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Teaching Hindi. Gender svstern to foreign studunts

M. Gnanarn'

1. Introduction

The gender of the nouns in Hindi, the major Indian language is partly semantic, partly phonological and partly arbitrary for which no rules can be given to a learner to find out the gender of the noun concerned. The gender of Hindi nouns at present is a result of many historical developments. Hindi has only two genders masculine and feminine. The language from which Hindi evolved had three genders - masculine, feminine and neuter. Some neuter nouns became masculine and . others became feminine. Some masculine nouns became feminine. and vice versa (Kaamtaa Prasad Guru 1957) in due course. As time passed many new nouns mainly from or through Persian and English entered Hindi. Gender in English language is found only in pronouns and Persian language exhibits no gender distinction at all. These nouns from (or through) Persian and English became masculine or feminine because of various criteria like phonology or semantic equivalence or both. Possibly there were some more criteria also.. Similarly nouns from other languages like French etc. also entered Hindi with either gender. Net result is that the gender of Hindi nouns pose a problem in teaching Hindi as a second language to a student who is not familiar with a similar gender system. It becomes more serious when one has to teach

* Visiting Assistant Professor of Hindi, H . U . F . S, Seoul

Hindi gender system to a foreign student who is not likely to have the knowledge of what is a tatsama word (Sanskrit word in original form) what is a tadbhava (Sanskrit word in changed . form, i.e. words derived from Sanskrit words) and what is a Perso-Arabic word, which is usually found in most of the non-Hindi speaking Indian students and helps to certain extent in finding gender of Hindi nouns (Gnanam 1977 ; Sharma 1995). Urdu, another Indian language has almost the same gender system of Hindi and to teach Hindi to a Urdu knowing person is not a problem. Similarly to the speakers of Indian languages like Tamil or Kannada a rule like 'all - aa ending Sanskrit nouns (tatsama), excluding denoting a male, are feminine' is not very useless one, as mostly they can identify tatsama words without much difficulty. The case of foreign students is different.

Hence some other devices should be used to teach Hindi gender system to a foreign student.

2. Structural methods

Structural methods can be used to teach the gender system of Hindi nouns. Hindi nouns have concord with adjectives (only with - aa ending adjectives and that too have some exemptions), verbs and complements (subject complements or object complements).

ego Adjectives

voh acchaa


lar+kaa h 'he is a good boy.'
lar+kii h 'he is a good girl.'
kitaab h 'it is a good book.'
aayaa 'the boy came.'
aayii 'the girl came.' voh acchii

voh acchii

lar + kii

kitaab aayj,i
lar+kaa gandaa h
Iar + kii gandii h
kitaab gandii h 'the book came.'

'the boy is dirty.' 'the girl is dirty.' 'the book is dirty.'

Obviously kitaab is feminine.

By the usage one can learn the gender system and in due course one is accustomed with the usage to such an extent that acchaa kitaab sounds odd to his/her ears and he/she say or write only acchii kitaab. This is exactly how Hindi is acquired as first language. When Hindi is learnt as a second language by natural method then also mostly it is learnt in this way only.

Another beautiful structural method was suggested by Prof.

V.I.Subramanian and Dr. Parameswaran Pillai (1976) to teach Hindi gender system. They suggested that the plural forms can be introduced first to the students. In Hindi masculine and feminine nouns have clear cut different plural markers and hence by seeing the plural forms one can easily say whether they are masculine or feminine.

In Hindi, plural markers for masculine nouns are 0 and -aa => -ee.


§g ill
ghar 'house' ghar
gharaa 'pot' gharee
kavi 'poet' kavi
motii 'pearl' motii
gt.lf!! 'teacher' ID!D:!
daakuu 'robber' daakuu Teaching Hindi Gender system to foreign studuntS 287

Feminine nouns take the plural markers -vaa, ee, -v.

§g ill
kitaab 'book' kitaabee
r tu 'season' rituee
bahuu 'daugher-in-law bahuee
maalaa 'garland' malaaee
chavi 'beauty' chaviyaa
la kii 'girl' la kivaa
ci iyaa 'small bird ci iyaa
(like sparrow) From the examples, it is clear that by seeing the singular form one can not say which gender it belongs to, while by seeing the plural form one can immediately say that the particular noun belongs to masculine or feminine.

This method has some disadvantages also, This is almost similar to learn a noun along with its gender, as given in dictionaries, which is not practically possible. Another disadvantage is some nouns do not have plural forms, at least naturally and commmonly. Plural forms for prakash 'light(abstract)', iishrvaa Jealousy' will be very unnatual and uncommon in Hindi. The third disadvantage is that back formation of singular counter parts of -yaa, and -Vending plural forms will not he possible as they can be either -ii ending, or .:! ending or -yaa, ending and they have to be taught seperately. Lastly there are some nouns, very few in numbers, only 2 or 3 perhaps, which are used only as plural.



'a grain (pl)'

Since there is no singular form in use, it is difficult to say what is the plural marker here.

Anyhow as a structural method plural forms also help to learn the gender system in Hindi and the plural forms in due course are so accustomed to the learners that a wrong plural formation like ghare 'houses' sounds add to him and he feels the plural of ghar is only ghar and hence it is masculine.

3. The present attempt

The structure methods whether concord method or plural formation method are based upon the reflections of genders of a noun. Gender causes the structure and not the otherway round. Learning gender of a noun by structure requires a long practice or use of language. Often a learner asks the teacher whether there are some rules to learn Hindi gender. There are various kinds of attempts in Hindi grammars, written for students to give such rules leading Prof. V.R.Jagannathan to 'mock' that "this is possibly the most entertaining job for all grammarians"(1981 : 296) There may be around hundred rules, with exemptions outnumbering them. Sometimes these rules help the learners less and frighten more. I am not going to blame the authors of those grammars as they honestly tried to answer the queries of the students and as I am also going to make a such attempt here.

Before giving rules to identify gender, the students may he made clear about four points -

(D Gender system of Hindi is a feature of that language and there is nothing odd in that as many languages have such a complex gender system (eg. French, Sanskrit etc.),

@ To know the gender of a noun never hesitate to use a good dictionary or ask your teacher (of course not in the examination hall).

CI; Gender system· will he learnt in due course easily by usage and one need not bother himself much to learn them by rules.

Teaching Hindi Gender syslem 10 foreign sludunts 289


@) Even if you commit a mistake in your Hindi construction because of wrong identification of the gender of a noun (particularly denoting inanimate things or small insect like animates) do not worry. Even native speakers sometimes commit such a 'mistake' while speaking. This is particularly found with the use of consonant ending nouns (There was a suggestion by Mr Purushattam Das Tandan, a veteran Hindi scholar, to make all the inanimate nouns of Hindi masculine and in support, interestingly he said that even Mr. Rajendra Prasad, then the head of the Constitution Assembly of free India and later the President of India, who himself was a native Hindi Speaker, spoke in the assembly reI aa gayaa 'the train came', while it should have been reI aa gayii as reI in Hindi is feminine. His suggestion was not accepted and today here is this attempt having many more of this kind preceded and possibly to follow).

The rules to help in idendifying Hindi genders can be classified into - not depended on other languages and depended on other languages. The second kind of rules can be given to the students on the basis of their language background only, and since these are mostly depended on Sanskrit and Perso-Arabic, are very less useful to foreign students.

A. Rules not depended on other languages

1. All the animate nouns which denote a male are masculine and which denote a female are feminine i.e. Hindi animate nouns can be said to have some sort of natural gender system.

Here some, points can be made clear, which compel to put the adjective 'some sort of' before the 'natural genders system'.

® Some nouns are masculine, in use, but can include female counter-points also.


hamaare daftar me das aadmii kaam








'in our office ten persons are working - seven men and three women'

® Some nouns usually denoting persons of some occupation J profession J business, have both genders (ubhaya lingii) i.e, they should be used according to the sex of the persons being denoted.


hamaare pradhaan


sri nehruji aaye

'our Prime Minister Mr. Nehru came' but hamaare pradhaan mantri

srimati gandhi aayii

'our Prime Minister Mrs. Gandhi came'

@) Most of the non human animates are conventionallly used only in one gender and the counterpart, eventhough found in the language, is used only when it becomes imperative in the conetxt.


kutta vafaadaar jaanvar hota he 'dog is a faithful animal'

kutiyaa 'a she - dog' also in faithful, but it is not seperately said. But one has to say-

meril kutiyaa nee caar pillee diyee 'my she dog gave birth to four pups'

where use of kutiyaa is imperative naturally.

Here is a small list of such non human aniamate nouns, as a sample.

General use billii 'cat (£)' makkhii 'fly (f)'

ci iyaa 'a small bird(f) like sparrow'

Specific use, when necessary billaa I bilaav (m)

nar makkhii (m)

nar ci iyaa (m)

Teaching Hindi Gender system to foreign studunts 29t

gho aa 'horse (m)' sher 'lion (rn)'

gho ii CD shernii CD

saap 'snake (m)'

saapin (D

2. Non Semantic

2.1 Derived nouns

The gender of a derived nouns can be decided easily on the basis of their suffixes. Some suffixes make only feminine, while others make only masculine.


Some suffixes making mas. nouns -tva



Example striitva 'womanhood' bacpan 'childhood' bu haapaa 'old age'


Example sundartaa 'beauty' bhalaayii 'goodness' jalan 'burning, jealousy'

Some suffixes making fern. nouns -taa

Once a derived noun is introduced to the students, it can be said that all the nouns with the particular suffix are only of the particular gender.

2.2 Non-derived nouns

Hindi nouns mostly end with -aa, -i, -ii, -U. -uu, or -a/-consonant. Ending with_,_Q, and _ are very few(each not more than 5) and gender of them can be learnt without any rule. Those nouns gender of which can not be decided

by the above rules (including non human animate nouns) can be approached with these endings. Eventhough, it may not be possible to give exhaustive rules, without exhausting the student and his desire to learn Hindi, a few can be given which are pedagogically useful.

i ):i. ending nouns are feminine. (kavi 'poet' in a masculine on the basis of rule No. A-l)


'beauty' 'sacrifice'

ii ) -ii ending nouns are feminine.

(Exemptions; paanii 'water', mootii 'pearl', ghii 'ghee, butter oil', dahii 'curd', ill 'mind', haathii 'elephant')


'bag' 'stick (n)'

[bhaayii 'brother' is masculine because of the rule NO. A-l and yyaapaarii 'merchant' has both the . genders, again by rule. No. A-l(la, lb)]

iii) -l.! ending nouns are mostly feminine.

(There are few exemptions like madhu 'honey' which can be made clear when they are confronted.)


'season' 'age, life'

iv) -uu ending nouns are mostly masculine.

(There are a few exemptions like monosyllabic nouns like buu 'smell', luu 'hot wind' .h!1.! 'lice' and some more nouns like daaruu 'liquor', taraazuu 'weighing scale', baaluu 'sand', aabruu 'chastity'. Eventhough gender of

Teaching Hindi Gender system to foreign studunts 293

aabruu can be explained by a rule that monosyllabic nouns are feminine, and aabruu<aab+ruu i.e. honour + face> chastity, hence is feminine, it is easier to put it under exemptions simply. All these rules are only to make the learning easy - not to be very perfect and highly technical.)


bicchuu 'scorpion'

aaluu 'potato'

v ) - iyaa endings are mostly feminine

(main exemptions are takiyaa 'pillar', pahiyaa 'wheel')


duniyaa ci iyaa


'a sparrow'

B. Rules depending upon other languages

These rules are mostly of less use to a foreign students, and can be left out while teaching. These are about -a/consonant ending nouns and -aa ending nouns. These nouns can be left out to be learnt by the students by practice. We can very well say to a learner who is frightened by the gender system of Hindi that -f!, or -aa ending nouns gender of which are not semantically known, alone make some trouble in Hindi, which can be learnt in due course.

Anyway to complete this paper the rules for -w-consonant ending and -aa ending also are given here. If they happen to be useful to the learner, they can be used.

i ) -aa ending nouns

® -aa ending Sanskrit nouns (tatsama) are feminine. ego

maalaa 'garland'

(maataa 'mother', pitaa 'father' are known of their gender by rule No. A-I)

294 EtofAlof~T


Gnanam, M. 1977 "Hindi : Gender system", 8th All India conference of Indian Linguistics, Muzaffarpur.

Guru, Kamata Pasad. 1957(reprint) Hindi vyukaran, Nagri Pracarini Sabha,


Jagannathan, V.R. 1981 Prayog aur Prayog, Oxford University Press,(Delhi) Kishoridas Vajpeyi. 1960 Hindi Shabdanushasan, Nagri Pravharini Sabha, Varanasi Sharma, L.N. 1995 Hindi Bhasha ki Sanracana ka paricayatmak vyakaran

Satsahitya Sadan, Agra.

Subramaniyan,V.I.Parameshvaran 1976 "Gender in Hindi", International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, pp. 154-63 Trivandrum.

Teaching Hindi Gerder system to foreign studunts ~7

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