CARIBBEAN HINDUSTANI LANGUAGE: Why is it so Misunderstood?

Caribbean Hindustani


Visham bhimuLL
National Council of Indian Culture
Trinidad and Tobago

Much of the colonial Indian diaspora, like India, have recognized Modern Standard Hindi (MSH) as the authoritative form of the Hindustani language. The nationalistic move by India to adopt the Khaṛī Bolī vernacular of Delhi as the standard of
Hindustani seemed to have been mirrored in the international Indian diaspora. In
Trinidad & Tobago (T&T), despite English being the offi cial language and Trinidad
English Creole being the lingua franca, MSH is still taught within the community
of the Indian diaspora. These efforts are in an attempt to retain any manner or
form of an ancestral language of this community for the purpose of being an ethnic
language that fulfi lls the role of cultural expression and identity. Despite this MSH
only fulfi lls a role of communication in a very small portion of the diaspora community that comprises postcolonial Indian immigrants.
However, the language and culture that came with indentured Indian immigrants
during the colonial period 1845-1917 came from a time in India when a different
philosophy and linguistic situation prevailed. The language that comprised their
expression and philosophical understanding came from a different literary era than
MSH. Thus, a problem is presented to the diaspora in the search for their identity
when they look towards present day India for answers.
If we closely examine Trinidad Hindustani as one of the vernaculars of the Hindustani of the international colonial Indian diaspora, it becomes clear that this
language, apart from being one that belongs to a completely different literary era
from MSH, it may be a different language from MSH altogether.
This paper analytically examines the various forms of expressions Trinidad Hindustani, e.g. storytelling, speech conversation, proverbs, and songs. In doing so,
the peculiarities of the language are highlighted to bring an appreciation of how it
best suits the unique culture of the colonial Indian diaspora of T&T. Indeed, MSH
has served as a substitute for this language as, unlike Trinidad Hindustani, it is
well studied, documented and has published materials from which one can learn
it. However, it comes from an Indian nationalistic perspective which differs from
the unique Uttar Pradesh/Bihar culture brought by indentured Indians. It is hoped
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that this research will bring a renewed view of the Hindustani of the diaspora and
would emphasize the need for documentation of the various forms of expression of
this language, for the purpose of propagation of the unique cultural identity of the
colonial Indian diaspora.
Key words: Caribbean Hindustani, Hindustani, Hindi, Trinidad Bhojpuri,
Trinidad Hindi, Trinidad, Hindustani, Language, Culture, Overseas Hindi,
chutney Music.
Une grande partie de la diaspora indienne de l’époque coloniale, ainsi que l’Inde,
a reconnu l’hindi standard moderne (MSH) comme modèle authentique pour la
langue hindoustani. Cette décision de l’Inde d’adopter le Khari Boli, langue vernaculaire de Delhi, comme le standard de l’hindoustani semble se refléter dans la
diaspora indienne internationale. À Trinidad et Tobago (T&T), malgré que l’anglais
soit la langue officielle et que le créole à base anglaise de Trinidad soit la « lingua
franca », le MSH est toujours enseigné dans la communauté de la diaspora indienne.
Cependant, la langue et la culture qui arrivèrent avec les travailleurs engagés
indiens pendant la période coloniale 1845-1917 venaient d’une époque où une philosophie et une situation linguistique différentes prévalaient en Inde. Par conséquent,
un problème se pose à la diaspora en recherche d’identité lorsqu’elle se tourne vers
l’Inde actuelle pour obtenir des réponses.
Ce document analyse les différentes formes d’expression de l’hindoustani de
Trinidad et met en lumière les particularités de la langue afin de montrer comment elles s’adaptent au mieux à la culture unique de la diaspora indienne de T&T.
Bien sûr, le MSH a servi de remplaçant car, contrairement à l’hindoustani de Trinidad, il est bien étudié, documenté et de nombreuses publications permettent de
l’apprendre. Toutefois, il correspond à une perspective nationale indienne qui est
différente de la culture propre à l’Uttar Pradesh/Bihar apportée par les travailleurs
engagés indiens. Nous espérons que cette recherche suscitera une approche renouvelée de l’hindoustani de la diaspora et soulignera le besoin de documentation sur
les différentes formes d’expression de cette langue, afin d’assurer la diffusion de
cette identité culturelle unique de la diaspora indienne de l’époque coloniale.
Mots-clés: hindoustani caribéen, hindoustani, hindi, bhojpuri trinidadien,
hindi trinidadien, hindoustani, langue, culture, hindi d’outremer, musique
The terms Hindī and Hindustānī present a conundrum, not only to the colonial
Indian diaspora, but to the nation of present day India itself. In the time of
Amīr Khusrow, the renowned Sufi mystic and poet of the 13th-14th century AD,
the adjective Hindī, or more often Hindavī (Hinduī), was often used. It was
derived from the Persian noun “Hind” which is a cognate for the word “Sindh”
the Sanskrit name for the Indus River. After the Islamic conquest of the Indian
subcontinent, the adjective Hindavī was used by the Mughal aristocracy to
describe the people, culture and language of their new empire in the land
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International Conference : Indian Languages in Diasporas : Retention and Transmission
beyond the Indus River (amrit 1984). Naturally, during the time of the Mughal
empire, the language of the Hindūs, Hindavī, was in direct contact with the
heavily Arabicized Persian of the Muslim ruling class, and the reciprocity
of influence was indespensible (bahri 1960). Out of this interaction, was
metamorphosed a language, that was referred to as Hindustānī by the British
during their decades of westward conquest of Hindustān. In fact, the word
“Hindustānī” was another adjective, this time a designation by the British,
for anything of, or from Hindustān (The Place of the Hindūs). This language
that was encountered by the British as the lingua franca on the North Indian
subcontinent during the 18th-19th century AD, had different designations in
the various strata of society. In the Mughal court it was called Rextā (mixed
language), in the army it was called Urdū-Ē-Zabān (the language of the camp),
and among the hoi polloi it was known as Hindustānī, the language of the
people of Hindustān.
During the period of the westward British conquest of Hindustān, from
Calcutta to Delhi, slavery was abolished. This resulted in the loss of cheap
labor on the agricultural estates of many European colonies all over the world.
As the British were gradually gaining control over Hindustān, they also gained
control of the human resource in this slowly expanding new colony. The use
of Indians as a cheap source of labor was an all too ingenious idea to fill the
void that was left on the estates by the freedom of African slaves. During the
period of 1833-1920, about 3.5 million Indians emigrated from Hindustān,
under a contract system of Indentureship, to work on the agricultural estates in
European colonies worldwide. The places of immigration included Mauritius,
Fiji, South Africa, Suriname, Guyana and the Caribbean. This exodus of
Indian emigrants from the South Asian subcontinent saw the transplantation
of a resilient ancient culture and its dynamic language, that have endured even
to today on these erstwhile colonies.
The pattern of recruitment that was influenced by the westward move
of the British was rather interesting. This pattern was evident in the language spoken by the Indentured Laborers and their descendants. In all
the colonies, the majority of laborers referred to the language they spoke
as Hindustānī. However, despite being mutually intelligible, the variety of
Plantation Hindustānī that developed on each estate did differ to some extent.
In addition to being influenced by unique circumstances on each colony, this
was also largely due to the fact that, earlier on, in the indentureship period,
the British was only limited to recruits from south and west Bihār. Later,
as the empire expanded westward, recruits began also being sourced from
eastern and central United Provinces (modern Uttar Pradesh or U.P.). Hence,
the Hindustānī spoken on the estates, Plantation Hindustānī, in places where
laborers were brought earlier during indentureship, like Mauritius, Guyana,
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and Trinidad, had a heavier Bihārī flavor. The colonies that received laborers
later on, like Suriname and Fiji, had a Plantation Hindustānī of the U.P. style.
East Indian indentureship in Trinidad lasted from 1845 to 1917. During that
period, 147,592 Indian immigrants were brought to the shores of Trinidad.
The majority of emigrants left from the port of Calcutta, the then British
capital of Hindustān. Hugh Tinker reports that, from 1845 to 1860, many
recruits comprised the Hill Coolies of the Chota Nagpur Plateau, formally
part of the state of Bihār. A small number of recruits left from the southern
part of Madras (mohan 1978). As the British expanded to the west, recruits
were then sourced from the Gangetic plains. This started with western Bihār
and then expanded into eastern and central UP. Hindustānī was the language
the majority claimed to have spoken.
Here, the conundrum rears its ugly head, creating fodder for misrepresentation. In modern day India, the term Hindustānī refers to a pluricentric language with two official standard forms, Modern Standard Hindi (MSH) and
Modern Standard Urdu (MSU). These terms only consolidated after the partition of Hindustān into India and Pakistan, and the declaration of both countries
being separate independent nations in 1947. This would have been roughly a
century after Indian indentureship started in Trinidad. From this modern definition of the term Hindustānī, one can infer that Plantation Hindustānī or the
Hindustānī of the diaspora are just dialects of MSH. In fact, in modern times,
MSH is seen to be the formal and authoritative vernacular of Hindustānī, the
shining glory and bearer of Indian national cultural heritage. On the other
hand, the Hindustānī varieties of the diaspora, like Trinidad Hindustānī, are
viewed as broken and corrupted forms of MSH and exist as flickering flames
on the verge of being extinguished. However, MSH only began reaching its
pinnacle as the standard variety of Hindustānī about thirty years after the
commencement of Indentureship. This fact calls into question the notion that
the various varieties of Hindustānī in the diaspora are derived from MSH (rai
1984). Interestingly, in T&T, the literature handed down from the indentured
immigrants to their descendants was not verses in MSH. In Trinidad, ever
popular and alive are the verses of Tulsīdās’ Rāmcharitramānas in Avadhi, the
Kṛṣnā poems of Surdās and Mīrā Bai in BrajBhāṣā, and the mystic Bhōjpurī
compositions of Kabīr. These literary works date back to the Bhakti Movement
of India around the 14th-17th century AD and represent earlier literary standards of Hindustānī. Around that era, the vernacular of MSH was hardly cultivated as a literary language. This means that the linguistic situation in the
colony of Hindustān during Indentureship was different from present day
India. The term Hindustānī, may not have had the same definition during that
period, as the references of the standard vernacular of the language would have
been different. The communal conflict which lead to the Partition of India
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International Conference : Indian Languages in Diasporas : Retention and Transmission
and Pakistan in 1947, thirty years after Indentureship ended, involved much
change in the religious and political ideology and philosophy in Hindustān.
This change was represented in many facets in Indian expression, but one of
the aspects in which it was most evident was the language.
The vernacular known as MSH was actually derived from the dialect of
Hindustānī in and around the capital of New Delhi, an area in the proximity
to the seat of power, both of the Mughal and the British Empires. This vernacular is known as Khaṛī Bōlī (established speech). Its rise to power is a
rather complex story. Straddling its stream of development the two standards.
MSH on one end and MSU on the other. Their relative centers of gravity being
the Hindū community and Islamic community respectively. The evolutions
of these two varieties as the standard registers of Hindustānī in the modern
times, was heavily influenced by the direction of the expansion of the British
sovereignty and their imperial policy of “divide and rule”. However, it is
noteworthy at this point to mention that Khaṛī Bōlī was hardly cultivated as
written language during the medieval period. In fact, poetry in Khaṛī Bōlī did
not appear until the last quarter of the 19th century. Before the rise of Khaṛī
Bōlī, the literary dialects of Hindī were the ones adopted by the Bhakti saints:
BrajBhāṣā (Kṛṣhnā devotees), Avadhī (adopted by Rāma devotees) and Maithilī
(Vaiṣṇavaites of Bihār) (bahri 1960). The prime style of literary Hindustānī
from the late fifteenth century onwards was the western variety of Braj Bhaṣā
from the Braj area to the south east of Delhi. These related the story of the
escapades and adventures of the Hindū mythological figure Kṛṣhnā. It was
not until the closing decades of the 19th century that Braj Bhaṣā, and not the
neighbouring Khaṛī Bōlī, was meant by the designation of the term “Hindī”
Patronage towards its cultivation as a literary standard was received by the
local Mughal capital of Agra in this Braj area. More easterly was the Mughal
capital of Lucknow in the Avadh region, the location of the Rāma myth, that
gave patronage to the eastern variety of Hindustānī known as Avadhī. In
this vernacular, was written the Rāmacharitramānas of the 16th century poet
Tulsīdās, which is still regarded as forming the crowning glory of the whole
of Hindī literature (ShackLe & SneLL 1990). The conquest by the British from
Calcutta in the east to Delhi in the west over the 18th-20th Centuries did much
to influence the linguistic situation in India. The standards of BrajBhaṣā and
Avadhī of the old Mughal capitals were superseded by the Khaṛī Bōlī dialect
of Delhi, the new Capital of the British Raj from 1911 onwards. The turning
point was after the establishment of the Fort William College by the British
at Calcutta in 1800 to impart some knowledge of Indian languages to British
officials and young servants of the British East India Company. Around this
time, prose works neither existed in Hindī nor Urdū. Neither varieties had
prose traditions of any importance (kinG 1994). At this institution, it is said
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that the genesis of writings in Khaṛī Bōlī took place, and the first important
expressions of differentiation of the two variants of this vernacular, Hindī and
Urdū also began here (kinG 1994). The drive towards this change was also fueled by the replacement of Persian in the courts of justice by provincial standard vernaculars. This meant that from the start of Indentureship, KhaṛīBōlī
would have started its climb towards becoming an authoritative standard.
However, it only reached respectability in full during the 1920’s (kinG 1994),
some years after Indentureship ended. Because of this lack of antiquity in
Khaṛī Bōl īHindī’s literary tradition, supporters and historians of MSH of the
19th and 20th centuries include the older literary traditions of BrajBhaṣā and
Avadhī, and other regional standards in the discussion of “Hindī literature” of
the more distant past. However, when discussing the literature of more recent
and the present, they largely ignore these other traditions in favor of Khaṛī
Bōlī. Thus, the myth of the antiquity of “Hindī” literature masks the reality
that Khaṛī Bōlī literature lagged far behind from the vernaculars understood
to be standard varieties of Hindustānī by the indentured Indian immigrants.
We can now make the statement that the Hindustānī spoken by East Indian
indentured laborers belonged to a time when a dynamic linguistic change
was taking place in the former British colony of Hindustān. It would follow
that, the understanding of the linguistic term Hindustānī, handed down by
the laborers to their descendants in the present day Indian diaspora, as in
erstwhile colonies like Trinidad, would have been one from that pre-partition linguistic situation in Hindustān. During the period of Indentureship in
Trinidad, the Indians recruited spoke a fragmented spread of dialects of a
language they called Hindustānī. To get a better understanding of the spread
of vernaculars they spoke, and which ones mostly contributed and influenced
the Hindustānī that was developed on the estates (Plantation Hindustānī),
we must now look, even more closely, at the areas in Hindustān from where
they were recruited. According to Tinker, in the earlier part of Indentureship
(1845-1860) they were recruited mostly from Hazārībāgh and Choṭānāgpur
of the Chota Nagpur Plateau, formerly the southwestern part of Bihār. These
Hill Coolies spoke mostly Nagpuriā (Sadani Bhōjpūrī) and some also spoke
various tribal languages of the Astro-Asiatic language family. There were
also a few untouchables who departed from Madras and spoke the Dravidian
language of Tamil. However, from about 1857, as the British expanded westwards, recruits were sourced from the Gangetic plains in the areas of western
Bihār and eastern UP. From Bihār, these areas included: Muzaffarpur, Paṭnā,
Gayā, Champāran, Śahabād, Sāran and Darbhangā. From U.P. these areas
included: Gōrakhpur, Basti, Gōndā, Fyzābād, Jaunpur, Banāras, Āzamghar,
Ghāzīpur and Balliā. The spread of the vernaculars of Hindustānī over these
recruitment areas are better illustrated in Table 1.
Visham Bhimull
International Conference : Indian Languages in Diasporas : Retention and Transmission
Recruitment Area Dominant Hindustānī Vernacular
The ChotāNāgpur Plateau
Hazārībāgh Magahi and Tribal Austroasiatic languages
Choṭānāgpur Nagpuriā or SadaniBhōjpurī
Muzaffarpur Maithilī
Patnā Magahī
Gayā Magahī
Champāran Standard Northern Bhōjpurī
Śahabād Standard Southern Bhōjpurī
Sāran Standard Southern Bhōjpurī
Darbhangā Maithilī
United Provinces
Gōrakhpur Standad Northern Bhōjpurī
Basti Standard Northern Bhōjpurī
Gōndā Avadhī
Fyzābād Avadhī
Jaunpur Avadhī
Banāras Standard Western Bhōjpurī
Āzamghar Standard Western Bhōjpurī
Ghazīpur Standard Western and Southern Bhōjpurī
Balliā Standard Southern Bhōjpurī
In T&T, there are no comprehensive accounts of the languages brought to
Trinidad by the Indian indentured laborers (mohan 1978). To conduct any
inquiry into this matter would prove to be very difficult for two major reasons.
Firstly, there is no substantial record of the languages to give a clear picture
of vernaculars of Hindustānī brought by the indentured laborers. Secondly, as
proven above, indentureship lasted about eight decades during a period when
the South Asian subcontinent was going through dramatic linguistic change.
Thus, the vernaculars of Hindustānī brought to Trinidad over that period,
would have been at different stages of the language evolution and development.
The data clearly points to the fact that the majority of Indian immigrants to
Trinidad were native speakers of various dialects of Bhōjpurī. This is not
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a surprising fact, as the areas where most of the Indians were recruited from
was the Bhōjpurī speaking area of North East India: the western part of Bihār,
the eastern part of U.P. and the southern, or Rānchī plateau of ChōṭāNāgpur.
This linguistic area is demonstrated in Figure 1.
Figure1. From The Origin and Development of Bhojpuri (Tiwari 1994).
The Bhōjpurī brought to Trinidad was not particularly homogenous, since
laborers were recruited from many different parts of the Bhōjpurī speaking
territory. The Bhōjpurī brought from the subcontinent was an atomized spread
of peasant dialects. The preponderance of Bhōjpurī speakers among the Indian
indentured laborers taken to Trinidad is evident, not just from an examination
of the areas from which the recruits were drawn for emigration, but also from
the striking similarities between this variety of Hindustānī widely spoken in
Trinidad and the different varieties of Bhōjpurī spoken in India. However,
as can be seen from Table 1, Bhōjpurī was not the only Indic language taken
Visham Bhimull
International Conference : Indian Languages in Diasporas : Retention and Transmission
to Trinidad during this period. There were some recruits from areas of U.P.
and Bihār which were directly contiguous to the Bhōjpurī speaking territory,
which resulted in smaller groups of Avadhī, Magahī and Maithilī speakers.
There is also anecdotal evidence that these languages were once spoken in
Trinidad, as well as languages from further afield, such as Bengali, Nepali
and Telugu. Similarly, the immigrants from Madras brought with Tamil other
Dravidian languages of south India (mohan 1978). The fact that Bhōjpurī was
the largest group of regional vernaculars brought to Trinidad from Hindustān,
meant it formed the “critical mass” that could make it a reasonable choice as
a link language (mohan n.d.). Its dominance resulted in these various village
dialects of Bhōjpurī crystallizing as the lingua franca of the Trinidadian Indian
diaspora with the gradual disappearance of other vernaculars of Hindustānī
brought by smaller groups of laborers from other regions outside the Bhōjpurī
area (motiLaL 1885). Tamil was the only other Indian language that survived
to some extent due to the significant numbers recruited from the untouchable
community in Tamil Nadu (mohan n.d.). But even this small community
assimilated Bhōjpurī as a necessity for communication with the rest of the
diaspora. A new community had now come into existence, centered around
Bhōjpurī that linked and identified the community. Bhōjpurī, was thus the
vernacular on which Trinidadian Plantation Hindustānī had its foundation.
Bhōjpurī, in fact, found new life in Trinidad and elsewhere in the world
through indentureship. As we saw before indentureship began shortly after
Khaṛī Bōlī began its ascent towards becoming the standard Hindustānī. Around
that time, Bhōjpurī was not a language with a center of gravity.
Figure2. The Hindi Belt or region where the varieties of Hindi in the broadest
sense are spoken Source: Hindi Bealt; Wikipedia
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Literary expression and political power were, by now, both in KhaṛīBōlī,
the first indication that this vernacular was MSH. By the time indentureship
began, Bhōjpurī was already “colonized” by MSH, rendered submissive and
menial. It was a language stunted and unable to grow as it had been cut off
at every pass by MSH (mohan n.d.). It was indeed a miracle that Bhōjpurī
survived the way it did in Trinidad. In India however, Bhōjpurī and many other
vernaculars that enjoyed their day in the sun, especially in the literary world,
had fallen to Khaṛī Bōlī as the authoritative standard, being granted the title
of MSH due to politico-linguistic developments in the modern period. This
resulted in the designation of the “Hindī Belt” that now considered vernaculars from Rajasthan to Bihār being vernaculars of MSH. This is illustrated
in Figure 2.
At the time, Indian immigrants came to Trinidad under the contract of
indentureship, such an understanding of MSH and so called vernaculars
of this perceived standard did not exist. As mentioned before, most of the
immigrants here in Trinidad and elsewhere in other colonies who came from
the northern regions of Hindustān designated their language Hindustānī. At
that time there seemed to be no linguistic differentiation between vernaculars
and even languages. The idea of differentiation of the Hindustānī language
into further subdivisions was initiated in 1898, when Sir George Grierson
was appointed superintendent of the Linguistic Survey of India. In 1903, he
began compiling all the data collected about the languages of India for the
purpose of classifying them. Some conclusions that came out of that survey
is demonstrated in Figure 3 below.
Figure3.Classification of North Indian
(Indo-Aryan Languages. Source Wikipedia)
Visham Bhimull
International Conference : Indian Languages in Diasporas : Retention and Transmission
Towards the end of the 19th century, Grierson noted that two distinct prose
styles had evolved out of Khaṛī Bōlī (kinG 1994). These were to become MSH
and MSU, languages that came to bear nationalistic pride after the Partition
and independence from the British. They represented politico-religious forces
within India and threatened to absorb much of the diversity of India’s rich
heritage under the banner of Indian nationalism. As an outcry to preserve
their unique identities, the language definitions and classification that came
out Grierson’s survey were utilized by the various regions of India to designate their unique linguistic and hence cultural heritage. Thus, previously
in the Bhōjpurī speaking area, during indentureship, the western Bihār and
eastern UP residents called their language Hindustānī . Those who emigrated
left behind the final stages of the linguistic conquering of Bhōjpurī to become
known as one of the vernaculars of MSH on the eastern end of the Hindī Belt.
To hold on to their Bhōjpuriyā linguistic and cultural heritage they began
calling their speech Bhōjpurī, a vernacular of the Bihārī dialect (a term coined
by Grierson) of Hindustānī, still misunderstood today as being a dialect of
MSH. A half a world away in Trinidad however, the central core of Bhōjpurī
came to life as a language still referred to as Hindustānī.
As mentioned earlier, Trinidad Hindustānī is seen to be a koine derived
from a heterogeneous mix of Hindustānī dialects of Bhōjpurī speaking
area. Thus Bhōjpurī, being the Hindustānī variety with the “critical mass”,
became the central core of Trinidad Hindustānī, and fusion of it obliterated
all other Indian languages that had come to Trinidad, and all the dialects of
Bhōjpurī outside this core (mohan n.d.). This language spoken on the estates
in Trinidad, continued to evolve after Indentureship ended in 1917, assimilating many words and grammar elements from French and English. Its evolution
yielded a variety of Hindustānī unique to Trinidad called Trinidad Hindustānī
(often also referred to as Trinidad Bhōjpurī).
During the time of Indentureship, and shortly after, Trinidad Bhōjpurī
remained within the realm of being only a spoken language, much like the
French Creole and English Creole that existed on the island. It was an ethnic
language of the Trinidad Indian diaspora, however, it was not a language
utilized for formal expression and documentation of Indian culture. Much of
the essential written material that was necessary for the community’s knowledge on Indian culture came out of India. By this time MSH was the official language in which such material was written. Many of the anthologies,
manuscripts and documents that came out of India which served to educate
the diaspora on their Indian heritage were in MSH. It is also worthy to note
that, even from the time of Indentureship many of the laborers never saw
Bhōjpurī as anything but a vernacular of MSH. The same politico-linguistic
agenda in India that saw the Hindustānī varieties of classical literary acclaim,
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such as BrajBhāṣā and Avadhī, become considered mere dialects of MSH,
also had crippled Bhōjpurī in a serious way. The indentured immigrants had
already had a notion that their speech of Bhōjpurī was not even a vernacular
of MSH, but a broken or corrupted form of it. This notion was passed on
to the descendants of these immigrants and is a major reason for it virtual
extinction in the present day.
Bhōjpurī, since much before the 19th century, has always remained an
oral tradition. It has never enjoyed great literary fame like other forms of
Hindustānī. During the time of the Linguistic Survey of India, Bhōjpurī was
classified as being part of the “Bihārī” group (see Figure 3). Grierson was
the first to use this term “Bihārī”. His reasoning for this designation differed
from the understanding of earlier scholars who called Bhōjpurī a branch of
Eastern Hindī. But this was a ground breaking idea as for the first time the
Bihārī dialects were beginning to be viewed as descended from a separate
branch of the Indo-Aryan family of languages than MSH. Grierson, through
his Linguistic Survey, had gathered enough evidence to show that while MSH
was postulated to have descended from Śaurasenī Prākrit, the Bihārī group
of speeches had evolved out of Māgadhī Prākrit, two distinct spoken vernaculars of Sanskrit. B. Saksena, in 1937, gives the following isoglosses in an
attempt to establish the linguistic boundary between Avadhī (derived from
Ardha-MāghīPrākrit) and Bhōjpuri (SakSena 1971):
“The distinguishing features of Bhōjpurī”
1. The present tense with the enclitic “lā”
2. The past tense –l
3. The dative postposition “lā”
Figure4 The Bihārī Languages.
These features are shared in all three Bihārī speeches which are the most
western of what is known as the Māgadhan branch of the Indo-Aryan family of
Visham Bhimull
International Conference : Indian Languages in Diasporas : Retention and Transmission
languages. This branch of languages has been derived from Māgadhī Prākrit.
Figure 4 illustrates these three members of the Bihārī group.
Even much later, in the 20th century, U.N. Tiwari further argued that within
the trio of Bhōjpurī, Magahī and Maithilī, Bhōjpurī should be considered
separately from the latter two as they are closer in form and literary tradition
(tiwari 1994). These new considerations of the Indo-Aryan languages of
Northern India gave rise the revolution that redefined this family tree. Figure 5
illustrates the current concepts of the Indo-Aryan group of languages.
Figure5 Indo-Aryan Family Tree.
As clearly seen in Figure 4, MSH/MSU are not even a sister language to
Bhōjpuri, but are more like cousins.
Based on the evidence presented thus far, a linguistic analysis of the ethnic language referred to as Hindustānī in T&T gives a classification of the
Trinidadian variant of Bhōpurī (Trinidad Bhōpurī designated by mohan).
As proven by the above analysis, Bhōpurī is in fact a language distinct from,
rather than a derivate of MSH. Many in T&T still refer to Bhōpurī as “Broken
Hindi”. One fact that lent credence to this notion is that there is a high degree
of lexical similarities between Bhōpurī and MSH in contrast with grammatical
difference between them (mohan 1978).
Because they come from sister Prākrits (spoken varieties of Sanskrit) they
share a great deal of vocabulary, however, they differ in inflection and conjugation. Phonetics is also another aspect in which they differ. The following
are some examples of how these two languages differ:
„ Phonetics
1. The closed vowel “a” in MSH is pronounced as “a” in the English “what’;
in Bhōjpurī it is more rounded and sounds like the “o” in the English “owl”.
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Conférence internationale : Langues de l’Inde en diasporas : maintiens et transmissions
2. Short vowels are seldom found at the end of a word in MSH but are
often found in Bhōjpurī.
3. In MSH diphthongs are pronounced smoothly, however they tend to be
split into two separate vowels in Bhōjpurī.
4. There is a tendency to nasalize more in Bhōjpurī than MSH.
5. Short vowels in MSH are sometimes lengthened in Bhōjpurī.
6. Long vowels in MSH are sometimes shortened in Bhōjpurī.
1. The sounds “ś” and “ṣ” in MSH are pronounced as “s” in Bhōjpurī.
2. “y” in MSH is pronounced as “j” in Bhōjpurī.
3. “l” in MSH is pronounced as “r” in Bhōjpurī.
4. “v” or “w” in MSH is pronounced as “b” in Bhōjpurī.
5. The guttural consonants that occur in MSH from Perso-Arabic loan
words are not existent in Bhōjpurī.
6. “z” in MSH, a Perso-Arabic sound, is pronounced as “j” in Bhōjpurī.
7. Compound consonants in MSH are pronounced as two separate consonants in Bhōjpurī.
8. The consonant “ksha” in MSH becomes an aspirated “ch” in Bhōjpurī.
„ Vocabulary
There are shared words in both MSH and Bhōjpurī that are commonly
used in the daily speech of both languages:
MSH and Bhōjpurī English
Din day
Rāt night
Pānī water
Kām work
Hāth hand
Hawā wind
Rōtī flat bread
There are some words that both MSH and Bhōjpurī share, but they occur
at different frequencies in both languages:
Visham Bhimull
International Conference : Indian Languages in Diasporas : Retention and Transmission
MSH Bhōjpurī English
Kuttā kukur dog
Sōnā sūte to sleep
Chākū chhūrī knife
Chakkī jātā grinding stone for grain
Ubalanā khaule to boil
Kaddū kōnhaṛā pumpkin
Pānw gōṛ foot
There are words that are unique to each language that come from their
respective Prākrit predecessor:
MSH Bhōjpurī English
Qasam kiriyā promise
laghu lahū small
brāhmaṇ babhan Brahman
Bālak hōril child
Chullū churwā cupping of the hand as if to
hold water
In MSH there may be diminutive feminine words used for objects in a
miniature form as opposed to the masculine form denoting the same object
but in a larger form. The diminutive feminine form is used in Bhōjpurī for
both large and small forms:
MSH Masculine Form MSH Feminine Form/
Bhōjpurī English
jhanḍā jhanḍī Flag
Karailā karailī bitter gourd
Thālā thālī/thariyā Plate
khāṭ khatiyā Bed
„ Grammar
1. In MSH all nouns have a grammatical gender that dictate gender agreement, however, in Bhōjpurī gender of nouns may be limited to animate
object, especially people. In Bhōjpurī grammatical gender agreements
are nonexistent.
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2. In MSH the concept of definite and indefinite articles do not exist and
it is inferred in context. However, suffixation achieves this in Bhōjpurī.
Adding the suffix –wā and
–iyā creates definiteness for the noun:
MSH: ghōṛā (a horse or the horse)
sēj (a bed or the bed)
Bhōjpurī: ghōṛā (a horse); ghōṛwā (the horse)
sēj (a bed); sejiyā (the bed)
These suffixes can also be used with animate objects, especially people, to give an affectionate, diminutive or pejorative sense.
Tenses in MSH and Bhōjpurī have different systems of conjugation in
each language. These are the hallmark sign that they have descended from
different branches of the language tree. Here we conjugate the verb “dēkh-”
(to see) in both languages:
Tense MSH Bhōjpurī English
past dēkhā dēkhal saw;seen
present dēkhtā dēkhēlā/dēkhat see(s)/seeing
future dēkhēgā dēkhab will see
We can conclude here that the standard variety of Hindustānī in modern
day India, Khaṛī Bōlī, designated MSH, is not the same that formed the
Hindustānī of the diaspora, specifically of T&T. Bhōjpurī, the Hindustānī of
the diaspora, is in fact not even a vernacular of MSH, but a separate language
in its own right. It comes from a rich oral tradition that highlights the day
to day life, philosophy, festivals and religious practices of the Bhōjpuriyā
people who formed the majority of the T&T Indian diaspora. The Mauritian
Indian diaspora, who share a similar Bhōjpuriyā history to T&T, has been the
exemplars in promoting language within the context of culture. We look upon
Mauritius with great pride as, apart from being the advocates of promoting
MSH, more than even India itself, it has gone a step further and succeeded in
introducing Bhōjpurī as a language being taught at primary school level. It is a
fact that in all diaspora countries, the ethnic language of the diaspora peoples
is on the decline and is threatened with extinction in the face of globalization.
Even India itself is no exception. MSH is only spoken among the preferred
language of the uneducated lower classes in India. The upper classes who can
still understand and speak Hindī, now seldom prefer to speak in English, the
language that represents upward social mobility. A story that is very similar
to Bhōjpurī in T&T. Despite these negative telltale signs, there may still be
hope. In the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean many of the erstwhile French
Visham Bhimull
International Conference : Indian Languages in Diasporas : Retention and Transmission
colonies have taken pride in their French Creole culture. There have been
efforts to preserve the language of French Creole by creating an orthography and standardized grammar. The fruit of all these efforts is seen in the
establishment of grammar books and dictionaries to teach French Creole to
adult and child alike. All this is for the purpose of cultural maintenance and
sustainability. This is an asset in preserving the identity of a people, a quality
so essential in the psyche of an individual. The same can be done for Bhōjpurī
and MSH. We have seen the beginnings of it in the work done by Sarita
Boodhoo in Mauritius and Motilal Marhé in Suriname. In Mauritius there are
books available to learn Bhōjpurī and in Suriname there is documentation of
a “Sarnami Byakaran” (Surinamese Hindustānī Grammar). Recently there is
a Surinamese Hindustānī dictionary available online. In the spirit of uneSco’s
rights of a child to know his identity through his ancestral/ethnic language,
we must strengthen efforts to preserve whatever we can of the Hindustānī
language of the Indian diaspora.
bahri, Hardev (1960) –“Persian Influence on Hindi.” Bharati Press Publibations.
kinG, R. Christopher (1994) –“One Language, Two Scripts: The Hindi Movement in
Nineteenth Century North India.” Oxford University Press.
mohan, Peggy (1978) –“Trinidad Bhojpuri: A Morphological Study.” University of
Michigan; unpublished doctoral dissertation.
mohan, Peggy (n. d.) – “Trinidad Bhojpuri: A Brief History of Power.” Unpublished.
motiLaL, Marhé (1885) –“SarnamiByakaran: EenElementaireGrammatica Van Het
Sarnami.”, Cip-GegevensKoininklijkeBibliotheek.
rai, Amrit (1984) – “A House Divided: The Origin and Development of Hindi/
Hindavi.” Oxford University Press.
SakSena, B.R. (1971) –“Evolution of Awadhi (A Branch of Hindi).” Motilal Banarsidass
ShackLe, Christopher & Rupert Snell (1990) –“Hindi and Urdu 1800: A Common
Reader.” Heritage Publisher.
tiwari, UdaiNarain (1994) –“The Origin and Development of Bhojpuri.” The Asiatic
Society, 1960.

Dear Colleagues,

Please see this article on a topic I presented at the Diaspora Conference in Guadeloupe in 2015 entitled


I represented both the Hindi Foundation and the National Council of Indian Culture at this conference.

I thank you for the opportunity!

Dr Visham Bhimull

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Reference: Mohan, Peggy Ramesar; Trinidad Bhojpuri a Morphological Study; 1978