Several hundreds of languages and dialects can be heard across India. Among them, Hindi is the main language as it is spoken by nearly 70% of the population. Hindi is the main first language in North India (including Rajasthan). Hindi is one of the world’s oldest languages and it is the third most-spoken language in the world after Chinese and English.
Even though English is widely spoken and understood in India, learning a few words of Hindi will get you a long way. Local people will always appreciate any effort you will make to speak a few phrases in their language while you travel to India. The following Hindi phrasebook with audio covers a wide range of topics in daily situations.
Being a foreigner, you don’t need to be fluent in Hindi language. However, learning a few sentences in Hindi language will help you win people's love. It will be very much appreciated when interacting with your hosts. With a few minutes of practice every day for a few weeks before your trip, you will be able to communicate with locals when travelling to India. If you want to learn more, the book Teach Yourself Complete Hindi is highly recommended.
Note: “jee” is often used as a prefix or suffix to convey respect. For example, it is common to add “jee” at the end of someone’s name (someone named Prakash would be called Prakash-jee).
The Hindi language uses the script called Devanagari. Devanagari consists of the words “deva” and “nagari.” Deva means divine. In India we also call a Hindu God by the term “Deva”. The Nagari script comes from the Sanskrit word “nagaram” meaning “a town.” Hence, the etymology of the word Devanagari entails the town of god or the abode of deities.
Devanagari is a very sophisticated script and has some interesting features.
The writing script itself is an assimilation of symbols and alphabets. It contains a total of 47 characters. Out of these 47 characters, 33 are consonants and 14 are vowels. The structure of the alphabets in Devanagari is such that all the characters hang from a horizontal line.
We write the Devanagari script from left to right.
The Devanagari script is adopted by many languages over the world. Apart from the Hindi language, Marathi, Nepali, Sanskrit, Sherpa, Haryanvi, and Kashmiri are some of the other languages that use Devanagari as either part of their scripts or as their only script.
In total, 120 languages in the world use the Devanagari script. Devanagari comes at the fourth position on the list of widely used scripts.
Another interesting fact about this script is that, Devanagari has no capital letters.
The Hindi language has developed a lot over time. At first, Hindi was known by many names like Hindui, Hindavi, Rekhta, Rekhti, etc.
Since Hindi was born out of Sanskrit and Prakrit, which are few of the oldest Indo-Aryan languages, it is believed that the history of Hindi is at least a thousand years old.
Sanskrit also known as Sauraseni or Devbhasha, served as one of the parent languages for the Hindi dialect. During the Vedic era, sacred Hindu texts were written from the Indo-Aryan language. In order to preserve the purity of this language, scholars from the Brahmin community rose up to become the world’s first linguists.
They fixed the old Indo-Aryan language in the grammar of panini and came up with the classical Sanskrit. This classical Sanskrit was called Sancta and it meant refined. This refined Sanskrit was used for Hindi literature.
However, for communication a more natural form of Sanskrit, called Prakrit.
Sanskrit was always considered as a prestigious language for Hindu speakers and a sense of gatekeeping was developed among the elite classes to preserve the language. Thus, people were encouraged to use more simpler versions of these languages.
And so, these languages evolved and were adopted by various cultures and religions. Buddhists took up Pali whereas Jains started using Prakrits for their scriptures.
Upon further evolution, languages like Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali, etc. came to existence
In the Mughal rule, Persian was the language introduced in the Indo-Muslim education. This Persian was, however, arabicized. Arabic is a sacred language for Muslims, hence after ruling over Iran and Central Asia, the cultural language that they brought to India was Persian with a lot of loan words from Arabic.
The local Khari Boli (upright speech) of the city of Delhi fused borrowed words from the Persian language and eventually developed to modern Hindi and Urdu.
Under the British Raj, there was a shift in the language used for administrative purposes, from Persian to English. The laws were written in English, and were translated to Persian for the subjects. However, subjects could not speak Persian, they usually spoke Bengali.
Due to this confusion, the East India Company established Fort William College in Calcutta in order to impart knowledge of Indian languages among British officials.
Thus, English also inspired a few common words of the Hindi language. For instance, the Hindi word “botal” comes from the English word “bottle”.
Hindi and Urdu were also now somewhat evolved in northern India, and became a part of the religious identities of Hindus and Muslims. This ultimately creates a sense of opposition in these two languages.
Around the late 19th century, Hindi was well established. People started treating Hindi as a tool to ground themselves in their cultural identity. Freedom fighter, Mahatma Gandhi, encouraged the use Hindi as a regional language in order create unity and national pride among common people.
Post 1947 independence, the Indian Union, along with English, adopted Hindi as an official language of the republic of India. Due to the political environment around the 1960s and 1970s, there was a revolt from certain majority communities to make Hindi the sole official language of the country.
However, the leaders saw it to be a source of divide, an unfair title as India consisted of a plethora of varied languages and dialects. In order to respect the diversity of India, an official languages act was passed. This act stated that all languages should be treated equally, none is superior to the other.
Providing an equal status to all Indian languages helped in bringing communities together and this move brought the unity in diversity in India’s culture.
In India, 70% of the population speaks Hindi. A total of about 600 million people around the world have Hindi as their mother tongue. Hindi is the 3rd most spoken language worldwide.
Linguistic Scholars have identified the Hindi Belt in India. It includes Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Uttaranchal, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. These are the states where Hindi is the dominant language.
Hindi is a widely spoken language. It is rich and is embedded in the History of India, making it a part of that complex but eloquent history.