Return to site

What Hindi is and what it is NOT

Week 26, Episode 51

Because Hindi sounds somewhat close to the word "India", many people mistakenly assume it is the national language of India. Others think it is Sanskrit, and are wrong, too. If you go and research on Hindi, you'll realize that you had more confusions and false assumptions about it than you thought.

Unlike what you probably think, Hindi became the official languge of India only in 1965! One of them, anyway. As for the national language, Inependent India never had one.

Hindi first started to be used in writing during the 4th century AD. It was originally written with the Brahmi script but since the 11th century AD it has been written with the Devanāgarī alphabet. The first printed book in Hindi was published in 1796.

Interestingly enough, the past of Hindi (as of some other Indian languages) is mysterious and vague. Since the experts aren't certain on the origins of the Hindi language, I won't even try to examine it. What is clear is that before written language occured, people used to speak in Prakrit (from prākṛta, "natural, ordinary"), which refined into Sanskrit (from saṃskṛtā vāk, "refined speech"). The latter is considered to be the language Hindi is derived from, though there are controversial arguments over this statement.

Yes, Hindi is heavily influenced by Sanskrit (which comes from the same family as English); also by Arabic, Persian, Turkish, English and Portuguese. It is native to around 40% of the total population of India. But the number of "mother tongues" in the country exceeds 1600! Hindi alone has 48 officially recognized dialects!

No country in the world comes close to matching the linguistic diversity of India!

I guess that makes it clear why there is no ONE national language in India, but 22 official languages, including Hindi and Sanskrit! Explained in the cartoon (3 minutes):

Let's clear up another confusion—the differences between the words Hindustani, Hindu, and Hindi.

  • Hindustani may refer to people or to the language:

— in reference to people, it denotes those whose native language is Hindustani;

— in reference to a language, it attributes to the mix of Hindi and Urdu;

  • Hindu — is a person who practices the Hindu religion;
  • Hindi — a language of Indo-European origin.

Urdu, by the way, is basically same Hindi but written from right to left in Arabic script instead of from left to right in Devanagari script—Brahmi script with specific shapes and a line above the letters. Something like this:

See that last vertical line at the end of the sentence? This is dot in Hindi. It is the only punctuation mark that is written differently from what you're used to.

Have you ever asked yourself "Why there is a line above the letters in Hindi?" I did :) It is called "shirorekha" and is used to group all the letters of each word together so that it's clear where a word starts and where it ends. The symbols above the line help to identify a vowel sound and its nasalization (pronouncing a sound as if you talk through the nose).

Though this line is not an extremely crucial part to make reading comprehensible (the Gujaranti language doesn't have it and yet people can read what is written), it does exist in Hindi and without it texts just look and feel weird. Let's compare ıt wıth omıttıng the dot over "i" ın Englısh—stıll readable, but odd.

Actually, after writing in Hindi even a little, this line above doesn't really surprise or bother—just a part of the language. Learn more in the next episode!

मेरे पीछे आओ! (Meh-reh peach-heh ah-oh) Bye!

" What you LIKE, you SHARE. —Me :) "

Discover more about Hindi and other languages at!

All Posts

Almost done…

We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!

OKSubscriptions powered by Strikingly