Urdu (//; Urdu: اُردُو, ALA-LC: Urdū, [ˈʊrduː] (
Urdu in Nastaʿlīq script
|Native to||Pakistan and India|
|Ethnicity||No specific ethnicity|
|Native speakers: 68.62 million (2019)|
L2 speakers: 101.58 million (2019)
Official language in
|Regulated by||National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language|
National Language Promotion Department
Areas in India and Pakistan where Urdu is either official or co-official
Areas where Urdu is neither official nor co-official
Colloquial Urdu is largely mutually intelligible with colloquial Hindi, and the two registers are sometimes grouped together as Hindustani - although the two languages diverge in more formal and literary vocabulary. Formal Urdu draws heavily from Persian vocabulary and requires understating of some simple Persian grammatical structures, while formal Hindi heavily draws from Sanskrit for its formal and technical vocabulary. A movement towards an increasingly heavily Persianized Urdu, which contains vocabulary that is up to 70% Persian in origin, has emerged in Pakistan, and has been adopted by much of the country's writers.
The Mughals spoke what became known as Urdu, and by the year 1700, the Mughals had formalized the language. Later, Urdu became the official language of government in northern and northwest British Raj, along with English, from 1837 onwards in place of Persian, which had been used by various Indo-Islamic empires as their language of government. Religious, social, and political factors arose during the British period that advocated for a distinction between Urdu and Hindi, leading to the Hindi–Urdu controversy.
According to Nationalencyklopedin's 2010 estimates, Urdu is the 21st most spoken first language in the world, with approximately 66 million who speak it as their native language. According to Ethnologue's 2018 estimates, Urdu, is the 11th most widely spoken language in the world, with 170 million total speakers, including those who speak it as a second language. If grouped along with Hindi, Hindustani would be the 3rd most spoken language in the world, with approximately 329.1 million native speakers, and 697.4 million total speakers of both Urdu and Hindi.
Urdu, like Hindi, is a form of Hindustani. Some linguists have suggested that the earliest forms of Urdu evolved from the medieval (6th to 13th century) Apabhraṃśa register of the preceding Shauraseni language, a Middle Indo-Aryan language that is also the ancestor of other modern Indo-Aryan languages.
In Northern India (what is historically known as the region of Hindustan), Khariboli was the native language. It belongs to the Western Hindi language class of Central Indo-Aryan languages. The Turko-Afghan Delhi Sultanate established Persian as its official language, a policy continued by the Mughal Empire, which extended over most of northern South Asia from the 16th to 18th centuries and cemented Persian influence on Hindustani.
In cities such as Delhi, Khariboli began to acquire some Persian loanwords and continued to be called "Hindi" as well as "Urdu". From the 13th century until the end of the 18th century the language now known as Urdu was called Hindi,(p1) Hindavi, Dehlavi,(pp21–22) Lahori, and Lashkari. By the end of the reign of Aurangzeb in the early 18th century, the common language around Delhi began to be referred to as “Zaban-e-Urdu,” a name derived from the Turkic word ordu (army) or orda and is said to have arisen as the "language of the camp", or "Zaban-i-Ordu" or natively "Lashkari Zaban". The name Urdu was first used by the poet Ghulam Hamadani Mushafi around 1780.(p18) As a literary language, Urdu took shape in courtly, elite settings.
While Urdu retained the grammar and core vocabulary of the local Hindi dialect Khariboli, it adopted the Nastaleeq writing system – which was develop as a style of Persian calligraphy. Hindustani in Persian script was used by Muslims and Hindus, but was current chiefly in Muslim-influenced society. Urdu replaced Persian as the official language in 1837 and was made co-official, along with English. Urdu, which was often referred to by the British as “Hindustani,” was promoted in British India by British policies to counter the previous emphasis on Persian. This triggered a Hindu backlash in northwestern India, which under the Arya Samaj agitated against the use of Urdu and argued that the language should be written in the native Devanagari script, which triggered a backlash against the use of Hindi by the Anjuman-e-Islamia of Lahore. "Hindi" replaced Urdu as the official language of Bihar in 1881, establishing a sectarian divide of "Urdu" for Muslims and "Hindi" for Hindus, a divide that was formalised with the division of India and Pakistan after independence (though there are Hindu poets who continue to write in Urdu, including Gopi Chand Narang and Gulzar).
Urdu was chosen as an official language of Pakistan in 1947 as it was already the lingua franca for Muslims in north and northwest British India, although Urdu had been used as a literary medium for British Indian writers from the Bombay Presidency, Bengal, Orissa Province, and Tamil Nadu as well. In 1973, Urdu was recognised as the sole national language of Pakistan - although English and regional languages were also granted official recognition. Following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent arrival of millions of Afghan refugees who have lived in Pakistan for many decades, many Afghans, including those who moved back to Afghanistan, have also become fluent in Urdu.
There have been attempts to purge Urdu of Sanskrit words, and Hindi of Persian loanwords – new vocabulary draws primarily from Persian and Arabic for Urdu and from Sanskrit for Hindi. English has exerted a heavy influence on both as a co-official language. A movement towards the hyper-Persianization of an Urdu emerged in Pakistan since its independence in 1947 which is "as artificial as" the hyper-Sanskritized Hindi that has emerged in India; hyper-Persianization of Urdu was prompted in part by the increasing Sanskritization of Hindi. Hyper-Persianized Urdu has been adopted by much of Pakistan’s writers, however, and some Urdu texts now contain vocabulary that is 70% Persian-Arabic in origin.
Speakers and Geographic Distribution
There are over 100 million native speakers of Urdu in India and Pakistan together: there were 50.8 million Urdu speakers in India (4.34% of the total population) as per the 2011 census; approximately 16 million in Pakistan in 2006; There are several hundred thousand in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, United States, and Bangladesh (where it is called "Bihari"). However, Hindustani, of which Urdu is one variety, is spoken much more widely, forming the third most commonly spoken language in the world, after Mandarin and English. The syntax (grammar), morphology, and the core vocabulary of Urdu and Hindi are essentially identical - thus linguists usually count them as one single language, while some contend that they are considered as two different languages for socio-political reasons.
Owing to interaction with other languages, Urdu has become localised wherever it is spoken, including in Pakistan. Urdu in Pakistan has undergone changes and has incorporated and borrowed many words from regional languages, thus allowing speakers of the language in Pakistan to distinguish themselves more easily and giving the language a decidedly Pakistani flavour. Similarly, the Urdu spoken in India can also be distinguished into many dialects like Dakhni (Deccan) of South India, and Khariboli of the Punjab region. Because of Urdu's similarity to Hindi, speakers of the two languages can easily understand one another if both sides refrain from using specialised vocabulary.
Urdu is widely spoken and understood throughout Pakistan. Urdu in Pakistan is mostly learned as a second or a third language since only 7-8% of Pakistan's population speak Urdu as their native language. Most of the nearly three million Afghan refugees of different ethnic origins (such as Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazarvi, and Turkmen) who stayed in Pakistan for over twenty-five years have also become fluent in Urdu. Muhajirs since 1947 have historically formed the majority population in the city of Karachi, however. Many newspapers are published in Urdu in Pakistan, including the Daily Jang, Nawa-i-Waqt, Millat, among many others.
No region in Pakistan uses Urdu as its mother tongue, though it is spoken as the first language of Muslim refugees (known as Muhajirs) in Pakistan who fled from India after independence in 1947. Urdu was chosen as a symbol of unity for the new state of Pakistan in 1947, because it had already served as a lingua franca among Muslims in north and northwest British India. It is written, spoken and used in all provinces/territories of Pakistan, although the people from differing provinces may have different native languages.
Urdu is taught as a compulsory subject up to higher secondary school in both English and Urdu medium school systems, which has produced millions of second-language Urdu speakers among people whose native language is one of the other languages of Pakistan - which in turn has led to the absorption of vocabulary from various regional Pakistani languages, while some Urdu vocabulary has also been assimilated Pakistan's regional languages. Some who are from a non-Urdu background now can read and write only Urdu. With such a large number of people(s) speaking Urdu, the language has acquired a peculiar Pakistani flavour further distinguishing it from the Urdu spoken by native speakers, which diversifies the language even further.
In India, Urdu is spoken in places where there are large Muslim minorities or cities that were bases for Muslim Empires in the past.These include parts of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra (Marathwada), Karnataka and cities such as Lucknow, Delhi, Bareilly, Meerut, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Roorkee, Deoband, Moradabad, Azamgarh, Bijnor, Najibabad, Rampur, Aligarh, Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Agra, Kanpur, Badaun, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Aurangabad, Bangalore, Kolkata, Mysore, Patna, Gulbarga, Parbhani, Nanded, Kochi, Malegaon, Bidar, Ajmer, and Ahmedabad. Some Indian schools teach Urdu as a first language and have their own syllabi and exams. India's Bollywood industry frequently employs the use of Urdu - especially in songs.
India has more than 3,000 Urdu publications, including 405 daily Urdu newspapers. Newspapers such as Neshat News Urdu, Sahara Urdu, Daily Salar, Hindustan Express, Daily Pasban, Siasat Daily, The Munsif Daily and Inqilab are published and distributed in Bangalore, Malegaon, Mysore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai (see List of newspapers in India).
Outside South Asia, it is spoken by large numbers of migrant South Asian workers in the major urban centres of the Persian Gulf countries. Urdu is also spoken by large numbers of immigrants and their children in the major urban centres of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany, Norway, and Australia. Along with Arabic, Urdu is among the immigrant languages with the most speakers in Catalonia.
Religious and social atmospheres in early nineteenth century British India played a significant role in the development of the Urdu register. Hindi became the distinct register spoken by those who sought to construct a Hindu identity in the face of colonial rule. As Hindi separated from Hindustani to create a distinct spiritual identity, Urdu was employed to create a definitive Islamic identity for the Muslim population in British India. Urdu's use was not confined only to northern India - it had been used as a literary medium for British Indian writers from the Bombay Presidency, Bengal, Orissa Province, and Tamil Nadu as well.
As Urdu and Hindi became means of religious and social construction for Muslims and Hindus respectively, each register developed its own script. According to Islamic tradition, Arabic, the language spoken by the prophet Muhammad and uttered in the revelation of the Qur'an, holds spiritual significance and power. Because Urdu was intentioned as means of unification for Muslims in Northern India and later Pakistan, it adopted a modified Perso-Arabic script.
Urdu continued its role in developing a Muslim identity as Islamic Republic of Pakistan was established with the intent to construct a homeland for Muslims of South Asia. Several languages and dialects spoken throughout the regions of Pakistan produced an imminent need for a uniting language. Urdu was chosen as a symbol of unity for the new state of Pakistan in 1947, because it had already served as a lingua franca among Muslims in north and northwest British India. Urdu is also seen as a repertory for the cultural and social heritage of Pakistan.
While Urdu and Islam together played important roles in developing the national identity of Pakistan, disputes in the 1950s (particularly those in East Pakistan, where Bengali was the dominant language), challenged the idea of Urdu as a national symbol and its practicality as the lingua franca. The significance of Urdu as a national symbol was downplayed by these disputes when English and Bengali were also accepted as official languages in the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
Urdu is the sole national, and one of the two official languages of Pakistan (along with English). It is spoken and understood throughout the country, whereas the state-by-state languages (languages spoken throughout various regions) are the provincial languages, although only 7.57% of Pakistanis speak Urdu as their first language. Its official status has meant that Urdu is understood and spoken widely throughout Pakistan as a second or third language. It is used in education, literature, office and court business, although in practice, English is used instead of Urdu in the higher echelons of government. Article 251(1) of the Pakistani Constitution mandates that Urdu be implemented as the sole language of government, though English continues to be the most widely used language at the higher echelons of Pakistani government.
Urdu is also one of the officially recognised languages in India and the official language of Jammu and Kashmir, one of the two official languages of Telangana and also has the status of "additional official language" in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and the national capital, New Delhi. In Jammu and Kashmir, section 145 of the Kashmir Constitution provides: "The official language of the State shall be Urdu but the English language shall unless the Legislature by law otherwise provides, continue to be used for all the official purposes of the State for which it was being used immediately before the commencement of the Constitution."
India established the governmental Bureau for the Promotion of Urdu in 1969, although the Central Hindi Directorate was established earlier in 1960, and the promotion of Hindi is better funded and more advanced, while the status of Urdu has been undermined by the promotion of Hindi. Private Indian organisations such as the Anjuman-e-Tariqqi Urdu, Deeni Talimi Council and Urdu Mushafiz Dasta promote the use and preservation of Urdu, with the Anjuman successfully launching a campaign that reintroduced Urdu as an official language of Bihar in the 1970s.
Urdu has a few recognised dialects, including Dakhni, Rekhta, and Modern Vernacular Urdu (based on the Khariboli dialect of the Delhi region). Dakhni (also known as Dakani, Deccani, Desia, Mirgan) is spoken in Deccan region of southern India. It is distinct by its mixture of vocabulary from Marathi and Konkani, as well as some vocabulary from Arabic, Persian and Chagatai that are not found in the standard dialect of Urdu. Dakhini is widely spoken in all parts of Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Urdu is read and written as in other parts of India. A number of daily newspapers and several monthly magazines in Urdu are published in these states. In terms of pronunciation, the easiest way to recognise native speakers is by their pronunciation of the letter "qāf" (ق) as "k̲h̲e" (خ).
Many bilingual or multi-lingual Urdu speakers, being familiar with both Urdu and English, display code-switching (referred to as "Urdish") in certain localities and between certain social groups. On 14 August 2015, the Government of Pakistan launched the Ilm Pakistan movement, with a uniform curriculum in Urdish. Ahsan Iqbal, Federal Minister of Pakistan, said, "Now the government is working on a new curriculum to provide a new medium to the students which will be the combination of both Urdu and English and will name it Urdish."
Comparison with Modern Standard Hindi
The scope of linguistic difference between Urdu and Hindi has been difficult - partly due to a greater emphasis on the degree of similarity between the two for sociopolitical reasons, rather than on their divergence. Both languages are also frequently grouped together by linguists as "Hindi-Urdu" with little effort made to differentiate between the two, although some do classify the two as distinct languages. Speakers of both languages often emphasise the difference for their own sociopolitical reasons.
Colloquial registers of Urdu and Hindu are largely mutually intelligible, and are largely considered to be two standardised forms of the same language, aside from the use of markedly different scripts. Vocabulary between the two colloquial registers differs by only approximately 10%, with much of the variation reflecting different "cultural paradigms." Mutual intelligibility decreases in literary and specialised contexts that rely on educated vocabulary, while lexical differences are Urdu draws from Persian and Arabic as a source for technical and literary vocabulary, whereas Hindi draws on Sanskrit. The two languages are sometimes considered as a single language on a continuum between Persianized and Sanskritized vocabulary. However, the use of a Sanskrit word does not necessarily denote a word as being Hindi, just as use of a Perso-Arabic word does not necessarily denote the word as being Urdu. Old Urdu dictionaries contain most of the Sanskrit words now present in Hindi, although a trend towards hyper-Persianization of Urdu has emerged in Pakistan resulting in some registers of Urdu that derive up to 70% of their vocabulary from Persian. A similar trend towards the hyper-Sanskritization of Hindi has also emerged in India.
At a phonological level, speakers of both languages are frequently aware of the Perso-Arabic or Sanskrit origins of their word choice, which affects pronounciation of those word. Urdu speakers tend to pronounce Persian words similar to how they sound in Persian, and will often insert vowels to break up consonant clusters found in Sanskrit origin words, while Hindi speakers often preserve Sanskrit consonant clusters.
Grammar between the two languages is also virtually identical at the colloquial level. Grammatical differences are most greatly pronounced in formal speech and literature. Formal Urdu makes frequent use of the Persian "-e-" izafat grammatical construct (as in Quaid-e-Azam, or Nishan-e-Pakistan) which is not commonly found in Hindi - it use in Hindi is often to emhasize the Muslim origins of whatever is being referred to. Urdu speakers more frequently use personal pronouns with the "ko" form (as in "mujh-ko"), while Hindi speakers more frequently use the contracted form (as in "mujhe").
Urdu speakers by country
The following table shows the number of Urdu speakers in some countries.
|Country||Population||Urdu as a native language speakers||Native speakers or very good speakers as a second language||Total number of Urdu speakers|
|207,862,518||15,100,000 (7.26%)||94,000,000 (45.22%)||109,100,000 (52.49%)|
|1,296,834,042||50,772,631 (3.91%)||12,151,715 (0.94%)||62,924,346 (4.85%)|
|34,940,837||–||1,048,225 (3.00%)||1,048,225 (3.00%)|
|33,091,113||757,000 (2.29%)||–||757,000 (2.29%)|
|29,717,587||691,546 (2.33%)||–||691,546 (2.33%)|
|65,105,246||400,000 (0.61%)||–||400,000 (0.61%)|
|329,256,465||300,000 (0.09%)||–||300,000 (0.09%)|
|159,453,001||250,000 (0.16%)||–||250,000 (0.16%)|
|35,881,659||206,000 (0.57%)||–||206,000 (0.57%)|
|2,363,569||173,000 (7.32%)||–||173,000 (7.32%)|
|4,613,241||95,000 (2.06%)||–||95,000 (2.06%)|
|83,024,745||88,000 (0.10%)||–||88,000 (0.10%)|
|1,442,659||74,000 (5.13%)||–||74,000 (5.13%)|
|5,372,191||34,000 (0.63%)||–||34,000 (0.63%)|
|81,257,239||24,000 (0.03%)||–||24,000 (0.03%)|
|80,457,737||23,000 (0.03%)||–||23,000 (0.03%)|
|Total||7,700,000,000||68,988,177 (0.90%)||107,199,940 (1.39%)||176,188,117 (2.29%)|
|Nasal||plain||m م||n ن||ŋ ن|
|voiced aspirated||(mʱ) مھ||(nʱ) نھ|
|Plosive/||voiceless||p پ||t̪ ت||ʈ ٹ||tʃ چ||k ک||q ق||(ʔ) ع|
|voiceless aspirated||pʰ پھ||t̪ʰ تھ||ʈʰ ٹھ||tʃʰ چھ||kʰ کھ|
|voiced||b ب||d̪ د||ɖ ڈ||dʒ ج||ɡ گ||ɢ|
|voiced aspirated||bʱ بھ||dʱ دھ||ɖʱ ڈھ||dʒʱ جھ||ɡʱ گھ|
|Fricative||voiceless||f ف||s س||ʃ ش||x خ||(h) ہ/ح|
|voiced||v و||z ز||ʒ ژ||ɣ غ||ɦ ہ/ح|
|Flap||plain||ɾ ر||ɽ ڑ|
|voiced aspirated||(ɾʱ) رھ||ɽʱ ڑھ|
|Approximant||plain||ʋ و||l ل||j ی|
- Marginal and non-universal phonemes are in parentheses.
- /ɣ/ is post-velar.
Syed Ahmed Dehlavi, a 19th century lexicographer who compiled the Farhang-e-Asifiya Urdu dictionary, estimated that 75% of Urdu words have their etymological roots in Sanskrit and Prakrit, and approximately 99% of Urdu verbs have their roots in Sanskrit and Prakrit. Urdu has borrowed words from Persian and to a lesser extent, Arabic through Persian, to the extent of about 25% to 30% of Urdu’s vocabulary. A table illustrated by the linguist Afroz Taj of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill likewise illustrates the amount of Persian loanwords to native Sanskrit-derived words in literary Urdu as comprising a 1:3 ratio. On a colloquial level, Urdu and Hindi differ in about 10% of their vocabulary.
The "trend towards Persianisation" started in the 18th century by the Delhi school of Urdu poets, though other writers, such as Meeraji, wrote in a Sanskritised form of the language. There has been a move towards hyper Persianization in Pakistan since 1947, which has been adopted by much of the country’s writers; as such, some Urdu texts can be composed of 70% Perso-Arabic loanwords. Some Pakistani Urdu speakers have incorporated Hindi vocabulary into their speech as a result of exposure to Indian entertainment. In India, Urdu has not diverged as drastically from Hindi as it has in Pakistan.
Most borrowed words in Urdu are nouns and adjectives. Many of the words of Arabic origin have been adopted through Persian, and have different pronunciations and nuances of meaning and usage than they do in Arabic. There are also a smaller number of borrowings from Chagatai, and Portuguese. Some examples for Portuguese words borrowed into Urdu are cabi ("chave": key), girja ("igreja": church), kamra ("cámara": room), qamīz ("camisa": shirt), mez ("mesa": table).
Although the word Urdu is derived from the Turkic word ordu (army) or orda, from which English horde is also derived, Turkic borrowings in Urdu are minimal and Urdu is also not genetically related to the Turkic languages. Urdu words originating from Chagatai and Arabic were borrowed through Persian and hence are Persianized versions of the original words. For instance, the Arabic ta' marbuta ( ة ) changes to he ( ه ) or te ( ت ). Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief, Urdu did not borrow from the Turkish language, but from Chagatai, a Turkic language from Central Asia. Urdu and Turkish both borrowed from Arabic and Persian, hence the similarity in pronunciation of many Urdu and Turkish words.
Urdu in its less formalised register has been referred to as a rek̤h̤tah (ریختہ, [reːxtaː]), meaning "rough mixture". The more formal register of Urdu is sometimes referred to as zabān-i Urdū-yi muʿallá (زبانِ اُردُوئے معلّٰى [zəbaːn eː ʊrdu eː moəllaː]), the "Language of the Exalted Camp", referring to the Imperial army or in approximate local translation Lashkari Zabān (لشکری زبان [lʌʃkɜ:i: zɑ:bɑ:n]) or simply just Lashkari. The etymology of the word used in the Urdu language for the most part decides how polite or refined one's speech is. For example, Urdu speakers would distinguish between پانی pānī and آب āb, both meaning "water"; the former is used colloquially and has older Sanskrit origins, whereas the latter is used formally and poetically, being of Persian origin.
If a word is of Persian or Arabic origin, the level of speech is considered to be more formal and grand. Similarly, if Persian or Arabic grammar constructs, such as the izafat, are used in Urdu, the level of speech is also considered more formal and grand. If a word is inherited from Sanskrit, the level of speech is considered more colloquial and personal.
Urdu is written right-to left in an extension of the Persian alphabet, which is itself an extension of the Arabic alphabet. Urdu is associated with the Nastaʿlīq style of Persian calligraphy, whereas Arabic is generally written in the Naskh or Ruq'ah styles. Nasta’liq is notoriously difficult to typeset, so Urdu newspapers were hand-written by masters of calligraphy, known as kātib or khush-nawīs, until the late 1980s. One handwritten Urdu newspaper, The Musalman, is still published daily in Chennai.
A highly Persianized and technical form of Urdu was the lingua franca of the law courts of the British administration in Bengal, Bihar, and the North-West Provinces & Oudh. Until the late 19th century, all proceedings and court transactions in this register of Urdu were written officially in the Persian script. In 1880, Sir Ashley Eden, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal abolished the use of the Persian alphabet in the law courts of Bengal and Bihar and ordered the exclusive use of Kaithi, a popular script used for both Urdu and Hindi. Kaithi's association with Urdu and Hindi was ultimately eliminated by the political contest between these languages and their scripts, in which the Persian script was definitively linked to Urdu.
More recently in India, Urdu speakers have adopted Devanagari for publishing Urdu periodicals and have innovated new strategies to mark Urdu in Devanagari as distinct from Hindi in Devanagari. Such publishers have introduced new orthographic features into Devanagari for the purpose of representing the Perso-Arabic etymology of Urdu words. One example is the use of अ (Devanagari a) with vowel signs to mimic contexts of ع (‘ain), in violation of Hindi orthographic rules. For Urdu publishers, the use of Devanagari gives them a greater audience, whereas the orthographic changes help them preserve a distinct identity of Urdu.
Urdu has become a literary language only in recent centuries, as Persian was formerly the idiom of choice for the Muslim courts of North India. However, despite its relatively late development, Urdu literature boasts of some world-recognised artists and a considerable corpus.
Urdu afsana is a kind of Urdu prose in which many experiments have been done by short story writers from Munshi Prem Chand, Sadat Hasan Manto, Rajindra Singh Bedi, Ismat Chughtai, Krishan Chandra to Naeem Baig. and Rahman Abbas.
Urdu holds the largest collection of works on Islamic literature and Sharia. These include translations and interpretation of the Qur'an as well as commentary on Hadith, Fiqh, history, and Sufism. A great number of classical texts from Arabic and Persian have also been translated into Urdu. Relatively inexpensive publishing, combined with the use of Urdu as a lingua franca among Muslims of South Asia, has meant that Islam-related works in Urdu far outnumber such works in any other South Asian language. Popular Islamic books are also written in Urdu.
A treatise on astrology was penned in Urdu by Pandit Roop Chand Joshi in the twentieth century. The book, known as Lal Kitab, is widely popular in North India among astrologers.
Secular prose includes all categories of widely known fiction and non-fiction work, separable into genres. The dāstān, or tale, a traditional story that may have many characters and complex plotting. This has now fallen into disuse.
The afsāna or short story is probably the best-known genre of Urdu fiction. The best-known afsāna writers, or afsāna nigār, in Urdu are Munshi Premchand, Saadat Hasan Manto, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Krishan Chander, Qurratulain Hyder (Qurat-ul-Ain Haider), Ismat Chughtai, Ghulam Abbas, Rashid ul Khairi and Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi till Rahman Abbas. Towards the end of last century Paigham Afaqui's novel Makaan appeared with a reviving force for Urdu novel resulting into writing of novels getting a boost in Urdu literature and a number of writers like Ghazanfer, Abdus Samad, Sarwat Khan and Musharraf Alam Zauqi have taken the move forward. However, Rahman Abbas has emerged as the most influential Urdu Novelist in the 21st century and he has raised the art of story-telling to a new level.
Munshi Premchand, became known as a pioneer in the afsāna, though some contend that his were not technically the first as Sir Ross Masood had already written many short stories in Urdu. Novels form a genre of their own, in the tradition of the English novel. Other genres include saférnāma (travel story), mazmoon (essay), sarguzisht (account/narrative), inshaeya (satirical essay), murasela (editorial), and khud navvisht (autobiography).
Urdu has been one of the premier languages of poetry in South Asia for two centuries, and has developed a rich tradition in a variety of poetic genres. The Ghazal in Urdu represents the most popular form of subjective music and poetry, whereas the Nazm exemplifies the objective kind, often reserved for narrative, descriptive, didactic or satirical purposes. Under the broad head of the Nazm we may also include the classical forms of poems known by specific names such as Masnavi (a long narrative poem in rhyming couplets on any theme: romantic, religious, or didactic), Marsia (an elegy traditionally meant to commemorate the martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad, and his comrades of the Karbala fame), or Qasida (a panegyric written in praise of a king or a nobleman), for all these poems have a single presiding subject, logically developed and concluded. However, these poetic species have an old world aura about their subject and style, and are different from the modern Nazm, supposed to have come into vogue in the later part of the nineteenth century. Probably the most widely recited, and memorised genre of contemporary Urdu poetry is nāt—panegyric poetry written in praise of Muhammad. Nāt can be of any formal category, but is most commonly in the ghazal form. The language used in Urdu nāt ranges from the intensely colloquial to a highly persified formal language. The great early 20th century scholar Ala Hazrat, Ahmed Raza Khan Barelvi, who wrote many of the most well known nāts in Urdu (the collection of his poetic work is Hadaiq-e-Baqhshish), epitomised this range in a ghazal of nine stanzas (bayt) in which every stanza contains half a line each of Arabic, Persian, formal Urdu, and colloquial Hindi.
Ghazal "Gayaki", the art of singing or performing the ghazal in the Indian classical tradition, is very old. The very specific and detailed meter (Beher) of a Ghazal make the music very plesant.
Singers like Ustad Barkat Ali and many other singers in the past used to practice it, but the lack of historical records make many names anonymous. It was with Begum Akhtar and later on Ustad Mehdi Hassan that classical rendering of ghazals became popular in the masses. The categorisation of ghazal singing as a form of "light classical" music is a misconception.
Classical ghazals are difficult to render because of the varying moods of the "shers" or couplets in the ghazal. Amanat Ali Khan, Begum Akhtar, Talat Mahmood, Ustad Mehdi Hassan, Abida Parveen, Jagjit Singh, Farida Khanum, and Ustad Ghulam Ali are popular classical ghazal singers.
As̱ẖʿār (اشعار, verse, couplets): It consists of two hemistiches (lines) called Miṣraʿ (مصرع); first hemistich (line) is called مصرعِ اولٰی (Miṣraʿ-i ūlá) and the second is called (مصرعِ ثانی) (Miṣraʿ-i s̱ānī). Each verse embodies a single thought or subject (singular) شِعر shiʿr.
In the Urdu poetic tradition, most poets use a pen name called the takhalluṣ. This can be either a part of a poet's given name or something else adopted as an identity. The traditional convention in identifying Urdu poets is to mention the takhalluṣ at the end of the name. Thus Ghalib, whose official name and title was Mirza Asadullah Beg Khan, is referred to formally as Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib, or in common parlance as just Mirza Ghalib. Because the takhalluṣ can be a part of their actual name, some poets end up having that part of their name repeated, such as Faiz Ahmad Faiz.
The word takhalluṣ is derived from Arabic, meaning "ending". This is because in the ghazal form, the poet would usually incorporate his or her pen name into the final couplet (maqt̤aʿ) of each poem as a type of "signature".
Urdu poetry example
ریختہ کے تُمہیں اُستاد نہیں ہو غالبؔ
کہتے ہیں اگلے زمانے میں کوئی میرؔ بھی تھا
- Reḵẖtah ke tumhī ustād nahīṉ ho G̱ẖālib
- Kahte haiṉ Agle zamāne meṉ ko'ī Mīr bhī thā
- You are not the only master of Rekhta, Ghalib
- (They) say that in the past there also was someone (named) Mir.
- دفعہ ۱: تمام انسان آزاد اور حُقوُق و عِزت کے اعِتبار سے برابر پیدا ہوئے ہیں۔ اُنہیں ضمیر اور عقل ودیعت ہوئی ہے۔ اِس لیے اُنہیں ایک دوُسرے کے ساتھ بھائی چارے کا سُلوُک کرنا چاہئے۔
- Dafʿah 1: Tamām insān āzād aur ḥuqūq o ʿizzat ke iʿtibār se barābar paidā hūʾe haiṉ. Unheṉ ẓamīr aur ʿaql wadīʿat hūʾī hai. Is liʾe unheṉ ek dūsre ke sāth bhāʾī chāre kā sulūk karnā cāhiʾe.
- dəfɑː eːk: təmɑːm ɪnsɑːn ɑːzɑːd ɔːr hʊquːq oː ɪzzət keː etɪbɑːr seː bərɑːbər pɛːdɑː ɦuːeː ɦɛ̃ː. ʊnɦẽː zəmiːr ɔːr əql ʋədiːət huːiː hɛː. ɪs lieː ʊnɦẽː eːk duːsreː keː sɑːtʰ bʱaːiː t͡ʃɑːreː kɑː sʊluːk kərnɑː t͡ʃɑːɦieː.
- Article 1: All humans free[,] and rights and dignity *('s) consideration from equal born are. Them to conscience and intellect endowed is. This for, they one another *('s) with brotherhood *('s) treatment do should.
- Article 1: All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience. Therefore, they should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Note: *('s) represents a possessive case that, when written, is preceded by the possessor and followed by the possessed, unlike the English "of".
- An example can be seen in the word "need" in Urdu. Urdu uses the Persian version ضرورت rather than the original Arabic ضرورة. See: John T. Platts "A dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindi, and English" (1884) Page 749. Urdu and Hindi use Persian pronunciation in their loanwords, rather than that of Arabic– for instance rather than pronouncing ض as the emphatic consonant "ḍ", the original sound in Arabic, Urdu uses the Persian pronunciation "z". See: John T. Platts "A dictionary of Urdu, classical Hindi, and English" (1884) Page 748
- Rekhta was the name for the Urdu language in Ghalib's days.
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On this there are far more reliable statistics than those on population. Farhang-e-Asafiya is by general agreement the most reliable Urdu dictionary. It was compiled in the late nineteenth century by an Indian scholar little exposed to British or Orientalist scholarship. The lexicographer in question, Syed Ahmed Dehlavi, had no desire to sunder Urdu's relationship with Farsi, as is evident even from the title of his dictionary. He estimates that roughly 75 per cent of the total stock of 55,000 Urdu words that he compiled in his dictionary are derived from Sanskrit and Prakrit, and that the entire stock of the base words of the language, without exception, are derived from these sources. What distinguishes Urdu from a great many other Indian languauges ... is that it draws almost a quarter of its vocabulary from language communities to the west of India, such as Farsi, Turkish, and Tajik. Most of the little it takes from Arabic has not come directly but through Farsi.
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On the issue of vocabulary, Ahmad goes on to cite Syed Ahmad Dehlavi as he set about to compile the Farhang-e-Asafiya, an Urdu dictionary, in the late nineteenth century. Syed Ahmad 'had no desire to sunder Urdu's relationship with Farsi, as is evident from the title of his dictionary. He estimates that roughly 75 percent of the total stock of 55.000 Urdu words that he compiled in his dictionary are derived from Sanskrit and Prakrit, and that the entire stock of the base words of the language, without exception, are from these sources' (2000: 112–13). As Ahmad points out, Syed Ahmad, as a member of Delhi's aristocratic elite, had a clear bias towards Persian and Arabic. His estimate of the percentage of Prakitic words in Urdu should therefore be considered more conservative than not. The actual proportion of Prakitic words in everyday language would clearly be much higher.
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Urdu nouns and adjective can have a variety of origins, such as Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Pushtu and even Portuguese, but ninety-nine per cent of Urdu verbs have their roots in Sanskrit/Prakrit. So it is an Indo-Aryan language which is a branch of Indo-Iranian family, which in turn is a branch of Indo-European family of languages. According to Dr Gian Chand Jain, Indo-Aryan languages had three phases of evolution beginning around 1,500 BC and passing through the stages of Vedic Sanskrit, classical Sanskrit and Pali. They developed into Prakrit and Apbhransh, which served as the basis for the formation of later local dialects.
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All verbs in Urdu are of Sanskrit origin. According to lexicographers, only about 25 percent words in Urdu diction have Persian or Arabic origin.
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... of the Qufdn; many Arabic loanwords in the indigenous languages, as in Urdu and Indonesian, were introduced mainly through the medium of Persian.
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It is estimated that almost 25% of the Urdu vocabulary consists of words which are of Persian and Arabic origin.
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The Urdu vocabulary is about 30% Persian.
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Professor Gopi Chand Narang points out that the trends towards Persianization in Urdu is not a new phenomenon. It started with the Delhi school of poets in the eighteenth century in the name of standardization (meyar-bandi). It further tilted towards Arabo-Persian influences, writes Narang, with the rise of Iqbal. 'The diction of Faiz Ahmad Faiz who came into prominence after the death of Iqbal is also marked by Persianization; so it is the diction of N.M. Rashid, who popularised free verse in Urdu poetry. Rashid's language is clearly marked by fresh Iranian influences as compared to another trend-setter, Meeraji. Meeraji is on the other extreme because he used Hindized Urdu.'
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That Bollywood and Hindi television daily soaps are a hit in Pakistan is no news. So, it’s hardly surprising that the Urdu-speaking population picks up and uses Hindi, even the tapori lingo, in its everyday interaction. “The trend became popular a few years ago after Hindi films were officially allowed to be released in Pakistan,” said Rafia Taj, head of the mass communication department, University of Karachi. “I don’t think it’s a threat to our language, as it is bound to happen in the globalisation era. It is anytime better than the attack of western slangs on our language,” she added.
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