The Hindi Comma

So, today one of my classmates got angry at us using Bengali in our class’s WhatsApp group and he proclaimed that he will be speaking in Chinese from now. To take this joke further, I downloaded Google Cantonese Keyboard and texted some stuff with it (some people tend to go very far to extend a joke). The keyboard had a feature in which you can type out in English and the keyboard will out put the Cantonese phonetically.

Then, later I texted Sam ‘okay cool’ in Cantonese and he told me shouldn’t it be ‘okay, cool’ or does the Cantonese language lack a comma. Then he asked me if the comma in Hindi is an English influence. That got me thinking.

Turns out that the Hindi comma or the alpviraam is indeed an English influence. It got introduced into the language in the British Rule. This also the case for the prashnaviraam (Hindi question mark) and the vismayadhibodhak (Hindi exclamation) and many other punctuations. It is not a big surprise, as the punctuation is more common in Latin derived languages than Devnagri derived languages.

The big question that arises from the above fact is how were the texts punctuated before the British Rule. This is very interesting. The Devnagri originally has only two punctuation marks, the purnviram (the full stop represented by one vertical line) and the dirghaviram (the big pause represented by two vertical lines). Someone who knows Hindi will recognize them from the verses of older texts.

But as far as I knew or for that matter as far as any Hindi student knew, all the ancient texts that had these punctuation marks were all written in verses. This made me look up some pre-British era texts and surprisingly all of them were either not in Hindi or in verse form. These include the Hindu epics Ramayana and Mahabharata. A good example of these would be the prashasti (literally praises; the songs sung in favour of the ruling monarch) from the Rajput kingdoms. What was even more surprising, was that many of the texts that we thought to be ancient were actually fairly recent. In fact, the ones we read in non-verse form are all during or after the British era. All the literature we study that lacks verses can not be dated back before the 1900s.

This shows is how a foreign language changes a local language so drastically that the core of the language changes. If the punctuation had not been properly introduced to the Hindi language, we might have been still writing and speaking in verses. That sounds a ridiculously insane idea. Almost revolting. In fact if someone actually did that he would be considered crazy. This introduction of punctuation led to the rise of Hindi Literature.

Feel free to leave your comments and tell me what you know about the Hindi comma or in fact any influence of a foreign language on a local language.

Cheerio!

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