Learning Hindi

Four days, nineteen syllables, and ten vowels into the Devanagari syllabary, and I am able to read a short passage about Kavita. After her name, we learn that she’s an Indian girl, and that she has a friend called Deepak. Also that her house is in Delhi, and that it’s big. Finally she tells us about her book, which is blue.

I’m not sure if the idea is to develop a bond with Kavita and Deepak over the next few chapters of the course book, but if so, it has admittedly got off to a fairly bland start. It is, however, thrilling to feel that just a few days ago, and only a handful of hours back, the only thing I knew about Hindi, was that all the letters seem to hang from a horizontal line, (I’ve now learned this line is actually the last stroke when writing the letters, so perhaps it’s more like a hat); and the only words I knew were namaste, chai, and the word for “me”, which I picked up watching the movie Slumdog Millionaire, from the scene where little Latika joins Jamal and Salim to shelter from the pouring rain, and reveals her name.

It’s when you first start learning a new language that the learning curve can be the most exponential, but it is fascinating to make something hitherto completely foreign and unintelligible into something that is becoming familiar. The reason rapid progress is possible in these very early stages, is because the Devanagari syllabary is beautifully logical, and that the letters are quite easy to write and recognize when broken down into single strokes. In Devanagari, each letter is either a vowel (of which there are eleven), or a consonant (of which there are 35), comprising a default ‘a’ vowel, such that each letter is, in effect, a single syllable – this is why Devanagari is a syllabary and not an alphabet. I have yet to discover whether the language as a whole possesses similar logic to its script. I suspect there will be no great logic to the gender of some nouns (why a home should be masculine, but a book feminine for example), and I’ve already come across some exceptions to rules (adjectives that, unlike most, do not change for the gender, number, and case of the noun), but all in all I think it pays to be optimistic. However, I see I’ll be learning more about Deepak in four pages’ time, and that before this there are four more consonants, and the last of the vowels to be assimilated, so I’d best get back to work.

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