Hindi is descended from Sanskrit, sometimes called "the mother of all languages," or "Latin of the East." Hindi developed from the proto-Hindi खड़ी बोली Khaṛī Bolī (lit. "Pure language"). A mixture of Hindi and Urdu, called Hindustani (though this name is also applied to the Caribbean dialect of Hindi), is the form heard in most Bollywood films, that try to appeal to the widest audience possible. Hindustani is different than what is taught at the literary level and what is used by news programs and the government in India.
A striking fact is that, depending on the source, Hindi is listed anywhere from the 2nd-5th most widely spoken language in the world. In contrast to languages such as Mandarin or Spanish, there has not been much stress outside of India in promoting Hindi education. In 2006, however, President Bush brought education of India's languages, including Hindi, to the forefront in the United States through the National Security Language Initiative, thus highlighting the need for closer ties and understanding between the two countries.
Hindi is written in the Devanāgarī (देवनागरी) script, shared with Nepali, Marathi and a number of other Indian languages. Learning Devanagari is not quite as difficult as you might think at first glance, but mastering it takes a while and is beyond the scope of most travellers. See Learning Devanagari for a primer.
Most English speakers find Hindi pronunciation rather challenging, as there are 11 separate vowels and 35 separate consonants, employing a large number of distinctions not found in English. Don't let this intimidate you: Many speakers do not speak standard Hindi at home, and are quite used to regional accents and mangling in various degrees.
The key distinction is the difference between short and long vowels. In this phrase book, long vowels are noted with a macron (ā), whereas short vowels are listed without one. You will often come across non-standard romanizations, noted in parentheses below when applicable.
as in about
as in father
as in sit
as in elite
as in put
as in flute
as in Scottish heard, trip. Rarely used in modern Hindi.
long e. It is not a diphthong; the tone does not fall.
as in Mail, sometimes a longer ए. As in bright (IPA ıj).
Many Hindi consonants come in three different forms: aspirated, unaspirated and retroflex.
Aspiration means "with a puff of air", and is the difference between the sound of the letter "p" in English pin (aspirated) and spit (unaspirated). In this phrasebook, aspirated sounds are spelled with an h (so English "pin" would be phin) and unaspirated sounds without it (so "spit" is still spit). Hindi aspiration is quite forceful and it's OK to emphasize the puff: bharti.
Hindi retroflex consonants, on the other hand, are not really found in English. They should be pronounced with the tongue tip curled back. Practice with a native speaker, or just pronounce as usual — you'll usually still get the message across.
as in skip.
as in sinkhole.
as in go.
as in doghouse.
as in sing. Used only in Sanskrit loan words, does not occur independently.
as in church.
as in pinchhit.
as in jump.
as in dodge her.
as in canyon. Used only in Sanskrit loan words, does not occur independently.
as in tick. Retroflex, but still a "hard" t sound similar to English.
as in lighthouse. Retroflex
as in doom. Retroflex
as in mudhut. Retroflex
retroflex n. Used only in Sanskrit loan words.
does not exist in English. more dental t, with a bit of a th sound. Softer than an English t.
aspirated version of the previous letter, not as in thanks or the.
dental d, as in the.
aspirated version of the above.
as in spin.
as in u'ph'ill.
as in be.
as in abhor.
as in mere.
as in yet.
as in Spanish pero, a tongue trip. Don't roll as in Spanish rr, German or Scottish English.
as in lean.
as in Spanish vaca, between English v and w, but without the lip rounding of an English w. (IPA: ʋ).
as in shoot.
almost indistinguishable retroflex of the above. slightly more aspirated. Used only in Sanskrit loan words.
For emphasizing words don't stress them by voice (which would be regarded as a sign of aggressiveness) but add a to after them.
yeh kyā hai? ("what's this?") → yeh to kyā hai? - ("what is this?")
Voice should always be very low and with few changes in pitch, loudness and stress, so please: relax!.
One of the only stresses found in Hindi is the last long syllable prior to the last syllable (e.g. in "dhānyavād" stress "dhā"). But it is a mild stress which occurs naturally, so don't force it. Don't even think about it!
Greetings: There are no time elemental greetings in Hindi such as good morning, good afternoon, etc. And each religion has its own greetings. It is considered very gracious to address a person by their respective greetings, but not necessary. Namaste is the most ubiquitous greeting, and though of Hindu origin is now mostly secular. It is said with hands folded and a small gesture of bowing – but don't go overboard Japanese style! Namaste literally means "I bow to you." The original religious significance was of bowing to the soul (ātmā) within another. It is custom to touch the feet of someone older than you when saying Namaste. Namaskār has the same meaning, but is used less often in Hindi, though it is common in other Indian languages such as Gujarati and Bengali. Namaskār is thought of as more formal, and as such is used more often when addressing a group or a person of importance.
Civilities: Sometimes, English words themselves are used; due to the British colonial influence, especially in urban areas and among the upper class. In this case, use them as you would in English. Just remember that like Germans and the French, they sometimes have trouble with English th sounds and therefore pronounce th as थ. When someone is in your way, instead of saying excuse me, or zara suniye, just let out an aspirated ts sound with your tongue behind your teeth to attract their attention. This might seem rude, but is no more rude than children saying "pssst" to get a friend's attention during class! In conclusion, though Hindi has corresponding words to ours, this does not mean that the context in which they are used also correspond likewise. Don't let all of this lead you to believe Indians are cold though – nothing could be further from the truth! These sentiments are merely communicated through body language rather than verbally. To show your thanks, a simple smile will do the trick. Other common gestures include the infamous "head bobble"; and a hand gesture made by swiftly swinging the wrist so your palm is facing the sky and your forefingers slightly elongated. Before travelling to India, rent some Bollywood films so that if a spontaneous Bhangra breaks out in the streets, you'll be ready to join in! All kidding aside, they can demonstrate body language and customs far better than any book is able to, all while acclimatizing you to the language as well.
Prefixes & Suffixes: With the words for "yes" and "no" jī (जी) may be added before to give it a more polite tone. Sometimes, speakers will simply reply with jī, as an affirmation of something someone says. Jī is added to a person's name as a sign of respect. For example; in India, Mahatma Gandhi is known simply as Gandhiji (गांधीजी). Another suffix which is indispensable is vāla (-वाला), often rendered in English as "-wallah". Many books devote whole chapters to vāla. With nouns, it gives the meaning "the one or thing that does" and with verbs, it indicates something is about to happen. Examples:
verb – to come (आना āna) + vāla = (the) ... is coming (... आनेवाला है ... ānevāla hay)
English Loan Words: The British Empire's influence spread into the language itself, and this continues today with American culture being exported throughout the world. So, an English word or phrase may almost always be inserted into any Hindi sentence. You will often hear Indians, whom while talking in Hindi, pepper their sentences with English words. Sometimes, they'll even alternate sentences, going from Hindi to English, and back to Hindi! Upon meeting an Indian, many times you may not even get to practice your Hindi, because they want to practice their English on you! English loan words are particularly used for modern inventions/technologies, so words like TV, computer and microwave are the same as in English apart from the slight change of accent. However; this is mostly in the cities, and learning some Hindi will have been all the more rewarding when in rural or non-tourist areas, as well as allowing you to communicate with a wider variety of people in the cities.
Gender & The 2nd Person Pronoun: Certain words have different endings depending on your gender. If you are a man, say these with an -a suffix, and if you're a woman, -ī. However; when addressing the person respectively with āp (आप), the masculine ending takes the plural form. This is not all that different from the behavior of other Indo-European languages, c.f. German Sie, which like āp is also both the respectful 2nd person pronoun and plural form of address. The other two forms are the familiar tum (तुम) and intimate tū (तू). These change the forms of certain words. Tum is for friends and peers, tū for small children (within the family); between 'significant others' in private; traditionally to lower castes; in the past, slaves; and, paradoxically, when supplicating to the gods/God (c.f. Greek mythology). As a general rule, stick with āp, until you become more familiar with the language and culture. Forget about tū altogether, at the best using it would be a faux pas and at the worst, very offensive. For those reasons as well as practical ones, this section will only use the āp form.
Accha! OK? TK!
One of the most useful words to know is accha. It is both an adjective and interjection. Its meanings include (but are not limited to!): good, excellent, healthy, well, OK, really?, awesome!, hmm..., a-ha!, etc.! If you learn no other word, remember this one.
Another common all-purpose word is ṭhīk hai, pronounced and occasionally even spelled out as "TK". It is used in the same manner, meaning: OK/all right, yes/understood (affirmation), right/correct, etc. Sometimes shortened to just ṭhīk.
The numerals used to write in decimal are called Indo-Arabic numerals. Developed in India, they were borrowed by the Arabs, and gradually spread to Europe. The similarities are hard to miss. Here are their respective numerals.
Hindi numbers ending in 9 are named as "un" (-1) plus the next multiple of ten. Instead of naming powers of a thousand, Hindi has unique names for a thousand, a hundred thousand, ten million etc. These peculiarities don't seem to have effected the proliferation of Indian mathematicians.
The Hindu days of the week are each ruled by a planet, and corresponding exactly to ancient cultures in the West, i.e. Sunday = Ravivār (Lord of the Sun's day [lit. time or period]). Thursday/O.N. Þorsdagr, Thor's day = Guruvār (Lord of Jupiter's day), Saturday/Saturn's day = Śani's (Lord of Saturn's day), etc. Unlike her Western counterparts, in India, Astrology is still a vital part of Hindu culture. Though attitudes may vary on its validity, priests are still consulted, as per tradition, for an auspicious day to hold a wedding. -वार (-vār), meaning day, time, or period is often dropped colloquially.
India has two main calendars in use, though other groups like the Parsis have their own calendar as well. The Western (Gregorian) calendar is used for day to day and business affairs, and the Hindu calendar is used by religious communities.
The Hindu Calendar (विक्रम संवत् Vikram saṃvat) is named after a legendary king of Ujjain, who is supposed to have founded the Vikramditya (विक्रमादित्य) era c. 56 BCE. The year 57 BCE was the first year of this (संवत् saṃvat) era. Thus, to calculate the current date of the Hindu calendar, add 57 years. Today, the Hindu Calendar is used mainly for religious purposes and calculating festivals. Because it is based on the lunar month, every 30 months an "impure" intercalary leap month is added, during which no ceremonies are performed. The Hindi names are variations of the original Sanskrit ones.
Give some examples how to write clock times and dates if it differs from English.
The time is written exactly as in English, that is hours followed by minutes.
12:45am will thus be दोपहर के 12 बजकर पैंतालीस मिनट (dopehar ke 12 bajkar paintālīs minaṭ), note that बजकर (bajkar) would indicate something like "o'clock" in English . मिनट (minaṭ) is just a literal translation of "minutes."
Despite Hindi being among Chinese, Spanish and English as the most spoken languages, there is a dearth of resources on the subject(s), and even fewer which are worth-while. Instead of anger of frustration, the Hindi student should instead feel a smug superiority of being ahead of everyone else who are learning other languages, which may fill the rows of bookshelves in bookstores now, but cannot compare with the vast amount of volumes to be written on Hindi in the future! Here is a list of the better books and dictionaries. Stay away from books written for Indians who already know another related Indian language (such as the National Integration series), which make such claims as "Learn This or That Language in 30 days!" Remember the rule of thumb: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. If you know German, Margot Gatzlaff-Hälsig, has continued the incomparable German tradition of Indologie with two dictionaries and numerous books on Hindi.
Lonely Planet Hindi & Urdu Phrasebook by Richard Delacy (Lonely Planet Publications). ISBN: 0864424256. Excellent. Rare, in that both Hindi Devanagari and Urdu Naskh are en face. Also includes glossary and cultural notes, etc. Highly recommended for travellers, and a great auxiliary source for students.
Teach Yourself Beginner's Hindi Script by Rupert Snell (McGraw-Hill). ISBN: 0071419845. - An entertaining and easy to use introduction to Devanagari.
Teach Yourself Beginner's Hindi by Rupert Snell (McGraw-Hill). ISBN: 0071424369. If you've never studied a language before or are a younger student this book might be where to start. Otherwise, don't waste your money and get the Complete Course instead.
Teach Yourself Hindi Complete Course by Rupert Snell with Simon Weightman (McGraw-Hill). ISBN: 0071420126. By far this book is the most popular, and the usual starting point for those interested in learning Hindi. It is highly recommended that you purchase this with accompanying CD's (they are not available separately).
Teach Yourself Hindi Dictionary by Rupert Snell (McGraw-Hill). ISBN: 0071435034. Companion to his other books in the Teach Yourself series. For Beginners, or younger students. Is not a complete dictionary in any sense of the word.
Introduction to Hindi Grammar by Usha R. Jain (IAS Publishers). ISBN: 094461325X. Usha R. Jain's books, which she wrote for her Hindi class at the University of California at Berkeley are more straightforward and easier to use than Snell. Her books are preferred by Hindi professors and private teachers alike throughout North America and Europe. Available with a set of accompanying CD's.
Intermediate Hindi Reader by Usha R Jain (IAS Publishers). ASIN: B000739HIG. 21 readings with serial glossaries to improve the student's comprehension of Hindi and expand vocabulary. Available with accompanying CD's and/or multimedia CD-Rom.
A Primer of Modern Standard Hindi by Michael C. Shapiro (Motilal Banarsidass Publishers). ISBN: 8120804759. An academic approach, by an eminent scholar of South Asia. Focuses more on written than conversational Hindi.
Say It in Hindi by Veena T. Oldenburg (Dover Publications). ISBN: 0486239594. If Delacy's book lacked anything, you may find it here. Mostly due to the fact that the book focuses on Hindi only. One major flaw is that the book uses an archaic Devanagari font, which may prove difficult to some readers. Worth taking a look at, but as a supplement to other books.
Colloquial Hindi: A Complete Language Course by Tej K. Bhatia (Routledge). ISBN: 0415110874. Takes a different approach to teaching the language. Is more sympathetic to the average learner and doesn't go warp speed like Snell and Weightman's Teach Yourself Hindi. However; the biggest flaw is the minimal attention given to Devanagari, and the transliteration is not standard - may be more confusing than necessary to those already comfortable with the conventional style. Perhaps the best feature are the accompanying CD's.
The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary by R. S. McGregor (Oxford University Press). ISBN: 019864339X. Essential for the student.
Oxford English-Hindi Dictionary by S. K. Verma (Laurier Books Ltd). ISBN: 0195648196. Common companion to R.S. McGregor's dictionary, but somewhat lacking compared with the former.
The Modern English Hindi-Dictionary by I. N. Anand (Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers). ISBN: 8121504619. Though designed for Indians translating English, this is also a great tool for students. Includes modern and technical terms.
English-Hindi Dictionary by Father Camille Bulcke (French & European Publications). ISBN: 0828811318. Recommended by many professors for their students.
Hindi by Pimsleur (Pimsleur). ISBN: 0743506251. Great for the auditory learner of for listening to in the car. Helps immerse listener into the sounds of Hindi and developing listening skills. Good overall introduction to the language, but be aware that many of the phrases are much too formal to use in common, everyday speech.
Teach Yourself Hindi Conversation by Rupert Snell (McGraw-Hil). ISBN: 0071456554. Focus on spoken Hindi. Includes small reference book.
Spoken Hindi by Surendra K. Gambhir (Audio-Forum). ISBN: 0884326993. Includes book.