Hindi is fast becoming a global language spoken across the national and racial barriers. With about a half a billion people in more than a dozen countries spread across the continents speaking Hindi, it is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. The recent resurgence of boundless energy and enthusiasm in business, politics and culture of India, where Hindi predominates, has made this language an important player on the global scene. With its undeniable impact in the international business, arts and culture, it is conceivable that Hindi may soon claim a place among the global languages such as English, French, Spanish, etc. Hindi, like most Indian languages, is a member of Indo-European family of languages. Its origins date back to the 7th century, and has since evolved into many regional dialects. Some of its dialects include Khariboli, Haryanvi, Kanauji in Western India and Awadhi, Bhojpuri, Magadhi in Eastern India. Pahari is spoken in the Northern mountainous regions of India. Another dialect of Hindi, Maithili, spoken by about 50 million people has recently gained recognition as a separate language in the Indian state of Bihar.
Hindi is the official language of Republic of India, and is recognized in the Constitution of India, along with English, as the preferred communication medium for central (federal) government. Hindi is the predominant language among many Northern Indian states such as Bihar, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jharkhand, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand. These states together are commonly referred to as the ‘Hindi Belt’, and generally determine the outcome of political victories in the Indian general elections. Beyond these states, Hindi is widely spoken and understood throughout India, especially its large urban areas across the Indian landmass in cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, among others. Outside India, Hindi is spoken in several countries including Australia, Canada, Fiji, Guyana, Mauritius, Nepal, New Zealand, South Africa, Surinam, Trinidad and Tobago, the United Kingdom and the United States of America. Hindi is written in the Nagari script, and is read and written left to right using a set of letters to represent vowels and consonants. The Nagari script as it is adopted for Hindi has been standardized by the Indian government in 1954. The script is phonetic and represents the sounds of spoken language very closely, so that a person who knows the letters can pronounce a written Hindi text comprehensibly. Because of its unique historical development, Hindi derives much of its vocabulary from diverse sources including Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, and English among others. Formal Hindi, used in official documents, public addresses, broadcast programs, etc. utilizes Sanskrit for much of its vocabulary while the colloquial Hindi uses other sources including Sanskrit.
In the Indian tradition, the letters of the alphabet are classified and tabulated in a specific manner based on the way the sound is emitted. The specifics of this classification system are not particularly relevant for the usage of the language. Furthermore, the exact number and usage of consonants and even vowels seems to differ among various traditions. However, there are two features that require special attention by non-Indian speakers. The first is the contrast between aspirated and non-aspirated consonants. In Hindi, the aspirated consonants (such as kha and dha), produced with an audible expulsion of breath, are clearly distinguished from the unaspirated consonants (such as ka and da), while in non-Indian languages such as English, this distinction is much less pronounced. The second feature in Hindi language which may cause some confusion among non-Indian speakers is the contrast between dental consonants (such as ta and da) and their retroflex counterparts (pronounced with the tip of the tongue is curled upwards against palate). For most of the day-to-day usage and comprehension of the language, however, these differences may not be critical.
An introduction to Hindi language can not be complete without a tribute to the special contribution made by the Hindi movies, for Hindi language films play an important role in popular Indian culture. The songs filmed for the Hindi movies are very popular among Indians, so much so that songs filmed decades ago are still regularly featured in radio and TV programs. Moreover, the popularity of the Hindi film songs extends beyond the Hindi Belt region of India, such as Punjab, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh which do not speak Hindi as a native language. Hindi movies and its music are also popular abroad, in Nepal, Tibet, Pakistan, Iran, Africa, China and Russia. The popularity of the Hindi movies seems to be steadily gaining among non-Indian peoples of Great Britain and the United States as well. Indeed, Hindi movies deserve to be credited as a unique and unifying cultural forces in modern India.