Hindi (Devāngāri: हिन्दी or हिंदी) is one of the two official languages used by India’s federal government and one of the 22 languages listed in the Indian Constitution. It is best defined as a continuum of dialects predominantly spoken in the northern and central parts of India, about 41% of the total Indian population.
Official Hindi is also referred to as Standard Hindi, or the Khari Boli dialect of the Delhi region of India. It is also spoken in the states of Haryana, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, and Bihar. More broadly, however, non-official Hindi is a linguistic denomination encompassing a large variety of dialects spoken in the so-called Hindi Belt. For instance, while identified as distinct languages, Punjabi, Bihari, and Chhatisgarhi are also referred to as Hindi dialects. Likewise, Bhili languages, which are hardly defined by a set of linguistic features, may commonly be considered dialects of Hindi. The linguistic boundaries of Hindi are, therefore, just as fluid as the cultural and social perceptions that arbitrarily define them. Nevertheless, Hindi is defined by official standards that are set, monitored and upheld by the Central Hindi Directorate.
Hindi is an Indo-Aryan language. Since the Middle Ages, it has evolved from Middle Indo-Aryan Prakrit and Apabhramsha idioms, such as Braj and Khari Boli, to Sanskrit. Linguists are not in complete agreement on the genesis of this evolution, though they concur that extended Muslim rule in much of northern India from the 13th to the 18th centuries promoted the absorption of Arabic and Persian words into Hindawi languages, and especially the Khari Boli dialect. Heavy Arabic and Persian borrowings became particularly dominant in that Hindawi idiom that, by the middle of the seventeenth century, came to be called Urdu, which is today the official language of Pakistan and of some parts of India. The difference between Hindi and Urdu is alphabetical in nature. While Hindi is written in Sanskrit characters, Urdu has adopted the Urdu script, a variant of the Perso-Arabic script. Colloquially, however, the difference between Hindi and Urdu are unsubstantial. Taken together, however, these two languages embody what linguists call a diasystem, or a single genetic language which has two or more standardized forms.
Hindi literature is broadly divided into four styles: the devotional Bhakti, the aesthetic Shringar, the celebratory Veer-Gatha, and the modernist Ashunik. Not surprisingly, Hindi literary productions over the centuries have artfully incorporated linguistic features of the country’s many dialects. In recent time, a post-modernist trend has increasingly rejected early themes combining Western elements with extreme literary embellishments in favor of more unpretentious themes and language. At the same time, nationally acclaimed authors like the late Jainendra Kumar have revitalized intriguing literary forays into the complexities of the human psyche. Alongside more classic literature, India has also witnessed a resurgence of Dalit literature, a centuries-old artistic movement serving as instrument of social and cultural polemic against the caste system and the marginalization and discrimination of certain groups, among them women, from mainstream society.
“First you weigh, then speak.”