Hindi Language Blog

Writing Hindi: Devanagari or Roman Script? Posted by on Mar 29, 2022 in Hindi Language, Pronunciation

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Photo courtesy Nicole Herbert Dean

School children in India learn सीखना Hindi from scratch. Walk near a Hindi medium school and you will hear chants मंत्र of ‘a’ ‘aa’ ‘e’ ‘ee’ ‘oo’ ‘ooo’ etc. These are the vowels. Then you will hear them chanting out the consonants.  If you were to peek तिरछी inside the classroom you would see a blackboard and written लिखित in chalk the Hindi alphabet in the Devanagari script. It is as real as you get. But nowadays people who learn and abide by this form of Hindi are known as purists.

Why? You ask. Because there is a huge shift खिसक जाना to write Hindi in the Roman Script.

Why? You ask again. Because of technology, mainly. Keyboards, phones make it difficult to spell out the intricate जटिल letters and accents of the language when you are in a hurry.

Social media users, Bollywood signs, subtitling उपशीर्षक, etc all use the Roman script. This is because it is easy to phonetically spell out the Hindi word with English letters. But when you do, is the pronunciation accurate? Or Anglicized?

Educators who teach the language will promote को बढ़ावा देना the usage of the Devanagari script. Using the actual Hindi letters, reading the script in Devanagari helps one pronounce the words properly. Hindi is a phonetic ध्वन्यात्मक language. What you see is how you pronounce it. Unlike English which can have a million ways, a word is pronounced.

Also, there are no English equivalents समकक्ष to certain ‘t’ sounds and ‘d’ sounds in the Hindi alphabet. Plus add to that the British English and American English with its many aspirationsआकांक्षाओं. No pun intended, but it will leave much to be desired as far as being understood. One certainly does not want to stick out among the locals. But rather to blend in.

Many an English speaker faces merciless बेरहम teasing for the rolled anglicized ‘r’s’ as well. There are ‘d’ sounds that sound like a cross between a ‘d’ and an ‘r’. So how does one write that in Roman Script?

Then, what about the ‘w’ sound in Hindi? There is no straight equivalent, but rather a cross between a ‘v’ and ‘w’ sound in Hindi depending on which region you come from. In Urdu influenced cultures it is a ‘w’ sound. So how does one write the word for time in Roman Script? In Urdu it would be written as follows, ‘waqt’. But in Hindi-influenced हिंदी प्रभावित cultures it would be written as ‘vakt’.

Proponents of the Roman Script say that languages evolve. The author believes and agrees but at the same time, the script of the language needs to be preserved संरक्षित.

So while it is progressive to use the Roman script, the author does not believe it to be beneficial when it comes to pronouncing and getting the full nuance of the language.

It is imperative especially when Hindi is being adulterated मिलावटी with Punjabi, Urdu, and English words to keep the purity of the lettering and script at least, intact.

So yes, by all means, progress, evolve and keep up with the times. But, please keep the script authentically original.





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About the Author: Nicole Herbert Dean

Language, Region and Culture Consultant to the Department of Defense and United States Military.