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History of the Hindi Script

Modern Hindi is written using the Devanagari script.


Devanagari is one of several writing systems related to the Brahmic family of scripts that are found throughout South Asia. Other related scripts include Bengali, Burmese, Lao, Punjabi, Khmer, Thai and Tibetan among others. So if you learn Devanagari these other writing systems will be easy for you to pick up as well.

300 BC inscription in Brahmic script on one of Ashoka's Pillars

Devanagari is currently used to write Sanskrit, Hindi, Marathi, Nepali and several other languages.

Devanagari as we now know it took shape in the 11th century.Modern Hindi and its alphabet have been strongly influenced by Arabic and Persian words which were introduced to the subcontinent by Muslim rulers, especially with the Delhi Sultanate (13th to 16th century) and the Mughal Empire (16th to 19th century).

Devanagari has the following characteristics:
  • No concept of Upper/Lower case letters.
  • An "inherent" vowel after each consonant.
  • Written Left-to-Right.
  • A single line across the top of each word. A space to indicate a new word.
  • Vowels written as diacritics after a consonant.

Hindi and Urdu
Some people would argue that Hindi and Urdu (the official language of Pakistan) are the same language with two writing systems. Others would disagree. Hindi and Urdu DO share the same grammar and many words. However Hindi is written in Devanagari and Urdu is written using a modification of the Persian alphabet, which is itself a derivative of the Arabic alphabet. In addition, while many everyday words are the same in both languages, more technical/sophisticated words tend to come from Sanskrit for Hindi and from Arabic/Persian for Urdu.

Linguistic diversity in modern India
It is important to keep in mind that Hindi is only 1 of the 18 official or national languages in India.

India gained Independence in 1947 and was partitioned into the countries of India and Pakistan.The Indian constitution of 1950 declared Hindi as the official language of the Federal Government of India along with English. Pakistan declared Urdu to be the national language of Pakistan.

Originally, it was envisioned that Hindi would become the sole working language of the Central government with English being phased out, however, widespread resistance to the imposition of Hindi on non-native speakers, especially in South India and in West Bengal, led to the passage of the Official Languages Act of 1963, which provided for the continued use of English indefinitely for all official purposes.

More than 180 million people in India regard Hindi as their native language. Another 300 million use it as second language. The Indian census of 1961 recognized over 1,500 different languages in India!! In addition to Hindi the following languages have over 40 million speakers in India:
  • Bengali (83 million)
  • Telugu (74 million)
  • Marathi (72 million)
  • Tamil (61 million)
  • Urdu (52 million)
  • Gujarati (46 million)
There are over 20 different languages that have more than 1 million speakers.

The literacy rate is India was at 74% in 2011, up from 52% in 1991.