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I have heard that indio is used in Spanish to mean Indian, indigene, and Hindu.

Are all three meanings correct?

  • "Indian" has multiple meanings in English, too... "Native American," "Indian" (one from India), or "Hindu" (broadly speaking--as most Hindus come from in or near India) – Flimzy Dec 13 '13 at 9:53
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    @Flimzy I have never encountered "Indian" in English being used as a synonym for Hindu. – brazofuerte Feb 11 at 21:03
  • What do you mean by the word "indigene"? – brazofuerte Feb 12 at 15:04
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The word "indio" referrs to someone from either the East Indies or the West Indies but contemporaneously usually refers to either an Indian national (someone from India or otherwise related to the Indian subcontinent) or someone ethnically related to the peoples who lived in the Americas before Columbus. I don't know about other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, but at least in Colombia "indio" is also a pejorative for someone deemed to be less educated or from a lesser cultural level (regardless of ethnic background).

The word "indígena" would roughly translate in English to native, aboriginal or indigenous, so it could be applied to a Lapp (a Same) in Finland, an Australian aboriginal, or to an indio from the Americas. It could also be extended to a white blonde person German in Germany, although this meaning is rare. Technically correct but rare. In the Americas, many people say "indígena" instead of "indio" to avoid the other two meanings of "indio" (someone from India or the insult). As with any other ethnically related word, some people adopt it with pride and some people will feel offended.

The word "hindú" correctly applies to either someone from historical Hindustan or a follower of Hinduism. By extension, and to avoid the use of "indio" (to avoid confusion with native Americans or the pejorative meaning) it is also applied to nationals of India. Most educated people will agree that "hindú" is incorrect when referring to just someone from India (unless related to Hindustan or Hinduism).

For avoiding confusion the word "hinduísta" refers to a follower of Hinduism regardless of ethnic or national identity.

Another related word is "amerindio" derived from "indio americano" which refers to someone indigenous to the Americas, avoiding any confusion with "indio" (and being more precise than "indígena"). Also, while some people proudly adopt the exonym "amerindio" others may take it offensively.

So, in summary:

indio:

  1. A Indian national or related to India
  2. A Native American
  3. [insult] an uncultured person

indígena:

  1. Indigenous, aboriginal, native
  2. [narrowly]: indigenous, aboriginal, or native of the Americas

hindú:

  1. Someone related to Hindustan
  2. A Hindu
  3. [by extension]: an Indian national
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  • Although the answer is perfectly correct it's important to asset that many people use the word "indio" on a familiar way to cover all previous meanings. – Bardo Dec 17 '13 at 13:48
  • Not sure what all previous meanings are. I would find hard to find someone using «indio» to refer to a blond German in Germany or a white American converted to Hinduism. – Carlos Eugenio Thompson Pinzón Dec 17 '13 at 19:59
  • Agree, however, on a familiar way you'll find more people using indio than hindú to refer to a natural from India, although hindú would be correct expression – Bardo Dec 18 '13 at 7:20
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Although indio is often used as a polysemic word meaning Indian, indigene, or Hindu, in Spanish we have specific words for each of these:

  • Hindu → hindú
  • Indian → indio
  • indigene → indígena

Hence, if using indio to refer to one of the above three meanings one must ensure the context is unambiguous.

Note: using indio for indigene sounds to me like some kind of insult. Indio is used sometimes in a pejorative way, when referring to south-americans.

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  • Not complete: spanish "Indio" can mean both from America and from India. "Hindú" is a racial/religious reference where not all indians from India are included. Some may even take offense if you call them "Hindú". – Envite Dec 13 '13 at 10:25
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    Well, I often refer to those that follow hinduism as hinduists, that's how I difference them, not trying to be offensive, so probably is my way to understand it that makes me say that 'Hindú' is for 'Hindu', for me 'Hindú' is someone born or a citizen of India, and hinduist is someone that follows hinduism as a religion. – Amedio Dec 13 '13 at 11:04
  • Yes, but it is not only how you refer to them, but how them can feel when one refers to them. – Envite Dec 13 '13 at 11:15
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    Well I searched mroe about 'Hindú' in RAE, and the definition doesn't get peorative meaning, it refers to citizens and religious both. So maybe I was not so wrong, and you are the frist to tell me that, maybe I'll e-mail them for a clarification. – Amedio Dec 13 '13 at 11:46
  • Estando en una conversación con un colega, apareció el tema del significado delos términos Indio, Indígena e Hindú. Yo sabía que Indio puede ser usada de forma peyorativa, pero el insiste en que Hindú también es malsonante a oídos de un habitante de la India, ya que, según el, Hindú se refiere solamente a un grupo racial y religioso de ciudadanos de la India. En el diccionario no se trata Hindú con un uso peyorativo, o exclusivamente racial o religioso, sino que también se indica que sirve para denominar a un ciudadano procedente de la India. ¿Nos podríais sacar de dudas? Muchas gracias – Amedio Dec 13 '13 at 11:57
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I believe you are confusing the terms indio and hindú:

  • indio can refer to either Indians or Native Americans
  • hindú can refer to either Indians* or Hindus

Indio is not to my knowledge used to refer to indigenous persons in general. The Spanish word for this is indígena or aborigen.


* Historically used to refer to persons from "Hindustan" (historical India, the Indian subcontinent): India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, Bhutan.

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