Hindi is the most widely spoken language of the Republic of India, centered principally in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh in the north-central part of the country. Its 275 million speakers rank it as one of the leading languages of the world but it is, nevertheless, understood by only about one-third of India's population. When independence was achieved in 1947, Hindi was chosen as India's national language, but its failure to win acceptance among speakers of other languages has forced it to share the title of official language with English.
Speakers of Hindi are also to be found in many scattered parts of the world. In the newly independent countries of Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, and Fiji, in the Pacific, it is spoken by about a third of the population. There are also sizable bodies of speakers in Trinidad, Guyana, and Surinam.
Like most of the languages of northern India, Hindi is descended from Sanskrit. Hindi and Urdu, the official language of Pakistan, are virtually the same language, though the former is written in the Sanskrit characters and the latter in the Perso-Arabic script. Pure Hindi derives most of its vocabulary from Sanskrit, while Urdu contains many words from Persian and Arabic. The basis of both languages is actually Hindustani, the colloquial form of speech that served as the lingua franca of much of India for more than four centuries.
Hindi was originally a variety of Hindustani spoken in the area of New Delhi. Its development into a national language had its beginnings in the colonial period, when the British began to cultivate it as a standard among government officials. Later it was used for literary purposes and has since become the vehicle for some excellent prose and poetry.
English words of Hindi origin include cot, loot, thug, chintz, bandanna, dungaree, rajali, pundit, coolie, tom-tom, and juggernaut.