Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hindi Lesson 2

Attached is a photo taken at the street children project, as a teacher writes song lyrics in Hindi for students to memorize! A volunteer from Spain taught the song to the children, as the teacher wrote down the Hindi spelling for the sounds she heard in the lyrics of this Basque nursery rhyme!

Today I would like to discuss a bit more about the notation I will be using to teach some basic and useful Hindi to travelers or volunteers coming to India, before moving on to more helpful phrases in the language. In Hindi, we have several sounds which may be difficult to differentiate to a non-native speaker of the language. The first I will mention is an aspirate sound, or, the difference between "p" and "ph" in Hindi. A "p" sound is a soft sounding "ph," in the sense that when you vocalize the sound, there should be no puff or exaggerated exhale from the mouth (which may be noticed by keeping your palm close to your mouth when you speak the sound). For example, the exhale can be heard or felt with your hand when you say the word "pounce" ("phauns" in this system), whereas the normal "p" sound can be detected with the "p" in the word "lip." In Hindi, we have several of the aspirated consonants, so when you see a consonant followed by an "h," the sound is actually one consonant, with this exhale to execute the proper sound. One exception, for the consonants, is with an "s," as an "sh" will have the sound of an "sh" in English, as in "shun" (or "shan," in this phonetic system). Also, please remember that a "c" has the sound as in "choose," but a "ch" has an extra aspirated effect, as in the word "chase" (These are the best English words I could find that can be used to differentiate the sounds textually). 

There are also several different places where your tongue functions in Hindi, quite different from the way it does in English! When I write a "d" or a "t," these are sounds where the tip of the tongue should touch behind the top of the front most teeth on the upper jaw. The effect of the sound is similar to the sound in the word "the," but slightly off to a native speaker of Hindi, as the tongue goes beneath the teeth, rather than behind the top, where the teeth meet the gums. Also, there are corresponding "dh" and "th" sounds, which also require the tongue to move to the correct location, while adding an exhale to the sound. The best example, for an English word, which I could find was "th" in "thistle." An "r" sound in Hindi is a bit of a rolled sound, where the tip of the tongue slightly rolls backward while you make the sound (similar to how you roll the tongue when saying the "tt" sound in the word "latter," except the tongue should not touch the roof of the mouth).

Now let's move onto a couple of grammar concepts. To review what we learned, adjectives precede the nouns they modify, and the basic sentence structure is "Subject, Object, Verb." In Hindi, the nouns all have a gender, and the adjectives and verbs (usually) agree in the gender as well. For example, the sentence "The wait/delay was long" translates to "intezaar lambaa thaa" in Hindi: "intezaar," a masculine word, means "wait," "lambaa," which is inflected to correspond with the masculine gender of the noun intezaar, means "tall/long," and "thaa" is the word "was" in the masculine form. If we delineate the grammar of each individual word in the Hindi sentence and translate it to English, we see that it sounds like "wait long was," as the grammar is "subject, object [none in this sentence], verb." I hope this clarifies things a bit!

Let's compare this phrase with an identical phrase in meaning, but slightly altered phrase because of gender agreement. The masculine word "intezaar" has a feminine synonym, the word "prateekshaa." Intezaar is the word we use at home when we speak Hindi, and prateekshaa is a bit bookish sounding, but it is also an appropriate word, with a root closer to Sasnkrit, rather than an Urdu word, like intezaar. So, though we have two sentences, which have the same English translation because of the use of synonyms identical in meaning, the difference in gender affects each word in the sentence! Here is a comparison of the two sentences:

Original Sentence: "intezaar lambaa thaa"
New Sentence: "prateekshaa lambee thee"

Learning from the examples, usually words ending in the "aa" sound are masculine, though not always, because "prateekshaa" is one of the few feminine nouns that has a masculine-appearing ending: thus, "lambaa" and "thaa" correspond to the gender by having their masculine forms. Similarly, words ending in "ee" sound are usually feminine words, just like "lambee" and "thee" are the feminine forms of these words. Here is another example (I am using a Haryanvi word for boy/girl, as it is an acceptable word in Hindi to use, and I can't describe the Hindi word in this writing system until next lesson):

Masculine: "choraa patla hai"
Feminine: "choree patlee hai"

Before dissecting each word, strikingly we can see that the word "hai," meaning "is," is not a gendered word! Though in the past tense, "thaa/thee," in the present tense, this verb is the only verb in the present tense that does not change gender. Other verbs will require a lesson in verb conjugation to discuss, but we will keep our lessons to "is/was" lessons in the beginning to emphasize these other grammar concepts before reaching a more difficult topic. So, the word "choraa" means boy, and "choree" means girl. The words "patlaa" and "patlee" mean "thin," with their uses reserved for the corresponding gender of the noun which the adjective modifies. Reviewing, we see that the sentence resembles "boy/girl thin is," when we translate each word in order. Finally, as I tell you a new word from now on, if it can easily change in gender, like "lambaa/lambee" or "patlaa/patlee," then I will describe it as such: The word for "thin" is "patlaa/patlee." I hope you enjoyed a more insightful look at Hindi grammar for beginners!


  1. Interesting information about Hindi! I think it is a good start for anyone seriously interested in learning the language! I'll definitely keep up with these Hindi lessons to keep practicing and learning more of this fascinating language!

  2. Great post! Thanks for this.