Hindi’s global march

A large Indian diaspora and the growing influence of the country on the international stage are paving the way for Hindi to become a lingua franca of the world

Hindi’s global march
Linguistic and cultural traditions favour Hindi’s emergence as a global language.

Oscar Pujol spent 16 years in Varanasi learning Sanskrit and earning a doctorate in the ancient Indian language. When his first child was born in the holy city during the spring, Pujol didn’t hesitate to name him Vasant. “My son speaks Hindi like a native,” says Pujol, an eminent Sanskrit scholar who heads the Cervantes Institute, the cultural arm of the Spanish embassy, in Delhi. With such personal and professional experience in global languages, Pujol believes it is now the turn of Hindi to become a global language like Spanish did only a few decades ago. 

At the 16th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF), a major session on the second day was completely conducted in the Hindi language though two of the three speakers on the stage were from Spain and Poland. Pujol, one of those two panellists from a foreign nationality attending the session titled Global Hindi, felt at home. “I was nostalgic after I had returned to Spain at the end of my doctorate in Sanskrit in Varanasi in 2002,” he says. “I wanted to come back to India.”

Pujol, who went on to head the educational programme at the Asia House in Barcelona, which taught Hindi and Sanskrit to students in Spain, got his wish after five years. In 2007, he was chosen by the Spanish government to open the first Cervantes Institute, the cultural arm of the Spanish embassy, in Delhi. “When I came to open Cervantes Institute, the GDP of Spain was bigger than that of India. Today, India’s GDP is thrice that of Spain,” he says.

“There is no doubt today’s India is a different country than 20 years ago. It has become a major international player. One of the first conditions for a language to become global is that the country that speaks that language has to have an international relevance and influence in economy, politics, sports and diplomacy. This has opened the door for Hindi to become more important in the world,” says Pujol, who has translated 15 books in Sanskrit to Spanish, including Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. The Spanish Yoga Sutra, in its seventh edition today, is a reference for yoga teachers in Spain.

According to Pujol, it is not essential for a language to be spoken in several countries for it to become a global language. He cites the example of Spanish, a lingua franca today. “In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Spanish was spoken in many countries, but it was not a global language in the true sense. Spanish is a global language today.”

Linguistic and cultural traditions favour Hindi’s emergence as a global language. “Hindi is a nourishing language like Sanskrit that is admired across the world. For Indians, Hindi is a cultural reference like yoga and meditation. India invented grammar, linguistics and phonetics. The Indian philosophy of compassion and non-violence are popular around the world making the language relevant for the modern world,” says Pujol, who came to the Benares Hindu University (BHU) in 1986 on an Indian Council of Cultural Relations-Spanish government scholarship to study Sanskrit.

Many believe the first step in Hindi’s march towards the status as a global language is to become an official language of the United Nations. At present, only six languages — English, French, Spanish, Russian, Chinese and Arabic — are recognised as official languages of the United Nations. India’s popular culture of cinema and music are already helping its spread across the world. “Human beings are multilingual by nature,” says Pujol, whose Spanish translation of the Bhagavad Gita will hit bookshops in the coming months.

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First published on: 05-02-2023 at 01:35 IST