language[4] of India on January 26, 1965, although English and 21 other languages are recognised as official languages by the Constitution of India.

Standard Hindi

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

  • 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 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 to express sounds from other languages

The popularity of the Urdu and Hindi languages has been helped by Bollywood, the Hindi film industry, where poetry in songs have always been dominated by Urdu. This language has been already established and recognized as refined way of communication. These movies have an international appeal and now they have broken into the Western markets as well.


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 includes words from Persian through Urdu. In addition, spoken Hindi uses words from Portuguese, English, and other languages as well.

Vernacular Urdu and Hindi are practically indistinguishable. However, the literary registers differ substantially, and in highly formal situations the languages are barely intelligible to speakers of the other. Standard Urdu uses a lot of Persian and Arabic words while the standard Hindi has a Sanskritized vocabulary. For centuries Sanskrit and Persian had been regarded as the languages of the elite, to a large extent regardless of their ethnic or religious background.


Hindi in the broad sense is a dialect continuum without clear boundaries. For example, both Nepali and Panjabi are sometimes considered to be Hindi, 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 an idiom that often classified as a separate language.

  • 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
  • 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"
  • Bihari', mostly spoken in the state of Bihar, which in turn is comprised of three principal dialects:
  • Rajasthani, mostly spoken in the state of Rajasthan, and also comprised of several notable (sub)dialects:
  • 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
  • Khadiboli or Sarhindi, spoken in western Uttar Pradesh; the dialect that forms the basis for Standard Hindi
  • 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 the popular Bollywood films

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


There are 11 vowels and 35 consonants in Standard Hindī. They are shown below:


The vowel phonemes of Hindi

The vowel /æ/ occurs in English loans and is represented by ऐ, which was originally used in Sanskrit for the 'ai' or 'əi' diphthong. But today in Khariboli, the Standard dialect, the vowel stands for /æ/ in almost all Hindi words. The other ten vowels have phonemic nasal counterparts. The vowel sequences /əi/ and /əu/, both oral and nasal, also occur. Note that the short 'a', often seen at the end of masculine Sanskritized words as well as elsewhere, which makes the non-Hindi speakers to pronounce it as short or long 'a', the back vowel, is actually the neutral vowel schwa 'ə'. The short vowel 'e' as in English 'set' also occurs at some places in urban Hindi in place of schwa, like "rehnā" (रहना. to live), but there is no diacritic to mark it.


Hindi has a large consonant system, with about 38 distinct consonant phonemes. 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 Standard Hindi. The traditional core of the consonant system, inherited from Sanskrit, consists of a matrix of 25 plosives and 8 sonorants and fricatives. The system is filled out by 7 sounds that originated in Persian, but are now considered Hindi sounds.

Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Retroflex Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal


Nasals m n ŋ
Fricatives f s z ʃ χ ʁ ɦ
Flaps ɾ ɽ
Approximants ʋ j

The 25 plosives occur in five groups, with each group sharing the same position of articulation. These positions in their traditional order are: velar, retroflex, palatal, dental, 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 consonants are the easiest for English-speakers to pronounce. The initial sounds of "get", "jet", "debt", and "bet" are perfect examples of the velar, palatal, dental, 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. In casual Hindi, however, bringing the tongue slightly above the alveolar ridge will also do.

The voiceless, unaspirated consonants are similar to those in French or in English words like "skin", "spin", and "stand". Aspirated voiceless consonants are similar to those in the English words "pat", "cat", "chat", and "tap" (though they are typically more heavily aspirated than in English). The voiced, aspirated consonants are the hardest to pronounce, but can be approximated by following the unaspirated version with an audible "h" sound. The nasal sounds are the same as in English.

The 4 resonants are y, r, l, and v. These are similar to English, except that r is a tap as in Spanish, not an approximant, and v is usually between English "v" and "w", though it may vary as either of those English sounds.

The native fricatives of Hindi are s and sh, which are pronounced as in English. There is also a breathy voice ɦ which is generally considered a fricative as well, and it is more or less like English "h" in "home".

There is a fourth fricative in the orthography, written ष, which is sometimes transcribed as "ssa" or "sha2". It was originally pronounced as [ʂ] in Sanskrit, but it has merged with [ʃ] in modern Hindi.

Borrowed Sounds

The khutma or Nukta, a dot placed below various consonant letters, indicates Persian and English sounds that are not present in Sanskrit.

The sounds f, z, rd, and rdh are found only in loanwords. The first two are as in English. The latter two are retroflex taps, and never begin a word. The additional sounds /q/, /χ/, and /ʁ/ may be found in some loanwords. Some of the borrowed sounds are difficult for Hindi speakers to pronounce and many Hindi speakers will simply ignore the dot and pronounce the word as if it wasn't there.

Writing system

The Devanagari script represents the sounds of spoken Hindi very closely, so that a person who knows the Devanagari letters can sound out a written Hindī text comprehensibly, even without knowing what the words mean.

  • 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.
  • The visarga (:) placed after a vowel represents ha.
  • The anuswara (.) and visarga (:) are often included in list of vowel letters, but according to the standardized form of Hindi, they are consonants.
  • A chandra-bindu sign is placed above a vowel to indicate nasalized vowel (anunasika).
  • 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.


Hindi grammar can be very complex and is different in many ways from what English speakers are used to. A simple and obvious difference is that for expressing relationship of nouns Hindi uses postpositions where English would use a preposition. Other differences include gender honorifics, interogatives, word order, use of cases, and different tenses. Hindi grammar is though, nearly identical with Urdu. While being complicated, Hindi grammar is fairly regular, with irregularities being relatively limited.

Punctuation in Hindi commonly uses western conventions for commas, exclamation points, and question marks. Sometimes periods are used to end a sentence, though sometimes the traditional "full stop" (a vertical line) is used.

Nouns in Hindi have gender, and are either masculine or feminine. Masculine nouns are more common, but there are no overall rules for whether a word will be masculine or feminine so many of them simply need to be memorized. Adjectives and verbs agree in gender and number with nouns, so proper use of gender is required to converse on a native level. Many masculine nouns end in a long aa sound and many feminine nouns end in a long ii sound, though many nouns will have neither of those endings and and exceptions, for even common words occur.

Hindi has three levels of honorifics, or politeness. As reflected in the personal pronoun "you", aap is the most formal, tum is mid level, and tu is very informal. Aap and tum are grammatically plural like the english "you", and adjective and verb agreement follows that.

Besides the standard interogative terms of who, what, why, when, where, how and how many, the Hindi word kyaa, which also can mean what, can be used as a generic interogative often placed at the beginning of a sentence turning a statement into a question. This makes is clear when a question is being asked and in this use it has no direct translation in English. Questions can also be formed simply by modifying intonation exactly as English questions are.

Imperatives (commands or suggestions) typically have four levels, the first three corresponding to the three levels of honorifics, and the last expressing an additional level of politeness akin to "would you be so kind as to..." that might be used in English. The tu imperative is simply the verb stem formed by removing the infinitive particle na. The tum imperative is formed by adding o to the verb stem, and the aap imperative is formed by adding ie or iye to the stem. The additional form adds gaa to the aap form. Because imperatives can already include politeness, the word kripaya which can be used as please is much more uncommon than the use of please in English, and is typically only used in cases of true urgency or importance. Otherwise its use may reflect mockingly formal speech.

Word order

The standard word order in Hindi is Subject Object Verb and that is expected unless different emphasis or more complex structure is needed. 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 interogative, if any, and finally 6 Verb and any auxillary verbs. (Snell, p93)

The standard order can be modified in various ways to impart emphasis on particular parts of the sentence. Negation is formed by adding the word nahii ("no") or the particle na in some cases.

Common tenses and aspect

Some of the most common verb tenses include the present imperfect, present continuous, past imperfect, past continuous, past perfect, and future. Present impoerfect is used for habitual actions or states of being. The present continuous is used for ongoing actions, while the past coninuous reflects actions that were occuring at a particular time. The past imperfect is used for past habitual actions or conditions, while the past perfect reflects completed actions and has three forms including simple past perfect and two forms akin to where English would use have or had [done].

See also: Grammatical aspect.


Nouns in Hindi have two cases, the direct and the oblique. The direct case is the standard form of the noun as found in the dictionary, and the oblique is the form that is used along with postpositions, such as in "in the room". For example the direct form of the word "room" is kamraa and in the oblique it is kamre. So "in the room" is "kamre me".


Main article: Hindi literature

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.

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 'a' ending of many Sanskrit and Sanskrit borrowed gender-masculine words, due to Romanization, is highly confused by non-native speakers. It should never be pronounced as long back vowel "ā", but as the neutral schwa "ə". In Sanskrit, the so-written "Shiva (शिव)" should be pronounced as "Shivə" and never "Shivā", as the latter stands for the Parvati, the wife of Shiva and is feminine. In Hindi, the ending 'ə' of such masculine words is altogether dropped, or pronounced very feebly if the penultimate consonant is a cluster of two or more consonants. eg. In Hindi, "Shiva" is "Shiv", "Krishna" is usually "Krishn", "dharma" is "dhərm", "karma" is "kərm", "VaruNa" is "VəruN", etc. There are exceptions, of course, if the devanagari script itself dictates the additional diacritical mark for the vowel "ā" at the end of certain masculine words, like Brahmā (ब्रह्मा).
  • the Verbal concordance; Hindi exhibits split ergativity; see Ergative-absolutive language for an example.
  • 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 vo padhti hai (she studies) vahaaN main padhta hoon (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

See also


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