Although there are slight differences between them, most language experts consider Hindi and Urdu to be more or less the same language. They are spoken in Pakistan and India, among other languages, and are understood by a majority of the population of those two countries. In Pakistan, Urdu takes its place beside English as one of the two official languages of the country. India has 22 major languages spoken within its borders but Hindi is stated as the official language of five of its provinces.
Hindi and Urdu are known as the two standardized forms of Hindustani which is based on Khariboli, an ancient Hindi dialect. Hindustani has had many Arabic, Turkish, and even Persian influences incorporated into it over the nearly 1,000 years of its development. It began to take shape in the Indian subcontinent in the early 1500’s, specifically in the Uttar Pradesh region. At that time the Mughal Empire was in power and, although their original language was a Turkic language known as Chagatai, upon expansion of their empire they found it necessary to adopt and incorporate other local and better known languages of the regions they conquered. At first they espoused Persian but as more and more of the local elements of Sanskrit were incorporated into this with time, as well as elements of their own Chagatai, it became an entirely new language of its own. This eventually became known as Hindustani and, finally, Hindi or Urdu.
Urdu and Hindi, although similar in many aspects, differ in their written forms. The script or written language of Urdu is essentially Persian in its origin, although it incorporates many Arabic elements as well. Like those two ancient languages, Urdu is written from the right side of the page to the left side, apparently favoring left-handed people. Urdu has 52 letters in total in its alphabet, including 32 basic characters and 13 extras. The majority of these characters have Arabic origins although a few were obviously descended from Persian script.
Hindi is written in a slightly modified version of an Indic script known as Devanagari. This script is written from left to right and can be easily distinguished by the horizontal line that runs across the tops of the letters, linking them all together.
Where It Is Spoken
Whether you prefer to call it Hindi or Urdu, this language is the fourth most popular language on our planet today, ranking directly after Mandarin, English, and Spanish. Officially, there are nearly 70 million native speakers of Urdu or Hindi in India and Pakistan alone. It is also the mother tongue of hundreds of thousands of people each in Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
These figures, however, only represent those to whom Hindi or Urdu is a first language. For instance, in Pakistan, there are 12 million native speakers of Urdu, or around 15% of the population. For the almost 85% remaining, although they are fluent in Urdu, it is only their second or third language, learned and mastered after their local dialect and therefore not considered their mother tongue. In India, only 6% of the population has Hindi as their mother tongue, and a far greater percentage are able to speak it proficiently as a second or third language.
The Urdu language is a compulsory subject in most schools across Pakistan, along with English, producing a strange sort of phenomenon where millions of people speak other dialects but only read and write in Urdu and English. The many Afghani refugees that have come to Pakistan over the past 25 years have also acquired a working knowledge of Urdu in order to communicate in their new country. This has added even more flavor to the language as many of these refugees bring their own peculiar spices and add them to the language making these new mixtures commonplace in their region.
Although fewer than in Pakistan, many schools in India also teach Hindi or Urdu as a first language. This mainly takes place in predominantly Muslim regions or in regions that have had a large Muslim population or a strong Muslim government in the past. Hindi is generally considered the most widely spoken language in India.
There are four important dialects of Hindi or Urdu spoken across the Indian subcontinent. Besides the main dialect, these are Rekhta, Dakhni, and Modern Vernacular Urdu.
Rekhta, or Rekhti, is the most Persian-ized dialect and is now almost obsolete. Considered the poetic form of Urdu, much like Shakespearean English, Rekhta is found most often nowadays in Indian and Pakistani poetry.
Dakhni is spoken mainly in the south of India across the Deccan region of the country. This includes the cities of Chennai, Hyderabad, and Bangalore, although Dakhni is used mainly among the Muslim population of these cities. The Dakhni dialect is most easily distinguished from regular Hindi or Urdu by the pronunciation of the “kh” sound as a harsher, more guttural noise.
Modern Vernacular Urdu incorporates many words from English as well as much modern slang and abbreviations. Also included are Urdu forms for many technological, scientific, and industrial terms borrowed from English and other languages. Modern Vernacular Urdu, although becoming more and more commonplace, is mainly spoken by the youth of Pakistan and India. It is also spoken by youth with Pakistani or Indian descent in the United Kingdom and the United States.
Hindi or Urdu is the main language for the increasingly popular Bollywood genre of films. Music and singing in Hindi is generally an essential part of these films and characters often and repeatedly break out into song and dance. Bollywood films in Hindi or Urdu are gaining popularity abroad as well. Many rely on subtitles in foreign countries although some may be dubbed over in the foreign language.
Although the majority of Bollywood films are in Hindi, some of these films are beginning to use English or other languages to increase their appeal. Usually, however, this is mixed with Hindi and most of the music is still performed in the original Hindi.