The name for the language, `Urdu’, is derived from the Turkish word `Ordu’ which means `belonging to the army camp or Lashkar’. A famous scholar, Mohammad Hussain Azad, believes that Brij Bhasha, which is a dialect of Western Hindi, is the mother language of Urdu.
The invasion of Delhi by the Moghals brought in many Persian elements that ended up in the creation of a new hybrid language which was called Urdu. The Urdu language came about as a result of the interaction between the Moghal soldiers and the local Hindus after the conquest of Punjab and Sindh by Mahmud of Ghazni. Many Punjabi words and expressions got blended in with the Hindi of Delhi and a new language was born.
The Moghal army settled in cantonments. People from many castes and creeds joined the Moghal armies once the latter conquered several regions of India. The mingling of so many diverse cultures made communication difficult. The Persian language was used as the official language of the courts and for administrative purposes. Before Urdu took its final shape, it was known as Brij Bhasha or Hindvi, meaning the language of Hind.
Today, Urdu has become a common language in various parts of India, ranging from Kashmir to Cape Comorin. The simplicity of the Urdu language has attracted many people irrespective of caste, creed and religion.
Urdu is spoken widely in Pakistan and India. Urdu is the national language of Pakistan and one of the twenty two official languages of India. Urdu is also spoken in countries like Afghanistan, Bahrain, Canada, Iran, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates, Turkey, South Africa, United Kingdom and the United States of America. As per the Summer Institute for Linguistics Ethnologue Survey, Urdu is the fifth most spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, English and Hindi.
Urdu has become a popular language due to its distinct character and style. Urdu is a member of the Indo-Aryan family and is written in the Nastaleeq script. Urdu is currently spoken by more than four hundred and ninety million people worldwide.
Urdu is a mixture of many languages like Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Hindi, Marathi and Telugu. The Muslims ruled over India for close to a thousand years. The Moghal army had soldiers who came from different origins and nationalities. They spoke different languages. Urdu became a common unifying tool of communication between the Moghal soldiers and the local recruits during their conquest of India and their subsequent stay in the country. Urdu is a blend of many tongues and languages. When Delhi was ruled by the Moghal Sultanate around the late twelfth century, the languages that were spoken around Delhi like Brij Bhasha and Sauraseni got immersed with Farsi, the Persian language which was spoken principally by the Moghal rulers.
It has taken many centuries for Urdu to evolve and grow. It has taken about six hundred years to standardise the grammatical structure of Urdu. Its origin can be traced back to the middle of the tenth century. This was the incubation period. It was only used as a communication medium of language. No significant literary or grammatical work was done during this period.
In the fourteenth century, the language was introduced in Southern India in Hyderabad Deccan. It came to be known as `Dakhani’. This was the predecessor of the modern Urdu language that is used today. Alauddin Khilji made Deccan a permanent Subedari or collectorate. Urdu also flourished under the Bahmani Dynasty in Deccan.
The development of Urdu was chronicled in the writings of Ainuddin Ganj of Daulatabad. The standardisation of Urdu took place in the seventeenth century during the reign of Emperor Shah Jehan when it was being called as Urdu-e-Moalla. Though the official language of the Moghal emperors was Farsi, Urdu flourished, nevertheless, during their reign.
In the Deccan Plateau, six dynasties were formed. The Bahmani Kingdom in Gulbarga from 1350 to 1525, the Nizam Shahi Dynasty at Ahmadnagar from 1490 to 1686, the Qutb Shahi Dynasty at Golconda near Hyderabad from 1518 to 1687, the Buraid Shahi Dynasty from 1487 to 1619 at Bidar and the Imaad Shahi Dynasty from 1490 to 1574 at Berar. Urdu language was being used in all these five kingdoms. Later, under the Asaf Jahi rule in Hyderabad Deccan which spanned from 1580 to 1948, Urdu was fostered to a great extent by the seventh Nizam of Hyderabad, Mir Osman Ali Khan. He promoted education and knowledge and established the Osmania University which is famous in Hyderabad even to this day. The University had become famous in all disciplines ranging from English to Urdu to Law and Arts and Science studies. Before India gained independence from the British, the entire University education was imparted in the Urdu language which became the principal medium of instruction. The medium of instruction was changed from Urdu to English in the year 1951.
Urdu owes its existence quite a lot to the Sufi saints like Hazrat Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, Qutbuddin Bakhtiar Kakki and Baba Fariduddin Ganj. They contributed much in the growth of Urdu as a language.
The development of Urdu language was also promoted at the Fort William College in Calcutta in 1800 when the Head of the Department of Urdu, John Gilchrist, started a printing press for Urdu publications. He educated himself in Urdu and compiled the first English to Urdu dictionary and wrote many books on Urdu grammar.
The decline of Urdu started in the late twentieth century’s decadent period where people moved away from classicism and consciously started to replace it by Hindi and other national languages in each respective state in India.
Script and Dialect
The Sufi saints were the first to use the Dakhani script. The alphabets of Urdu are derived from Arabic and Persian and have come to be known as the `Nastaleeq’ script. There are almost seventy two dialects of Urdu but not all are spoken nowadays. Urdu is written like Arabic and Persian from the right to the left. The most important features of the Urdu Nastaleeq script are the index dots for the retroflex consonants and macrons for the etymologically long vowels.
Urdu has five main dialects – Dakhani, Urdu-e-Moalla, Rekhta, Punjab Urdu and Sindh Urdu. The modern vernacular Urdu is based on the Brij Bhasha and the Khari Boli of the Delhi region. The Punjab and Sindh dialects are principally used in Pakistan. Dakhani has been used locally in the Deccan Plateau. Its vocabulary is taken from the Farsi, Turkish, Arabic, Marathi and Telugu languages. Dakhani is spoken in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra. Rekhta is the language used mainly for poetic expressions in Ghazal and Nazm forms and is regarded as an indigenous dialect commonly used by the British Indian poets.
Urdu language is basically a system of adaptation from several Indian languages with their roots in Sanskrit.
As far as nouns are concerned, Urdu has two genders and three cases of direct, oblique and vocative. Adjectives are divided into declinable and indeclinable categories. The declinable adjectives are marked for the gender, number and case of the nouns that they qualify. The indeclinable adjectives are invariable as they can end in either consonants or vowels. All the adjectives can be used attributively, predicatively or substantively.
Urdu language has personal pronouns for the first and second persons and demonstratives are used for the third person. The demonstratives can be categorised as proximate and non-proximate. The pronouns will contain cases of dative, direct and oblique. The pronouns do not differentiate between genders.
The Urdu verbal system is built around a combination of aspect, tense and mood. The Urdu verb is involved with layers of inflectional elements as the nominal system. Urdu has three aspects. They are continuous, habitual and perfecting. There are forms of participles that are inflecting for gender and number through vowel termination like adjectives.
As far as Urdu syntax is concerned, the word order is a subject-object-verb in the language. The indirect objects will come before the direct objects. The attributive adjectives will come before the nouns that they qualify.
Like most other languages of the world, Urdu literature got its bearings through poetry. Amir Khusro (1253-1325) was a remarkable scholar in Arabic and Persian and became a pioneer poet of the Urdu language. Wali Dakhani and Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah were the contemporaries of Amir Khusro. Other famous poets in Urdu were Mir Taqi Mir, Mushafi Mir Dard, Qaim Chand Puri, Haider Ali Atish, Ustad Zauq, Mir Babbar Ali Anis and the greatest poet to have written in Urdu language, Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib (1797-1869).
Ghalib was an extra-ordinary poet and his ghazals (poems) are very popular among the people not only of India but all over the world.
In the seventeenth century, Urdu was declared as the official language of the Moghal court. Urdu replaced Persian or Farsi as the main language of the region. The last Moghal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was also an accomplished Urdu poet himself with a unique style of writing. He presided over numerous Ghazal sessions in his Court before the British dethroned him and sent him in exile to Burma (Myanmar).
In the Qutb Shahi Dynasty, King Mohammad Quli Qutb Shah himself, Abul Hasan Tana Shah and the poets Ghawasi and Nishathi wrote fluently in Urdu. Urdu poetry also reached its pinnacle of glory with writers like Aarzoo, Mir Anees and Dabeer.
There was a translation bureau that was opened for Urdu in Calcutta by John Gilchrist of the Fort William College. After the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857 and the subsequent exile of the last Moghal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, Urdu poetry and literature was preserved and nurtured by eminent poets like Daagh who spread the language in Rampur before the language dominated places like Delhi, Lucknow and Hyderabad.
Under the British rule, in the nineteenth century, Allama Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938) stood out among the great array of Urdu poets as he introduced revolutionary concepts and ideas in his poetry. Faiz Ahmad Faiz is also a well known and distinguished poet of the modern age. His work focuses on the concepts of communism and social justice.
Munshi Premchand wrote good short stories in Urdu. His `Soz-e-Vatan’ is famous. Mohammad Hasan Askari, Rajinder Singh Bedi, Saadat Hassan Manto, Ismat Chughtai and Ashfaq Ahmad are among the great Urdu short story writers.
The writing of novels in Urdu became popular with Nazir Ahmed (1836-1912). Urdu novel writing and realism was taken forward by Munshi Premchand, Mirza Mohammad Hadi Ruswa, Abdul Haleem Sharrar and Ratan Nath Sharshar.
Akbar Allahabadi was a pioneer among Urdu humourists and satirists. Majeed Lahori, Mirza Farhatullah Baig, Ibne Insha, K.L. Kapur and Himayatullah are the other important names in Urdu humour writing.
In the first half of the nineteenth century, drama became important in Urdu. The first dramatist of repute was Amant Lucknowi. His drama `Indar Sabha’ is regarded as the first Urdu drama. Imtiaz Ali Taj, Haseena Moin and Fatim Suriya Bajiha are distinguished playwrights of the modern age.
Newspapers and magazines were printed in Urdu in the late nineteenth century. History began to be written in Urdu and translations were done from Sanskrit classics and from other languages.
The birth of Hindi and Urdu film industry in the early twentieth century encouraged the further growth of Urdu as an expressive language, especially in Northern and Western India. Mostly, the dialogues and lyrics even for so called Hindi films were actually written by prolific Urdu writers.
One of New England’s leading language schools, the Boston Language Institute, offers Urdu language courses to companies and individuals. The Institute is offering both the spoken and the language courses with the main aim being conversational proficiency.
Urdu is a graceful language that sounds poetic with no extreme guttural sounds, as you may come across in Arabic, to cause people to stumble in their pronunciation of the Urdu words. It is also a language that leans towards artistic efforts that have rested on an elegant volume of literature and poetry, going back some eight hundred years in history.