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Standard Hindi

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हिन्दी, हिंदी
Native to India, Pakistan (Urdu and Rajasthani), Fiji ( Fiji Hindi), Mauritius (Urdu), Nepal ( Bhojpuri), Surinam (Bhojpuri), Trinidad and Tobago (Bhojpuri)
Native speakers First language: ~ 240–550 million (2008)
Second language: 120–225 million (1999)  (date missing)
Language family
  • Indo-Iranian
    • Indo-Aryan
      • Hindi
Writing system

Devanagari, Urdu, Kaithi, Latin, and

several regional scripts.
Official status
Official language in  India (Standard Hindi, Urdu, Maithili)
 Pakistan (Urdu)
 Fiji ( Fiji Hindi)
Regulated by Central Hindi Directorate (in India), National Language Authority (in Pakistan), National Council for Promotion of Urdu language
Language codes
ISO 639-1 hi
ISO 639-2 hin
ISO 639-3 hin
Indic script
This page contains Indic text. Without rendering support you may see irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts. More...

Hindi ( Devanāgarī: हिन्दी or हिंदी, IAST: hi, IPA: [hɪnd̪iː]) is the name given to an Indo-Aryan language, or a dialect continuum of languages, spoken in northern and central India (the " Hindi belt"),

The native speakers of Hindi dialects between them account for 40% of the Indian population (1991 Indian census). As defined in the Constitution, Hindi is the official language of India and is one of the 22 scheduled languages specified in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution. Official Hindi is often described as Modern Standard Hindi, which is used, along with English, for administration of the central government. Standard Hindi is a sanskritised register derived from the khari boli dialect. Urdu is a different, persianised, register of the same dialect. Taken together, these registers are historically also known as Hindustani.



The word hindī is of Persian origin. It literally means "Indian", comprising hind "India", and the adjectival suffix . The word was originally used by Muslims in north India to refer to any Indian language: for example the eleventh-century writer Abū Rayhān al-Bīrūnī used it to refer to Sanskrit. By the 13th century, "Hindi", along with its variant forms " Hindavi" and "Hindui", had acquired a more specific meaning: the "linguistically mixed speech of Delhi, which came into wide use across north India and incorporated a component of Persian vocabulary". It was later used by members of the Mughal court to distinguish the local vernacular of the Delhi region where the court was located from Persian, which was the official language of the court.

Evidence from the 17th century indicates that the language then called "Hindi" existed in two differing styles: among Muslims it was liable to contain a larger component of Persian-derived words and would be written down in a script derived from Persian, while among Hindus it used a vocabulary more influenced by Sanskrit and was written in Devanagari script. These styles eventually developed into modern Urdu and modern Hindi respectively. However the word "Urdu" was not used until around 1780: before then the word "Hindi" could be used for both purposes. The use of "Hindi" to designate what would now be called "Urdu" continued as late as the early twentieth century. Nowadays Hindī as taken to mean "Indian" is chiefly obsolete; it has come to specifically refer to the language(s) bearing that name.


"Hindi" as the term for a language is used in at least four different but overlapping senses:

  1. defined regionally, Hindi languages, i.e. the dialects native to Northern India
    in a narrower sense, the Central zone dialects, divided into Western Hindi and Eastern Hindi
    in a wider sense, all languages native to north-central India, stretching from Rajasthani in the west and Pahari in the northwest to Bihari in the east.
  2. defined historically, the literary dialects of Hindi literature, that is, historical regional standards such as Braj Bhasha and Avadhi.
  3. defined as a single standard language, Modern Standard Hindi, or "High Hindi", that is, highly Sanskritized Khari boli
  4. defined politically, Hindi is any dialect of the region that is not Urdu. This usage originates in the Hindi-Urdu controversy in the 19th century, and is that adopted by the official Indian census (as of 1991), which includes as Hindi a wide variety of dialects of the Hindi belt (adding up to a fraction native speakers of 40% of the total population), but lists Urdu as a separate language (with 5.8% native speakers).


Like many other modern Indian languages, it is believed that Hindi had been evolved from Sanskrit, by way of the Middle Indo-Aryan Prakrit languages and Apabhramsha of the Middle Ages. 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. In the span of nearly a thousand years of Muslim influence, such as when Muslim rulers controlled much of northern India during the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, many Persian and Arabic words were absorbed into khari boli and was called Urdu or Hindustani. Since almost all Arabic words came via Persian, they do not preserve the original phonology of Arabic.

Hindi is contrasted with Urdu in the way both are written, and the use of Sanskrit vocabulary in higher registers. Urdu is the official language of Pakistan and also an official language in some parts of India. The primary differences between the two are the way Standard Hindi is written in Devanagari and draws its "vocabulary" with words from (Indo-Aryan) Sanskrit, while Urdu is written in Urdu script, a variant of the (Semitic) Perso-Arabic script, and draws heavily on Persian and Arabic "vocabulary." Vocabulary is in quotes here since it is mostly the literary vocabulary that shows this visible distinction with the everyday vocabulary being essentially common between the two. To a common unbiased person, both Hindi and Urdu are same (Hindustani) though politics of religion and ethnicity portrays them as two separate languages since they are written in two entirely different scripts Hindi-Urdu controversy. Interestingly, if Urdu is written in Devanagiri script, it will be assumed as Hindi and vice versa. The popular examples are Bollywood songs and gazals.

Varieties and registers

Hindi languages

The "Hindi languages" in the widest sense of all dialects native to the "Hindi belt" accounts for 337 million native speakers (1991 Indian census), consisting of:

  • Central zone
    • Western Hindi (West Central zone)
      • 180 M: Khariboli
      • (43 M: Urdu, counted separately in the official census)
      • 13 M: Haryanvi
      • 6 M: Kanauji
    • Eastern Hindi (East Central zone)
      • 20 M: Awadhi
      • 11 M: Chhattisgarhi
    • 5 M: Rajasthani
  • Bihari (Eastern zone)
    • 45 M: Maithili (since 2003 recognized as a separate scheduled language)
    • 26 M: Bhojpuri
    • 11 M: Magadhi
    • 2 M: Sadri
  • 7 M: Pahari (Northern zone) (excludes Dogri and Nepali)

Khari boli

Khari boli or "standing dialect" is the term for the Western Hindi dialect of the Delhi region, which since the later 17th century (Mughal period) has emerged as the prestige dialect. Khari boli includes several standardized registers, including:

  • Urdu, historically the "language of the court", a Persianized register
  • Rekhta, a heavily Persianized and Arabized register used in Urdu poetry
  • Dakhni, the historical literary register of the Deccan region
  • Standard Hindi, a heavily Sanskritzed register created in the 19th century ( colonial period) as a counter-proposal contrasted to Urdu in the Hindi-Urdu controversy.

Modern Standard Hindi

After independence, the Government of India worked on standardizing Hindi, instituting the following changes:

  • 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 the Devanagari script by the Central Hindi Directorate of the Ministry of Education and Culture to bring about uniformity in writing and to improve the shape of some Devanagari characters.
  • scientific mode of transcribing the Devanagari alphabet
  • incorporation of diacritics to express sounds from other languages.

Hindi and Urdu

The term Urdu arose in 1645. Until then, and even after 1645, the term Hindi or Hindawi was used in a general sense for the dialects of central and northern India.

There are two fundamental distinctions between standard Urdu and standard Hindi that lead to their being recognised as distinct languages:

  • the source of borrowed vocabulary (Persian/Arabic for Urdu and Sanskrit for Hindi); and
  • the script used to write them (for Urdu, an adaptation of the Perso-Arabic alphabet written in Nasta'liq style; for Hindi, an adaptation of the Devanagari script).

Colloquially and linguistically, the distinction between the Urdu and Hindi is insignificant. This is true for the northern half of the Indian subcontinent, wherever neither learned vocabulary nor writing is used. Outside the Delhi dialect area, the term "Hindi" is used in reference to the local dialect, which may be different from both Hindi and Urdu.

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 throughout 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. Panjabi, Bihari, and Chhatisgarhi, 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.

Urdu was earlier called Zabān-e-Urdū-e-Mu`allah (زبانِ اردوِ معلہ, ज़बान-ए उर्दू), lit., the "Exalted Language of the Camp". Earlier, terms Hindi and Urdu were used interchangeably even by Urdu poets like Mir and Mirza Ghalib of the early 19th century (rather, the terms Hindvi/Hindi was used more often). By 1850, Hindi and Urdu were no longer used for the same language. Other linguists such as Sir G. A. Grierson (1903) have also claimed that Urdu is simply a dialect or style of Western Hindi. Before the Partition of India, Delhi, Lucknow, Aligarh and Hyderabad used to be the four literary centers of Urdu — none of which lie in present Pakistan.

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).

These two standardised registers of Hindustani have become so entrenched as separate languages that many extreme-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. However, there were and are unifying forces as well. For example, it is said that Indian Bollywood films are made in "Hindi", but the language used in most of them is the same as that of Urdu speakers in Pakistan.


Bilabial Labio-
Retroflex Post-alv./
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n (ɳ)
Plosive p



Fricative f s z ʃ ɦ
Tap or Flap ɾ (ɽ)
Approximant ʋ l j

Hindi vowel chart.png

Writing system



Hindi films play an important role in popular culture. The dialogues and songs of Hindi films use Khariboli and Hindi-Urdu in general, but the intermittent use of various dialects such as Awadhi, Rajasthani, Bhojpuri, Punjabi 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 genre of 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 Mumbai (Bombay), in the Marathi-speaking state of Maharashtra. Hindi films are also popular abroad, especially in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Iran and UK. These days Hindi movies are released worldwide and have large audience in Americas, Europe and Middle Eastern countries too.

The role of radio and television in propagating Hindi beyond its native audience cannot be overstated. Television in India was controlled by the central government until the proliferation of satellite TV rendered regulation redundant. During the era of control, Hindi predominated on both radio and TV, enjoying more air-time than local languages. 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, host shows for Hindi songs, Hindu mythology and documentaries.

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