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Number of Speakers: Within India, there are 180 million native speakers and 300 million second-language speakers. The total combined number of native speakers in India and abroad is estimated to total 500 million. As many as 800 million people are estimated to understand Hindi.

Key Dialects: Hindustani, Urdu, Khari Boli (Sarhindi/Standard Hindi), Chattisgarhi (Lahariya/Khalwahi), Bagheli, Awadhi, Bihari, Rajasthani, Braj Bhasha, Bundeli, Hariyanvi (Bangaru/Jatu), Kanauji, Dakhini, Rekhta.

Geographical Center: Northern India

Hindi is often regarded as a dialect continuum. The following languages are often taken to define its boundaries: Panjabi, Sindhi, and Gujarati define the western and northwestern boundaries; Marathi delimits Hindi’s southern boundary; Oriya marks the southeastern boundary; Bengali provides the eastern boundary; and Nepali marks the northern boundary. Along with Urdu, Hindi refers to a standardized register of Hindustani, an official language of Pakistan and certain Indian states. The principal difference between Hindi and Urdu is that Hindi is written in the Devanagari script and has a Sanskritized lexicon that to a certain degree has been purged of Arabic and Persian vocabulary. Urdu, on the other hand, is written in a version of the Persian script and borrows heavily from the Arabic and Persian lexicons. Hindi is the official language of India and is the second most widely spoken language in the world. Although it is spoken primarily in India, Hindi is spoken by large numbers in Nepal, South Africa, and Uganda. Hindi speakers can be found on all continents of the globe.

Hindi is a Central Zone language of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family.

Given the high degree of mutual intelligibility among the varieties of Hindi spoken across India, it is often controversial as to whether certain variants should be categorized as dialects or separate languages. In most cases, language variation among dialects is primarily phonological, with minor morphological variation observed. Lexical differences also differentiate certain dialects. On the whole, the level of mutual intelligibility among dialects is very high. Just under half the population of India speak some variant of Hindi.

Hindi is written in the Devanagari script, a syllabary writing system that is written from left to right. The alphabet consists of a total of 48 syllable graphemes. Word boundaries are not marked and sentences are marked by a stroke that is perpendicular to the unbroken horizontal bar that links the constituent graphemes of a sentence. Devanagari is the script of Sanskrit and other major Indic languages such as Nepali, Marathi, and Sindhi.

Hindi has an extensive phoneme inventory consisting of 10 vowels and 33 consonants, depending on the analysis and the dialect under investigation. As is common in Indic languages, a number of retroflex articulations are attested. Aspiration is phonemic/contrastive in the language, but vowel nasalization is not. In other words, aspiration is a dimension that can minimally differentiate words from structurally similar words, whereas the presence or absence of vowel nasality will not distinguish pairs of words in this way. Nasalization, however, serves a morphological role in the language. That is to say, vowel nasalization in Hindi serves much the same grammatical role that prefixes and suffixes do in Hindi and other languages (i.e. they contribute meaningfully to the elements they attach to).

Main stress typically falls on the heaviest syllable of the word, that is, the syllable with the most segmental material (for instance, vowel-consonant (VC) syllables are heavier than syllables consisting solely of a single vowel (V) and vowel-consonant-consonant (VCC) syllables are heavier than vowel-consonant (VC) syllables). In the event of a word with multiple equally heavy syllables, main stress falls on the rightmost of these syllables. The syllable structure of the language is (C)(C)V(C)(C). As such, both word-initial and word-final consonant clusters are permitted. Word-initial clusters are restricted to sequences of consonant + semivowel (glide), while word-final clusters are restricted to sequences of nasals and consonants sharing the same place of articulation.

Hindi is a head-final SOV language. Postpositions are attested and affixation is largely suffixal, although some prefixation occurs. Adverbs typically follow the subject and precede the object(s) of the verb. Articles (determiners), adjectives, and relative clauses precede the nouns they modify. Indirect objects precede direct objects and negative/interrogative elements precede the verb. Hindi has a split ergative case system. In the perfective aspect (cf. (1b) below), an ergative case-marking pattern emerges (subjects of transitive verbs are marked differently than subjects of intransitives and direct objects of transitive verbs [compare (1b) with (1c) for differences in the case-marking of subjects and compare (1b) with (1a) for differences in the case-marking of subjects and direct objects]). In all other tenses, a nominative-accusative pattern is found (subjects of transitive and intransitive verbs are both marked with a case not found on direct objects, cf. (1a)).

(1) a. wo haar uThaa-taa hae.
'He picks up a necklace.'

b. us-ne haar uThaa-yaa.
'He picked up a necklace.'

c. wo baeTh-aa.
'He sat (down).'

The marking of case is achieved via postpositions in the language. Nouns inflect for gender (when animate) and number. Verbs inflect for mood, tense/aspect, number, and person. All inflection proceeds by way of affixation. Hindi verbs agree with their subjects and in some cases their objects, although agreement can be blocked in a number of constructions.

Hindi is the official language of India. As such, it plays a key role in society. Hindi is used in government, education, mass media (newspapers, radio, television), trade, and everyday communication. According to the 1991 census, 40% of the Indian population speaks Hindi. In terms of total number of speakers, Hindi ranks second in the world behind Mandarin Chinese.

The Hindi language is a descendent of Sanskrit. The evolution of Hindi from Sanskrit took place by way of the Middle Indo-Aryan Prakrit languages and medieval Apabhramsha. Old Hindi emerged around 500 A.D. Modern Hindi arose in the period of time spanning the 13th to the 18th centuries (i.e. around the time of the decline of Apabhramsha). In 1950, Hindi was recognized as the official language of India by the nation’s constitution. On January 26, 1965, Hindi officially became the national language of India.

Cardona, George. 2003. The Indo-Aryan Languages. London: Routledge.

Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Editor). 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.

Gumperz, John J. and Vidya Niwas Misra. 1963. A Brief Hindi Reference Grammar.

Kachru, Yamuna. 1980. Aspects of Hindi Grammar. New Delhi: Ramesh Jain Manohar Publications.

Masica, Colin P. 1991. The Indo-Aryan Languages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

McGregor, R. Stuart. 1993. The Oxford Hindi-English Dictionary. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

McGregor, R. Stuart. 1995. Outline of Hindi Grammar. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Mohannan, Tara. 1994. Argument Structure in Hindi. Stanford: CSLI Publications.

Ohala, Manjari. 1983. Aspects of Hindi Phonology. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass.

Shukla, Shaligram. 2001. Hindi Morphology. Munich: Lincom-Europa.

Shukla, Shaligram. 2001. Hindi Phonology. Munich: Lincom-Europa.

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