Stefania Cavaliere, University of Naples, L’Orientale

Family language and linguistic characteristics

Hindi is an Indo-European language belonging to the Indo-Aryan language family.

The word Aryan comes from the Sanskrit ārya (cf. Avestan airya, Old Persian ariya), which means “noble, honorable man”. Indo-Aryan is divided into three stages of evolution: Old Indo-Aryan, consisting of Vedic and Sanskrit (from 1500 BCE), Middle Indo-Aryan, applied to the Prakrits (600 BCE-1000 CE), and Neo-Indo-Aryan, which includes the modern languages like Hindi, Bengali, Marathi etc. (from 1000 CE).

Hindi is the official language of the Indian Union, as stated in article 343 of the Constitution approved in 1949. While India is a confederation of states which each has its own national language, according to the Census of 2011, Hindi is the most spoken and most widely understood of these (41% of the population, corresponding to 422.048.642 people plus almost 200 million speakers in the diaspora).

The name comes from the word Hind (the Persian name for India), deriving in turn from the Sanskrit word sindhu, meaning “river” and denoting the most important river of the region. It is uncertain when the word Hindi started to designate a language; the poet Amir Khusrau (1254-1325) used it with this meaning.


According to the Constitution, the official language of India is Hindi written in nāgarī script (also called Nāgarī Hindī). Its alphasyllabic alphabet is derived from the devanāgarī script used for Sanskrit, with the addition of a few modified consonants to reproduce the phonetic peculiarities of the words borrowed or derived from Arabic and Persian.

Chronological and geographical extent

Neo-Indo-Aryan evolved after the turn of tenth century CE. In this period, the transformations which had already begun in the last phase of  Middle Indo-Aryan were completed, including the loss of the case system and the substitution of synthetic structures with analytical ones. These transformations occurred in different ways in the various regions of Northern India, and the Western languages were generally more conservative.

On the socio-cultural level, from the 8th cent., with the invasion of Sindh, the Muslim conquest of India inevitably brought an encounter/clash between civilizations that influenced the cultural outcomes of the following centuries. In particular, the vernaculars were progressively used as literary means to convey new religious and philosophical attitudes. Identifying Sanskrit with the language of Hindu orthodoxy, the vernacular became the vehicle to transmit the new devotional approach to religion (e.g., Bhakti and Sufism). In this classical period, four main vernaculars were used in North India and converged into Hindi as its literary dialects (Brajbhāṣā, Avadhī, Maithilī, Rājāsthānī), while the modern language (based on the Khāṛī Bolī variant) began to be elaborated in a standardized form during the nineteenth century.

Symbolic value 

The symbolic value of Hindi is contained in the motto “Unity in diversity”, the core principle of the Indian nation. Regardless of its ethnic, religious and linguistic differences, India has maintained cultural unity, particularly in the face of foreign domination. Starting from the 12th cent., the Muslim conquerors used the terms "Hindavi" or "Hindi" to designate the various languages of the subject peoples of North India. Therefore, in a broader sense, Hindi refers to the linguistic continuum that covers the Hindi belt of Northern India. Nonetheless, a narrower perspective prevailed in the twentieth century, due to political reasons, emphasizing the Hindi/Hindu-Urdu/Muslim divide, and Hindi has been identified with a Sanskritised form of the language.

Vectors of cultural influences

Hindi historically represented the lingua franca of the region comprising modern North India and Pakistan. It formed the basis for both Nāgarī Hindi and Urdu, which differentiate mostly on the basis of their lexicons (Sanskritised for Hindi, Arabised for Urdu). The Khāṛī Bolī variant represents a point of equilibrium between Hindi and Urdu, and has always been very popular as a spoken language.

Along with these variants, the aforementioned literary dialects were mainly used for literary purposes until the 20th cent., both for popular religious songs of prayer and courtly poetry.

Evolution of language, idiomatic differences

The colloquial language called Hindi, Urdu or Hindustani, which had been used for centuries, began a process of differentiation during the nineteenth century for political and religious reasons.

In this last phase of its development, together with the claim for independence from colonial rule, the language became a symbol of national identity, and progressively differentiated into Hindi as the language for India and Urdu as the language for Pakistan. This differentiation is quite absent on a colloquial level, but becomes very much accentuated in higher registers.

Useful corpus to the study of peace lexicon and Work tools

1. Lexicographic sources (Monolingual, Synonyms and Etymological Dictionaries):

I propose to use dictionaries coming from this variegated and composite milieu, to see how the notion of peace evolves from the classical terms present in Sanskrit and enlarges to comprise new ideas entering the conceptual frame with foreign conquests, and the encounter with other cultural and linguistic traditions (Arab, Persian, English).

2. Textual sources on the concept of peace:

2.1 Historical texts describing the concept of peace as a political strategy as a suspension of the war and, later, as an ideal state of comfortable coexistence of the people.

I will examine a selection of texts composed in the courts of North India between the 16th and 18th c. (mainly written in the literary dialect called Brajbhāṣā), which belong to the genre of treatises on moral and politics (nītiśāstra) and deal with the education of kings on the appropriate strategies of war and peace and the means of diplomacy recommended to the ambassadors.

2.2 Treatises on aesthetics concerning the emotion of peace (śānta rasa) produced by an artwork.

The theme of peace has been dealt with at length by Indian philosophers, mainly concerned with spiritual peace as the the supreme goal of the existence, the extinction of desires and liberation from the traps of the cycle of rebirths. Along with this, a deep investigation into the mental state of peace is offered in the aesthetic speculation of India. According to the classical theories, when we experience an artwork ‒ be it a poem, a drama or a sample of figurative arts or a piece of music ‒ we can enjoy a specific mode of consciousness called “peacefulness”, which resembles the supreme bliss coming from the attainment of the Absolute.

I will propose a selection of literary texts belonging to the 16th and 17th cent. (mainly written in the literary dialect called Brajbhāṣā), which deal with poetic speculation (alaṅkāraśāstra) and focus on the genesis of this aesthetic peace of mind and the psychological implications for the people who experience it.


A. Dictionaries

  • Platts, John T. (John Thompson). A dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindi, and English. London: W. H. Allen & Co., 1884.
  • Dasa, Syamasundara. Hindi sabdasagara. Navina samskarana. Kasi: Nagari Pracarini Sabha, 1965-1975.
  • Fallon, S. W. A new Hindustani-English dictionary, with illustrations from Hindustani literature and folk-lore. Banaras, London: Printed at the Medical Hall Press; Trubner and Co., 1879.
  • Shakespear, John.A dictionary, Hindustani and English: with a copious index, fitting the work to serve, also, as a dictionary of English and Hindustani. 3rd ed., much enl. London: Printed for the author by J.L. Cox and Son: Sold by Parbury, Allen, & Co., 1834.

B. Literary texts (Primary sources)

  • Nāṭyaśāstra with the commentary Abhinavabhāratī by Abhinavagupta, by K.L. Joshi. Delhi: Parimal Publications, 1984.
  • Keśavadāsa, Rasikapriyā, in in Keśava-Granthāvalī, Khaṇḍa 1, Viśvanātha Prasāda Miśra (saṃpādaka). Ilāhābāda: Hindustānī Ekeḍemī, 1954, pp. 1-93.
  • Bhikhārīdāsa, Kāvya Nirṇaya, in Bhikhārīdāsa granthāvalī, Viśva Nāth Prasād Miśra (saṃpādaka). Kāśī: Nāgarī Pracāriṇī Sābhā, 1956, dvitīya khaṇḍa, pp. 1-344.
  • Bhikhārīdāsa, Rasasārāṃśa, in Bhikhārīdāsa granthāvalī, Viśva Nāth Prasād Miśra (saṃpādaka). Kāśī: Nāgarī Pracāriṇī Sābhā, 1956, pahlā khaṇḍa, pp. 3-85.
  • Padmākar, Jagat vinod. Banāras: Bhārat Jīvan Pres, 1902.
  • Saiyad Gulām Nabī Raslīn, Rasaprabodha, in Raslīn Granthāvalī. Vārāṇasī: Nāgarī Pracāriṇī Sābhā, 1969, pp. 1-355.