Hindi is the official language of India, with more than 500 million native speakers and approximately 800 million total speakers worldwide. Hindi currently ranks second behind Mandarin Chinese in terms of global number of speakers. Hindi is one of two standardized registers of Hindustani; the other is Urdu, the official language of Pakistan.  

Native-born East Indians often speak in Hindi along with two or more regional languages as well as English which is the official international language of India. Learning Hindi, English and the regional language are often compulsory in the primary grades.

The American demographic of East Indian immigrants reflects this multilingualism; they are commonly well educated, English speaking individuals. This is partially due to the 1965 Immigration Act that granted visas to people in certain professions and to those with high educational backgrounds. This is not always the case, however, as there are others who have received visas through marriage or other family circumstances. For instance, “older, first generation Indian immigrants, though well-educated, may not speak English and need a translator for health care transactions”

Dialects and Regional Languages

Hindi is an umbrella term for a language which is often considered a continuum of dialects which vary based on geological location. Dialects include: Hindustani, Urdu, Khari Boli (Sarhindi/Standard Hindi), Chattisgarhi (Lahariya/Khalwahi), Bagheli, Awadhi, Bihari, Rajasthani, Braj Bhasha, Bundeli, Hariyanvi (Bangaru/Jatu), Kanauji, Dakhini, Rekhta. 4)

Language Considerations for Therapists

Basics of phonology

This section provides a brief overview of the phonological inventory of the Hindi language for clinicians who wish to make informed choices regarding the appropriateness of articulatory or phonetic targets, and is limited to vowels and consonants. Much of this information has been taken from an extensive Wikipedia entry on Hindi. Clinicians are strongly encouraged to consult this entry for more specific information including supra-segmentals, history, sociolinguistics, vocabulary, and grammar.

Choosing Appropriate Targets for Treatment

Basic differences between the phonetic inventories of English and Hindi which may guide the clinician in choosing appropriate targets for non-native English speakers are as follows:

  • Hindi differentiates between aspirated and unaspirated plosives 
    • Hindi also has murmured plosives (e.g., /bʰ/), thus making this distinction with both voiced and voiceless plosives
  • Hindi has relatively few syllable-initial consonant clusters. A native Hindi may demonstrate epenthesis when producing these clusters (e.g., fly may be produced /fəlaɪ/).
  • /d/ and /t/ are not used in Hindi. However, Hindi does use both the dental /d̪, t̪/ and retroflex /ʈ, ʈʰ, ɖ, ɖʰ/ phonemes, all of which are distinctive sounds in Hindi
  • There are no /v/ or /ʒ/ sounds in Hindi
    • Of note: /v/, /w/, and /ʋ/ are all allophones in Hindi. A native Hindi speaker may therefore have difficulty producing the sounds /w/ and /v/ accurately, perhaps substituting one for the other in a manner similar to a native Japanese speaker's productions of /l/ and /ɹ/.
  • Hindi uses the voiced glottal fricative /ɦ/ as opposed to the voiceless /h/ used in English
  • Some Hindi dialects use the velar fricatives /x, ɣ/ and the uvular stop /q/
Hindi overall has a larger consonant inventory and differentiates meaning based on more place and aspiration cues compared to English. 


Hindi is considered a syllable-timed language, meaning that the vowel durations produced by speakers are similar across syllables, and vowels are not typically reduced. English is a stress-timed language, and thus native Hindi speakers may produce English with a rhythm that is perceptually atypical to native English speakers. 

Basics of Morphology & Syntax

A full discussion of Hindi morphology is beyond the scope of this work. Clinicians interested in the morphological properties of Hindi should consult the Wikipedia article on Hindustani Grammar.

Hindi syntax is characterized by its use of the SOV (subject-object-verb) word order, and places prepositions after the noun or pronoun that is being modified (i.e. Hindi uses postpositions, not prepositions). Hindi also uses the subjunctive to make requests, such that requests in Hindi have the word order of statements, not questions. A native Hindi speaker may therefore ask for something in statement form, e.g., "You may lend me a pencil, please."

Though Hindi uses many of the same tenses as English (e.g., present simple and present continuous), many of these tenses are used interchangably in Hindi and do not signal a difference in meaning. Therefore, a native Hindi speaker may use the present continuous when only the present simple is required (e.g., "I am not wanting to go" instead of "I don't want to go). Hindi also does not use the auxiliary do, so this word may be omitted by native Hindi speakers (e.g., in the previous example, the phrase "I am not wanting" was used instead of "I don't want"). 

Basics of Semantics

Many East Indian individuals who have learned English prior to arrival in the US will use a form of British English that is somewhat more formal than the version typically spoken in the U.K.

American English vs. British English

British English and American English deviate in some vocabulary definition and lexical usage. A large (although by no means comprehensive) list may be found via the following resources:

Clinicians should carefully consider these differences particularly when working with a client in naming or yes/no tasks. For instance, a clinician asking a client if they are wearing pants may in fact be inquiring about their underwear. Holding up a flashlight in a naming task and prompting with a /f/ may be confusing to the individual who refers to that tool as a “torch”.

There may be other semantic differences relating to the individual as well. The author of this article worked with a client of East Indian decent who replied “yes” he was wearing pajamas when he was in fact wearing sweatpants. A discussion with the client's spouse revealed that these two terms are synonymous, however no information has been found that would have alerted this clinician to this fact before-hand. Therefore, clinicians may want to take special care to only use referent items or ask questions that they are certain of, or be prepared to work with a family member to clarify meaning or assist with semantic differences prior to the session.


Original Contributor: Phillip A. Egan, Winter 2011