Spell It Right! (in the context of Hindi)

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 »  Articles Overview  »  Art of Translation and Interpreting  »  Translator Education  »  Spell It Right! (in the context of Hindi)

Spell It Right! (in the context of Hindi)

By Balasubramaniam L. | Published  05/15/2006 | Translator Education | Recommendation:
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Quicklink: http://arm.proz.com/doc/705
Balasubramaniam L.
անգլերենից հինդի translator
Անդամ է դարձել՝ Feb 4, 2006-ին։
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Advocating the use of correct spelling in a translation may seem a bit elementary, but having had the occasion to see many translations done in Hindi by other translators, I have good reasons to believe that what is outlined in the next few paragraphs would not be found to be too banal or useless by most Hindi translators.

Many translators take it for granted that as Hindi is their native language, correct spelling comes naturally to them. This is a dangerous fallacy for two reasons. The Hindi language has seen rapid development in the last few decades, and has added several thousand new words, idioms, usages and even grammatical features to its corpus. It has also undergone a careful and systematic standardization process in which its spelling rules, grammar and vocabulary have all been scrutinized, and dual forms, erroneous terms, dialectical forms and inappropriate forms have all been weeded out. Unless one has formally studied the grammar and usage of Hindi, even a native speaker of Hindi is unlikely to be familiar with these developments. Further, native speakers have the added disadvantage of being familiar with one or the other of the dialects of Hindi which tend to influence their diction, spelling, grammar, style and choice of words.

This article is intended as a checklist of some of the common genres of spelling errors committed by those who work in Hindi. Translators can use it to quickly spell check their translations.

All erroneous spellings cited in this article by way of example are preceded by an asterix, like this *चाहिये.

1. chandrabindu (ँ) vs anuswar (ं)
Many words in Hindi have the nasal sound अनुनासिक (anunasik) indicated by the chandrabindu (ँ) such as in बाँस, हँस, आँख, साँस, etc. This nasal sound also occurs in less obvious words like में, हैं, लें, etc., where due to the difficulty in writing it, as there is already another matra above the shirorekha, it is replaced by the anuswar (ं). The chandrabindu is also used to indicate the plural forms of feminine words such as लताएँ, बहुएँ, मालाएँ, etc.

However, in contemporary usage, the trend is to replace the chandrabindu (ँ) with the anuswar (ं). This is not recommended as using anuswar in place of the chandrabindu can lead to confusion and error. The most famous example of this is हँस (to laugh) and हंस (swan). If we write the former with an anuswar, it can be confused with swan.

The correct usage of the chandrabindu requires a very high level of knowledge of Hindi spelling, samas, sandhi and word formation, and it would be a serious mistake to use it where it should not be used or to omit it where it should be used. Also, if a translator decides to use it, then he/she must use the chandrabindu unfailingly at all the places where it should be used. Often translators use the chandrabindu at one or two places or in the spellings of one or two words, but omit it in other places either due to ignorance of the use of the chandrabindu or due to carelessness, and end up sacrificing uniformity of spelling and internal consistency of their translated material.

To avoid such pitfalls, use the chandrabindu (ँ) with great care. It should be used at all places where it is grammatically necessary to use it. In other words, substituting the chandrabindu with the anuswar is not recommended.

2. Dual forms like लिए-*लिये, गई-*गयी, हुई-*हुयी
Technically both these forms are correct (except for *हुयी), but in standardized Hindi only the first form is acceptable. So always be careful to use the ई and ए versions for words of this type. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of these words showing the correct (or standardized) spellings, along with the incorrect forms in brackets: लिए (*लिये), गई (*गयी), चाहिए (*चाहिये), पहुँचाइए (*पहुंचाइये), पहुँचाए (*पहुंचाये), पहुँचाएँ (*पहुंचायें), जाए (*जाय, *जाये), जाएँ (*जायं, *जायें), कीजिए (*कीजिये), कीजिएगा (*कीजियेगा), etc.

3. Plural forms of feminine words like लता, बहु, माला, etc.

This is actually a corollary to Point 2 above, but I am listing it separately as the "optional" ways of writing these words are actually unacceptable grammatical errors. In other words, these are outright spelling errors and should be corrected at all costs.

The plural of such words is always formed by adding एँ and never by adding *यें. Here is a non-exhaustive list of some of these words showing the correct spellings, along with the incorrect forms in brackets: लताएँ (*लतायें), बहुएँ (*बहुयें).

4. Handling the pancham varna
In Hindi there are five sets of consonants, each of which has its own pancham varna. These are given here, with the corresponding pancham varna in brackets:

कवर्ग - क ख ग घ ङ (ङ),
चवर्ग - च छ ज झ ञ (ञ),
टवर्ग - ट ठ ड ढ ण (ण),
तवर्ग - त थ द ध न(न),
पवर्ग - प फ ब भ म (म).

When a consonant of any of these sets combines with the pancham varna of its own set, then the pancham varna can be alternatively shown as an anuswar over the consonant preceding the pancham varna.

Here are some examples:
*गंङ्गा can be written as गंगा
*पञ्जा can be written as पंजा
*डण्डा can be written as डंडा
*नन्दन can be written as नंदन
*मुम्बई can be written as मुंबई

In standardized Hindi, these conjuncts, i.e., cases where a consonant joins with the pancham varna of its own set, the consonant is always written with an anuswar. Therefore it is in correct to write such spellings: *आनन्द, *गम्भीर, *सन्देश, *पण्डित, *चञ्चल, *कङ्गन,etc. These words should be written as आनंद, गंभीर, संदेश, पंडित, चंचल, कंगन, etc.

The reason for adopting this rule is that it simplifies typesetting and words become more compact and easier to read.

The errors arising from unfamiliarity with this rule are many. Many translators not fully familiar with this rule apply it partially in their translations, that is, they write some words in accordance with this rule and some words in the same translation in the old way by using half consonants. This is unpardonable, as one of the virtues of any piece of work is internal consistency, which must be maintained at all costs.

The worst case of mis-spelling I have seen is words like संबंध written as *सम्बंध. Here the pancham varna rule has not been applied in the first part of the word, while it has been in the second part, that is, there is inconsistency even in such a small unit of the translation as a word.

5. Halant (्)

Hindi has many words of Sanskrit origin that have been absorbed into Hindi apparently with no modifications in their structure. But this is only apparently so, as these words have undergone subtle modifications to make them confirm with the internal grammatical structure of Hindi.

While in Sanskrit, words like विद्वान, पश्चात, भगवान, etc., are written with a halant at the end, like this: *विद्वान्, *पश्चात्, *भगवान्, etc., in Hindi they are written without the halant. The reason is that in Hindi all consonants coming at the end of words are pronounced without the vowel sound. So there is no need to append a halant symbol at the end of the words to indicate the absence of the vowel sound. For example, consider words like हल, आंगन, कद, नीम, etc. In none of these, the end consonant (ल, न, द, म respectively) is pronounced with a vowel sound. This means that the halant is already there in all Hindi words ending in a consonant and there is no need to add it separately.

This type of error (that is, adding the halant (्) symbols to words of Sanskrit origin) is made by those who don't have an in depth understanding of Sanskrit or of Hindi and assume that Sanskrit words in Hindi must always be written with a halant (्) symbol appended. But in actuality, these words (that is words like विद्वान, पश्चात, भगवान, etc.) are not Sanskrit words at all, but are full-fledged Hindi words which follow the rules of Hindi phonetics and grammar. Mixing Sanskrit grammar rules with Hindi grammar rules is a cardinal error, which should be avoided at all costs.

6. Handling the nukta (़)
In Hindi the nukta is used to indicate subtle differences in the pronunciation of certain consonants which have dual pronunciations. Actually there are only two consonants that are written with the nukata, that is ड and ढ. However, because there has been a long history of close relationship with Urdu which has many sounds that cannot be accurately represented by the Hindi alphabet and because many words recently borrowed from English require additional sounds like the the 'z' sound in words like 'zoo', 'business', etc., which does not exist in Hindi, there is a trend of using the nukta under many of the letters of Hindi to indicate these additional sounds.

There is no agreement in Hindi on how the nukta should be used. Strict grammarians like Kishoridas Vajpeyi recommend the use of the nukta on only two Hindi letters - ड and ढ and nowhere else. According to him, words like कानून, जरूरत, गैर, etc are acclimatized Hindi words (तद्भव शब्द) which are pronounced and spelt without the nukta. On the other hand, the general trend in modern Hindi writing, such as in newspapers and magazines, is to use the nukta. With more and more Urdu being published in the devnagari script, this trend of using nukta more liberally is increasing. But there is no agreement on where all it should be used. Some apply it only in the letters ज and फ, while others apply it on क, ख, ग as well. For example, here are the various ways of writing the Hindi word for paper - कागज, कागज़, काग़ज़.

My personal recommendation is to use the nukta sparingly on only those words where its use is well-established and exists at the level of common usage, and to omit it at all other places.

7. How to write the कारक चिह्न (ने, का, के, की, से, में, पर, etc.)

In the early part of the last century there was a raging debate in Hindi on whether the कारक चिह्न (ने, का, के, की, से, में, पर, etc.) should be written joined with the noun or separate. Thankfully, this issue has been resolved and it is no longer a matter of confusion. Yet many translators err in the use of these symbols. Here is a straightforward rule on how to write the कारक चिह्न:

It should be written separate from the noun but joined with the pronoun.

Examples: राम ने, राम को, राम के लिए, राम पर, राम से, etc., but मैंने, तुमने, उसने, उससे, मुझसे, मुझको, आपको, आपने आपमें, इसने, इसमें, उसमें उसको, etc.

The only exception is पर which is often written separately even in the case of pronouns - viz., इस पर, उस पर, हम पर, आप पर, etc.

8. How to write numerals (0, 1,2, etc.)

The Devanagari script has its own symbols for numerals, but English numerals are also equally accepted. The school system has adopted the English numerals in all its teaching and publications. Because of this the new generations are more familiar with the English numerals than Hindi's own set of numerals. Actually the English numerals are derived from the Devnagari set of numerals and are as such our own creation and there need be no hesitation on our part in using them.

Using English numerals in translation greatly facilitates the work of translators as in translations involving a lot of numerical data, such as in financial reports or statistical analyses, a large portion of the original can be retained as such. It would be major head ache to retype all the numbers in Hindi, and there are significant chances of introducing errors while retyping. Also in translation for certain target groups such as Government, the School System, the Legal System (of India) it is mandatory to use the English system of numerals.

There are other practical reasons also for preferring the English numerals. These days most technical and normal source documents have numerically arranged text where the numbers are automatically generated by the Word Processing programmes. It is often cumbersome to change the style of these automatically generated numbers. Here again, the translators life is made easy by retaining the English number system.

So translators are advised to use only the English number symbols (1,2,3, etc.) in their translations and not the Devnagari numerals.

9. How to translate alphabetically ordered lists

Consider alphabetically ordered lists, such as,
a) ---
b) ----
c) ---

While translating such type of lists, the translator should use the Hindi alphabet sequence, either of the vowels if the list is short, or of the consonents if it is long. For example, the above should be translated either as:

अ) ---
आ) ---
इ) ---


क) ---
ख) ---
ग) ---

It would be extremely inelegant to translate the above in this way, and therefore this should be always avoided:
*अ) ----
*ब) ---
*स) ---

(As indicated in the beginning, the asterix above indicates incorrect usage.)

10. Which full stop symbol to use

The standard symbol in Hindi for the full stop is the khadi pai (।). These days some people have begun to use the English full stop (.) in Hindi also. This is unacceptable. The dot is used in Hindi for many purposes, as the nukta in ड and ढ, to indicate the plural form forms of nouns, as part of certain regular symbols of the alphabet, as in ङ. The dot comes above, below, on the left and on the right of letters. It is also used as a mathematical symbol indicating multiplication and also as a decimal point. As such the dot is already overused in Hindi. To burden it with another function, that of indicating the end of a sentence, is therefore, taking things too far. Also the khadi pai (।) goes well with the aesthetics of the devnagari script in which many letter symbols have the vertical line, such क, ग, म, ज, et. In fact only the letters of the ट वर्ग excepting the pancham varna of this varg (ट, ठ, ड, ढ) and rare letters like र, ह, इ, ई, उ,ए,ऐ, छ, द don't have it. Because of this, the use of the khadi pai for full stop improves the aesthetics of the written text.

Also the khadi pai is the only punctuation mark that Hindi has, all the others are borrowed from English. So why sacrifice what has the hallmark of Hindi for something that is common!

So always use the khadi pai for the full stop.

If the translator is careful about the above ten points, he/she would have taken care of 99 per cent of the spelling errors in his translation.

* This indicates a wrong spelling.

1. हिंदी व्याकरण, कामता प्रसाद गुरु, प्रकाशक: नागरी प्रचारिणी सभा, वाराणसी, 1921.
2. हिंदी शब्दानुशासन, किशोरीदास वाजपेयी, प्रकाशक: नागरी प्रचारिणी सभा, वाराणसी, 1956.
3. हिंदी निरुक्त, किशोरीदास वाजपेयी, लोक भारती प्रकाशन, दिल्ली, 1968.

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