History of Hindustani

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Hindustani (Hindi: हिंदुस्तानी Urdu: ہندوستانی) is one of the predominant languages of South Asia, with federal status in India and Pakistan in its standardized forms of Hindi and Urdu. It is widely spoken and understood as a second language in Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and the Persian Gulf and as such is considered a lingua franca in the Indian subcontinent.[1] It is also one of the most widely spoken languages in the world by total number of speakers.[2] It developed in North India, principally during the Mughal Empire, when the Persian language exerted a strong influence on the Western Hindi languages of central India. This led to the creation of Rekhta, or "mixed" speech, which came to be known as Hindustani, Hindi, Hindavi, and Urdu (derived from Zabaan-i-Ordu meaning "language of the Horde".) This form was elevated to the status of a literary language, and after the partition of British India and independence this collection of dialects became the basis for modern standard Hindi and Urdu. Although these official languages are distinct registers with regards to their formal aspects, such as modern technical vocabulary, they continue to be all but indistinguishable in their vernacular forms.


Shah Jahan's court in Delhi

Most of the grammar and basic vocabulary of Hindustani descends directly from the medieval language of central India, known as Śauraseni.[3] After the tenth century, several Śauraseni dialects were elevated to literary languages, or khari boli ("standing dialects"), including Braj Bhasha, Awadhi and the language of Delhi (the latter still goes by the name Khari Boli in the rural areas outside the city of Delhi itself). During the reigns of the Turko-Afghan Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire, where Persian was adopted as the official language and Delhi was established as the capital, the imperial court and concomitant immigration infused the Delhi dialect with large numbers of Persian, Arabic, and Chagatai words from the court; the introduced words were primarily nouns and were employed for cultural, legal and political concepts. The new court language developed simultaneously in Delhi and Lucknow, the latter of which is in an Awadhi-speaking area; and thus, modern Hindustani has a noticeable Awadhi influence even though it is primarily based on Khari Boli.

The term Hindustani is derived from Hindustan, the Persian-origin name for the northwestern subcontinent. The term Ordu, or "camp language" (cognate with the English word, "horde"), was used to describe the common language of the Mughal army. The works of the 13th century scholar Amir Khusro are typical of the Hindustani language of the time:

सेज वो सूनी देख के रोवुँ मैं दिन रैन ।
पिया पिया मैं करत हूँ पहरों, पल भर सुख ना चैन ॥

sej vo sūnī dekh ke rovũ ma͠i din rain,
piyā piyā ma͠i karat hū̃ pahrõ, pal bhar sukh nā cain.

Seeing the empty bed I cry day and night
Calling for my beloved all day, not a moment of happiness or peace.

The language went by several names over the years: Hindavi ("of Hindus or Indians"), Dahlavi ("of Delhi"), Hindustani ("of Hindustan") and Hindi ("Indian"). The Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan built a new walled city in Delhi in 1639 that came to be known as Shahjahanabad. The market close to the royal fort (the Red Fort) was called Urdu Bazar ("Army/camp Market", from the Turkic word ordu, "army"), and it may be from this that the phrase Zaban-e-Urdu ("the language of the army/camp") derives. This was shortened to Urdu around the year 1800. The language spread from the interaction of Persian-speaking Muslim soldiers to the local people who spoke varieties of Hindi. Soon, the Persian script in the cursive Nasta'liq form was adopted, with additional letters to accommodate the Indian phonetic system. Large number of Persian words were adopted, as were even grammatical elements such as the enclitic ezāfe.

The official language of the Ghurids, Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, and their successor states, as well as their language of poetry and literature, was Persian, while the official language of religion was Arabic. Most of the sultans and the nobility of the sultanate period were Turkic peoples from Central Asia who spoke Chagatai as their mother tongue. The Mughals were also Chagatai, but later adopted Persian. The basis in general for the introduction of Persian language into the subcontinent was set, from its earliest days, by various Persianized Central Asian Turkic and Afghan dynasties.[4] Muzaffar Alam asserts that Persian became the lingua franca of the empire under Akbar for various political and social factors due to its non-sectarian and fluid nature.[5] However, the armies, merchants, preachers, Sufis, and later the court, also incorporated the local people and elements of the medieval Hindu literary language, Braj Bhasha. This new contact language soon incorporated other dialects, such as Haryanvi, Panjabi, and in the 17th century Khariboli, the dialect of the new capital at Delhi. By 1800, Khariboli had become the dominant base of the language.[6]

When Wali Mohammed Wali arrived in Delhi, he established Hindustani with a light smattering of Persian words, a register called Rekhta, for poetry; previously the language of poetry had been Persian. When the Delhi Sultanate expanded south to the Deccan Plateau, they carried their literary language with them, and it was influenced there by more southerly languages, producing the Dakhini dialect. During this time Hindustani was the language of both Hindus and Muslims. The communal nature of the language lasted until the British Raj, when in 1837 Hindustani in the Persian script (i.e. Urdu) replaced Persian as the official language and was made co-official along with English. This triggered a Hindu backlash in northwestern India, which argued that the language should be written in the native Devanagari script. This literary standard, called simply "Hindi", replaced Hindustani/Urdu as the official register of Bihar in 1881, establishing a sectarian divide of "Urdu" for Muslims and "Hindi" for Hindus, a divide that was formalized with the independence of India and Pakistan after the withdrawal of the British.


The poet Wali Deccani (1667–1707) visited Delhi in 1700.[7] His Rekhta or Hindavi ghazals established Hindustani as a medium of poetic expression in the imperial city. Hindustani soon gained distinction as the preferred language in courts of India and eventually replaced Persian among the nobles. To this day, Rekhta retains an important place in literary and cultural spheres. Many distinctly Persian forms of literature, such as ghazals and nazms, came to both influence and be affected by Indian culture, producing a distinct melding of Middle Eastern and South Asian heritages. A famous cross-over writer was Amir Khusro, whose Persian and Hindavi couplets are read to this day in the subcontinent. Persian has sometimes been termed an adopted classical language of South Asia alongside Sanskrit due to this role.


Antiquity (Old Indo-Aryan)

  • 600 BCE: late Vedic Sanskrit.
  • 500 BCE: Prakrit texts of Buddhists and Jains originate (Eastern India)
  • 400 BCE: Pāṇini composes his formal Sanskrit grammar (Gandhara), reflecting transition from Vedic to formal Pāṇinian (Classical) Sanskrit
  • 322 BCE: Brahmi script inscriptions by Mauryas in Prakrit (Pali)
  • 250 BCE: first records of Classical Sanskrit (Vidhyanath Rao)
  • 100 BCE-100 CE: Sanskrit gradually replaces Prakrit in inscriptions
  • 320: The Gupta or Siddha-matrika script emerges.

Middle Ages

Islamic empires

Islamic empires in India in the late Medieval to Early Modern period.

  • 1283: Amir Khusro's pahelis and mukaris. Uses term "Hindavi"
  • 1398-1518: Kabir's works mark origin of "Nirguna-Bhakti" period
  • 1370-: Love-story period originated by "Hansavali" of Asahat
  • 1400-1479: Raighu: last of the great Apabhramsha poets
  • 1450: "Saguna Bhakti" period starts with Ramananda
  • 1580: Early Dakkhini work "Kalmitul-hakayat" of Burhanuddin Janam
  • 1585: "Bhaktamal" of Nabhadas: an account of Hindi Bhakta-poets
  • 1601: Ardha-Kathanak by Banarasidas, first autobiography in Hindi
  • 1604: Adi Granth a compilation of works of many poets by Guru Arjan Dev.
  • 1532-1623: Tulsidas, author of "Ramacharita Manasa".
  • 1623: "Gora-badal ki katha" of Jatmal, first book in Khari Boli dialect (now the standard dialect)
  • 1643: "Reeti" poetry tradition commences according to Ramchandra Shukla
  • 1645: Shahjahan builds Delhi fort, language in the locality starts to be termed Urdu.
  • 1667-1707: Vali's compositions become popular, Urdu starts replacing Persian among Delhi nobility. It is often called "Hindi" by Sauda, Meer etc.
  • 1600-1825: Poets (Bihari to Padmakar) supported by rulers of Orchha and other domains.

Colonial period

Modern Hindi literature emerges during the Colonial period.


  • 1949: Official Language Act makes the use of Hindi in Central Government Offices mandatory
  • 1949-50: Hindi accepted as the "official language of the Union" in the constitution. Debates a, b, c.
  • 1952: The Basic Principles Committee of the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan recommends that Urdu be the state language.
  • 1958: definition of Modern Standard Hindi by the Central Hindi Directorate
  • 1965: Opposition to "Blind Hindi-imposition by Congress" in Tamil Nadu, where Tamil – the predominant Dravidian language – lives, brings Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) to power. Congress lost its base.
  • 1975: English medium private schools start asserting themselves socially, politically, financially [Peter Hook].
  • 1985-6: Devanagari word processor, Devyani DTP software, both from Dataflow.
  • 1987-88: Frans Velthuis creates Devanagari metafont. [Shailendra Mehta]
  • 1990: According to World Almanac and Book of Facts Hindi-Urdu has passed English (and Spanish) to become the second most widely spoken language in the world [Peter Hook]. However, this includes all of the Hindi languages, not just Hindustani (Hindi-Urdu).
  • 1991: ITRANS encoding scheme developed by Avinash Chopde allows Hindi documents in Roman and Devanagari on the Internet.
  • 1997: Prime Minister Deve Gowda emphasises promotion of Hindi and the regional languages, having himself learned Hindi recently.
  • 1997: Hindi Newspaper Nai Dunia on the web (January) (Or was Milap first?)
  • 1998: Thiru Karunanidhi, the DMK leader, recites a Hindi verse during a political campaign, indicating a change in views
  • 2000->: Bollywood gaining international popularity and growing is a growing industry. The languages used in Bollywood cinema is a blend of Urdu and Hindi, and is what in large defines the way both languages are spoken today.

See also


  1. ^ "Jammu and Kashmir Burushaski: Language, Language contact and change" (PDF). Sadaf Munshi, Doctor of Philosophy, University of Texas.
  2. ^ "Hindustani". Columbia University press. encyclopedia.com.
  3. ^ Alfred C. Woolner (1999). Introduction to Prakrit. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 5. ISBN 978-81-208-0189-9.
  4. ^ Sigfried J. de Laet. History of Humanity: From the seventh to the sixteenth century UNESCO, 1994. ISBN 9231028138 p 734
  5. ^ Alam, Muzaffar. "The Pursuit of Persian: Language in Mughal Politics." In Modern Asian Studies, vol. 32, no. 2. (May, 1998), pp. 317–349.
  6. ^ H. Dua, 2006, "Urdu", in the Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics, 2nd edition.
  7. ^ Pain and Grace: A Study of Two Mystical Writers of Eighteenth-century Muslim India, By Annemarie Schimmel, BRILL, 1976
  8. ^ Barbara A. West (1 January 2009). Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Asia and Oceania. Infobase Publishing. pp. 282–. ISBN 978-1-4381-1913-7.
  9. ^ Prem Sagur, English translation online

External links

  • An introduction to the Hindustani language
  • History of Hindustani
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