Two Languages or One?

Hindi and Urdu developed from the “khari boli” dialect spoken in the Delhi region of northern India. Along with this common origin, Hindi and Urdu also share the same grammar and most of the basic vocabulary of everyday speech; but they have developed as two separate languages in terms of script, higher vocabulary, and cultural ambiance. Urdu, written in a modified form of the Persian script, and rich in loanwords from Persian and Arabic, has a broadly Islamic orientation, especially in its rightly celebrated poetry. Hindi, on the other hand, written in the Devanagari script that it shares with Sanskrit, traces a long history through largely Hindu culture. Like siblings separated at birth in a Hindi movie (which might equally well be called an Urdu movie, incidentally), the two languages live parallel lives, sometimes closely aligned, sometimes standing at a distance from each other. The most graphic difference lies in the two scripts; students in the Hindi Urdu Flagship acquire a comfortable literacy in both.


Hindi is usually ranked second among the world’s languages in terms of number of speakers; 40% of the population of India speaks Hindi natively, with a large number using it as a second language; thus the total number of Hindi speakers is well over a half a billion. Urdu has approximately 50 million native speakers in India; Pakistan has fewer native speakers of Urdu, but almost the entire population of more than 175 million speaks it as a second language.

Hindi and Urdu are Indo-European languages and are thus distantly related to English, having a similar range of tenses and some cognate vocabulary in words such as dānt (tooth), do (two), and nām (name); they also have linguistic features lost in English but still common in other European languages, such as noun gender and different informal and formal words for ‘you’.

Flagship students study Hindi and Urdu in parallel so that they can fully appreciate the full cultural range of both; an acquaintance with the rich and complementary literatures of these two languages gives the reader access to the breadth and depth of South Asian culture. Students also study the styles of language required in technical and professional contexts, thereby qualifying themselves for a range of careers relating to South Asia and its rapidly changing society.

Common Reader