Jama masjid, Hindi language


Namaskār – Welcome

Hindi, also known as Khadi Boli, Khari Boli, belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. It is spoken as a first language primarily in northern and central India by more than 258 million people (Ethnologue). It is the language that unifies multilingual India, home to some 400 different languages/dialects. Outside of India, Hindi is spoken in Australia, Bangladesh, Belize, Bhutan, Botswana, Canada, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Germany, Guyana, Kenya, Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Sint Maarten, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States, Yemen, Zambia (Ethnologue). Such a wide distribution makes Hindi one of the most spoken languages of the world.


Hindi vs. Urdū

Indian Language mapThe name Hindi is of Persian origin. The Persians used it to refer to the Indian people and to the languages they spoke. Scholars postulate that Hindi developed in the 8th-10th centuries from khari boli, the speech around Dehli which was adopted by the Moslem invaders to communicate with the local population. Eventually, it developed into a variety called Urdū (from Turkish ordu ‘camp’), characterized by numerous borrowings from Persian and Arabic, which became a literary language. In the meantime, the language of the indigenous population remained relatively free of borrowings from Persian and Arabic, and instead borrowed words and literary conventions from Sanskrit. This language became Hindi.

As a result of these different influences, Hindi is written in the Devanagari script and draws much of its vocabulary from Sanskrit, while Urdū is written in the Perso-Arabic script and draws a great deal of its lexicon from Persian and Arabic. The two languages also differ in a number of relatively minor ways in their sound system and grammar. Both Hindi and Urdū have been used as literary languages starting in the 12th century. Under the influence of English, Hindi and Urdū literature flourished starting in the 18th century.

Hindi and Urdū have a common colloquial form, called Hindustani. Hindustani never achieved the status of a literary language, although Mahatma Gandhi used it as a symbol of national unity during India’s struggle for independence from England.



Hindi is the primary official language of the Union government of India. It is the primary tongue of about a third of India’s 1.09 billion people. Hindi became the official language of India in 1965, although the Constitution of India also recognizes English plus 21 other official languages.

After the Independence of India from Britain in 1947, the Government of India undertook the standardization of the language. In 1958, ‘A Basic Grammar of Modern Hindi’ was published as a result of the work of a government-appointed committee. Hindi spelling was standardized, and a standardized system of transcribing the Devanagari alphabet was devised.


Hindi and English

For speakers of India’s approximately 400 languages/dialects to function within a single country requires some common language. The choice of this language, known in India as the ‘link’ language, has been a sensitive political issue since independence in 1947. Efforts to reach a consensus on a single national language that is acceptable to all the diverse language communities have been largely unsuccessful.

Both Hindi and English are extensively used, and each has its own supporters. On the one hand, native speakers of Hindi, concentrated in northern and central India, assert that English is a relic from India’s colonial past. In addition, since it is spoken mostly by the country’s educated elite, it is too exclusive to be India’s official language. Proponents of English, on the other hand, argue that the use of Hindi is unfair because it disadvantages those who have to learn it as a second language.

Education in English continues to be a prerequisite for social status. English remains the sole language of higher education in almost every field of learning. Code-switching between Hindi and English is extremely common, especially among educated Indians.

Click on the MLA Interactive Language Map to find out where Hindi is spoken in the U.S.


There are many regional varieties of spoken Hindi. Literary Hindi has 4 varieties: High Hindi, Nagari Hindi, Literary Hindi, and standard Hindi.




Sound system

The sound system of Hindi is fairly typical of Indo-Aryan languages.



Hindi has 11 oral vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that differentiate word meaning. Vowels can be oral or nasal. Nasalization makes a difference in word meaning, e.g., ak ‘a plant’, ãk ‘draw’.

  • /i/ = ea in peat
  • /I/ = i in pit
  • /e/ = e in pet
  • /ε/ = i in girl
  • /æ/ = a in pat
  • /ə/ = a in ago
  • /u/ = oo in too
  • /ʊ/ = oo in good
  • // = oo in bog
  • /α/ = a in car



Hindi/Urdu have a large consonant inventory. The use of consonant clusters is extremely limited, even in borrowed words. They occur mostly in initial and medial position. Only a restricted set of consonant clusters can occur at the end of words. Consonants can be geminated (doubled) in medial position.

The exact number of consonants is difficult to determine due to regional differences in pronunciation. In addition, the extent to which consonant sounds that appear only in borrowed words should be considered part of Standard Hindi is also a matter of debate. In the table below, consonants that do not occur in all varieties of Hindi, and those that occur primarily in borrowings are given in parentheses.

Stops unaspirated voiceless
aspirated voiceless
unaspirated voiced
aspirated voiced
Fricatives voiceless
Affricates unaspirated voiceless
unaspirated voiced
aspirated voiced
Nasals ……
Laterals …..
Flap or trill unaspirated
  • There is a contrast between short and long consonants, e.g., pəta ‘address’ and pətta ‘leaf’.
  • There is a contrast between aspirated vs. unaspirated stops and affricates, including voiced ones, e.g., p—pʰ, t—tʰ, k—kʰ, b—bʰ, d—dʰ, g—gʰ, /ʈ/—/ʈʰ/, etc. Aspirated consonants are produced with a strong puff of air.
  • There is a contrast between and apical vs. retroflex consonants, e.g., /t/ – /ʈ/, /d/ – /ɖ/, /n/ – /ɳ/. Apical consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, whereas retroflex consonants are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth.
  • /ʋ/ is often realized as /v/.
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /j/ = y in yet



Stress in Hindi/Urdu normally falls on the penultimate (i.e., next to the last) syllable of a word. The position of stress alone does not affect word meaning.



Hindi is a highly inflected language which utilizes prefixes and suffixes to form words and to express grammatical relations. Hindi uses postpositions, rather than prepositions to express various case relationships. Postpositions require that the nouns be used in the oblique case.



Hindi nouns are marked for the following categories:

  • number: singular and plural;
  • gender: masculine and feminine;
  • case: direct (nominative), oblique, and vocative;
  • the direct case is used to mark subjects of sentences; the oblique case is used with postpositions
  • there are four declensional paradigms for masculine and four declensional paradigms for feminine nouns;
  • adjectives agree with the nouns they modify in number, gender, and case;
  • adjectives have fewer case forms than nouns;
  • pronouns have more case forms than nouns;
  • 3rd-person pronouns are the same as proximate and remote demonstratives yəh ‘this and vəh ‘that.’
  • there is a 2nd-person honorific pronoun ap which is used with both singular/plural and male/female addressees.



Hindi verbs are characterized by the following:

  • Hindi verbs occur in the following forms: root (kha ‘eat’), imperfect stem (khatA), perfect stem (khayA), and infinitive (khanA). The stems agree with nouns in gender and number.;
  • person: 1st, 2nd, 2nd honorific, 3rd;
  • number: singular and plural;
  • tense: present, past, future;
  • tense distinction of present vs. past is expressed by the auxiliary verb honA ‘to be.’
  • aspect: imperfective, and perfective;
  • mood: indicative, imperative, optative.



Second-person personal pronouns are marked for three levels of politeness. Verbs in the 2nd person are also marked for politeness.

  • singular form tu (informal, extremely intimate, or disrespectful)
  • singular form tum (informal and showing intimacy)
  • plural form ap (formal and respectful).


Word order

Hindi word order is typically Subject-Object-Verb. Modifiers precede the nouns they modify.



Due to the influence of Hinduism, Hindi derives most of its high-level vocabulary from Sanskrit. As a result of the Moslem influence in Northern India, Hindi also has many Persian, Arabic and Turkish loanwords. Due to the influence of Islam, Urdu vocabulary has a greater percentage of loanwords from Persian and Arabic than does the vocabulary of Hindi.

Here are a few common Hindi phrases in transcription and in Devanāgarī.

Hello/goodbye Namastē. नमस्ते
Thank you (formal) Dhan’yavāda. धन्यवाद
Please. Kr̥payā. कृपया
Yes Hāṁ. हां
No Nahīṁ.नहीं
Man Ādamī. आदमी
Woman Mahilā. महिला


Below are Hindi numerals 0-10 in transcription.




Hindi is written in the Devanāgarī script, a descendant of the Brāhmī script. Devanāgarī script is also used for writing Sanskrit, Marathi, and Nepali. There is a fairly good correspondence between the characters and the sounds they represent. The Devanāgarī script is a syllable-based writing system in which is each syllable consists of a consonant plus an inherent vowel /ə/. There are a number of rules governing the realization of inherent vowels. Vowels have different representations in writing depending on whether they are independent or following a consonant. Devanāgarī is written from left to right. Sentences are separated by vertical lines.

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Devanāgarī and in romanization.


– सभी मनुष्यों को गर्व और अधिकारों के मामले में जन्मजात स्वतन्त्रता और समानता प्राप्त है। उन्हे बुद्धि और अन्तरआत्मा की देन है और परस्पर उन्हें भाईचारे के भाव से बर्ताव करना चाहिये ।
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.


Did You Know?

Hindi words in English
English has borrowed a number of words from Hindi. Among them are these familiar ones:

English word
from Hindi
bandhnu, a method of dyeing
bangricolored glass bracelet or anklet’
quli ‘hired servant’
khat ‘couch, hammock’
dingi ‘small boat’
dungri ‘coarse cloth’
guru ‘teacher, priest’
jangal ‘forest, uncultivated land’
lut ‘stolen property’
pajama ‘loose garment’
payndit ‘learned man, teacher’
swami swami ‘master’
thug fname of Hindu sect Thugee whose members killed people for sacrifice to the goddess Kali



Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Hindi?
Hindi is considered to be a Category II language in terms of difficulty for speakers of English.