Basic Hindi Vocabulary for Lucky English-speaking Learners

If you speak English and wish to speed up your acquisition of general Hindi vocabulary, consider the 400 words listed below in transliterated form as a beginner’s bonus. Most of the items, which are commonly used loanwords from English, will not help much with your travel or with conversations in the street but they are useful for beginning to understand bits and pieces of the spoken and written Hindi currently used by the media and in political life as well as by the Indian middle classes in their daily conversation. There are many more of these to be picked up as you listen to or read the media.

This windfall for English speakers is entirely due to the very special historical links between Hindi and English. In contemporary Hindi, English loan words and phrases (and the much more complex and fascinating phenomenon of “code-switching”), have become an essential part of contemporary Hindi. The total number and rate of borrowings far exceed the number of English words used in French, which so upset French purists. In India the thousands of loanwords are taken for granted, especially as part of globalisation.You will already have witnessed the usage in practically any Bollywood film you have seen. It is a linguistic wonder to behold, and it is not confined to scripted dialogue or commentaries. At the more basic word and phrase level, a striking advantage which facilitates these borrowings is the ability of Hindi to represent most English sounds fairly accurately (in a rough and ready way) within Hindi phonetics. This is simply not possible in languages like French, Spanish and many (most?) others.

To allow the English words to ‘emerge’ from the transliterations below, simply pronounce what you see. Some may amuse you: smile while you learn!

It is essential to know that Hindi ‘ee’ = ee in English but single ‘e’ rhymes with ‘rate’, or sometimes with ‘ten. So ‘peeem’ in Hindi is pronounced more or less as ‘pee aim’ = P.M. Similarly, ‘tren‘ = train, and ‘eme‘ is M.A. (‘aim-eh’). The double vowel ‘aa+ee’ rhymes with ‘my’ or ‘high’: hence Hindi ‘haaee kort‘ (High Court), or ‘aaeeeess‘ (IAS: I = aaee; A = e; S = ess, the Indian Civil Service).

Also the letter ‘v’ is often pronounced as a soft version of ‘w’ as in ‘vikeeleeks’. Do not be distracted by the lack of capital letters in the transliterations. That is the Devanagari alphabet in action. Also, for your and my convenience, I have not used Devanagari alphabetical order.

Although most of the items below are single lexical items, special notice should be given to those marked (E/H). These are hybrid English-Hindi phrases, which give a very fleeting glimpse of the sorts of complex and very dexterous code-switching that goes on all the time in contemporary sophisticated Hindi. If you wish to see an analysis of this real code-switching, I strongly recommend this academic paper by Dr Tomasz Borowiak on “Hindi Englishization”.

Basic Loanwords

aaeeaaeetee, IIT = Indian Inst of Technology
aaeeeess, IAS, India Administrative Service: (‘Bharateey prashaasnik sevaa’)
aaeeesaaee, ISI (Pakistani Military Intelligence)
aaeeseesee, ICC, International Cricket Council (‘antarrashtreeyaa krikat parishad’)
aiscrim, icecream,
aksijaan, oxygen,
aaut, Out! (cricket)
aaeeseeyoo, ICU (Intensive Care Unit)
aktoobar, October
alteemetam, ultimatum
apeel, appeal
aprail, April
athoritee
auph, of
baiNk, bank
baklash
beebeesee, BBC
beeesef, BSF, Border Security Force
beejepee, BJP
bil, bill & Bill (Political)
bildar
bildiNg
bituman
biznas
blad preshar, blood pressure
blaikmel, blackmail
blem gem, blame game
bloo laain, Blue Line (buses)
boiNg, Boeing
boks
boleevud, Bollywood
brek, break

The rest of this long list may be viewed here.

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