August 15, 2010 | Hindi

Hindi Pronouns and Punctuation

The good news: Hindi punctuation practices. The bad news: second-person pronouns.

Before going to sleep last night, I was listening to a Pimsleur lesson in bed on my iPod Shuffle. The Shuffle, which is a wee little thing, somehow became detached from my headset. Despite a thorough search, I couldn’t find it, so I gave up and just went to sleep.

iPod Shuffle with Pillow

iPod Shuffle with Pillow

In the morning, I finally located it amid the bedding, a tiny gray sliver of language learning, still earnestly playing Hindi lessons.

Today I read in my Teach Yourself Hindi book that “Hindi has a subtle system of ‘honorific’ levels—like French tu/vous, or German du/Sie. There are three second-person pronouns, each with its own verb form…”


Two things struck me as I read those sentences. First, a language that has three honorific levels, as Hindi does, is not really “like” French and German, which have only two. It is in fact harder.

Second, I couldn’t help noticing the use of the word “subtle.” I don’t do very well with subtle systems of honorifics. In fact, I don’t do that well even with really obvious systems of honorifics.

On a less demoralizing linguistic note: punctuation in Hindi is like in English, except for the period. The period is a little stick, like this: |

I actually love when languages have different punctuation. In your own language, you can get used to punctuation being a certain way, to the point that you forget punctuation is a set of cultural traditions, not part of some universal language law. Learning other languages teaches punctuation humility. 

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