Hindi is the primary official language of the Union government of India. It is the National Language of India and the regional language of many states and union territories. It is spoken by more than 500 million people in the world. Hindi is the official language of India. Hindi, written in the Devanagari script, is one of the two official languages of the Government of India, along with English. It is official language of many Indian states and union territories. It is an additional official language in many other states. Hindi is one of the 22 scheduled languages of the Republic of India.

Hindi or more precisely Modern Standard Hindi is spoken throughout India, Pakistan and Nepal. Hindi has been described as a standardized and Sanskritized register based primarily on the Khari-boli, a dialect of Delhi and neighboring areas of North India. Written in Persian script with Arabic and Persian origin vocabulary the same language is referred as Urdu. Apart from the script and formal vocabulary, standard Hindi is mutually intelligible with standard Urdu sharing a common colloquial base.

Hindi is the lingua franca of the Hindi Belt. Hindi when counted with Urdu is the third most-spoken first language in the world, after Mandarin and English. Outside India, several other languages are recognized officially as “Hindi” but do not refer to the Standard Hindi language and instead descend from other dialects, such as Awadhi and Bhojpuri. Such languages include Fiji Hindi, which has an official status in Fiji, and Caribbean Hindustani, which is spoken in Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and Suriname.

According to the 1991 census of India, Hindi is the mother tongue of about 337 million Indians, or about 40% of India’s population that year. According to SIL International’s Ethnologue, about 180 million people in India regard standard (Khari Boli) Hindi as their mother tongue, and another 300 million use it as a second language. Outside India, Hindi speakers number around 8 million in Nepal, 890,000 in South Africa, 685,000 in Mauritius, 317,000 in the U.S., 233,000 in Yemen, 147,000 in Uganda, 30,000 in Germany, 20,000 in New Zealand and 5,000 in Singapore, while the UK and UAE also have notable populations of Hindi speakers.

Indian States and Union Territories where Hindi is Official Language

JharkhandHindi also Santhali and Bangla
RajasthanHindi also Rajasthani
Uttar PradeshHindi
Madhya PradeshHindi
Himachal PradeshHindi also Pahari
SikkimHindi also Bhutiya, Lepsa, Limbu and Nepalese
ChandigarhHindi also Punjabi
DelhiHindi also Punjabi and Urdu
LakshadweepHindi also Malayalam
Dadar and Nagar HaveliHindi also Gujrati
Andaman and NicobarHindi also Bangla, Tamil, Malayalam, Nicobarese and Telugu
Jammu and KashmirUrdu

History of Hindi

Hindi has evolved from Vedic Sanskrit. Based on linguistic grounds, Vedic Sanskrit could date as far back as 1500 BC. Some of the oldest pieces of Hindu literature, such as hymns of the Rigveda, were written in Vedic Sanskrit.

Around 800 BC it was cultured into Classical Sanskrit, a language mostly spoken by the upper class, which remained the classical literary language in India for a long time. A few still speak it, it is still taught in schools and National TV and Radio broadcast daily news bulletins and other programs in Sanskrit.

Prakrit languages evolved from Vedic and Classical Sanskrit. The earliest are attested around 500 BC; the latest around 800 AD. Linguists differ as to whether most of the languages of India evolved from Prakrit or more of them.

Some were Dramatic Prakrits, that is to say, languages used almost exclusively for literature and plays. None of these was used in everyday speech and very often Sanskrit translations were provided so the reader could understand the dialogue. However, as Sanskrit lost ground in certain areas, some dramatic Prakrits devolved into vernacular languages, such as Maharashtra Prakrit, the ancestor of the Marathi language.

The most important Prakrit language was Ardhmagadhi Prakrit, and its grammar is usually used as the standard to teach other Prakrits. In regions where Hindi would later be spoken, however, Sanskrit remained very popular, so that the etymology of many Hindi words comes directly from Sanskrit rather than through a Prakrit language.

In northern India around 500 AD, the Apabhramsha dialects evolved from Prakrit. They served as a kind of lingua franca and were in use until the 13th century AD and were referred to as Hindavi by the Persian rulers of the Delhi Sultanate who ruled large swathes of India from 1206 to 1526. The Hindi languages started branching off from Apabramsha around the 11th century AD, most of them being entirely distinct by the 12th, though in many places the Apabhramsha languages were still spoken in parallel.

It was under the Delhi Sultanate that the Persian language first started mixing with the local Apabhramsha dialects to form what would later become the Hindi and Urdu languages.

In 1526, the Moghul Empire, a Persianized empire of Turko-Mongol descent, supplanted the Delhi Sultanate and ruled over much of India, allowing even more Persian loanwords to enter the language.

By the time the Moghul Empire slowly dissolved in the 18th century, Khari Boli, successor dialects to the Apabhramsha languages, had replaced Persian as the common language.

Throughout the Moghul Empire and for many following and rival dynasties, Persian was the court language. However, when the British colonized India in the 18th through the 19th century, they were on the lookout for a widely-spoken language they could use for administration. Hindustani was widespread enough that it became the official language of the British Indian Empire, under the name of Urdu.

Throughout its history, Hindi absorbed loan words from many different languages. The main outside influence on the Khariboli that later became Hindustani was Persian, through the administrators and soldiers of the Delhi Sultanate and later the Moghul Empire. Most Arabic words in Hindustani come from Persian, which has a lot of Arabic loan words. Additionally, since Portugal had territories in India until the 1960s, Hindi has a fair amount of Portuguese loan words such as mez for “table” (from Portuguese mesa) or kamiz, “shirt”, from camisa.

Of course, through English colonization and modern globalization, Hindi also has a good number of English loan words such as botal from “bottle” or aspataal from “hospital”.

Obviously, other Indian languages have also provided Hindi with new words, just as Hindi words have seeped into other languages such as Tamil or Marathi.

Urdu is first attested in the late Moghul Empire as a version of Khariboli with heavy Persian influences called Zaban-e Urdu-e Mualla, the “language of the court (or camp)”. It existed in parallel to Hindi and eventually became the official language of Pakistan when the country was founded.

Both Urdu and Hindi are considered registers of Hindustani – two versions of the same language, much like British English and American English are both registers of English. They remain mutually understandable.

Both languages mostly have the same grammar, but differ greatly in vocabulary, with Hindi borrowing much more heavily from Classical Sanskrit while Urdu borrowed more from Persian. The differences are more evident in the literary register than in everyday speech. There are some differences in pronunciation as well.

The further evolution of Hindi and Urdu is rather exciting. In some ways, they are drifting farther apart as India and Pakistan have their own unique cultures, both in terms of religion (India is primarily Hindu and Pakistan primarily Muslim) and other aspects. On the other hand, Bollywood movies, with their own brand of Hindi (with many Urdu phrases), are immensely popular in both countries and influence the speech of the younger generation, while young Hindi speakers are more comfortable using Persian or Arabic loan words than before. This is an evolution that nobody can control and this is how languages take shapes.

History of Hindi Literature

Hindi can be traced back to as early as the seventh or eighth century. The dialect that has been chosen as the official language is Khari boli in the Devnagari script. Other dialects of Hindi are Braj, Bundeli, Awadhi, Marwari, Maithili and Bhojpuri.

It was in the 10th century that authentic Hindi poetry took its form and since then it has been constantly modified.

History of Hindi literature as a whole can be divided into four stages: Adikal (the Early Period), Bhaktikal (the Devotional Period), Ritikal (the Scholastic Period) and Adhunikkal (the Modern Period)

Adikal – The Early Period: Adikal starts from the middle of the 10th century to the beginning of the 14th century.

Bhakti Kal or The Devotional Period: Bhakti Kal or the Devotional Period stretched between the 14th and the 17th century. During this age Islamic customs were heaped upon the common people, and the Hindus were quite dejected at the effect on their culture.

Ritikal or The Scholastic Period: The poets of Ritikal or the Scholastic period can be classified into two groups on the basis of their subject: Ritibaddha (those wedded to rhetorics) and Ritimukta (free from rhetorical conventions).

Modern Hindi Literature: Modern Hindi literature has been divided into four phases; the age of Bharatendu or the Renaissance (1868-1893), Dwivedi Yug (1893-1918), Chhayavad Yug (1918-1937) and the Contemporary Period (1937 onwards).

Bharatendu Harishchandra (1849-1882) brought in a modern outlook in Hindi literature and is thus called the ‘Father of Modern Hindi Literature’. Mahavir Prasad Dwivedi later took up this vision. Dwivedi was a reformist by nature and he brought in a refined style of writing in Hindi poetry, which later acquired a deeper moral tone.