Close-up of the cover of Routledge's Hindi : An Essential Grammar (2022)

Hindi : An Essential Grammar [Review]

Hindi has sat comfortably amongst Routledge’s Essential Grammars range for some time, offering students the concise, systematic grammatical treatment the whole series is known for. The title appeared in its first edition back in 2007, so a fresh, updated version was a very welcome addition to bookshelves at the end of 2022.

Anyone familiar with my own bookish exploits will know that the Routledge Essential and Comprehensive Grammar series are close to my language lover’s heart. They’re all excellently researched reference and study works, supported throughout with authentic, real-world language. Recent editions have benefitted from an even clearer layout and eye-friendly typesetting, and the Hindi title is no exception. They’re very easy on the reader, particularly in terms of line spacing and table layout.

The book takes the familiar parts-of-speech approach, chunking grammatical elements into particularly brief, easily manageable chapters. This makes for real indexical ease, obvious from the detailed, seven-page contents section. No wading through an amorphous Nouns chapter here! But it’s great for targeted study, too; you could easily tackle a whole section in an hour-long study session, either independently or with a teacher.

As well as the usual amendments and corrections, this second edition offers extended explanations on several aspects of Hindi. These include extra material on flexible word order, ergativity, and politeness distinctions. As with other updates, such as the second edition of the Greek Essential, it’s great to see Routledge’s commitment to keeping the whole series relevant.

Script Support

The book is a winner on another important front, too: alternative script usage. To be fair, if you’re serious about learning Hindi in the long-term, then you’ll probably have started with Devanagari well before picking up this grammar. You might even have studied Devanagari before your Hindi journey like some (ahem). Devanagari is no prerequisite to learning to speak Hindi, of course, and if you’re in it for the casual dabbling, you might not have the time or inclination.

With this grammar, it’s no sweat at all. You can dive into any section of the book and read examples in Devanagari or Latin transliteration. The transliteration is extremely straightforward, too, using capitals to represent retroflex consonants, and the tilde for nasalised vowels. And the transliteration takes nothing away from the book’s commitment to both lanes; this edition still concludes with a substantial section on contemporary script usage, including current trends and recent changes.

Transliteration throughout might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s really not a given with Hindi primers. I’ve been working with Teach Yourself Hindi Tutor recently, and although it’s a truly fantastic and valuable resource, it requires proficiency in Devanagari from step one. Similarly, many beginner’s textbooks provide Latin support only so far, before switching to script after the initial chapters. For some, native script is a choice that definitely comes later on.

All in all, my verdict won’t be a surprise, considering my understandable fanboying of the series: I think this one’s just swell! For Hindi scholars, Indo-Europeanists and dabblers alike, Hindi : An Essential Grammar is a solid title in the series, substantially improved in its new edition.

Learning Devanagari on Duolingo (Screenshot)

Learning Devanagari ‘Just Because’ : On Not Needing a Reason

Have you ever learnt anything just because? Without any specific motivation or goal in mind? Learning something for the heck of it is a valid goal in itself, of course, and exactly how I’ve ended up with a basic knowledge of Devanagari script.

It all started off with an equally woolly, goal-diffuse pastime: collecting old language books. Some time last year, I added a lovely, pristine copy of the late 90s Teach Yourself Nepali to my collection. I bought it for the sake of completion, if anything. It filled a gap in my TY hoard.  But true to my New Year’s dabbling promise to myself, I spent a little time working through the first chapter. I found myself fascinated by the script, but a bit overwhelmed by the book’s everything-at-once introduction to it.

After a bit of Googling and Wikipediation, I realised that Devanagari is the script of choice for both Nepali and Hindi. What’s more, I remembered, Duolingo has a Hindi course. Surely I’d find a gentler introduction to the script there.

And didn’t I just. Duolingo introduces Devanagari very comfortably and gradually across the four initial lessons of its Hindi course. Each one contains just a subset of letters, and there’s no pressure to progress until you’re ready for the next tranche of beautiful, curved characters.

Casual Devanagari

So I started spending five minutes here and there on it. I approached it as a bit of fun, a pattern-matching game. As the lessons don’t contain actual words, that’s all it was – and it was all the more fun for it. I felt I was testing my memory, keeping my visual recognition skills sharp, and having a bit of fun casual mind-gaming.

Not only that, but it turned out to be a handy way to get my score up on days when I was too busy, or too tired, to do full-blown language lessons in the app. In five minutes of short practice lessons, I could clock up enough XP to keep me afloat for another day. Devanagari became my free pass.

Months later, I’ve almost learnt Devanagari by accident. I’ve barely noticed those characters settling into my synapses. And it’s there, if I ever need it, for learning Nepali, Hindi, or any of the other languages that are written in it.

It’s a far cry from my experiences as a schoolteacher, where there was often a pressure to justify language learning in utilitarian terms. To students, to parents, to ‘core’ subject staff – you name it. For sure, there are many very practical reasons to learn a language, and we all became adept at tripping them off, on cue.

But my Devanagari journey serves as a nice reminder that there doesn’t have to be a point at all, beyond ‘just because’. If there’s enjoyment, if there’s contentment, if there’s curiosity and it’s satisfied, that can be the whole point. Learn what you like.