Hindi - A General Introduction 

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Hindi (Devanāgarī: हिन्दी or हिंदी, IAST: Hindī, IPA: [ˈɦɪndiː]  ( listen)) is the name given to various Indo-Aryan languages, dialects, and language registers spoken in northern and central India, Pakistan, Fiji, Mauritius, and Suriname. Standard Hindi is one of the 22 scheduled languages of India, one of the official language of the Indian Union Government and that of many states in India.

 Conceptions of Hindi

In the broadest sense of the word, "Hindi" refers to the Hindi languages, a culturally defined part of a dialect continuum that covers the "Hindi belt" of northern India. It includes Bhojpuri, an important language not only of India but of Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad and Mauritius, where it is called Hindi or Hindustani; and Awadhi, a medieval literary standard in India and the Hindi of Fiji. Rajasthani has been seen variously as a dialect of Hindi and as a separate language, though the lack of a dominant Rajasthani dialect as the basis for standardization has impeded its recognition as a language. Two other traditional varieties of Hindi, Chhattisgarhi and Dogri (a variety of Pahari), have recently been accorded status as official languages of their respective states, and so at times considered languages separate from Hindi. Despite the fact that it is in many ways indistinguishable from local Hindi, Urdu, as the principal language of India's large Muslim population and an official language of Pakistan, is often excluded from the purview of the label "Hindi" in India and Pakistan, though the language of Muslims may be included as Hindi or Hindustani in other countries where the language is spoken. As the official language of a separate country, Nepali has always been excluded from this conception of Hindi, despite the fact that it is one of the Pahari languages which are otherwise included.

A narrower conception of Hindi, excluding all of specific varieties mentioned above, may be specified as Western Hindi. This includes Braj Bhasha, a medieval Hindu literary standard language. The current prestige dialect of Western Hindi, Khariboli, had been a language of the Moghul court, of the British administration, and is the basis of the modern national standards of South Asia, Standard Hindi and Urdu. Indeed, Khari boli is sometimes used as an alternate term for Hindi. Again, Urdu is sometimes excluded from consideration, despite being one of the Western Hindi languages, though in Malaysia, Pakistani immigrants are said to speak "Hindi". The colonial term Hindustani, though somewhat dated, is still used to specifically include Urdu alongside Hindi as spoken by Hindus.

In its narrowest conception, "Hindi" means Standard Hindi, a Sanskritised form of Khariboli purged of some of the Persian influence it picked up during Moghul rule, vocabulary which is replaced with loans from Sanskrit. The Constitution of India accords Hindi in the Devanagari script status as the official language of India, with Urdu, retaining the Perso-Arabic script, and the three other varieties of broad Hindi mentioned above among the 22 scheduled languages of India. Standard Hindi, along with English, is used for the administration of the central government, and Standard Hindi is used, often alongside scheduled languages, for the administration of ten Indian states.[5] However, despite divergence of vocabulary in the academic registers of Standard Hindi and Urdu and the use of distinct scripts, common speech remains Persianised and is largely indistinguishable whether it is called "Hindi" or "Urdu". Much of Hindi cinema, for example, might be described as Urdu, and is extremely popular in Urdu-speaking Pakistan despite language politics.

Thus the conception of Hindi is informed not just by external criteria of mutual intelligibility, but by ethnicity, history, literacy, nationalism, and religion. These issues are especially acute when differentiating Hindi from Urdu, which are generally considered independent languages by their speakers but different formal registers of a single dialect by linguists. However, such issues also arise in debates over whether Rajasthani, and other members of the continuum are "languages" in their own right, or "dialects" of Hindi.


Hindi evolved from the Sauraseni 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). During the reigns of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, which used 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

Standard Hindi is the official language of India and is the most widely spoken of India's scheduled languages. It is spoken mainly in northern states of Rajasthan, Delhi, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand and Bihar. It is the second major language in Andaman and Nicobar Islands and it is also spoken alongside regional languages like Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi or Bengali throughout north and central India. Standard Hindi is also understood in a few other parts of India as well as in the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.

Hindustani is spoken by all persons of Indian descent in Fiji. 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.

 Standard Hindi and Urdu

Standard Hindi
मानक हिन्दी Mānak Hindī
Spoken in India
Total speakers
Language family Indo-European
  • Indo-Iranian
    • Indo-Aryan
      • Central zone
        • Western Hindi
          • Khariboli
            • Hindustani
              • Standard Hindi
Writing system Devanagari
Official status
Official language in  India
Regulated by Central Hindi Directorate (India),
Language codes
ISO 639-1 hi
ISO 639-2 hin
ISO 639-3 hin

Standard 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 pluricentric language.

The term Urdu arose as far back as the 12th century and gradually merged together with kharhiboli (the spoken dialect). The term Hindawi was used in a general sense for the dialects of central and northern India. Urdu is the official language of Pakistan 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 script.

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. Bihari and Chhattisgarhi for example, 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 pluricentric language.

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, Delhi, Lucknow, Aligarh and Hyderabad 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 registers 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).

 Writing system

 The word हिन्दी
One way of representing the word "Hindi" in Devanagari

Hindi is written in the Devanagari script. 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 [dʒ] (j). The nukta is also used to represent native sounds, such as ड़ and ढ़, modifications of the characters and respectively. These modify the voiced retroflex plosive characters ड and ढ to retroflex flap sounds.

Hindi phonology differs from exactly following Devanagari in some respects, the most important of which is the phenomenon called schwa syncope or schwa deletion. The schwa ([ə], sometimes transcribed 'a') implicit in each consonant of the script is "obligatorily deleted" at the end of words and in certain other contexts. For instance, राम is Rām (incorrect: Rāma), रचना is Rachnā (incorrect: Rachanā), वेद is Véd (incorrect: Véda) and नमकीन is Namkeen (incorrect Namakeen).[12]


The Hindi literature, is broadly divided into four prominent forms or styles, being Bhakti (devotional - Kabir, Raskhan); Shringar (beauty - Keshav, Bihari); Veer-Gatha (extolling brave warriors); and Adhunik (modern).

The medieval Hindi literature is marked by the influence of Bhakti movement and composition of long, epic poems, and written in Avadhi and Brij Bhasha dialects. During the British Raj, Khadiboli became the prestige dialect of Hindi. Khadiboli with heavily Sanskritized vocabulary or Sahityik Hindi (Literary Hindi) was popularized by the writings of Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Bhartendu Harishchandra and others. The rising numbers of newspapers and magazines made Khadiboli popular among the educated people. Chandrakanta, written by Devaki Nandan Khatri, is considered the first authentic work of prose in modern Hindi. The person who brought realism in the Hindi prose literature was Munshi Premchand, who is considered as the most revered figure in the world of Hindi fiction and progressive movement.

The Dwivedi Yug ("Age of Dwivedi") in Hindi literature lasted from 1900 to 1918. It is named after Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi, who played a major role in establishing modern Hindi language in poetry and broadening the acceptable subjects of Hindi poetry from the traditional ones of religion and romantic love.

In the 20th century, Hindi literature saw a romantic upsurge. This is known as Chhayavaad (shadowism) and the literary figures belonging to this school are known as Chhayavaadi. Jaishankar Prasad, Suryakant Tripathi 'Nirala', Mahadevi Varma and Sumitranandan Pant, are the four major Chhayavaadi poets.

Uttar Adhunik is the post-modernist period of Hindi literature, marked by a questioning of early trends that copied the West as well as the excessive ornamentation of the Chhayavaadi movement, and by a return to simple language and natural themes.

 Popular media

Hindi films play an important role in popular culture. The dialogues and songs of Hindi films use Khari Boli and Hindi-Urdu in 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 Hindi film. This film had seven songs in it. Music soon became an integral part of Hindi cinema. It is a very important part of popular culture and now comprises an entire genre of popular music. Film music is so popular 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 Northern 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 Mumbai, in the Marathi-speaking state of Maharashtra. Hindi films are also popular abroad, especially in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Iran and the UK. These days Hindi movies are released worldwide and have good viewership 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.


  1. Hindi - A General Introduction
  2. Hindi-Urdu Grammar
  3. Standard Hindi
  4. Hindi Languages
  5. Devanagari (Hindi Script)
  6. Hindi Belt
  7. Hindi–Urdu phonology
  8. National Library at Kolkata romanization
  9. Khariboli
  10. Acharya Ramlochan Saran
  11. Hindustani orthography
  12. Awadhi language
  13. Bambaiya Hindi
  14. Braj Bhasha
  15. Fiji Hindi
  16. Urdu
  17. Hindi–Urdu controversy
  18. Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu) word etymology
  19. Hindustani orthography
  20. Hindi-Urdu Grammar
  21. India
  22. Hobson-Jobson
  23. Languages with official status in India
  24. Linguistic history of India
  25. List of English words of Hindi or Urdu origin
  26. List of English words of Sanskrit origin
  27. Prakrit
  28. Sanskritisation
  29. Devanagari transliteration
  30. Indian Script Code for Information Interchange
  31. Hindi phrasebook - Wikitravel
  32. Learning Devanagari


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