Indic languages: How similar are they?

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vince

Senior Member
English
Hello everybody, I have heard that Sanskrit is the ancestor of the Indo-Aryan languages much like Latin is the ancestor of the Romance languages. I am wondering how similar the Indo-Aryan languages are. I'm talking about Hindi, Urdu, Panjabi, Gujarati, Bangla, and Nepali.

Which languages are intelligible in their spoken form? i.e. can a Hindi-speaker understand an Urdu speaker when talking at a normal pace if they do not use too many Persian-derived words?

How about the other Indo-Aryan languages? What is the level of intelligibility? If one talks slowly, how much of the other languages can be understood?

I am guessing they are further apart than the Slavic languages, which are all either partially or largely mutually-intelligible. But are they further apart, than they French and Spanish? Or are they even further apart, like English and German?

How about Farsi? Can Indo-Aryan speakers understand it? How about Urdu speakers?

Thanks for your answers,
Vince
 
  • linguist786

    Senior Member
    English, Gujarati & Urdu
    vince said:
    Hello everybody, I have heard that Sanskrit is the ancestor of the Indo-Aryan languages much like Latin is the ancestor of the Romance languages. I am wondering how similar the Indo-Aryan languages are. I'm talking about Hindi, Urdu, Panjabi, Gujarati, Bangla, and Nepali.
    Very good question. As a speaker of Urdu, Hindi and Gujarati, i would say that things like word order and grammatical structures are very very similar, if not the same. A lot of the words overlap between the languages too, and a lot of words are similar.

    vince said:
    Which languages are intelligible in their spoken form? i.e. can a Hindi-speaker understand an Urdu speaker when talking at a normal pace if they do not use too many Persian-derived words?
    absolutely. Some people here say that they can't, but i honestly cannot believe that. Urdu and Hindi are basically the same language, but the scripts are different and also, Hindi has more influence from Sanskrit, whereas Urdu has more Arabic/Persian influence.
    Another thing i find interesting is that Gujarati-speakers (in India) find it a doddle to pick up Hindi, but not the other way round.

    vince said:
    How about the other Indo-Aryan languages? What is the level of intelligibility? If one talks slowly, how much of the other languages can be understood?
    Well i can understand about ~65% of Punjabi when it is spoken. A lot of it sounds like Urdu, but it seems very "fast" to me. (meaning they seem to speak much faster than other languages.. or maybe that's just me :p) Also, Memen (a southern-pakistani language) sounds a lot like Gujarati, and i can understand some bits of that. and Bengali, the "tone" of it is so much like Gujarati (although i don't understand any of it!) It's just the way it is spoken, it makes me laugh because it "sounds" like Gujarati (not the words, but the tone in which it is spoken) but i don't understand it!

    vince said:
    How about Farsi? Can Indo-Aryan speakers understand it? How about Urdu speakers?
    No way! those two languages are simply too far apart.

    vince said:
    Thanks for your answers,
    Vince
    No problem ;) Ask more specific questions, and i'll be more than happy to give a response.
     

    Jhorer Brishti

    Senior Member
    United States/Bangladesh English/Bengali
    Hello,Vince.The Indic languages(excluding Dravidian derived ones of course) are descendants of Sanskrit through the Prakrits found in Classical Sanskrit plays. Kings would address women and servants in Prakrit(Vernacular, degenerate form of Sanskrit) and it is theorized that this developed into the three dramatic Prakrits(Sauraseni, Maharashtri, and Magadhi). They were all literary dialects(distinct traditions in each) of the same "polished" prakrit which is considered to be Ardhamagadhi(the Prakrit of the Jains) and Sauraseni gave way to the Hindi-Urdu-Punjabi dialectal continuum while Maharashtri gave rise to Marathi,Gujarati,Oriya and some others. Magadhi,referring to the Magadhan Eastern Empire is the direct ancestor of the Bengali(Bangla) and Assamese languages(up until the 14th century there was very little difference between Bengali and Assamese). There was an intermediate stage called Apabhramsha(middle language) before the birth of modern Indic languages.

    By studying Sanskrit, the prakrits, Pali(Language of the Buddha but also another form of degenerate Sanskrit) and other such languages linguists have been able to understand what transformations have taken place to arrive at the modern spoken languages.

    As an aside, in 1925, Muhammad Shahidullah of the then undivided "India" was able to show that Bengali originated from Magadhi Prakrit by analyzing different texts including the Charyapada(a collection of Buddhist erotic poems dating back to at least the 9th century) which are the oldest,extant writings in the Bangla language.

    As a Bengali speaker I can tell you that understanding written (transliterated into Roman) Hindi/Urdu is easier than understanding the spoken language in Bollywood films but many of my family members who are more avid Bollywood aficionados, can understand the movies with more or less ease(the great majority of these movies are all just variations on the same theme and the actors code switch a LOT with english so statistics are a little skewed). Nepali is just a dialect of Hindi with more sanskrit words(spoken language wise) and a few influences from Tibeto-Burmese.


    I've posted this elsewhere but many people are of the opinion that Urdu and Hindi are just the same language written in different scripts. Spoken Urdu is only slightly different from spoken Hindi. Basically, Arabic and Persian words should be more prevalent in spoken Urdu but since quite a few people are education deprived in India(and Pakistan), Hindi/Punjabi speakers in Western India do not get the chance to learn that they should use one word over another. The same goes for Pakistan, so what happens is that some Eastern Pakistani Urdu speakers may actually use more sanskrit derived words than some Western(along the border with pakistan) Indian Hindi speakers.

    In general though, Urdu speakers should also pronounce words like Zindabad with a Z while Hindi speakers would pronounce it as Jindabad. In addition to the Ka and Kha consonants there exist a guttural Q and Qh consonants in Urdu/Hindi. In Hindi, these sounds are indicated by placing a dot under the Ka and Kha consonants. Since Urdu uses Nastaliq which is a modified version of the Persian Alphabet(which itself is a modified version of the Arabic script), the consonants are already present.99.9% of the Hindi speaking population cannot pronounce the guttural Q and Qh sounds.99.8%(;)) of Urdu speakers also fail in being able to pronounce those sounds but it is seen as a symbol of Islamic pride to be able to pronounce those phonemes(the ideal chaste Urdu). Seriously though, someone who speaks Hindi should have no problems communicating with an Urdu speaker.

    The News and other official programs done in standard Hindi continue to borrow a slew of sanskrit words while Urdu news stations continue to Arabo-Persianize the language so that a Hindi speaker would understand very little of the news given in Urdu and vice versa but would have no problems understanding "real" Urdu.

    In my opinion an Arabic or Persian/Farsi speaker would recognize quite a few words in the Urdu lexicon but the grammar and the language itself remains Prakritic in nature. As I have never heard spoken Farsi, I am unaware of how much would be intelligible to me(probably mainly words relating to prayer).

    In terms of interintelligibility, since there are already so many dialects within each respective language, the farther you go the less similar the language becomes. I would say that Hindi/Urdu is partially understood by everyone but a speaker of Sinhalese or Gujarati would have difficulties understanding Bengali and vice versa. Hope this helps!

    P.S. You, of course, are free to utilize whatever vocabulary desired but I think using "Indo-Iranian" over "Indo-Aryan" is much preferred and less reminiscent of the Nazi regime(Not chastising, just offering a harmless opinion.:)).
     

    linguist786

    Senior Member
    English, Gujarati & Urdu
    Brilliant post that last one. ;) I agree with you about "understanding words to do with prayer" actually.. i think they all come straight from Arabic and have not been changed. (I suppose you're a Muslim?) Words like "Zaqaah" and "Namaaz/Salaah" and "Sadqah" are the same in all these languages.
     

    vince

    Senior Member
    English
    OK here are some more specific questions:

    Jhorer Brishti said:
    Hello,Vince.The Indic languages(excluding Dravidian derived ones of course) are descendants of Sanskrit through the Prakrits found in Classical Sanskrit plays. Kings would address women and servants in Prakrit(Vernacular, degenerate form of Sanskrit) and it is theorized that this developed into the three dramatic Prakrits(Sauraseni, Maharashtri, and Magadhi). They were all literary dialects(distinct traditions in each) of the same "polished" prakrit which is considered to be Ardhamagadhi(the Prakrit of the Jains) and Sauraseni gave way to the Hindi-Urdu-Punjabi dialectal continuum while Maharashtri gave rise to Marathi,Gujarati,Oriya and some others. Magadhi,referring to the Magadhan Eastern Empire is the direct ancestor of the Bengali(Bangla) and Assamese languages(up until the 14th century there was very little difference between Bengali and Assamese). There was an intermediate stage called Apabhramsha(middle language) before the birth of modern Indic languages.
    Were Sauraseni, Maharashtri, and Magadhi contemporary names? Did the people who wrote in these languages call them that? Did people speak these languages as a common vernacular?

    As a Bengali speaker I can tell you that understanding written (transliterated into Roman) Hindi/Urdu is easier than understanding the spoken language in Bollywood films but many of my family members who are more avid Bollywood aficionados, can understand the movies with more or less ease(the great majority of these movies are all just variations on the same theme and the actors code switch a LOT with english so statistics are a little skewed). Nepali is just a dialect of Hindi with more sanskrit words(spoken language wise) and a few influences from Tibeto-Burmese.
    If a Hindustani-speaker spoke slowly, would you be able to recognize the words? Also, if Hindustani was written using the Roman alphabet, would you be able to understand the gist of the text? (like between Portuguese & Spanish) Or just a few words (like between French & Spanish)? Did your parents ever study Hindi?

    In general though, Urdu speakers should also pronounce words like Zindabad with a Z while Hindi speakers would pronounce it as Jindabad. In addition to the Ka and Kha consonants there exist a guttural Q and Qh consonants in Urdu/Hindi. In Hindi, these sounds are indicated by placing a dot under the Ka and Kha consonants. Since Urdu uses Nastaliq which is a modified version of the Persian Alphabet(which itself is a modified version of the Arabic script), the consonants are already present.99.9% of the Hindi speaking population cannot pronounce the guttural Q and Qh sounds.99.8%(;)) of Urdu speakers also fail in being able to pronounce those sounds but it is seen as a symbol of Islamic pride to be able to pronounce those phonemes(the ideal chaste Urdu). Seriously though, someone who speaks Hindi should have no problems communicating with an Urdu speaker.
    I seem to get the impression from what you've said that everyday Urdu and Hindi are almost exactly the same. Are they as similar as British and American English? Or a little further apart, like maybe French and Quebecois? or a little further even: like Brazilian Portuguese vs. European Portuguese?

    For example, British English and American English also differ, with British English having some distinct vowel (and diphthong) sounds that do not exist in most subdialects of American English.

    The News and other official programs done in standard Hindi continue to borrow a slew of sanskrit words while Urdu news stations continue to Arabo-Persianize the language so that a Hindi speaker would understand very little of the news given in Urdu and vice versa but would have no problems understanding "real" Urdu.
    Is there a kind of written-spoken diglossia in Urdu, where when Urdu-speakers write, they suddenly use a lot more Persian words than they normally would when speaking? And do these Persian words appear only in formal writing, or also in elementary children's books?

    In my opinion an Arabic or Persian/Farsi speaker would recognize quite a few words in the Urdu lexicon but the grammar and the language itself remains Prakritic in nature. As I have never heard spoken Farsi, I am unaware of how much would be intelligible to me(probably mainly words relating to prayer).
    If there's someone around who's familiar with both Farsi and Indo-Aryan languages, I'd like to know how similar they are. Looks like they're at least as far apart as English and German, possibly as far as Latvian and Russian?

    In terms of interintelligibility, since there are already so many dialects within each respective language, the farther you go the less similar the language becomes. I would say that Hindi/Urdu is partially understood by everyone but a speaker of Sinhalese or Gujarati would have difficulties understanding Bengali and vice versa. Hope this helps!
    From what you've all said, I think the Indo-Aryan languages are further apart than the Slavic languages, and are about as different between themselves as the Chinese "dialects", with the extremes, Bengali and Urdu, being as linguistically far apart as Cantonese and Mandarin. Or as different as the Romance languages.

    P.S. You, of course, are free to utilize whatever vocabulary desired but I think using "Indo-Iranian" over "Indo-Aryan" is much preferred and less reminiscent of the Nazi regime(Not chastising, just offering a harmless opinion.:)).
    I heard that Indo-Iranian includes Pashto and Farsi, while Indo-Aryan refers only to Sanskrit-derived languages. And I don't know about the word Indic, because that just means "Indian languages", which would include the unrelated Dravidian languages like Tamil and Telugu. It's only the ignorant people and the racists who associate Aryan with white supremacy, since the term predates the racist usage.
     

    Pivra

    Senior Member
    ...
    As a Thai speaker, (Thai is not an IE language but it is "severely" "crucially" "strongly" influenced by Pali and Sanskrit.

    Its easy for me to read Devanagari.
    I understand lots of words and grammatical structures in Sanskrit

    But like Hindi, Gujarati and stuff, I don't understand any. lol

    I know almost all of the meanings for Indian names like Vijay, Deevani, Kamini, Ram, Kayathri, Balraj, Mukhdesh, Raavi, and much more. lolI can guess stuff like, Mera nam ........ Namaste, and some other phrases since Nam is also Nam in Thai and Namaskan means salutation in Thai.I guess they understand each other a lot more if I can understand some of the languages.

    Sanskrit: Devas dasyati dhanas
    Lithuanian: Dievas duos duonos
     

    shaloo

    Senior Member
    English
    DRAVIDIAN LANGUAGES, a family of about 23 languages that appears to be unrelated to any other known language family.
    The Dravidian languages are spoken by more than 200 million people, living chiefly in South and central India and North Sri Lanka.
    The four major Dravidian languages are Kannada, having over 40 million speakers; Malayalam, having about 35 million speakers; Tamil, with almost 70 million speakers; and Telugu, with over 70 million speakers.

    Each of these languages has a noteworthy literature of considerable age. It is thought that the Dravidian tongues are derived from a language spoken in India prior to the invasion of the Aryans c.1500 BC.

    Dravidian languages are noted for retroflex and liquid sound types. A distinctive feature is the formation of a comparatively large number of sounds in the front of the mouth. Verbs have a negative
    as well as an affirmative voice. Gender classification of Dravidian languages is different when compared to other languages.

    It's like you have masculine and feminine genders, but no thing called as a neuter gender. Always we use the feminine gender for all things(non-living things and animals also).

    In the Dravidian languages great use is made of suffixes (but not of prefixes) with nouns and verbs. There are many words of Indic origin in the Dravidian languages, which in turn have contributed a number of words to the Indic tongues. The Dravidian languages have their own alphabets, which go back to a common source that is related to the Devanagari alphabet used for Sanskrit. Brahui, however, is recorded in the Arabic script.

    Hope it gives you a rough idea about the Dravidian languages (or the South Indian languages)

    And coming to your question of being able to understand non-native languages (i assume that u r speaking about the dravidian languages because i'm a south indian and i speak those languages,not malayam, though i can only make out that it is malayalam),Well, i think i can.

    I'm, basically a Telugu speaking girl and I can as well comprehend Tamil and Kannada.In fact I think I'm quite OK in Kannada and Tamil, I can manage.
    One more intersting fact, that I personally believe is that Telugu, though it is in Devanagari script, we have many, many words that coincide with those in Sanskrit. this I observe because as we read the mantras(holy chants,The Bhagawad Geeta) at home, I can guess (and understand) their meanings.

    Hope this helps you a bit.

    Et, je pense que la difference entre Telugu et Kannada est comme la meme entre le francais et l'espagnol.
    The script is almost same and same with the pronunciation too.
     

    panjabigator

    Senior Member
    Am. English
    The languages on North India pretty much fall on a language continum. As you head further east from Rajasthan, the Hindi will change and eventually turn into Bengali. As you head North, the language becomes tonal and turns into Punjabi. As you head south from Rajasthan, you find Gujarati. I'd say that most North Indians are OK at understanding Hindi, and the most success with learning Hindi (out of the non-Hindi speaking states) are Gujarat and Maharashtra. Punjab should be good with Hindi too. Bengal probably would not be as keen on speaking Hindi because they have an immensenly developed language and many are upset with the language politics of India.

    I can speak Hindi pretty well and my Urdu is ok. I learned how to read and write both languages in college, and my Hindi vocab is much better than my Urdu, but I can still struggle my way through the Urdu news with a good idea of whats going on. My friends can sometimes understand my Punjabi. I can follow Gujarati somewhat, but not the TV shows hehe. Same with Bengali.

    Interestingly enough, if you listened to the Pakistani national anthem, 99% of it is Persian, and most probably dont even know what it means.
     

    starsiege

    New Member
    USA
    Tamil, Sinhala
    The Dravidian languages are spoken by more than 200 million people, living chiefly in South and central India and North Sri Lanka.
    The four major Dravidian languages are Kannada, having over 40 million speakers; Malayalam, having about 35 million speakers; Tamil, with almost 70 million speakers; and Telugu, with over 70 million speakers.

    Each of these languages has a noteworthy literature of considerable age. It is thought that the Dravidian tongues are derived from a language spoken in India prior to the invasion of the Aryans c.1500 BC.

    Dravidian languages are noted for retroflex and liquid sound types. A distinctive feature is the formation of a comparatively large number of sounds in the front of the mouth. Verbs have a negative
    as well as an affirmative voice. Gender classification of Dravidian languages is different when compared to other languages.

    It's like you have masculine and feminine genders, but no thing called as a neuter gender. Always we use the feminine gender for all things(non-living things and animals also).

    In the Dravidian languages great use is made of suffixes (but not of prefixes) with nouns and verbs. There are many words of Indic origin in the Dravidian languages, which in turn have contributed a number of words to the Indic tongues. The Dravidian languages have their own alphabets, which go back to a common source that is related to the Devanagari alphabet used for Sanskrit. Brahui, however, is recorded in the Arabic script.

    Hope it gives you a rough idea about the Dravidian languages (or the South Indian languages)

    And coming to your question of being able to understand non-native languages (i assume that u r speaking about the dravidian languages because i'm a south indian and i speak those languages,not malayam, though i can only make out that it is malayalam),Well, i think i can.

    I'm, basically a Telugu speaking girl and I can as well comprehend Tamil and Kannada.In fact I think I'm quite OK in Kannada and Tamil, I can manage.
    One more intersting fact, that I personally believe is that Telugu, though it is in Devanagari script, we have many, many words that coincide with those in Sanskrit. this I observe because as we read the mantras(holy chants,The Bhagawad Geeta) at home, I can guess (and understand) their meanings.

    Hope this helps you a bit.

    Et, je pense que la difference entre Telugu et Kannada est comme la meme entre le francais et l'espagnol.
    The script is almost same and same with the pronunciation too.
    i second that

    i would like to add my 2cents worth:), being a Srilankan Tamil, im somewhat able to differentiate between many south Indian languages in a slightly different way than many south Indians would normally do. Srilankan Tamil is kinda different from Indians Tamil in a lot of aspects. It retains many Old Tamil words that have disspeard in Indian Tamil. We also have some words that are spoken in Malayalam but not in Indian Tamil. scholars are of the opinion that this supports the theory that Malayalam split off from Tamil in around 7-10 century ad. hence some of the words used in Srilankan Tamil(also found in Malayalam and not in Indian Tamil) would have been most probably in the Old Tamil as well.

    Ive been to southern india quite a few times, and sometimes i had a hard time not getting offended! lol when i listened to the Indian Tamil. lol. especially when i was a kid.lol. In Indian tamil they commonly use words such as "ne" ,"va" ,"po" which, are really insulting for a srilanlan Tamil, cos ew never use those words unless if someone is in a really bad verban argument with another!.lol. also i noticed that there is a significant diff in the "place" terms.. such as.. for example

    in indian tamil to refer to an item/person close to the speaker they sue the word "ithu"/"ivan"

    to refer to a item/person far away/in anther place from the speaker they use the word "athu"/"avan"


    in srilankan tamil we do use the same thing BUT
    we also have another "intermediate" place term, used to refer to items not too close or not too far away.

    so if a person/item is not too close to be called "ithu"/"ivan" or not too far to be called "athu"/"avan" the Srilankan Tamils use the word "uthu"/"uvan"

    this, is actually found in the oldest of tamil books such as silapathigaram and the likes..the usage of this term is not used in Indian tamil.
     
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