Hindi Universiteit Gent


Hindi: what is it, who speaks it and where does it come from?

Hindi lockers

Photo: Iris Vandevelde

Spoken and written Hindi

Hindi is one of the most spoken languages ​​in the world. It is estimated that around 800 million people speak Hindi, either as a first or second language. 40% of the Indian population has Hindi as a mother tongue. In addition, it is a second language for a lot of Indians. Since a large number of Indians has migrated, Hindi is spoken in many other countries of the world besides India. In Pakistan and Nepal for instance, a share of the population speaks Hindi as well.

The script employed for writing Hindi is called Devanagari (देवनागरी). Devanagari is an abugida, a script system, in which consonants form the basic signs and are adjusted according to the vowel following the consonant. Characteristic of Devanagari is the continuous line that connects the upper parts of the signs. It is written from left to right and can be fairly easily learned.

Hindi and other languages

Just like Greek, Polish, Italian or Dutch, Hindi is part of the Indo-European (also known as Indo-Germanic) language family. This means that Hindi is more closely related to Dutch than to the languages ​​spoken in the south of India, such as Tamil and Telugu. The latter belong to a separate branch, namely the Dravidian language family. More specifically, Hindi is an Indo-Aryan language (and together with the Iranian languages ​​the Indo-Aryan languages ​​form the Indo-Iranian branch). Just as modern Italian is derived from Latin, Hindi grammatically stems from Sanskrit. Aside from words derived directly from Sanskrit vocubulary, the Hindi lexicon also holds a considerable percentage of loan words from Persian, Arabic and English.

In reality, there are different interpretations of what "Hindi" is exactly. According to the broadest interpretation, "Hindi" signifies the dialect continuum of North India, including the forms of Hindi spoken in Surinam, Guyana, Trinidad, Mauritius and Fiji. According to a narrower interpretation, "Hindi" signifies Standard Hindi, the Hindi of the region of and around modern Delhi (also called Khari Boli, "used language"), with relatively fewer Persian and Arabic loanwords. Urdu, the language rather used in Muslim circles, is strongly connected to Hindi, which is rather spoken by Hindus. These two languages ​​share a common grammar and a lot of vocabulary in speech, but are divergent in terms of writing, more specific vocabulary, and culture.

Hindi and the Indian Republic

Hindi is often called the national language of India. (Standard) Hindi in Devanagari script is recognized in the Constitution of India, adopted in 1950, as the official language (raj-bhasha) of the Union Government (Article 343(1)). At the level of the different Indian states, Hindi is the official language in Bihar, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana. Moreover, in many other states it is a co-official language.