Urdu speakers

Madhav Deshpande mmdesh at UMICH.EDU
Thu Dec 3 11:42:24 UTC 1998

        While the chart given by Samar Abbas looks nice, it has major
historical problems.  By tracing the origins of Urdu exclusively to
Arabic, Persian, and Turkic, the chart overlooks the main core of the
language.  In its basic grammatical core and basic vocabulary, Urdu is an
Indo-Aryan language, with Arabic, Persian, and Turkic features
superimposed on this basic IA core.  It is not that Urdu borrowed the IA
features as a subsequent phenomenon.  The IA base absorbed the other
features to become a distinct sub-variety of IA.
                        Madhav Deshpande

On Thu, 3 Dec 1998, Samar Abbas wrote:

>   To answer this question, one must first define `Urdu'. The famlly tree
> of Urdu is given below:
>                    Arabic   Persian    Turkic
>                         \      |       /
>                          Zaban-e-Urdu (`Urdu') ca.1000 AD
>                                |
>                      Hindustani (or `Hindi' in short) ca.1200 AD
>                    /       /       /           \             \
>               Punjabi  Avadhi     Delhvi      Dakhini       Sharqi
>          Hindustani   Hindustani  Hindustani  Hindustani    Hindustani
>            /                        |
>       Punjabi              Mughal Hindustani
>                              ( ca. 1700s)
>                                     |
>                               Khari Boli
>                         or Nagari Hindi `High Hindi'
>                              (ca. 1900s )
>   Urdu is a contraction of `Zaban-e-Urdu' (`Language of the Camp') which
> arose in the camps of Mahmud of Ghazni in the 10th century as a common
> language of the Turkic, Afghan, Arab and Persian ghazi liberators. At this
> stage, it only contained Islamicate words (Arabic, Persian, Turkic,
> Pashto) and was only written in Arabic.
>     When these persons established the Hindustani Califate of Delhi (which
> lasted for almost 1000 years and is one of the greatest empires the world
> has seen), this langauge became de facto national language of the Islamic
> Empire of Hindustan (Hindustan = `Land of the Indus' in Persian; later
> erroneously rendered `Land of Hindus' by the British), ie. India north of
> the Narmada. Thus Urdu absorbed a number of words from the Prakrit
> langauges (Vangi/Bengali, Braj, Kanauji, Ayodhyi etc.), Vedic langauges
> (Rigvedic, Samavedic, Yajurvedic, etc.), Pali, Sanskrit, Dravidian
> languages etc. Thus this simplified Urdu (still more than 80 %
> Perso-Arabic) became the national language of North India (Hindustan), and
> thus came to be known as Hindustani or Hindi in short. It replaced the
> Prakrits in Hindustan (Braj, Kannauji etc.) and became in fact the mother
> tongue of most Hindustanis (somthing English has not done). It is the most
> liberal langauge as far as vocabulary is concerned, and only English has a
> source as wide.
>    In the 19th century the British encouraged Brahman fundamentalists who
> enforced the Prakrit Nagari script for the use of Hindustani (which till
> then had been always written in the Perso-Arabic script). This Nagari
> Hindustani which arose out of Mughal Hindustani is called Khari Boli or
> Nagari Hindi. The introduction of the Devanagari script naturally led to
> many problems which still persist (eg. more than 500 characters required
> etc.: Madan Gopal in his book `This Hindi and Dev Nagari' has fully
> documented the grave defects of the Nagari script), as did the
> introduction of more Sanskrit words which the common man did not
> understand. Although it is the official langauge of the Indian Republic,
> it is only spoken by a very small percentage of the population, who prefer
> Hindustani. This Hindustani is still predominantly written in the Arabic
> script, but smaller fractions use Devanagari (Khari Boli dialect), Roman
> (Christians and Britishers), Bengali etc.
>   Sometimes the simplified Urdu called Hindustani is also referred to as
> Urdu, but technically Urdu is the pure Islamicate language without the
> pre-Islamic influence. So the number of speakers of Urdu is practically
> the entire emigrant Indian population, who know some Urdu or Hindustani.
> The use is by no means dead, thus Hindustani films are spreading the usage
> of Urdu. So asking about the number of Urdu speakers is like asking about
> the number of speakers of Anglo-Saxon: Practically every Englishman
> would understand some Old Anglo-Saxon since it is the presursor of
> English, so similarly practically every North Indian (and most South
> Indians at that) understands some Zaban-e-Urdu since it is the presursor
> of his/her mother tongue, Hindustani.
>  Thus there is only a linguistic definition of Urdu, no such thing as an
> `official definition'. Official definitions have very little meaning esp.
> in South Asia; thus the official national langauge of India is Khari Boli,
> a Sanskritised version of Hindustani,; but it is to all effects and
> purposes a dead language (despite official support and the money wasted in
> propagating it).
> Samar
> On Wed, 2 Dec 1998, Lalita du Perron wrote:
> >  Following on from the messages on the number of Urdu speakers in
> > various countries, I am puzzled as to what is the 'official' or indeed
> > accepted definition of an 'Urdu speaker'.
> >
> > Lalita du Perron
> > Dept of South Asian Studies
> > SOAS, University of London
> >

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