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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Hindi as a Language -- an Analytical Perspective by Khurshid Alam

Introduction: Hindi Diwas was celebrated on 14th September 2009. On this day a TV channel arranged a long discussion on Hindi as a Language – its present condition, its permissibility, its acceptability, its future and its usage in daily life of the people of India.

Hindi as a Language -- an Analytical Perspective
We celebrate Hindi diwas on 14th September each year in respect of the adoption of Hindi as a national language of India. There are a host of programs and activities organized by schools, colleges, government and non-government organizations in the country on this occasion, and remarkably on TV shows. This year too a private TV channel hosted a program on it. Widely discussed concerns were: where Hindi is today, if the Hindi that is spoken presently is the correct Hindi, and what its future is.

Many scholars argued that there is a bleak future for Hindi. Such people were concerned that pure Hindi is not spoken in our country – it is rather a mixed bass hum of Urdu, English, and aliens words. They argued that other regional languages are spoken in purer forms but the case is not same with Hindi.

Those scholars who were optimistic opined that in whatever form Hindi is used today should rather be accepted as a correct or pure form of Hindi. So we should not be pessimistic about its future, they argued. Each side cited ample examples comparing Hindi with other popular languages of the world.

But the discussion was largely narrowed to for-and-against arguments. The scholars were good at their sides but they missed one thing; they missed to notice that Hindi as a language has acquired two sub-forms, which is hardly a case with other languages, even on the world arena. One, cosmopolitan Hindi (c-Hindi) and two, traditional Hindi (t-Hindi).

The cosmopolitan Hindi (c-Hindi) is more urbanized and secular in nature. It is largely spoken in metropolitan cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad and other cities. In addition to becoming the language of the people of cosmopolitan cities, the c-Hindi is widely used in Bollywood films, TV serials, radio, and media both print and electronic. Moreover, these media have played greater roles in popularizing the c-Hindi. As Oscar Wilde’s famous aphorism goes in the essay The Decay of Lying1 that, ‘Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life’, so the language used in Bollywood movies and TV soaps has been adopted by the people in the cities reciprocally. The people in corporate sectors and the youth at the college and university levels are the best brand symbols of this Hindi.

The c-Hindi, though basically follows Hindi grammar and syntax, is composed of a rich combination of Urdu, English, and some other native and non-native words derived from all contact languages, in addition to Hindi words usage. This is why we sometimes confuse this Hindi with Urdu, while it is not so. A language is recognized by its grammar and syntax usage. Its status in India is similar to English at the world level, which is considered more polished, reflects present India, and its speakers are regarded more potent.

Above all the c-Hindi is a melting-pot language to those people whose mother tongue is not Hindi but they use it. A large number of people, whose Hindi is not a mother tongue, who migrate to metropolitan cities, prefer to speak in Hindi than in the regional language. They learn the regional language a little later. For example, a Tamil speaking person when lands in Mumbai picks up Hindi sooner than Marathi. Likewise a Bengali in Ahmedabad feels more comfortable in speaking in Hindi than in Gujarati.

In this regard its status is very much similar to that of Urdu in Pakistan which is a language of adoption there. In Pakistan, Urdu is the mother tongue of less than 10% of the people but it is the national language of the people whose mother tongues may be either of the Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Saraiki, and Baluchi languages.

Importantly, the scholars who express concern over the purity of Hindi are actually talking about the c-Hindi thinking that this is the real and only Hindi that the people are using throughout the country. They argue that the languages such as Marathi, Bengali, Tamil, and other languages are purer than Hindi. They are the advocates of archaic Hindi to the polished Hindi instead.

But they fail to distinguish the unique sub-forms of Hindi. It is to be noted that the traditional Hindi (t-Hindi), and not the c-Hindi, is originally the lingua franca of the people. The t-Hindi is as pure as any other language is. This Hindi is spoken by the largest number of people in India even today and is widely used in as different states as Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh with variance in regional flavor, dialects and accents. This Hindi is still the medium of written literature, and print media based in these regions. Its purity can be compared with the purity of any other languages of India.

Purity of a language is a subject of isolation. An isolate language is the purest language that we can think of. A regional language is used within a certain region and is by and large an isolate language in nature. Therefore, a regional language may be purer than a contact language. Typically, Hindi is both pure (or traditional) at the regional level and polished (or cosmopolitan) at the national level. Hindi has even brighter future than many other languages of India and the world.

diwas – day

1. Wilde, Oscar. The Decay of Lying: An Observation, Intentions. (1891, originally 1889).

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