The Origins of The Hindi Language

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Hindi is officially defined as the national language of the Indian Union, its Rashtra-Basha. However, neither is India a nation nor is Hindi its national language. On the contrary, all that can be concede to Hindi, is that it is the official state language of the Indian Union, the Raj-Basha.

India is a group of nations of disparate origins. Each of these nations have their own national language.

Usually, in such situations, a bridge-language, or 'lingua franca,' evolves. The bridge-language of India, over much of the peninsula, was Hindustani. The court and official language was Urdu—a language evolved by the miscegenation of the various languages of the Muslim invaders—Arabic, Turkish, Persian, etc., with the local languages. Urdu, however, was seen, and rightly, as the language of the entrenched and privileged, but generally resented and unpopular, Muslim ruling class. When they lost power to the English, the people saw their chance and sought its replacement.

Unfortunately, the repressed Caste Hindus, themselves just as criminal as the Muslims they sought to replace, succeeded in confusing the issue and jumping back into positions of influence and power. Naturally enough, they pushed for Sanskrit, their language, or failing it, one that came as close as possible.

Thus the language called Khari Boli was taken up and Sanskritised, and the English persuaded to accord it recognition as the Hindi language. Upto this time there was no 'Hindi' or 'Indian' language ("Hindi" is a Urdu word, originally Arabic, which means "Indian").

The application of the name 'Hindi' or Indian to this modified language was in itself a great mischief, for it implied that the other languages were not Indian or less than Indian. The Caste Hindus failed in getting recognition from the English of Hindi as the 'national language' but with Independence, they very easily forced it into the Constitution.

With this, Hindustani was killed off and subsumed into Hindi.

However, it is both important and possible to resist and deny 'Hindi' the success of its imposture, and reiterate the facts that it is neither India's national language nor a natural language but a false and contrived tongue—an imposter.

It is also important to liberate and uphold the distinct langauges of north India that is attempted to be subsumed into Hindi—Rohilkhandi, Hariyanvi, Koyal, Braj, Koshali, Bhojpuri, Bundeli, Bagheli, Maithili, Magadhi, Mewari and Marwari, etc. some of which are really millenia old!

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Article by Mahmood Farooqui in the Mid-Day, 30th November 2001.

What's Our Language?

The Maharashtra provincial government's decision to introduce Information Technology education in schools at the cost of linguistic instruction (i.e. compulsory Marathi) has caused much heartburn among Marathi intellectuals across the political spectrum. Thus, what would have been a largely ritual announcement by a cash-starved government has acquired political connotations.

In so far as language defines a people, we are right to demand that our schools teach our language. But in the context of a country where language is said to change at every seven kosh (miles), what is 'our language' and who exactly is 'us'?

In his 1887 lecture 'Quest-ce que c'est la nation,' Ernest Renan proposed a simple equation between nationality and language. "A people become a nation," he said, "when they have a language."

But, how and when do people come to acquire a language, for language exists not just on one's tongue but also in school textbooks, government institutes and the media of communication.

For a language to represent a people, it has to be standardised, which means that one particular dialect or register acquires primacy over the others. At the very heart of constructing a bond through language, lies a process of selection, elision and amnesia. Languages then, even regional languages, which have always been cast in a liberating role, are dialects with an army which must wage internal battles before contesting competitors.

The codification of modern Khari Boli Hindi in the nineteenth century illustrates the divisive process inherent in this unification. Competing with an already entrenched presence of the cognate language, Urdu, which by mid-nineteenth century was already established in schools, courts, offices and the press, the leaders first demanded a separate script, the Nagri, to differentiate Hindi. But the members of the Kayashta community who had used a script known as Kaithi, resisted the move. When the script was decided, the language posed a bigger problem.

Speakers of Braj, poetically one of the richest languages of north India, wanted the prose to be written in Braj as well. But the proponents of Khari Boli found Braj unsuitable for prose. Once the English imperial government decided to adopt Khari Boli as another official language in Bihar and the United Provinces, the local languages suffered a body blow. Millions of speakers of Braj, Awadhi, Purabi, and Bhojpuri in the United Provinces and Maithili and Magadhi in Bihar suddenly found themselves forced to learn a form of speech and writing which was well-removed from their everyday usage.

Whilst Khari Boli's literary output played a sterling role in the independence movement, it had yet succeeded in marginalising millions of inhabitants of north India. TO participate in the liberalising impulse of this new language, people would need to acquire a formal education in it, an option denied to many of them.

While today the Sahitya Akademi awards writers of Rajasthani (Marwari and Mewari), Haryanvi and Maithili, imlicitly differentiating them from Hindi, their future is uncertain. Subsumed under a Hindi belt, they lack newspapers, schools and official usage-practices that validate their claims to being languages.

The problem of selection of right language, and the issue of ownership of language, was one that also plagued pre-English attempts to codify and standardise language. In 1809, Inshallah Khan Insha, the famous Urdu poet in the Awadh court, composed a compendium of Urdu grammar and prosody known as the Dariya e Latafat. Insha had to glorify his Delhi origin as well as his present location. He therefore restricted his gaze to Lucknow and Delhi, casting all others as imperfect speakers. However, the search for purity led inexorably to power and Insha concluded that "besides the Mughal Emperor of India.. the language of courtiers and nobles is wholly and completely Urdu."

The depredation of standardised Hindi and Urdu on the north Indian linguistic richness becomes evident from a mere glance at an Anglo-Hindustani dictionary compiled by S. W. Fallon in the nineteenth century. Thousands of indigenous words mentioned in it have fallen ito disuse in the face of an artificial and official Sanskritisation and Persianisation.

A similar situation occurred in other areas of India. The missionaries, or government agents, who compiled the earliest reference and grammar books in Bengali, as in most other Indian languages, systematically eradicated Persian and other 'foreign' words, substituting them with a heavily Sanskritised idiom.

Beginning with Bankim, Indian languages played an indispensable role in propagating anti-European sentiments. The formation of linguistic states in the 1950s, implicitly sanctioned by Gandhi when he reorganised the Congress Party along linguistic rather than administrative zones, was also an imporant step towards federalism.

Todya, they struggle against the domination of English — the global language, but also the language of privilege. While we must defend our linguistic heritage it may be important to remember that a simple valorisation of the regional still leaves many regions out.

The struggle for inclusion in the wider Indian domain, or an assertion of one's linguistic identity, must not be based upon the exclusion of local differences.

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