French and Indian languages: same same, but different?

Aug 05, 13 French and Indian languages: same same, but different?

Do you speak French ? If so, you might not know it, but some of our very common words are actually inspired, or directly coming from Indian languages : sanskrit, tamil, hindi…

Even if you don’t speak it, you might still be surprised to observe that French and Hindi, for example, have many similarities !

Wondering how come, given the distance between both countries and the very short and limited colonial past between them ? Want to show off in fancy dinners with your French friends and tell them things they never knew about their own language ? This article is for you ! Get a notebook and let’s start the lesson :-)


  • First, both French (coming from latin) and Hindi (from Sanskrit) have common languistic roots ; they’re called « Indo-European languages ».

Therefore, you will find similarities in the pronouns, for example :

Mai (I) is similar to « moi » (me)

Tu / tum (you) are similar to « tu » (you)


Also, spot the similarities in these numbers :

2 = Do / deux

3 = Tin / trois

7 = Saat / sept

8 = Haat / huit

9 = No / neuf

10 = Das /dix


You will also find it in other words from the basic vocabulary :

Ma / mère, maman (mother)

Lab / lèvre, labial, etc. (related to lips)

Nak / nez, nasal, etc. (related to nose)

Kya ? / quoi (what)

Marnaa / mourir (to die)

Denaa / donner (to give)

Naam / nom (name)

Saabun / savon (soap)



  • Some words also derived from English or Portugese, because when Europeans started doing business and then settled in India back in the 18-19-20th centuries, they adopted Indian words (that often had no existing equivalent in their own language), which then crossed borders in Europe and arrived in France.

Many examples are related to furniture and clothes, because their concepts were new to the Western population :

Bangalo (gujarati) / Bangla (hindustani : villa) => bungalow, in English and in French

Varanda (in Portugese, used for a special type of terrasses seen in Kerala) => veranda in English, véranda in French

जिमख़ाना, جِمخانہ, gymkhana (« a room to practice sports ») => gymkhana in English and in French

Pallakku (tamil) / pallaki (telugu) : « a (moving) bed » => palanquin in French


Pae-jaama  (« clothe for the legs ») => in English : pyjaamas => in French : pyjama

Shaal (hindi) => in English : shawl => in French : châle

Champo (to massage) => in English : shampooing, shampoo => in French : shampoing


Kari (tamil) => in English : curry => in French : cari and curry

Khaki (« color of the ground » ; several villages in India are named Khaki) => kaki, in English and in French


Avatara (sanskrit) originally meant descent, as in the descent of divinities from sky to earth. By extension, it referred to the characters that divinities would incarnate on Earth, and later on, the different forms/transformations of an individual : avatar.


The word Paria seems to be coming from 2 tamil words that were confusing for the Portugese : Parayan (a drum player) and pulliyar (a man from the lowest cast). It is now globally used to refer to someone who is outcast (pariah in English).


One of the most interesting examples might be Jungle : it originally came from the word Jangal in hindi, and became populary used in Europe and in France mostly thanks to the Jungle book, written by the English author Rudyard Kipling who spent many years in Bombay.

Funny fact about this book : you will actually find many hindi words even in the French version, as Kipling used generic animal names for some of his animal characters’ names… see :

Illustration livre de la jungle

Bagheera is the hindi word for panther / panthère

Haathi is the hindi word for elephant / éléphant

Chil is the hindi word for vulture / vautour

Bandar Log : Bandar means monkey / singe, Log means people / peuple.


Eventually, it is also interesting to note that some fabrics have taken their names from the location where they were specifically made, and have become a generic name ; such as :

Cachemire, for the special whool made in Kashmir ;

Calicot, for the fabric that initially came from Calicut (also named Kozhikode, in Kerala).


Another funny fact : the word « punch », which refers to a cocktail with 5 ingredients, actually comes from… the hindi word « punch », meaning 5 !


  • To finish with, here are the words that were directly picked from Indian languages and kept in French, most of them because it refers to concepts or products that were directly imported from India and stay very much associated with the country :


Guru (gourou)




Buddha (Bouddha)

Nabab (arabic word originally that refered to Muslim kings)


And you, have you already noticed similarities between indian words and French vocabulary?