New Delhi: Are you a Hindi pedant who prefers to call a train “lauhpatgamini”? Well, turns out, you can say “train” and still not taint your credentials as a purist.
The Hindi vocabulary of everyday use has expanded manifold over the past two decades, going from roughly 20,000 words to over 1.5 lakh with hordes of foreign adoptions such as “train”, the government’s official Hindi custodian has told ThePrint.
The Hindi dictionaries released by the government, however, have added the words without fanfare, unlike the UK-based Oxford English Dictionary, the one-stop record for the English language that constantly updates its list with public announcements about new additions.
The Hindi dictionaries are made and issued by the Central Hindi Directorate, a department under the Ministry of Human Resource Development that looks after the promotion and preservation of Hindi.
“Hindi language has evolved over the years and, with the addition of new words from other languages, we have continued to update the Hindi dictionary,” said Central Hindi Directorate director professor Avanish Kumar.
“The official Hindi dictionary keeps getting updated every three-five years and new words are added,” he added.
Unlike Oxford, the directorate neither makes an announcement when a new word is added, nor maintains a log of the words added or even the number of words included.
Kumar agreed that the government did not keep a record of new words, but said the vocabulary for conversation and official purposes had gone up by over 7.5 times in the past 20 years — from 20,000 to 1.5 lakh.
These words are apart from the estimated 6.5 lakh scientific and technical terms, including those in all branches of science and humanities, that constitute the Hindi lexicon, he added.
While the number 20,000 may seem low for an ancient language like Hindi, experts said the dictionary was “more of a formality” when it was launched. Whatever words were immediately thought of, they said, were included when the dictionary was first compiled 20 years ago.
‘The language will not grow’
Hindi experts see this absence of a concerted effort to record its evolution as a disservice to the language, which is the most widely spoken Indian tongue.
Delhi University Hindi professor Apoorvanand said college faculties had made multiple appeals to the government to institute a Hindi project, but to no avail.
“The problem with India is that we do not have an ongoing Hindi dictionary project like the Oxford dictionary,” he added. “In the absence of such a thing, the Hindi language will not grow. The government does not announce if they add a new word, which they should if they want the language to develop.”
The rules of Hindi translation
The adoption of new words into the Hindi dictionary follows certain rules, with a committee overseeing the process.
When a foreign word is observed as gaining currency, the committee takes it up, studies its genesis, and tries to find the closest-possible Hindi alternative. If a Hindi alternative is not found, the foreign word itself is included in the dictionary.
According to the HRD ministry’s rules for inclusion, international terms that are widely in use should be adopted in their current English forms as far as possible, transliterated to Hindi and other Indian languages.
For example, hydrogen and carbon dioxide go by the same name in Hindi, as do words like radio, radar, electron, proton and neutron. Terms derived from western names, like Marxism from Karl Marx and Braille from Louis Braille, follow the same rule.
When it comes to the selection of Hindi equivalents, simplicity, precision of meaning and easy intelligibility should be kept in mind, the rules say. An effort should also be made to select words with Sanskrit roots that may be similar in other Indian languages.
English, Portuguese and French words that have slipped into widespread use, like ticket, signal, pension, police, bureau, restaurant and deluxe are to be retained as such.
While the dictionary’s expansion has widened the scope in general, translators handling books dealing with heavy-duty technical subjects like science and economy say it’s pure chaos to find easy-to-understand Hindi equivalents for jargon, especially those pertaining to newer concepts.
Professor Prabhat Ranjan, a Delhi University professor who has translated books like Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s Hit Refresh and former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan’s I Do What I Do, said Hindi had failed to expand to develop field-specific terms that could uniformly be deployed in Hindi literature.
“When people want a translation in Hindi, they want language to be very simple, but Hindi cannot always be easy,” he added.
“When a technical word like ‘artificial intelligence’ is translated to Hindi, it becomes ‘kratrim budhi’, which is not easily comprehensible for a common reader, so we let the word be,” said Ranjan.
“There are some words for which different people use different Hindi translations… there is no standardised usage and this creates a lot chaos,” said Ranjan.
According to the translators ThePrint contacted, in 2017, the Delhi High Court asked all Hindi translators to treat the government’s official dictionary as the final word. However, it is difficult, the translators added.
“If one looks at the technical words mentioned in the government’s official Hindi dictionary, they will start pulling at their hair,” said a translator. “Scientific words in Hindi have not evolved much because no good books in science and technology have been written in Hindi in India… That matters a lot too.”