Urdu – A Borrowed Language?

Posted on 18. Apr, 2014 by in Uncategorized

“Urdu is a mixture of Persian, Arabic and Turkish words formed with the intermingling of invading Muslim armies and local Hindi-speaking Hindus. It’s a Turkish word which means Army camp.”

Almost everyone who knows something about the Urdu language knows this statement, which is logically incomprehensible, historically incorrect and linguistically misleading. Irrespective of the fact as to who made this statement, why it was made and when it was initiated for the first time, one thing can be said with utmost certainty that it has profound socio-political and socio-linguistic impact in the Indian Subcontinent for the last 150 years, i.e., with the advent of British Raj in this region.

One can draw a few inferences from this falsehood which has shaped our perception, consciously and sub-consciously that Urdu is not a native language of the Indian Subcontinent rather it’s a language of foreign invaders. Consequently it must be disowned if not hated.

Historically it is incorrect because the Muslim rulers did not introduce any new language. Instead they gave a new script (Persio-Arabic or Nastaliq), which was comprehendible to the spoken language of India. They even invented and introduced new signs or letters for the new sounds which are utterly local to the existing Persio-Arabic script, i.e., all the aspirated sounds of Bha, Pha, Tha, Gha, Dha, Rha, Lha and retroflexed sounds like Rah, Taa, Daa, etc. Hence all the tens of thousands of words spoken in Urdu containing these sounds have their origin in the early Vedic or middle Vedic era, i.e., 400 to 600BC.

The process of loaning words from other languages is a sign of a living and progressing language. Urdu is one such language. All the speakers of Urdu neither became Muslim by including Persian or Arabic words nor are they now converted to Christianity by including English words. On the contrary, perhaps, some non Urdu speaking elite in the Indian sub continent think that they will become Muslims if they use Arabic and Persian words, so they are making conscious efforts to replace most of these words with Sanskrit words. This policy may have socio-political advantages albeit not without socio-political repercussions. As a student of linguistics only one comment can be made on this current belief that such a policy leads into secluding more people and ethnic groups rather than integrating them.

Urdu-A Camp Language? (part 3/3)

Posted on 17. Apr, 2014 by in Uncategorized

A language takes centuries, even more, to evolve. It is a slow, long, constant, complex and natural process. A language ‘invented’ to serve a specific purpose, such as enabling the troops to communicate with one another, is labeled as ‘artificial’ by linguists. Though there have been hundreds of such attempts, some aimed at facilitating international communication between nations and peoples speaking different languages, none has been successful. Esperanto, a language formed with the basic roots of some European languages, died despite its early success. In other words, experiments to devise a language have failed and no artificial language could survive. Urdu, like other languages of the world, has been classified by linguists on the basis of its morphological and syntactical features. 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.

Around 1,000 AD, the modern Indo-Aryan era began and with the arrival of Muslims Arabic, Persian and, to a lesser extent, Turkish vocabulary began assimilating into local dialects. One of those dialects later evolved further and became an early version of Urdu/Hindi. Now the only question remaining unanswered is which dialect or dialects developed further to become a language that was basically one and was later divided into two languages, Hindi and Urdu, on the basis of two different scripts.

Though there are a number of theories about the origin of Urdu (that is, aside from camp language theory) that say, for example, Urdu has its origin in Punjabi, or it was born in Deccan or in Sindh, few have stood up to research based on historical linguistics and comparative linguistic. Of the theories considered to be holding water, the most plausible seems to be the one that says Urdu developed from some dialects spoken in and around Delhi in the 11th and 12th centuries AD. These dialects include Brij Bhasha, Mewati, Khari Boli and Haryani, which, in turn had developed from Apbhransh. The name Apbhransh refers to a number of languages/dialects which were born from Prakrit languages. The question that still requires a precise answer is: from which Apbhransh did Urdu originate? Some linguists believe it was most probably an offshoot of Shourseni Prakrit, spoken in and around Mathura. Dr Gian Chand Jain says it was Khari Boli.

In brief, Urdu is much older than just a few hundred years and its roots go right back to Sanskrit. At least, it has been established beyond doubt that Urdu is not a camp language.

Urdu-A Camp Language? (part 2/3)

Posted on 16. Apr, 2014 by in Uncategorized

Now the question is: why is this theory of so-called camp language incorrect?

Hafiz Mahmood Sherani and Shams-ur-Rahman Farooqi have described in detail that the word Urdu was in use much earlier than the Mughal period and it had carried different nuances through centuries. The word ‘Urdu’ was used for this language much later, in fact in the last quarter of the 18th century, and in the beginning the word ‘Urdu’ had quite different meanings. Also, the Urdu language has had many names before the present nomenclature came in vogue. Those who are convinced that Urdu was born in Shah Jahan’s era ignore the fact that the Mughal era began in 1526 after Babar’s success at Panipat while poets like Ameer Khusrau (died 1325) had been composing poetry in Urdu much earlier than that. Even in Babar’s writings one can find quite a few Urdu words. In other words, the Urdu language did exist before Shah Jahan and it was there even before the name Urdu was given to it.

Those who believe in the ‘lashkari zaban’ myth perhaps think that it is possible to form a new language by combining two or more languages. This is not the case. Max Muller, the renowned linguist, has given us two guiding principles in this regard: one, the classification of a language and its relationship with the other language is based on morphological and syntactical structures of that language and vocabulary has very little importance in this regard; two, it is totally wrong and misleading to believe that by combining two or more languages a new, third language can be formed. A language may get enriched and strengthened by obtaining nourishment from the dialects and languages spoken in its surrounding geographical territories, but it is impossible for a language to form a new language by inter-mingling with another one.