A Guide to Hindi - 10 facts about the Hindi language

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1. Where is Hindi spoken?

Hindi got its name from the Persian word Hind, meaning 'land of the Indus River'. Persian speaking Turks who invaded Punjab and Gangetic plains in the early 11th century named the language of the region Hindi, 'language of the land of the Indus River'.

Nearly 425 million people speak Hindi as a first language and around 120 million as a second language.

Hindi is one of the languages spoken in India. It's the official language of India, English being the other official language. There are several regional languages in India, such as Bengali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Oriya, Gujarati, Marathi, Punjabi and Assamese, but Hindi is used by the largest number of people as their first language.

Hindi is the main language of Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the capital Delhi in North India; Bihar and Jharkhand in Eastern India; Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in Central India and Rajasthan in West India. It's widely understood in several other states of India.

Hindi is also spoken in some countries outside India, such as in Mauritius, Fiji, Suriname, Guyana, Trinidad & Tobago and Nepal.

2. What you already know about Hindi

Just like European languages, Hindi is written from left to right.

It's fairly easy to read Hindi. In Hindi, unlike in European languages, words are written as they are pronounced because each character has a different sound.

The other good news is that Hindi doesn't have articles (words for 'the' or 'a').

However, sentence structure is different from English. Verbs always go to the end of sentences in Hindi and auxiliary verbs go at the very end of a sentence. For example, you would say  आप कैसे हैं [aap kaise hain] for How are you?, which, translated word for word becomes 'You how are'. Similarly,  मैं अच्छा हूँ [main achchha hoon], I am fine becomes 'I fine am'.

In Hindi, unlike in English, all nouns have genders, either masculine or feminine. Adjectives and verbs change according to gender. Learning the gender aspect of Hindi grammar is usually one of the most difficult steps in learning Hindi.

For example, you would say  वह अच्छा लड़का है [wah achchha larka hai] for He is a good boy but,  वह अच्छी लड़की है [wahachchhilarkihai] for She is a good girl.

3. How hard is it to learn?

You'll find many familiar words in English which are either Hindi or of Hindi origin. For example guru, jungle, karma, yoga, bungalow, cheetah, looting, thug and avatar.

On the other hand, Hindi also uses lots of English words. They are read and pronounced as they are in English, but are written in Hindi. For example, डॉक्टर is pronounced doctor and स्टेशन is pronounced station. Other English words that are used are hospital, railway, train, cycle, motor, bus, car, cricket, football, tennis, judge, court. Therefore, if you want to say That nice man is a tennis player/judge/doctor, you'll hear the English word within the sentence:   [wah achchha aadmi tennis player/judge/doctor hai] वह अच्छा आदमी टेनिस प्लेयर/जज/डॉक्टर है.

4. The most difficult words and tongue twisters

In Hindi it's common to find long words created by combining several other words. For example,  किम्कर्तव्यविमूढ़ [kimkartavyavimoorh] means confused, bewildered, indecisive and  लौहपथगामिनी [lauhpathgamini] is a word created to mean train. It means 'a thing which travels on an iron path' and is a combination of three words, 'iron', 'path' and 'traveller'. But this word is only used in a funny sense, mostly in jokes, the Hindi word used for train is  रेलगाड़ी [railgadi] , literally 'rail vehicle'.

Here's a Hindi tongue twister:
 कच्चा पापड़-पक्का पापड़
[kachcha papad-pakka papad]
Uncooked papadum-cooked papadum
This tongue twister is popular in Hindi because it's very difficult to keep repeating over and over.

5. Know any good Hindi jokes?

Jokes from the two characters Santa and Banta, are very popular in Hindi. Here are two of them:

  संताःकेला कितने में?
फलवालाःएक रूपए.
संताः 60 पैसे में दोगे?
फलवालाःइतने में तो बस छिलका मिलेगा.
संताःये लो 40 पैसे, मुझे बस केला चाहिए.
[Santa: Kelaa kitne mein?
Falwala: 1 rupaye.
Santa: 60 paise mein doge?
Falwala: Itne me to sirf kele kaa chhilkaa milegaa.
Santa: Ye lo 40 paise, mujhe bas kelaa chahiye.]
Santa: How much is a banana?
Grocer: 1 rupee.
Santa: Would you sell it for 60 paise?
Grocer: You could only get the skin of the fruit for that price.
Santa: Take 40 paise, just give me the banana, (and keep the skin).

  संताःपता है बचपन में मुझे एक बस ने धक्का मार दिया था.
बंताःबाप रे, तू मर गया कि बचा?
संताःयादनहीं, मैं तब केवल चार साल का था.
[Santa: Patahai, bachpan mein mujhe ek bus ne dhakka maar diya tha.
Banta: Baap re, tu mar gaya kibacha?
Santa: Yaad nahi. main tab chaar saal ka tha.]
Santa: I was hit by a bus when I was a child, you know.
Banta: Oh my god, did you die or survive?
Santa: I don't remember, I was only four then.

Teacher-student jokes are also popular in Hindi. Here is one of them:
 टीचरः क्रिकेट मैच पर लेख लिखो.
सब लिख रहे थे. मगर एक छात्र बैठा था.
टीचरः क्यों बैठे हो?
छात्रः लिख लिया.
टीचरः क्या?
छात्रः बारिश हो गई, मैच रद्द.
[Teacher: Cricket match par lekh likho.
Sab likh rahe the, magar ek student baitha tha
Teacher: Kyon baithe ho?
Chhatr: Likh liya.
Teacher: Kya? 
Chhatr: Barish ho gayee, match radd.]
Teacher: Write an essay on a cricket match.
All pupils started writing except one.
Teacher: Why are you sitting?
Student: I've finished the essay.
Teacher: What did you write?
Student: "Due to rain, no match.”

6. If I learn Hindi, will it help me with any other languages?

Hindi is a direct descendent of the ancient Indian language Sanskrit. It has evolved in its present form through Prakrit and Apabhramsa languages.

Hindi belongs to the India group of the Indo-Iranian sub-family of the Indo-European family of languages. It has been influenced and enriched by Turkish, Persian, Arabic, Portuguese, English and South Indian Dravidian languages.

Knowledge of Hindi will help with Sanskrit, Urdu, Nepalese, Bengali and Gujarati as they all have some similarities with Hindi, either in spoken language or in the written script.

Hindi is also helpful for communicating in Nepal, India's neighbour. Interestingly, a Hindi speaker will find it difficult to speak Nepalese, Nepal's official language, but easy to read it as both languages use the same script called Devanagari. On the other hand, it's easy for Hindi speakers to speak Urdu, the national language of Pakistan, but very difficult to read Urdu text as it uses Arabic script.

Another interesting aspect to note is that it's difficult for a Hindi speaker to communicate with many people in India itself, especially in south Indian states, where Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam languages are spoken!

Also, Hindi has hundreds of dialects which are spoken in different regions, but those languages of different Hindi dialects use the same script, Devanagari. South Indian languages use other Dravidian scripts.

7. What not to say and do

You should be careful with the use of formal and informal words in Hindi. For example, there are two common words in Hindi for the word father:  पिता [pita] is a formal word, whereas  बाप [baap] is an informal one. So, if you ask your Indian friend at a party How is your father? using  तुम्हारा बाप कैसा है [tumhara baap kaisa hai] you might cause embarrassment for you and your friend. The appropriate use should be formal, for example  तुम्हारे पिता कैसे हैं [tumhare pita kaise hain].

Additionally, there are three words for you:  तुम [tum],  तू [tu], and  आप [aap] but [tum] and [tu] should never be used in formal situations, especially with elders as this will be considered extremely impolite. They are mostly used with friends and family members. The most appropriate expression for you is [aap] as it can be used in any situation.

8. Famous idioms and proverbs

Hindi has many idioms which are quite frequently used in day-to-day conversations. Here are a few examples:
 कर भला हो भला
[kar bhala ho bhala] (literally: do good, will be good)
Do good and good will come to you

 जैसा करोगे वैसा भरोगे
[jaisa karoge waisa bharoge] (literally: what you do, you pay)
You reap what you sow

 जैसे को तैसा
[jaise ko taisa]
Tit for tat

Here are a few interesting Hindi proverbs:
 बंदर क्या जाने अदरख का स्वाद
[bandar kya jane adrakh ka swad]
A monkey doesn't know the taste of ginger
Meaning: Those who don't know, can't appreciate

 थोथा चना बाजे घना
[thotha chana baje ghana]
A hollow lentil makes more noise
Meaning: Those who are not capable of delivering, talk more

 बहती गंगा में हाथ धोना
[bahti ganga me hath dhona]
To wash one’s hand in the river (Ganges)
Meaning: To be an opportunist

9. First written records

Hindi in its present form emerged through different stages, during which it was known by other names. The earliest form of old Hindi was Apabhramsa. In 400 AD, Kalidas, a famous Indian literary playwright, wrote a romantic play in Apabhramsa called Vikramorvashiyam.

The modern Devanagari script came into existence in the 11th century. The earliest evidence of Hindi printing is found in Grammar of the Hindoostani Language, a book by John Gilchrist, published in 1796 in Calcutta. It deals with the Hindustani language, which is a common form of Hindi and Urdu, but is mostly a spoken language. The book has traces of Hindi/Devanagari texts but it is more of an Urdu-English book than a Hindi book.

Prem Sagar, meaning ‘Ocean of Love’, by Lalloo Lal was published in 1805. It’s considered the first published Hindi book and tells the deeds of Lord Krishna, a Hindu religious figure.

10. How to be polite and show respect

The most common word for greetings in Hindi is  नमस्ते [namaste]. It’s a formal way to say hello to anybody with a sense of respect. Literally, it means ‘I bow to you’. The word is derived from two Sanskrit words: नमस [namas] meaning bow and ते [te] meaning to you. When greeting each other, people generally bow slightly while bringing their hands in front of the chest pressing them together, touching palms and pointing fingers upwards.

Shaking hands is accepted in India in a westernised environment, such as in meetings or in parties, or when people are being introduced formally to each other. But it’s not a common way to greet people in daily life. Normally, Hindus and Sikhs touch feet of elders, and Muslims in India normally only use phrases like  अस्सलाम-वालेकुम [assalam-wale-kum], Peace be upon you, to greet each other.

Another very useful and common word to know is  जी [jee], yes to show politeness and respect. It’s usually placed after people’s first or last names, and for both male and female. In the case of the name Ram Singh, it can either be [Ram jee] or [Singh jee]. Therefore the greetings would be for example:
 नमस्ते राम जी [Namaste Ram jee],Hello Ram
 नमस्ते श्याम जी [Namaste Shyam jee], Hello Shyam
 नमस्ते शारदा जी[Namaste Sharda jee], Hello Sharda

The word  जी [jee] can also be used as a formal expression while calling someone’s name, for example:
 राम जी [Ram jee]
 सीता जी [Sita jee]
or even
 विलियम जी [William jee]
 विक्टोरिया जी [Victoria jee].

In day-to-day communication, especially in formal situations or between people of different ages, then  जी [jee] is considered a polite expression to show respect instead of using  हाँ [haan], the Hindi word for yes . For example, if a teacher asks his student a question, then to say ‘yes’, the student should say  जी [jee], rather than  हाँ [haan].

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