Punjabi and Hindi: Linguistic similarities and differences

Hindi is the most spoken language in India, but India is a highly multilingual country in which over a dozen different languages, including Punjabi, are spoken.

The Punjabi language is connected to a historical region called Punjab, which encompasses a part of north-western India and a part of eastern Pakistan.

There is an Indian state called Punjab, and also a Pakistani province called Punjab. Both are part of the Punjab region and have Punjabi as one of their main languages.

Vocabulary similarities between Hindi and Punjabi

Hindi and Punjabi are languages with many similar vocabulary words in common. A large part of these vocabulary words originate from Sanskrit, an ancient language which has had a significant influence on many Indian languages, just as Latin has provided vocabulary words for many European languages.

Table: similar vocabulary words in Punjabi and Hindi
Hindi Punjabi English
प्यार (pyār) ਪਿਆਰ (piāra) love
शांति (shaanti) ਸ਼ਾਂਤੀ (shaantī) peace
जीवन (jīvan) ਜੀਵਨ (jīvan) life
आज़ादी (āzādī) ਅਜ਼ਾਦੀ (azādī) freedom
दोस्त (dost) ਦੋਸਤ (dosat) friend
भाषा (bhāṣā) ਭਾਸ਼ਾ (bhāśā) language
आग (āg) ਅੱਗ (aga) fire
रात (rāt) ਰਾਤ (rāt) night
पानी (pānī) ਪਾਣੀ (pāṇī) water
मछली (machlī) ਮੱਛੀ (macchī) fish
काम (kaam) ਕੰਮ (kamm) work
फूल (phūl) ਫੁੱਲ (phula) flower
कुत्ता (kuttā) ਕੁੱਤਾ (kuttā) dog
बिल्ली (billī) ਬਿੱਲੀ (billī) cat
नदी (nadī) ਨਦੀ (nadī) river
चांद (cānd) ਚੰਦ (cand) moon
गीत (gīt) ਗੀਤ (gīt) song

The similarity between Hindi and Punjabi is related to them belonging to the same language family. Both Hindi and Punjabi are Indo-European languages.

In contrast, some of the other languages spoken in India are not Indo-European languages. In the south of India, there are languages such as Tamil and Telugu which belong to the Dravidian family of languages.

Hindi and Punjabi words from Sanskrit

A large part of the vocabulary in both Hindi and Punjabi are words which come from Sanskrit. Here are some examples of these:

Hindi and Punjabi words from Persian

In addition to Sanskrit-derived vocabulary words, Hindi and Punjabi also both contain many loanwords from Persian. Here are some examples:

Punjabi and Hindi are SOV languages

Verbs often appear at the end of sentences, both in Hindi and in Punjabi. Linguists classify Hindi and Punjabi as SOV (subject-object-verb) languages.

English, which is an SVO (subject-verb-object) language, has a different word order compared to Punjabi and Hindi.

For example, the English phrase “linguistics is interesting” translates to:

Both these example sentences have the same word order. The word “linguistics” in Hindi is formed by combining the word « भाषा » (bhāṣā) meaning “language” with the word « विज्ञान » (vigyān) meaning “knowledge”. In Punjabi the word for “linguistics” is formed in the same way.

The Hindi adjective « दिलचस्प » (dilcasp) and the Punjabi adjective « ਦਿਲਚਸਪ » (dilacasapa) both mean “interesting” and they look similar because they both come from the Persan word « دلچسب » (delčasp).

Both these example sentences end with the verb which is « है » (hai) in Hindi and « ਹੈ » (hai) in Punjabi. These are the conjugated forms for the verbs “to be”.

Hindi vs Punjabi writing systems

In their written form, Hindi and Punjabi are easy to distinguish, as these languages use different writing systems.

Hindi is written using the Devanagari script (which is also commonly used for Sanskrit). Technically, the Devanagari script is what linguists call an abugida or an alphasyllabary (the main symbols are consonants and vowels are in most cases indicated through modifications of those consonant symbols).

For Punjabi, two different writing systems are used: Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi. The first one, Gurmukhi, is derived from the Brahmi script which is also the ancestor of the Devanagari script used for Hindi.

The other script, Shahmukhi, is derived from the Arabic and Persian scripts. Shahmukhi is frequently used among the Punjabi-speakers of Pakistan, whereas the Gurmukhi script is often used among Punjabi-speakers in India.

Going further

To learn more about the languages which are spoken in India, see these comparisons of Hindi and Sanskrit, as well as Bengali and Hindi.