Bhojpuri language

Bhojpuri as an international language

Among the Bihari languages, Bhojpuri covers much the largest territory consisting of an area of approximately 73,100 square kilometres of western Bihar and eastern Uttar Pradesh and also the southwest part of Nepal. Thus, unlike other ‘Bihari’ languages, Bhojpuri is spoken in two adjoining states in India, and two contiguous countries of South Asia, India and Nepal. Furthermore, it is also the chief lingua franca of sizeable communities of Bhojpuri speaking settlers in Mauritius, Trinidad Guyana and Surinam . Fiji Indians are fond of saying that their Hindi is derived from Bhojpuri. All this does in a way accord Bhojpuri the state of an International language. 

Extends to the eastern districts of Uttar Pradesh with roughly the districts of Basti, Azamgarh, Varanasi and Mirzapur marking the western flank. In Nepal, Bhojpuri is spoken in the Tarai tract bordering India from Baharaich in Uttar Pradesh to Champaran in Bihar, and includes such places in Nepal as Kailali on the west and Mahottari on the east. On its western border, Bhojpuri meets Avadhi, with a transition area. 
Bhojpuri gets its name from a place called Bhojpur in Bihar, now also the name of the district where it is situated. It is believed that Ujjain Rajputs claiming their descent from Raja Bhoj of Malwa had established an important principality here which fought the Mughals of Delhi in the 16th century and the British in 1857. The name Bhojpuri for the language seems to be established by the 17th century and first appears in writing in1789. It is denoted by other local names too.

As a language spread over an area of almost 45,000 square miles, Bhojpuri obviously has dialects, essentially four of them, identified in the literature as

1- Standard Bhojpuri (also referred to as Southern Standard), 2- Northern Bhojpuri, 3- Western Bhojpuri and 4- Nagpuri .A fifth one, Tharu Bhojpuri, is also recognised as the Bhojpuri spoken in the Nepal Terai and the adjoining areas in the upper strips of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, from Baharaich to Champaran. Some of the places in the Nepal Terai, from west to east, are Kailali, Dang, Rupandehi, Bhairawa, Butwal, Chitwan and Mohottari.

Chuprah Village (Chhapra). January, 23 1832 Artist: Woodcock, Harriot Mary 
Southern Standard Bhojpuri
covers the areas of Bhojpur, Rohtas, Saran, parts of Champaran in Bihar, and Ballia and eastern Ghazipur in Uttar Pradesh. One may also come across a local name ‘Chaparahiya’ in Saran.

Northern Bhojpuri covers the areas of Deoria, Gorakhpur and Basti in Uttar Pradesh and parts of Champaran in Bihar. Local names include ‘Gorakhpuri’ for the language in Deoria and eastern Gorakhpur, and ‘Sarwariya’ in western Gorakhpur and Basti. The variety spoken cast of Gandak river between Gorakhpuri Bhojpuri and Maithili in Champaran has a local name Madhesi (Madhya desiyar 11,029 returns by that name in 1971).

Western Bhojpuri includes the areas of Varanasi, Azamgarh, Ghazipur and Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh ‘Banarasi’ is a local name for the Banaras Bhojpuri. There is a very popular general name ‘ Purabiya’ for (curiously enough) Western Bhojpur, obviously used by Hindi speakers to the west of them.

Nagpuria is the dialect spoken to the south of the river Son, in the Palamu and Ranchi districts in Bihar. It has Chattisgarhi contact and may have a Chattisgarhi flavour in its nominal forms. It is also called ‘Sadani or ‘Sadri’, as also ‘Diku Kaji’ by the Munda population there.
Population of Bhojpuri Speakers 

Dependable population figures for Bhojpuri, as for other Bihari languages, are hard to come by. Part of the reason, of course, is the designation Hindi used by its speakers for one reason or another in response to census questions. The 1961 census lists the figure at 7,964,755, and the 1971 census figure is 14,340,564. For 1994, Crime (1996) provides the figures 23,375,000 for India and 1,370,000 for Nepal bringing the total to 25 million and making it the 37th most spoken language in the world. However, taking into account the long-time overseas settlers using Bhojpuri extensively as a lingua franca in their communities in Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana and Surinam, we can add at least another 2 million to bring the total to 27 million.

History of Bhojpuri 
Some scholar enthusiasts like to trace the literacy history of Bhojpuri from Siddha Sahitya itself, as early as 8th century A.D. The so called Bhojpuri forms that they may find that early may be nothing more than common developments shared by the whole northern complex of language-dialects stretching from the Midlands to the East. However, Kabir’s contribution of ‘nirgun’ poetry to Sant Sahitya certainly qualifies as recorded literature in Bhojpuri in the 15th century. Kabir’s language was Western Bhojpuri, more specifically, ‘Banarasi’ (notwithstanding some edited conformity to the preferred literacy diction). The nineteenth century has such works as Deviksaracarita by Ramdatta Shukla (1884), Badmasdarpan by Teg Ali Teg (1895), and Jangal me Mangal and Nagari Vilap by Ram Garib Chaube in the later half of the nineteenth century. Publication activity in Bhojpuri has been significant, both in volume and quality. The script for them, of course, is Devanagari. Kaithi, the script originally used, is restricted to informal family communication. Bhojpuri is very actively used by its educated speakers in just about all situations except formal education and government.

Bhojpuri-The most popular

Folk literature, with characteristic Bhojpuri genres like ‘Kijari’ songs, ‘Bidesia’ dramas, and poems are well-recognized even among the non-bhojouri speakers.Rameshwar Singh 'Kashyap' was the writer of the extremely popular Bhojpuri play Loha Singh. Unlike the situation in other Bihari languages, There are very popular full length features films in Bhojpuri shown beyond the Bhojpuri speech area (with songs sang by all-India level singers). In this context, it is very interesting to note that the Hindi cinema (and also the stage play) has created a stylised character – a relatively un-urban simple-hearted, caring attended – who speaks Bhojpuri. Bhojpuri in a way has become a character delineator and in this sense the ‘Prakrit’ of Hindi plays. 

 Bihari languages have a great deal of unity in their phonological structure. In fact, it is this unity in phonology that makes them different as a group from Bangla, a point significantly noted by scholars like Jeffers (1976) and Dass (1976), which even persuades them to consider setting them up in some NIA subgroup to which Bangla does not belong. We note below some of the essential features of Bhojpuri Phonology.

Laryngeal (voice aspiration), and dorsal (tongue height and position) features, the total number of contrasts is smaller. That may, however, be in tune with the inherited phonology of Hindi, too, shorn off the reintroduced contrasts from Sanskrit tatsamas and Arabo-Persian and English loanwords. Bhojpuri, too, has its share of loanwords from Sanskrit, Persian and English, but while Hindi tends to create an assimilated phonological subsystem with a sociolinguistic flavour. Bhojpuri simply resorts to phonological reshaping, for example, Hindi/das/’ten’ but/dasawtar/ having status incidentally vitiating an abiding pattern, the overall system of stress placement in Bhojpuri is that the penult in a disyllabic word and the antepenult in a longer word is tonic, unless other factors, phonological such as relative syllable weight, or morphological such as derivation or inflection, intervene. In general, a vowel in a stressed syllable has the basic long allophone and an unstressed vowel has its attenuated countermen.


The internal structure of word forms in Bhojpuri involves a consideration of word derivation processes in the various lexical categories, and the forms of words in grammatical subclasses marked by inflection in those categories.


Bhojpuri productivity uses formative prefixes and suffixes to derive words from basic words within and across lexical categories. However, suffixes are more numerous than prefixes.It may be noted that the formative affixes in Bhojpuri, as in its lexicon, include (apart from the inherited NIA stock) borrowed elements of Arabo-Persion origin, as also tatsama elements, with phonological reshaping wherever applicable. This may be seen in the Persian adjective suffix /i/ as in /hisab/ calculation and /hisabi/ the calculating one,’ or the Persian prefix /be/ without’ as in /bebal/ without substance or reason.’ It is interesting to note that Persian affixes occur not only with borrowed Persian bases but can be used productivity with words of native origin too, as in /samajhdar/ the perceptyive one,’ with NIA /samajh/ and Persain /dar/. The negative prefixes /a-an; ku; dus; dur-/in words like /adharam/ ‘contrary to virtue, /anek/’not just one, many, /kucal/ ‘depraved conduct,’ /durbhag/ ‘misfortune’ illustrate affixes of tatsama origin. In fact, prefixes in Bhojpuri are more likely to be borrowed than native. It may also be noted that while Bhojpuri has vocabulary items borrowed from English, it does not use affixes from that source.

Derivational process in Bhojpuri also includes reduplication and compounding reduplication is an important feature of the structure of Bhojpuri as it is in South Asian languages in general. In Bhojpuri, it is a rather productive process and can have related but subtly differentiated semantic functions in different lexical categories. Basically, it has a distribute function, which may also imply plurality or intensity depending on the lexical category and the context, thus, quality adjective /niman/ good /niman niman/ various good ones, colour adjective /hariyar hariyar khet/ ‘ very green field’, /thor 6thor/ ‘ little by little. The last one also effects category change, an adverb from an adjective, Reduplication of imperfective forms of verbs and oblique nouns yields adverbs /TO/ ‘cry’ and /gore gore cal ail/ ‘ He managed to arrive on foot’ from the noun /gor/ foot.’ 

Bhojpuri story written in Kaithi script, written by Babu Rama Smaran Lal in 1898 - Kaithi, the script originally used in Bhojpuri, was restricted to informal family communication. 
The forms that a Bhojpuri word takes for its participation in larger structures creates certain inflectional categories making its relations within those structures. The ones which are relevant for Bhojpuri are number, gender and person for norms and pronouns, and mood, aspect, tense and agreement for verbs . Some adjectives are also inflected for agreement. The inflectional elements in Bhojpuri are all suffixes. The inflected forms may vary depending on the nature of the bases.

Noun Morphology 
Nominal bases that participate in nominal inflection can basic simple stems or derived complex stems, such as /Puja/ worship’ /Pujan/ worshipper’. The derived noun stems can be obtained from the bases of various lexical categories. In so far as the main stock of Bhojpuri vocabulary in the inherited NIA, supplemented by the more commonly used higher register complex stems borrowed from a language like Hindi (with phonological reshaping wherever applicable, as in /durdassa/ ‘woeful condition’ /cannarmukhi/ ‘the

Stative constructions in Bhojpuri
 The grammatical structure of Bhojpuri seeks to make and express distinction in various ways, including the various forms of the subject. For example, Bhojpuri makes a distinction between alienable and malleable possession, in which obviously a distinction of ‘transient state’ and permanent state ‘ comes into play (indicating a state of affairs in one’s life situation), as in being born with and possessing two eyes or two hands as opposed to possessing two books by acquisition. Bhojpuri captures this distinction by encoding the possor subject differently (alienable) /hamara pas du tho kitab ba/ versus (inalienable) /hamara du tho bath ba/’’I have two books/hands/’.

In fact, in Bhojpuri (though not in Hindi), even an auxiliary can selected varyingly to express stativity and non-stativity. The Bhojpuri auxiliary /copula /baj/ which can be considered an ‘existential’ copula, contrasts with /ha/ which functions as an identificational copula, as in /i’what is this? As opposed to /ikaha ba/ where is this? The use /bat/ as opposed to /ha/ also ties in with the structural distinction made in expressing the idea of the existence of a state,’ which can be seen in their differential use as an auxiliary in finite verbs strings /ham khaini ha/and/ham khaile bani/both translated in English as ‘I have eaten’.

It may be noted that the recognition of topic orientation in Bhojpuri may also explain and help us understand the phenomenon of (non-nominative) indirect subjects better. Topic-prominent languages have been famous for their pervasive so-called double subject constructions, as found in Japanese, Korean, mandarin, Lahu, etc. It seems that Bhojpuri and other South Asian languages can fruitfully be interpreted as belonging to that group.
  • Linguistic survey of India, Author G.A. Grierson Publisher Low Publications, 1990 Orignal from the university of virginia

    • The origin and development of Bhojpuri , Author Udai Narain TiwariPublisher Asiatic Society, 2001
    • The Indo-Aryan Languages AuthorsGeorge Cardona, Dhanesh Jain EditorsGeorge Cardona, Dhanesh Jain Edition illustrated, reprint Publisher Routledge, 2007