Attitudes Toward Hindi

April 11th, 2013

Hindi enjoys a healthy base of the Indian population, who regard it – as with most things – with a very pragmatic attitude.

Hindi: First Among Equals

As a translation services professional I have special powers to know things about languages no one else knows or cares to know. Hindi is just one language spoken by the people of India, reflecting its past history as a collection of independent entities, unified at first by dint of being conquered – repeatedly – by outside forces. The British Raj established Hindi as an official government language beginning in the 18th century, and this was the beginning of Hindi’s special status within India.

Today Hindi remains the official language of the Indian government and as such retains its special status. Attitudes within India about language in general vary widely, but one thing is certain: With its government support and by dint of also being the unofficial official language of the Indian film industry, everyone in India has an opinion about Hindi.

Speak Hindi but English Works

Most people in India have a smattering of Hindi, and Hindi is taught in the schools. However, most people do not really learn Hindi well from school and most graduate from their courses without being able to speak much. Most non-native Hindi speakers acquire their Hindi in their first jobs, and the Hindi they acquire is extremely casual and riddled with errors. However, no one cares. Hindi is seen as a purely utilitarian language by many Indians – something you learn enough of to get by. In fact, most Indians seem strangely proud of their broken Hindi, using it as a badge of their cosmopolitan attitudes.

This is reflected in their attitudes about other languages. English is only spoken by about 5% of the Indian population as a formal language, but many if not all Indians have some smattering of English. English is often used as an informal fallback, giving rise to the saying speak Hindi – but English works that implies a casual attitude towards language. The goal is always to get your business done, and whatever mixture of languages this requires is fine.

This is a refreshingly modern attitude towards language. Hindi will survive not because of its official status, but because the people of India find it useful.

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