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Old Wednesday, February 08, 2006
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Default *`~Urdu Language*`~

Urdu

Urdu (اردو) is an Indo-European language which originated in India, most likely in the vicinity of Delhi from where it spread to the rest of the subcontinent. Urdu along with Hindi forming the Hindustani language is the second most popular 'first' language and second most popular 'first or second' language in the world. Urdu by itself is the twentieth most popular 'first' language in the world. It developed from the interaction between local Indian Sanskrit-derived Prakrits and the Persian languages. This process took place mostly in military camps, and word Urdu means "army" or "horde" in Turkish.

It soon became the language of the Mughals, distinguished linguistically from local languages by its large and extensive Persian-Arabic vocabulary superimposed on a native Hindi base of grammar, usages and vocabulary. The result was what has been considered by some to be one of the world's most beautiful languages, the "Kohinoor" ("Mountain of Light," a famed native, large and brilliant diamond) of India. It is widely spoken today in both India and Pakistan and all countries having a sizeable South Asian Diaspora.

History

There are different views on the origins of Urdu, differing in both time and geographic location. Urdu may have originated anywhere in India: the Deccan, in Punjab, in Sindh or in the neighborhood of Delhi. These hypothesis are backed by Urdu literature having been found in these areas as far back as the period of the Delhi Sultanate. Keeping in mind the linguistic character of the areas around Delhi, it is said that Urdu originated in or around Delhi over a period of a few centuries.

A continuous progression is seen in linguistic development from Sanskrit to the modern languages of Northern India, though there is a strong link between the Prakritic language 'Hindvi' of the middle ages and Urdu of today. The works of Amir Khusrau are intelligible to the speakers of Urdu and Hindi, even though they were written in the 14th century. It is hypothesized that Urdu developed when a regular and slow stream of Persian and Arabic words were infused into the language Hindvi. Urdu has been known by a host of names during this seven century long interval: Hindvi, Hindi (not to be confused with modern Hindi), Rekhta, Shahjahani, Deccani and Urdu-e-Mualla. There is some debate as to whether all of them represent the same language, but the majority of experts agree that these are names of the language known today as Urdu.

Although the language originated near Delhi, it was in the Deccan that it first gained acceptance. The rulers of the Deccan were supportive of local languages, opposing the Persian influence in northern India. In the Deccan, the court became the centre for the development of Urdu, and the initial poetry and literature in Urdu comes from there. The idea of using Urdu rather than Persian as the media of poetry and literature eventually spread to the northern parts of the Indian subcontinent.

After the mainstream acceptance of Urdu as a poetic language in North India, a large number of poets began writing in it. Great poets such as Mir, Sauda, Ghalib, Zauq and Haali made the language acceptable as a literary medium. The increasing quantity of poetry and literature caused the language to become more uniform and less volatile than it had been in the past.

Classification and Related Languages

Urdu is a member of the Hindustani group of languages, which is a subgroup of the Indo Aryan group, which is in turn part of the Indo European family of languages. Urdu is related to most of the languages of India and northern South Asia, all of them having similar grammatical structures and a certain common vocabulary. The Punjabi language is very similar to Urdu. Written Punjabi (in Shahmukhi script) can be understood by speakers of Urdu, with a little difficulty, but spoken Punjabi has a different phonology and cannot be easily understood by Urdu speakers. The closest linked language to Urdu is Hindi.

Urdu - Hindi - Hindustani

Urdu, Hindi and the consequent Hindustani language have a complex relationship with each other. Urdu and Hindi have been called different languages on the one hand and dialects of the same language on the other. Hindustani is generally thought of as the language that encompasses both Urdu and Hindi and forms the mother language of these two languages. The most major difference between Urdu and Hindi is that Urdu is written in the Nasta'liq font of the modified Arabic script while Hindi is written in the Devanagari script.

Urdu, Hindi and Hindustani are all segments on a long linguistic chain. At one end is a heavily Persianized language which is written in the Nasta'liq font and in a modified Arabic script. At the other end is a heavily Sanskritized language which is written in the Devanagari form. The progression from one to the other is continuous and slow. The basic grammars are the same. The words are replaced either by more Sanskritized or more Persianized forms. Urdu forms the segment of the chain more towards the Persian side and Hindi forms the segment of the chain more towards the Sanskrit side. The language spoken in the north of the Indian subcontinent is basically halfway between the two extremes and represents Hindustani.

Despite this, the casual spoken languages are similar and in some cases not even distinguishable. For example, it is said that Indian movies (primarily of Bollywood) are made in Hindi, but the language used in many of these movies is similar to Urdu spoken in Pakistan. On the other hand, Pakistani TV dramas are made in Urdu, and yet the language used in these dramas is similar to the language used by Hindi speakers in India.

Geographic distribution of Urdu speakers

In India, Urdu is spoken as a mother tongue by many in the central and northern states like Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. In Haryana it is spoken in the Mewat area as well as many of the urban areas. While in India, Muslims might be seen as tending to identify with Urdu; Hindus and Sikhs naturally speak Urdu regardless of religion, especially when they have grown up in such traditional Urdu-strongholds such as Lucknow and Hyderabad. Some would contend that the brand of Hindi spoken in Bollywood film is in fact closer to Urdu than Hindi, especially in filmi songs.

In Pakistan, Urdu is spoken as a mother tongue by a majority of people such cities as Karachi and Hyderabad in the southern province of Sindh. In spite of its status as the national language, only 8% of Pakistanis speak Urdu as their first language, with about 48% speaking Punjabi. As time goes by, more and more Pakistanis of Punjabi or other background are speaking Urdu as a first language. It is evident that the number of native Urdu speakers is increasing quickly in urban centers.

Apart from the Indian subcontinent, Urdu is also spoken in urban Afghanistan. It is also spoken to some extent in the major urban centers in the Persian Gulf countries. Urdu is also spoken by a large number of people in the major urban centers of the UK, the USA, Canada and Australia. Urdu is the sole official language of Pakistan, although English is used in most elite circles and Punjabi has plurality of native speakers. Urdu is one of the official languages of India, and while the government school system emphasizes Hindi, many universities, especially in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, continue to foster Urdu as a language of prestige and learning. In the Indian state of Jammu & Kashmir, Urdu is the official language.

Grammar

Urdu nouns fall into two grammatical genders : masculine and feminine. Although there is disagreement over the gender of some words, particularly words newly introduced from English which do not have genders. In Urdu there is also the presence of either a singular or a plural state.

Politeness

A host of words are used to show respect and politeness. These words are generally used with people who are older in age or with whom you are not acquainted. For example the English word 'you' can be translated into three words in Urdu 'tu' (informal, extremely intimate, or derogatory) 'tum' (informal) and 'aap' (formal and respectful).

Vocabulary

Urdu has a very rich vocabulary with words from Indian languages and Persian. Urdu language is dominated by words from Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic. One count placed the number of Hindi-Prakrit words in the vocabulary at about 60% with the remaining 40% comprising Arabic-Persian words. There are also a number of borrowings from Turkish, Portuguese and English. Many of the Arabic words that have found a place in the Urdu Language, often through the conduit of Persian, have differently nuanced meanings and usages.

Writing System

Urdu is written in a derivative of the Persian alphabet which is itself derivative of the Arabic alphabet. It is read from right to left. Urdu is similar in appearance and letters to Persian and Pashto. Urdu differs in appearance from Arabic in that it uses the more complex and sinuous nastaliq script whereas Arabic tends to the more modern naskh. Nastaliq is notoriously difficult to typeset, so Urdu newspapers are made from hand-written masters. Although the styles are different, people who can read Urdu can read Arabic, as Arabic uses the same alphabet but with fewer letters.

Usually, bare transliterations of Urdu into Roman letters omit many subtle pronunciations which have no equivalent in English or other languages which are written with the Roman alphabet, such as a sharp exhale at the end of certain words (known as aspirations). It should be noted that a reasonable and scientific system has emerged with specific notations to signify non-English sounds, but it is only properly read by someone already familiar with Urdu or Hindi. A list of the alphabet of Urdu along with their pronunciation is given under:

Alphabet English Name Pronunciationا Alif a
ب Bay b
پ Pay p
ت Tay t (plosive dental)
ٹ Ttay T
ث Say s
ج Jeem j
چ Chay ch
ح Hay h
خ Khay Kh
د Daal d (plosive dental)
ڈ Ddaal D
ذ Zaal z
ر Ray r
ڑ Arrhay R (hard r sound used in South Asian lanugages)
ز Zay z
ژ Dzhay Y
س Seen s
ش Sheen sh
ص Suad s
ض Zuad z
ط Toay t
ظ Zoay z
ع Aein e
غ Ghain Gh
ف Fay f
ق Qaaf q
ک Kaaf k
گ Gaaf g
ل Laam l
م Meem m
ن Noon n
و Wow w
ہ / ھ Hay h
ء Hamzah -
ی Choti Yay y
ے Bari Yay y



Literature

Urdu has been used as a language for literature for a short period of time. Persian being the language of choice until recently. But even so a varied and extensive literature of the language has come up. A large number of volumes of Islamic works are present in Urdu. Two genres have seen a lot of development in Urdu. The Daastaan is a long long story which might include multiple story lines, plots and may not have any particular focus but it had the usage of beautiful linguistic structures, it is not used any more. The Afsaana is a short story. It has come to become the primary genre of Urdu literature. The most well known Afsana writers or Afsana Nigaar in Urdu are Saadat Hasan Manto, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Munshi Premchand and Krishan Chander. Munshi Premchand, a Hindu writer, became known as a pioneer in the Afsana, though some contend his were not technically the first, and showed that religion was not a bar to Urdu's grand capacity to express.

Poetry

Urdu is very well known for its beautiful Urdu poetry. Urdu was the premiere language of poetry in India for two centuries and has a large and rich collection of poetry in a host of different poetic forms. The Ghazal (غزل) is a form of poetry that was used extensively by poets all over South Asia. But its beauty and grace has made it well liked by people from all faiths all over the region. Mir, Ghalib, Faiz and Haali are some of the premiere poets in the genre of Ghazal. In addition to Ghazal, the poetic forms of Rubai, Masnavi, Qaseeda, Geet, Marsia, Shehr aashob, Doha and Nauha are very well developed in Urdu. Foreign forms such as Sonnet and Haiku have also been used by Urdu poets, mainly in the modern era.
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