Friday, 14 December 2012

Colloquial Hindi/Urdu - still the most suitable lingua franca in South Asia (1)

There was a power cut here yesterday night. It lasted for 11 hours. When the electricity was back today morning, I immediately checked my mail. There was a link to a Google Docs file in there from my company. I immediately clicked on it but it wouldn't open. I was a little confused. So I phoned another and the only fellow Indian colleague in Bombay and we talked in Hindi; colloquial Hindi/Urdu to be exact.

His mother tongue is Marathi. He has been to the US and Germany and has worked for several English speaking clients. So it wasn't that his English was weak, still we chose Hindi over English.

This isn't the first time I have talked to fluent (at least for me) Indian English speakers and they invariably turn to Hindi. 

A year ago I met a boy from Himachal in a bus. We talked in English for an hour and then he said he was tired and switched to Hindi. I gladly followed. 

A couple of months ago I was in Chandigarh for an interview. While the whole interview was conducted in English, when it was over, the interviewer was joking, and talking to me about languages and culture and Asia in Hindi. 

My younger brother (cousin) works at a restaurant. There are several Nepalese immigrants working there. And they don't talk in Punjabi (local language), Nepalese or English, they almost always go for Hindi.

I can count several more incidents but the point is, colloquial Hindi/Urdu remains the best choice for a lingua franca in South Asia. 

I was so wrong in thinking that English has already established itself, and that it's already too late for Hindi.

Punjabi is my first language. So it's not that I am from a Hindi speaking area who is trying to convince others that his mother tongue is the most suitable language for this region of the world that's home to one-fifth of the world's population.

It's just common sense. I may be wrong again but at this point of time I really think that colloquial Hindi/Urdu is the best choice as the bridge language in South Asia.

First of all, the vocabulary (the biggest headache) is already similar to most Indian languages. Even Tamil, that claims to be the most distant from Hindi, shares at least 40-50% (a hunch) vocabulary with Hindi.

Secondly, the Hindi/Urdu grammar is certainly more intuitive and more familiar to the people here than the English grammar. 

Thirdly, even according to the most conservative estimates, at least 422 million people speak Hindi in India. Given the popularity of Bollywood in non-Hindi speaking states (including my own), it's not difficult to imagine at least as many people should understand Hindi.

Fourthly, the Indian Census counts Hindi and Urdu as two different languages. So that figure of 422 million doesn't include 51.3 million Urdu speakers in India. 

Add to that millions of Urdu speakers in Pakistan and hundreds of thousands of Hindi speakers in Nepal, and it becomes evident colloquial Hindi/Urdu is the nearest we currently have to a common language in South Asia.

I am making it too long. So I end here. In the next post, I will write on why Hindi/Urdu isn't the lingua franca it ought to be.