A Look at the Indo-Aryan Languages

From here.
This post will focus on how hard it is to learn the various Indo-Aryan languages if you are an English language speaker. We will look at Kashmiri, Hindi, Bengali, Punjabi, Sinhala and Sanskrit.

Indo-European

Indo-Iranian

Indo-Aryan

Ind0-Ayran languages like Kashmiri, Hindi and especially Sanskrit are quite hard, and Sanskrit is legendary for its extreme complexity. Sanskrit grammar is very complicated. There are 8 cases. However, Bengali is said to be one of the easiest Indic languages to learn.

Central zone
Western Hindi
Hindustani
Khariboli

The Hindi script is quite opaque to Westerners, some of whom say that Chinese script is easier. You speak one way if you are talking to a man or a woman, and you also need to take into account whether you as speaker are male or female. Gender is also as prominent as in Spanish; you have to remember whether any given noun is masculine or feminine.Hindi is definitely an IE language by its rich system of gender, case and number inflection.
The most difficult aspects of Hindi are the pronunciation and the case system.
The distinction between aspirated/unaspirated and alveolar/retroflex consonants is hard for many to make. There is a four-way distinction ion the t and d sounds with aspirated/unaspirated dental and aspirated/unaspirated retroflex t‘s and d‘s. The are three different r sounds – one that sounds like the English r and two retroflex r‘s that are quite hard to make or even distinguish, especially at the end of a word. Hindi also has nasalized vowels.
If you come from a language that has case, Hindi’s case system will not be overly difficult.
In addition, there is a completely separate word for each number from 1-100, which seems unnecessarily complicated.
However, Hindi has a number of cognates with English. I am not sure if they are Indic loans into English or they share a common root going back to proto-Indo-European (PIE).
loot plunder/destroy, English loot.
mausaum
season/weather, English equivalent is monsoon
toofan
storm, English equiv. typhoon
kammarban
d – something tied around the waist, English equiv. cummerbund
badnaam
– literally bad name, means bad reputation. These are both cognates to the English words bad and name.
bangalaahouse, English equiv. bungalow
jangal
jungle
pandit
priest, English equiv. pundit
Hindi is rated 3.5, harder than average to learn.

Eastern
Assamese–Bengali

Bengali is similar to Hindi, but it lacks grammatical gender, and that fact alone is said to make it much easier to learn. Bengali speak tend to make stereotypical gender errors when speaking in Hindi. Nevertheless, it uses the Sanskrit alphabet, and that alone makes it hard to read and write.
Bengali is rated 3.5, harder than average to learn.

Central
Punjabi

Punjabi is probably harder than any other Indic language in terms of phonology because it uses tones. It’s like Hindi with tones.
Punjabi is rated 4.5, extremely difficult.

Sinhalese-Maldivian

Sinhala is also difficult.
Sinhala is rated 4, very difficult.

Sanskrit

Sanskrit is legendary for its difficulty. It has script that goes on for long sequences in which many small individual words may be buried. You have to take apart the sequences to find the small words. However, the words are further masked by tone sandhi running everything together. Once you tease the sandhi apart, you have to deal with hundreds of compound characters in the script. Once you do those two things, you are left with eight cases, nine declensions, dual number and other fun things.
Even native speakers tend to make grammatical mistakes are admit that parts of the grammar are fiendishly difficult. There are many grammatical features that are rarely or never found in any other language. Noun declension is based on the letter than the noun ends in, for instance, nouns that end in a, e or u all decline differently. There are three genders for nouns, and those all decline differently also. Each noun has eight cases and three numbers (singular, dual and plural) so there are 24 different forms for each noun. Counting the different combinations of endings and genders (all subsumed into a sort of noun class system) there are 20 different “noun classes.”
Combining the “noun classes” with the three genders, you end up with 1,440 different regular forms that nouns can take. To make matters worse, some of the cases have different forms themselves. And there are some exceptions to these rules. The I and you pronouns decline differently, but pronouns are simple compared to nouns.
For the verbs, each verb had exist in 10 different forms of tense or mood (one from Vedic Sanskrit is no longer used). There are six tenses and four moods. The six tenses are: one present tense, 2 future tenses and 3 past tenses. The moods are: imperative, dubitive (expresses uncertainty), optative (expresses hope or offers a benediction) and a form that expresses the concept if only, then… There are two different conjugations based on who is the beneficiary of the action, you or others. There are ten different classes of verbs, each of which conjugates differently. Additionally, each verb has a different form in the singular, dual and plural and in the 1st, 2nd and 3rd persons.
Once you get past all of that, you are ready to take on the really difficult parts of the language, participles, noun derivatives and agglutination, each of which is far more complicated than the above.
Nevertheless, the language is so mathematically precise and regular that some have said it is a perfect language for computer programming. There may not be a single irregularity in the whole language.
Sanskrit is rated 5, the most difficult of all.
Kashmiri is rated 4, very difficult.

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7 thoughts on “A Look at the Indo-Aryan Languages”

  1. What you have written is mostly true. Bengali and Sri Lankan immigrants in Karachi I remember (including our hand-maidens and long time housekeeper) would always confuse the genders in Urdu. It was quiet frustrating for those who communicated with them. But the past few years of reading comparative linguistics, it makes sense why.
    The common words section is not really accurate since most of these words are exchanged. Jungle for example is incorporated from Hindustani into English to refer to tropical forests. Mausam is derived from Arabic الموسم
    A lot of Indo-Aryan and European languages have common words derived from Arabic, not because of a common Indo-European source. Save for the “common words” part, good post overall. No mention of Urdu?

  2. You might care that the following examples
    -toofan
    -kammarband
    – badnaam
    -jangal
    are Persian loanwords, so perhaps not the best examples for English-Hindi cognates.
    Other than that great blog, keep ’em coming

  3. Not only Sanskrit is perfect,but I has one unique feature, which makes it most suitable for Computer, The sequence of words in a sentence can be changed without changing the meaning. Further for a Hindi knowing person ,Punjabi is easiest as the Grammer& pronounciation is easy, words are similar to Hindi,Sentences are also similar,script is also close to Hindi.

  4. Is Sanskrit script the most IE? Sanskrit’s the oldest IE and from outside India. How tied to Iranians is it? Could it be a sacred script for Iranians? I seem to recall some IE tribe outside India using it. I believe IE people went East from Iran. An Iranian people also using it seems to suggest some bond. There’s for sure a verbal PIE bond between the tongues of Iran and India. Is this bond etched in stone? or Is the written bond lost to the sands of time?

    1. Is Sanskrit script the most IE?

      No, Hittite and Tocharian are more archaic, but they are dead. Sanskrit is a living language.

      Sanskrit’s the oldest IE and from outside India.

      Sanskrit is from India.

      How tied to Iranians is it? Could it be a sacred script for Iranians?

      Iranians could understand Sanskrit as well as Persian speakers could understand Hindi. As in, not at all.

      I seem to recall some IE tribe outside India using it.

      Using Sanskrit?

      I believe IE people went East from Iran.

      Their homeland was around Samsara in the Southeastern Urals. They moved down slowly through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikstan down into the Hindu Kush and the Western Himalayas. The oldest ruins around around Peshawar and the Swat Valley and from there east across Kashmir and into Punjab and southeast from there. I am not sure how they got to Iran. I suppose one strand of them went west towards Iran.

      Indo-Iranian is definitely a subgroup of IE, but the Indian and Iranic language groups are very far apart.

      1. Yes, I believe it was a neighbor of the Aryans in India. Perhaps Afghanistan. I seem to recall they were more reliant on goats. The connection to Iran itself doesn’t seem as close. I thought they hit Iran first, interesting.

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