One of the things that always surprises our students in the beginning of classes is the similarity between certain words in Hindi and English or other European languages.
Before we start discussing Hindi perhaps we should look at the relationship between Hindi and English. Our guess is that you’ll be surprised! Both Hindi and English belong to the Indo-European family of languages and to this day some words have remained similar enough to be mutually understood. We’re not talking of words that have travelled across cultures like ‘pyjama’ into English and ‘hospital’ into Hindi (we’ll write about that a different time). We’re talking about words that have remained the same, or retained enough similarity for thousands of years, that they are mutually cognizable. In other words, Much of the Hindi and English lexicon derives from the same source and we can still see it today. Father-pita, mother-mata, star-tara, door-dvar, cow-gau, new-nava and on and on. All these words are derived from the same source language, the ‘mother’ of Hindi and English.
With the beginning of colonialism in the eighteenth century, different scholars developed the theory that European and Indian languages have a common ancestor. This ancestor is called Proto Indo-European and is the founding parent of the Indo-European family which is the largest in the world with roughly three billion speakers.
While Hindi’s grammatical structure and word order is different from that of English it is not considered a very difficult language to learn. The most problematic part for English speakers is that nouns are gendered (for example, a table is she, never a ‘he’ or ‘it’). Otherwise, English speakers should have no special difficulties learning the language, in fact it’s quite fun to learn! Apart from the language there is the issue of learning a new script which might seem like a daunting task at first but isn’t the hurdle that people imagine it to be.
Hindi is a relatively modern language which was standardized during the 19th century. It has its origins in Sanskrit and other Indian languages and shares its basic grammatical structure with Urdu. In fact Hindustani, the spoken day to day language in most of north India, is a mix of Hindi and Urdu with influences from Arabic and Persian as well as other Indian languages. Roughly 300 million people speak Hindi as their mother tongue making it the fifth most spoken language in the world and it is widely understood across most of India.