Monday, October 8, 2012

Language Profile: Hindi

This week we're taking a look at Hindi, a language with over 180 million native speakers. Hindi is the official language of India. It is written using the Devanagari writing system, which is an abugida alphabet used in India and Nepal.

An abugida is a segmental writing system in which consonant-vowel sequences are written together as a unit. In Devanagari, each letter represents a consonant with an inherent schwa for a vowel. If a word requires a different vowel sound, the consonant has to either be modified with some extra squiggles or by the use of a different letter altogether. Sounds complicated!

This is "Hindi" in Devanagari script.

Hindi is a bit difficult for linguists to classify. Some say it is a language, while others consider it to be a register (variety used in specific social settings) of Hindi-Urdu, or Hindustani. Confused yet? Basically, Hindi and Urdu are both standardized forms of the same language... but Hindi has more Sanskrit influences, while Urdu has stronger Persian and Arabic influences. They are generally mutually intelligible, and have almost identical grammar rules, but they maintain enough differences in vocabulary and literature that some linguists maintain that they're distinct languages. We don't know who's right... but Ethnologue says it's they're distinct languages, so we'll stick with them for the moment.

Hindi is also one of the many languages that has its own government regulators. In this case, the Central Hindi Directorate is responsible for promoting the language and regulating its spelling, as well as the use of Devanagari script. Although to us, that sounds more like a top-secret spy organization than a group of linguists...