Hindustani | Hindi and Urdu Languages

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

A language, spoken by northern Indian people, is of an Indo-Aryan dialect of which Hindi and Urdu are considered to be diverse in written form. The word first used by Persians Hind belongs to the Indian people and their language.

Hindustani is a pluricentric language (with several interacting codified standard forms, often corresponding to different countries), with two standardized registers; Modern Standard Hindi and Modern Standard Urdu.

Hindustani is a Central Indo-Aryan language based on Khari Boli (pure tongue). Its origin, development, and function reflect the dynamics of the sociolinguistic contact situation from which it emerged as a colloquial speech. It is inextricably linked with the emergence and standardization of Urdu and Hindi.

Hindi and Urdu are considered twin languages. They are mostly intelligible and the speaker of both the languages can understand one another very well, though the written scripts are different. Both languages are derived from old Hindi, which was the earliest stage of the Delhi dialect (Khari-boli) of the Hindustani Language. It is developed from Shauraseni Prakrit and was spoken by the peoples of the Hindi belt, especially around Delhi, in roughly between the 13th and 15th centuries. Hindi belt is sometimes referred to as nine states of India where Hindi is spoken.

Amir Khusrau, Namdev, Baba Farid,  and Kabir were considered some of the great poets of old Hindi.  Though their work is a handful, but enough to tell us that it was first written in Devanagari script and later in Perso-Arabic script as well. They all use Kharaboli like dialect.  The written poetry evidence goes back to 769 AD. Hindi and Urdu are generally considered to be one spoken language with two different literary traditions, which means that Hindi and Urdu speakers who shop in the same markets (and watch the same Bollywood films) have no problems understanding each other.

It is clear from the history of the Indian subcontinent that Hindustani languages were the Lingua franca of the people living and trading in the northern part of India since the 7th century. Urdu, as well as Hindi, underwent a lot of changes under different rulers. Hindustani got Persianised (rendered Persian) during Delhi sultanate (1208 – 1526 AD).

After the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, Hindi was adopted by India as one of the official languages and Urdu by Pakistan as the sole national language.


Hindi is a widely used language, not just by the inhabitants of North Indian alone, but by quite a few other countries too. It is a bridge language that was wildly spoken on the Hindi belt. Hindi, which is one of the official languages in India, is written in a Devanagari script and also in a standardized version as compared to other countries like Fiji where it is known as Fiji Hindi. Hindi has numerous dialects or land versions like Halfong Hindi (Halfong is a district in Assam in the northeastern state of India), where it is a Pidgin (“on-the-spot” languages that develop when people with no common language come into contact with each other) for local people, who speak different languages natively. In Arunachal Pradesh, Hindi emerged as a lingua franca among locals who speak over 50 dialects natively. People who emigrated from Hindi belt areas to Nepal known as Madeshis do speak Hindi as their first language. Surprisingly, even in Afghanistan, people understand Hindi due to the Indian movie industry Bollywood. Many people in the world who originally came from Hindi Belt do speak Hindi as their first language e.g., in the United States, United Kingdom, UAE, and South Africa, etc.

Devanagari, also called Nagari, is a left-to-right abugida (A writing system, similar to a syllabary, in which each symbol represents a consonant with a particular vowel) based on the ancient Brahmi script,  used in the Indian subcontinent. It is the fourth most-spoken first language of the world after Mandarin, Spanish, and English.

Like other Indo-Aryan languages, Hindi is a direct descendant of an early form of Vedic Sanskrit, through Sauraseni Prakrit and Śauraseni Apabhraṃśa (from Sanskrit apabhraṃśa "corrupt"), which emerged in the 7th century CE.

Before the standardization of Hindi on the Delhi dialect, various dialects and languages of the Hindi belt attained prominence through literary standardization, such as Avadhi and Braj Bhasha. Modern Standard Hindi is based on the Delhi dialect, the vernacular of Delhi , and the surrounding region, which came to replace earlier prestige dialects such as Awadhi, Maithili (sometimes regarded as separate from the Hindi dialect continuum) and Braj.

Hindi is one of the Hindustani Languages, besides Urdu, spoken mainly by northern Indian, Nepal, and people who immigrated to the Caribbean as laborers by British, and the rest of the world like South Africa, etc. During Delhi sultanate words from Persian and Arabic were induced into it and later English, when the British started to rule India, they too adapted Hindustani as their version of communication with locals. They used the word Hindustani interchangeable for Urdu and Hindi, as they started to use “curry” for Indian food loosely. After the partition, Indian adapted Hindi as one of its official languages and Pakistan the Urdu, besides English.

Words from different languages enter “Hindi” during different rules and turn into unique words, for example:

अलमारी/almaari (fem. noun): cupboard/wardrobe/armoire, from  Portuguese “armário”

अनन्नास/anannas (noun): pineapple, from the Portuguese “ananás”

बाल्टी or बालटी/baaltee (fem. noun): bucket, from the Portuguese “balde”

फीता/feetaa (masc. noun): lace (as on a shoe), tape, ribbon, from the Portuguese “fita.”

Interestingly as India was a trade zone since the ancient world, many words enter into other languages too, especially into English.

Veranda (open spaces inside the house), for example, entered British English, which in turn comes from Portuguese.

Jungle derived from Hindi word jangal, which means wild wastelands.

Bandana taken from Hindi word badhnu which means the process of tying and dying and turn them into vibrant colorful handkerchiefs and Bandana means to tie something up.

The English word Dinghy taken from Hindi word dingy or dingiya; small boats used inlands in the water of India.

Pajama too was taken from Hindi meaning loose clothes. Pay means legs and Jama clothing.

Cashmere, which means fabric spun from fine goats of Kashmir.

Shampoo introduced in Britain by a Bengali couple entrepreneurs who opened a shampooing bathe in 1841. The shampoo roots lie in Champoo, meaning in Hindi to squeeze or massage or knead.


As discussed above, Urdu is a Hindustani language derived from old Hindi. Urdu is technically classified as the western Hindi Language (an Indo-European language on the Western Hindi branch of the language tree). Colloquial Urdu is largely mutually intelligible with colloquial Hindi, as both registers are composed of the same Indo-Aryan vocabulary base.

Urdu became the official language of government in northern and northwest India, along with English, from 1837 onwards in place of Persian, which had been used by various Indo-Islamic empires as their language of government.  

Religious, social, and political factors arose during the colonial period that advocated for a distinction between Urdu and Hindi, leading to the Hindi–Urdu controversy.

According to National encyklopedin's (Swedish language Encyclopedia) 2010 estimates, Urdu is the 21st most spoken first language in the world, with approximately 66 million who speak it as their native language. According to Ethnologue's (living languages of the world statistics references based in the USA) 2018 estimates, Urdu, is the 11th most widely spoken language in the world, with 170 million total speakers, including those who speak it as a second language. If grouped along with Hindi, Hindustani would be the 3rd most spoken language in the world, with approximately 329.1 million native speakers, and 697.4 million total speakers of both Urdu and Hindi.

Urdu is now the official language of Pakistan along with English and of India i.e.   National capital of Dehli, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal, and Telangana.

Urdu, like Hindi, is the form of the same language, Hindustani. Around 75% of Urdu words have their etymological roots in Sanskrit and Prakrit, and approximately 99% of Urdu verbs have their roots in Sanskrit and Prakrit. The remaining 25% of Urdu's vocabulary consists of loanwords from Persian and Arabic.

Hindi and Urdu got politicize in British Colonial rules in the 19th century. Though there was and is evidence that Urdu was the language of the polite culture of north India, irrespective of their religion. The author Premchand mainly wrote in Urdu in 1915. The renowned poet Gulzar writes in Urdu too.

Urdu and Hindi both are sister languages, there is more common between the languages than their differences. These are two sisters with different haircuts. Both languages are spoken by the inhabitants of the regions.

Both languages are gender-biased; no attention is paid to get rid of the words just like other languages have done to become more up-to-date to the society's needs. The only thing which is mostly done is its political correctness rather than the social retrieval of the languages.

Some of the times the writer reflects and behaves in their writings the way people live and see one another. If one looks at the past of the Indian subcontinent, it’s not surprising that the writings of Hindi and Urdu reflect that, unfortunately, the diversity of grammar and vocabulary comes through foreign rules, and the Hindustani language many a times underwent the political correctness of the ruling class.

After the partition of the Indian subcontinent into Pakistan and India in 1947, both countries had tried the same practices just like their predecessors to implement the languages to rule, not to invest in people.

The people of the subcontinent at large were never respected by any of their rulers and the same can be said till now, even after their independence as “free” countries. The colonial laws are still in practice even for the implementation of the languages. The language which has the right to be valued and appreciated as “Hindustani” is still waiting to be used as a bridge between the two countries rather than a divide.

Hindi and Urdu are the gifts to the inhabitants, for their resilience, outspokenness, and merging of the different cultures. Both languages are showing their history, filled with friendliness as well as bitterness. It’s not very easy to find similarities between any of two languages in the world, but in the case of Urdu and Hindi, same genes and roots i.e. “Hindustani”. Let us celebrate our Lingua Franca by embracing the similarities rather than the differences.

To respect the language we have to respect the authors of these languages who still belong to the same region though now known to the world from two separate countries. When two sisters get married to different families of linages, they still are called sisters, no matter how different and vary their lifestyles turned; only because they share the same parents. Let’s not forget that!

It reminded me of the “Koffee with Karen” (a well-known show in India) in which Jaya Bachchan (a famous actress and politician) when asked, “who will you call in an emergency between the two kids”, and she replied, “Abhishek”, (a well-known Actor) though; in the show, her daughter was sitting next to her and she protested! I was astonished too, but then I realized that Jaya just didn’t appoint her son to annoy her eldest, but to support her youngest who needed more appreciation at times. I will compare this with the case of Hindustani, which we just have to appreciate as a tool for friendship between the two countries, because the land needs it more than ever. Our problems are the same and so are our languages!

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