Is Punjabi a Dialect of Hindi?

Punjabi is a language that I have been surrounded by for almost my entire life. Despite the fact that I have lived in a community with many Punjabi speakers since I was a baby, the language itself has been a source of mystery, and I’m even embarrassed to say that I don’t actually know how to speak any Punjabi.

But recently, I wanted to make a video about Punjabi, and there was one question at the top of my mind: What is the relationship between Punjabi and Hindi? I’d heard before that Punjabi and Hindi speakers could understand each other to some extent, but to what extent was it?

Most of all, I wanted to know: Is Punjabi simply a dialect of Hindi?

The Punjabi Language

Punjabi is a language spoken by more than 120 million native speakers. Most of these native speakers live in the Indian province of Punjab and the Pakistani province of Punjab, and actually the word “Punjab” itself is derived from Persian meaning “Five waters”, referring to the five major branches of the Indus River. Additionally, Punjabi is spoken worldwide by one of the largest Indian diasporas on the globe: it is estimated that there are almost 10 million Punjabis who live outside of India and Pakistan. Punjabi is also an Indo-Aryan language. This makes it a descendant of the Sanskrit language, and it is related to Gujarati and Bengali.

Author: Apudram.

In fact, talking about Punjabi’s language family brings into question just how closely it is related to languages in its language family. Namely, is Punjabi a dialect of Hindi? This question has been raised a number of times in the past 100 years, especially in the context of a post-colonial India attempting unity and various religious and cultural identities. In fact, prior to India’s independence and the formation of the Punjab province in 1966, Punjabi was considered a dialect of Hindi. After Punjab was defined as a province, Punjabi became its official language for media and education, and its distinctness from Standard Hindi was highlighted and a new Punjabi-speaking identity was formed.

Is Punjabi a Dialect of Hindi?

Babbel_generic-badgeWhile pondering this question, a quote from Max Weinreich comes to mind: “a language is just a dialect with an army and a navy”. What Max means to say that the lines between language and dialect are blurry, and that distinction often comes down to politics. What some people consider a dialect maybe in fact be a separate language, as is the case of the Chinese languages Mandarin and Cantonese. Conversely, dialects may be given official language status in order to distinguish groups of people, as is the case with North Germanic languages Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian.

So, how do we begin to answer the question about Punjabi? Anecdotal evidence gives us a pretty unclear picture of how well speakers of Punjabi and Hindi can understand each other, but there are a few trends. Generally, it is agreed upon that speakers of Punjabi have an easier time understanding Hindi than the other way around. Some informal estimates put mutual intelligibility between 30% and 65% percent. However, another trend points to the idea that Hindi speakers have trouble understanding even basic Punjabi.

Related: Sanskrit & Armenian: Mothers of ALL Indo-European Languages?

This asymmetrical relationship could be due to the status of the two languages with India: while Punjabi is widely spoken in Punjab, Hindi speakers living outside of Punjab do not encounter the Punjabi language on a daily basis. Conversely, Hindi is the official language of India. Even if citizens of Punjab speak Punjabi daily, they are also constantly exposed to Hindi. This could be the reason why Punjabi speakers are more able to understand Hindi and not the other way around.

What Does the Science Say?

Since anecdotal evidence doesn’t give us a clear picture of the situation, we have to turn to academic work that has been done on the topic. Well, according to one study published by the Language Technologies Research Centre in Hyderabad, India, Hindi and Punjabi share quite a few cognates. Cognates are words that are similar between two languages, often due to the fact that the languages share a common ancestor, and thus, the words share a common linguistic origin. In this case, the common ancestor is Sanskrit, and we can see cognates between Punjabi and Hindi in the following examples.

Punjabi 40.jpg

As we can see, these examples show that some words are nearly identical in Hindi and Punjabi. That seems to be no surprise, if we take a deeper look at the study. In fact, researchers sought to count the number of cognates between Hindi and Punjabi in written samples, and they found that the two languages have a lexical similarity of 57.63%. That means that almost 60% of the words in both languages have the same origin, and it is postulated that they could be understood by speakers of the other language.

But does this mean that the two languages are mutually intelligible, and thus, Punjabi a dialect of Hindi? Not necessarily. English has a lexical similarity of 60% with German, but that does not mean that English speakers can understand German without studying it and vice versa.

In fact, given the conflicting evidence, I am forced to make the following conclusion: it is very likely that Punjabi is a dialect of Hindi; however, due to certain political positions and the relationship between Punjabi and Hindi within the modern Indian context, it is difficult to know for certain. At the end of the day, the mutual intelligibility between the language could just be due to the fact that speakers are multilingual and that Punjabi and Hindi are in constant contact with each other.

What do you think? Are you a speaker of Punjabi or Hindi? Leave me a comment below and let me know if you think Punjabi is just a dialect of Hindi.

8 thoughts on “Is Punjabi a Dialect of Hindi?

Add yours

  1. What a poor article, ill informed and little research done but a significant conclusion drawn with no basis whatsoever.


    1. Hmm. Unless it was unclear, the conclusion was that there is really no conclusion. The two languages are mutually intelligible to an extent, but that doesn’t mean that Punjabi is a dialect of Hindi. Do you have any thoughts to add?


  2. Punjabi is indeed a dialect of Hindi. Hindi speakers find it difficult to understand Punjabi because of pronunciation. Punjabi speakers pronounce words with a tonal sound and that makes the whole difference. Punjabi is official language of Punjab province of India and it borrows all its formal glossary from Hindi.


  3. I think it’s obvious that Hindi and Punjabi are separate languages, they both came from the Shauraseni Prakrit, although others say the Punjabi came from the Paishachi Prakrit, but let’s stick to the theory they both come from the Shauraseni Prakrit, does that make Punjabi a dialect of Hindi? Not at all, this only means that they developed separately from the Shauraseni Prakrit, you could compare this to Swedish and Norwegian both coming from Old Norse or Spanish and Italian both ultimately coming from Vulgar Latin, so basically what I’m saying is that it does 𝙣𝙤𝙩 mean Punjabi came from Hindi. Here’s some more proof, in Punjabi the word for “sugar” is “khand” while Hindi uses the word “chini”. Now if Punjabi was a dialect of Hindi why would Punjabi have its own word for sugar that developed and morphed over time instead of using the Hindi word “chini”. Punjabi developed its own words, and Hindi developed its own words separately. To suggest that Punjabi is a dialect of Hindi is like suggesting that Portuguese is a dialect of Spanish or to say that Dutch is a dialect of German. More words that Punjabi developed itself are: ਕੁੜੀ (Kuṛī) Girl in English, ਰੁੱਖ (Rukh) (Tree in English) from Paishachi Prakrit, ਮੁੰਡਾ (Munda) Boy in English, ਖਿਡੌਣਾ (Khydona) Toy in English, and a thousand other words that Punjabi developed itself. So it is pretty obvious that Punjabi is definitely 𝙣𝙤𝙩 a dialect of Hindi.


  4. Nice to see the enthusiasm, less nice to see the ignorance of the subject, be it linguistics or the languages in question.

    Indo-Aryan languages form what’s called a “dialect continuum”. Mutual intelligibility (to a fair degree) flows geographically – geographically proximal languages have better intelligibility, and the farther you go, the less it gets.

    This kind of a relationship is evident throughout India, Marathi and Gujarati (and Gujarati and Marwari) speakers have much better mutual intelligibility than say, Marathi and Marwari speakers. Same deal all across the map, this kind of a continuum exists even among Dravidian languages. Indo-Aryan languages even have a far more abstract intelligibility with Iranian languages, since they’re from the same primary and secondary language family.

    Other examples are the various languages clubbed under “Chinese,” Romance languages, and Germanic languages like the fellow above had duly mentioned.

    Punjabi and Hindi are on the same dialect continuum, not dialects of each other. Punjabi has innovations like lexical tone and many other features that set it far apart from Hindi. I am a Hindi speaker and Punjabi is absolutely incomprehensible to me, since I neither grew up in Delhi/Punjab, nor did I ever have any exposure to Punjabi music/film. I can pick up a word or two here and there at most.

    The intelligibility languages show with Hindi is the dialect continuum, coupled with exposure to folks speaking Punjabi/Hindi in a Punjabi accent, helping people pick up familiar features rather quickly. Hindi has an asymmetric intelligibility with almost every mainland Indo-Aryan language because of its overrepresentation. I can understand nearby (to the Hindi heartland) dialects and even languages far better than I can understand Punjabi.

    TL;DR – Punjabi is NOT a dialect of Hindi, it’s a standardised language (on the Indo-Aryan continuum) with its own very distinct features.


  5. Yes, Punjabi is a dialect of Hindi and Sanskrit is the indigenous language of Hindu India, Hinduism and Aryans are the indigenous civilisation of India. Hindu India was also the largest empire and ruled the world. The word punjab did not come from persia, it was the other way round. Punj comes from Hindi meaning 5. Hindi comes from Sanskrit, which is the original Hindu Indian language and the oldest language in the world predating all others. It is where all languages come from, latin comes from Sanskrit too. Indian languages are directly derived from Sanskrit and European languages from Latin which directly comes from Sanskrit. Remember, Hinduism is the oldest religion in the world, Sanskrit the oldest language, Hindu India is the first civilisation in the world and India has the oldest history in the world. Everything came and comes from Hindu India.


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