Hindi Vs Urdu: Are They the Same Language?

India and Pakistan, the two neighboring countries, have a lot in common, including the languages spoken. Hindi and Urdu are two of the most widely spoken languages in South Asia, and they are often considered interchangeable. But are they the same language? Are there enough differences between them to do a Hindi vs Urdu piece?

Let’s take a closer look at these languages so we can find a definite answer.

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A Brief History of Hindi and Urdu

Hindi Versus Urdu… Where do the differences between these two languages come from? To understand this, it’s essential to delve into the history of these Hindustani languages.

Once upon a time (about 2700 years ago), there was a language called Shauraseni Prakit, which originated in Northern India. It was both an everyday language, and one of literature and poetry as well.

As time went on, the language evolved, and the arrival of Islamic Empires in the 13th century brought some significant changes. The Delhi Sultanate was formed, and Islamic dynasties followed, leading to Hindustani being used as a Lingua-Franca between the ruling class and the people.

Hindustani was originally based on Sanskrit, but with a lot of Persian and Arabic vocabulary added. When the Mughal Empire replaced the Delhi Sultanate in the 16th century, Hindustani thrived and became even more influenced by Persian and Arabic. During this time, Hindustani became known as Urdu, meaning “Army” in Turkic.

Before the British came along, Hindustani was mostly written in the Persian-Arabic script called “Nasta’liq.” But when the British arrived, they sparked a debate over whether Urdu or Hindi should be the official language of the colony. This debate led Hindus to distance themselves from Islamic influences in their language, using the simpler Devanagari script instead of Nasta’liq and replacing Arabic and Persian loanwords with words derived from Sanskrit.

As a result, the name “Urdu” became associated with the Muslim version of Hindustani, while “Hindi” referred to the version that was less influenced by Arabic and Persian and used Devanagari script. After India gained independence, Pakistan made Urdu its official language, while Hindi remained the dominant language in India.

Hindi vs Urdu: The Main Differences

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If you have a hard time finding all these Hindi versus Urdu differences you may have read about online, do not worry. You are not deaf. As it happens, the differences between these languages are very subtle.

At the conversational level and everyday language, spoken Hindi and Urdu sound almost the same. After all, they both come from Indo-Aryan language families, have Sanskrit words, and share the same origins or Indic base.

However, this doesn’t mean there aren’t any differences between these two languages.

Here are three Hindi versus Urdu differences you should know:

1.   Pronunciation

Urdu and Hindi have a lot in common when it comes to pronunciation, especially with shared vocabulary words. But did you know there are some quirky differences in how they handle loan words from Arabic and Persian?

In Urdu, loan words with letters like ق, غ, ع, ز, خ, and ف  resemble the Arabic pronunciation. In Hindi, however, these letters are given their own unique spin.

For example, “ف” which is an “F” in Urdu, becomes “Ph” in Hindi. “ع” which has no equivalent in English (or Hindi) is pronounced as a long “A”. “ق”, the guttural “Q” sound in Urdu, turns into “K” in Hindi. “غ”, which sounds like a “French R”, becomes “Gh” in Hindi. Last, “ز”, a letter pronounced like “Z” in Urdu, is similar to the “J” in Hindi. And “خ”, which is pronounced like you’re clearing your throat in Urdu, turns into “Kh” in Hindi.

Despite these small differences, the pronunciation in both languages is still pretty similar. So, the next time your friends are discussing Hindi vs Urdu facts, impress them with your knowledge of these quirky pronunciation twists!

2.   Writing systems

Perhaps, the most salient Hindi vs Urdu difference to know has to do with how these two languages are written.

Urdu and Hindi, both variants of Hindustani, are indeed very fifferent systems. Hindi uses Devanagari, a writing system derived from Sanskrit, while Urdu uses a modified version of the Arabic script called Nasta’liq.

The Devanagari script is a better suit when it comes to writing Hindustani because it has a letter for each sound in the language. Although it has undergone some adaptation, such as adding new letters, it still covers most of the sounds in Hindi (and many in Urdu).

In Devanagari, pronunciation matches spelling, making it a phonetic script.

On the other hand, Urdu’s Nasta’liq requires the reader to know how to pronounce the word based on their knowledge of the language, since it is not always possible to deduce the correct pronunciation from the spelling. So, if you were looking for the easier language to learn in this Hindi versus Urdu dilemma, it seems Hindi is slightly easier.

3.   Vocabulary

For everyday conversation, the vocabulary of Urdu vs Hindi is largely similar. However, when delving deeper into the languages, especially in scientific, political, or formal contexts, differences in vocabulary become apparent.

One reason for this disparity lies in the history of Hindustani language. The Arabic and Persian influences on Hindustani came through the Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire. These foreign loan words were primarily political and formal, reflecting the needs of the occupying force.

Hindi subsequently eliminated a significant portion of these loanwords, whereas Urdu retained them.

The use of foreign loanwords in Urdu is reflective of the language’s history as a language of the courts and administration during the Mughal period.

In contrast, Hindi, which emerged as a language of the people, relied more heavily on Sanskrit and local dialects for vocabulary.

Hindi vs Urdu – FAQs

Can you understand Hindi if you speak Urdu?

Yes, if you speak Urdu, you can generally understand Hindi. Urdu and Hindi are two registers of the Hindustani language and share a significant amount of vocabulary and grammar. The main differences between the two languages lie in vocabulary, writing script, and pronunciation. Despite these differences, speakers of Urdu and Hindi can usually communicate with each other without much difficulty.

Is Hindi hard for English speakers?

Hindi can be challenging for English speakers due to its complex grammar, unfamiliar writing system, and extensive vocabulary. The language is also tonal, meaning that subtle changes in pitch can significantly alter the meaning of a word. However, with dedication and practice, English speakers can learn Hindi and develop proficiency in the language. The availability of resources such as textbooks, online courses, and language exchange programs can make the learning process more accessible.

Do Pakistani people speak Hindi or Urdu?

In Pakistan, the national language is Urdu. While Hindi and Urdu are two registers of the Hindustani language and share a significant amount of vocabulary and grammar, the use of Hindi is relatively uncommon in Pakistan. Most Pakistanis speak Urdu as their first language, and it is widely used in schools, government, media, and everyday communication.

What is the difference between Hindi versus Urdu words?

Hindi vocabulary features more words of Sanskrit origin, while Urdu has a greater number of loanwords from Arabic and Persian. The use of loanwords in Urdu reflects the historical influence of Arabic and Persian cultures on the Indian subcontinent. Urdu also includes some loanwords from Turkish and English. In contrast, Hindi vocabulary is more influenced by Sanskrit, an ancient Indian language.

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In conclusion, while Hindi and Urdu share a common ancestry and many similarities, they are different languages. The most significant Hindi versus Urdu differences lie in their pronunciation, writing system, and vocabulary.

However, the similarities between the two languages are far more numerous, and a Hindi speaker can easily communicate with an Urdu speaker without much difficulty. Despite their differences, both Hindi and Urdu remain an essential part of the cultural and linguistic heritage of the Indian subcontinent.

Would you like to choose either Hindi or Urdu as your next language-learning adventure?

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At Language Trainers, we offer tailor-made lessons in both languages. But, what sets our courses apart from those of other schools? First, our experienced tutors can design a course that suits your specific needs and goals, whether you want to improve your conversation skills, business vocabulary, or grammar. Second, we provide both in-person and online language courses that enable you to learn from anywhere in the world.

With Language Trainers, you can start your Hindi or Urdu language-learning journey today and gain the confidence and skills to communicate effectively in these fascinating languages. Contact us now and get a free trial lesson in the language of your choice.