Why Study Hindi-Urdu?

  • Hindi is the official language of the Republic of India (projected to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation by 2030) and the most widely spoken language in South Asia. It is also the language of a long literary tradition, both in modern prose and poetry, as well as pre-modern secular and devotional poetry. In more recent times Hindi has become a dominant language of modern media, such as cinema in India and much of the content on television.
  • Urdu is the national language of Pakistan (as well as being one of the official languages of India) and the language of a rich literary tradition, both in the form of poetry stretching back to the 17th century and prose from the 19th century. It is also a tremendously important language strategically in South Asia.
  • In their basic form Hindi and Urdu are generally considered to be the same language written in two different scripts. They share a common vocabulary and grammar, so that with little effort you will learn both forms very easily.
  • Hindi and India are rapidly growing in importance in our contemporary world with more and more content on the web, and with a growing consumer market in South Asia.
  • The grammar of Hindi-Urdu is very easy and similar to English grammar. There are virtually no grammatical concepts that do not exist in English, and students have no difficulty in learning the same concepts in Hindi-Urdu.
  • The first-year program teaches all of the basic grammatical structures that you will need to know in order to use Hindi and Urdu in many varied and interesting contexts. After one year of instruction, you could go to India or Pakistan and talk about yourself, where you were born, where you grew up, what you do, your interests and your attraction to South Asia and South Asian languages. You will also be able to start reading newspapers, short stories and watching television or Bollywood films.
  • We use the latest textbook for Hindi-Urdu, Elementary Hindi (Tuttle, 2009), which was developed over many years and has a proven methodical approach to the integration of the script, the grammar, and vocabulary words. Each lesson builds on previous lessons in a systematic way to allow the absorption of vocabulary words in an organic manner, while reinforcing grammatical structures. The text is accompanied by a CD as well, and a supplementary text introduces Urdu script quickly and painlessly. Films are also shown occasionally in class to reinforce the structures and idiomatic expressions that are being taught. The first-year program is a comprehensive introduction to the language and focuses equally on the four essential skills (reading, writing, speaking and listening).
  • The two scripts you learn in Hindi-Urdu courses will enable you to go on and learn other related languages as well.
    • The Devanagari script of Hindi is employed to write several other languages in South Asia, including Nepali, Marathi, and Sanskrit. It is also very closely related to the scripts employed to write Punjabi, Bengali, Gujarati, and Oriya among others.
    • The Nastaliq script of Urdu is a modified form of the Persian script, which in turn is a modified form of the Arabic script. It is also used to write Kashmiri, Punjabi (in Pakistan), occasionally Persian,  and Pashto, among other languages.
  • So learning these scripts gives you access to many more languages than simply Hindi and Urdu. The script of Hindi has only 46 characters, while the script of Urdu has even fewer, with 35. This makes learning to read both languages a simple exercise in memorization.

  • The classes also teach you about the complex social and cultural worlds in which these languages are used, particularly in regard to social relations and how to address people who occupy different social positions. At higher levels, students are able to read compelling literary works in Hindi-Urdu as well as develop more sophisticated conversational skills. We read poetry and prose, watch Bollywood films and engage in a lively manner with South Asian cultural traditions through our study of Hindi-Urdu.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I fulfill the CAS language requirement with Hindi-Urdu?

Yes! CAS is committed to offer at least first- through fourth-semester Hindi-Urdu every year – and more advanced course offerings are at the ready as soon as enough students complete second year.

Q: It doesn’t look like there are advanced courses on the course schedule. I hope to reach advanced proficiency eventually – can this program accommodate me?

Yes. Hindi-Urdu is brand new at BU. As soon as we have enough students complete the second year who want to continue with third-year classes or classes in film and contemporary culture, we’re eager to offer those courses. Faculty may be able to work on individual projects with advanced students in the meantime.

Q: I have some limited proficiency in Hindi or Urdu already. Are the courses appropriate for me?

Almost certainly yes. You should approach one of the current instructors for an evaluation of your proficiency and placement in the appropriate class for your level.

Q: I know absolutely zero Hindi-Urdu and am afraid the course will be for students who already know some. Is that true?

No. Many or most of the students in LN 111, First-Semester Hindi-Urdu, know exactly as much Hindi-Urdu as they know Zulu (and trust us, they don’t know a single word of Zulu).

Q: So can you describe the students who take Hindi-Urdu at BU?

Hindi-Urdu students come from a diverse array of backgrounds and come to the study of Hindi-Urdu with different objectives. At present there is a balanced mix of students with no prior connection at all to the cultures of the Indian subcontinent and those with a family background in South Asia. The teaching staff caters for the needs of everyone, and ensures that no one’s motivation or reasons for studying are neglected. Some students intend to travel and work in South Asia, some need these languages for their research, some wish to connect with South Asian cultures; others are motivated by a strong desire to work with media and films in particular, or the history and political traditions of South Asia. Every student’s needs and motivation are taken into account in the class, and the instruction ensures that there is an inclusive environment where the individual’s requirements are given appropriate consideration.

Q: Can I major or minor in Hindi-Urdu at BU?

This is not yet an option, but as increasing numbers of students begin to take the language and related courses in other departments a minor may be developed.

Q: Where can I study abroad?

At present BU does not have a study-abroad program in India, but several initiatives are afoot that could lead to such a program being established in due time. In the meantime, with a bit of advance preparation it is not hard to transfer credits earned on accredited programs run by other universities. See Mr. David Lamitie in the Study Abroad office to learn about the options.

Q: Whom should I ask if I have further questions?

Questions about the language program can be directed to any of the current Hindi-Urdu teachers or to Professor Sunil Sharma in MLCL.