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My family are Pakistani, but I never learned Urdu as a child. I'd like to learn a little, primarily as a means of keeping this part of my heritage alive. However, the pragmatist in me realizes that Hindi is a far more useful language (number of speakers, more advanced economy) and that Hindi will likely be easier to learn due to the volume of e.g. Bollywood, Rosetta Stone, etc available. I know the two languages are similar, and I already can read Arabic script, so:

  • How do Hindi and Urdu actually differ? Is the relationship between the (spoken) languages more like the relationship between Glaswegian English and American English or Spanish and Portuguese?
  • Are their grammatical forms exactly the same?
  • Do they differ in terms of pronunciation?
  • Do they differ in terms of vocabulary?
  • If I hire a Hindi teacher, would a Pakistani be able to tell I was learning Hindi? Would I be able to make myself understood if I were talking to my (urdu speaking) grandparents?

Thanks!

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How do Hindi and Urdu actually differ? Is the relationship between the (spoken) languages more like the relationship between Glaswegian English and American English or Spanish and Portuguese? Are their grammatical forms exactly the same?

sentence structure of Urdu and Hindi is completely the same.

Do they differ in terms of pronunciation?

Not much. A few sounds like ز or ض are pronounced in Urdu as Z but in Hindi its more close to J. but over all its more or less the same.

Do they differ in terms of vocabulary?

The Urdu speakers tend to use more loan words from Arabic origin while Hindi speakers tend to use more loan words from Sanskrit. but the street language in both case is the same (as it doesnt rely on loan words much)

If I hire a Hindi teacher, would a Pakistani be able to tell I was learning Hindi? Would I be able to make myself understood if I were talking to my (urdu speaking) grandparents?

They would have no trouble understanding other there very few words here and there (vocabulary difference). They might guess the difference in accent.

As for Bollywood's Hindi, its more a neutral version of Hindi+Urdu (less Arabic or Sanskrit words) so as to capture a wider audience.

Also for Urdu vs Hindi, Hindi has advantage of better internet presence then Urdu. On the other hand instead of learning a new Devanagari script from scratch, using Urdu's Arabic-based script would be more easier for you. Even if you choose Hindi, and you are already able to read Urdu, then you are learning both languages at the same time.

And with younger people using roman letters instead of Urdu or hindi's native scripts, and the tendency to freely use English words freely in Urdu/Hindi sentences, the difference between the two languages is growing less.

I am a native Urdu speaker with no trouble communicating with Hindi-speaking friends.

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  • Indeed. I gather that one of the biggest sources of vocabulary difference is religion! – Luke Sawczak Aug 2 '18 at 13:50
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There are some general differences in pronunciation:

+-------+---------+------+---------+
| Hindi | IPA (h) | Urdu | IPA (u) |
+-------+---------+------+---------+
| ङ     | /ŋ/     |     |          |
+-------+---------+      |         +
| ञ     | /ɲ/     | ن   | [n]      |
+-------+---------+      |         +
| ण     | /ɳ/     |      |         |
+-------+---------+------+---------+
|       |         | س    | [s]     |
+ ष     | /ʂ/     +------+---------+
|       |         | ش    | [ʃ]     |
+-------+---------+------+---------+

Additionally, sounds incorporated from foreign loanwords are often pronounced with different realisations if the words are not well established in a certain dialect (e.g. Persian sounds in Hindi, Sanskrit sounds in Urdu):

  • /ɳ/ ण ڻ (Sanskrit)
  • /ʒ/ झ़ ژ (Persian, English)
  • /f/ फ़ ف (Persian, English, Portuguese)
  • /z/ ज़ ز (Persian, English, Portuguese)
  • /q/ क़ ق (Persian)
  • /x/ ख़ خ (Persian)
  • /ɣ/ ग़ غ (Persian)

In some non-urban dialects of Hindi, /f, z, ʃ/ are realised as /pʰ, dʒ, s/, though this is considered 'nonstandard'1. The maintenance of /f, z, ʃ/ is characteristic of all sociolects of Urdu however.2

Likewise /ʒ/, though present in English loanwords as well as Persian, is extremely rare and as such often assimilated to /z/ or /dʒ/ by Hindi speakers.

The other sounds which only exist in Persian loanwords are often pronounced with native realisations in Hindi1 2:

  • /q/ क़ ق (sometimes substituted for [k] (क) in Hindi)
  • /x/ ख़ خ (sometimes substituted for [kʰ] (ख) in Hindi)
  • /ɣ/ ग़ غ (sometimes substituted for [ɡ] (ग) in Hindi).

1. A Primer of Modern Standard Hindi, Motilal Banarsidass
2. The Indo-Aryan Languages, Colin Masica

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