Urdu speakers

Ruth Laila Schmidt r.l.schmidt at EAST.UIO.NO
Thu Dec 3 10:04:35 UTC 1998

Dear Members of the List,

I am reluctant to get into this debate, however it needs to be pointed out
that most scholars, including most (but not all) South Asian scholars of
Urdu have accepted an Indo-Aryan pedigree for all of the following:
(1) Zabaan-e-Dehlavi (the precursor of Zabaan-e-Urdu), spoken in Delhi
under the Delhi Sultanate (1211 to 1504), carried to the Deccan and spoken
there as Dakhini, and surviving today as Kaarkhandaari Urdu;
(2) Zabaan-e-Urdu-e-Mu'alla (its successor), developing in Delhi after the
shifting of the Mughal Court there in 1648, and differing from
Zabaan-e-Dehlavi in having more influence from the dialect of Agra, where
the court was formerly;
(3) Modern Urdu as standardized by the poets, written first in Delhi and
later also in Lucknow, and first mentioned as "Urdu" in a couplet written
by the poet Mushhafi (1750-1824), dated to ca. 1776.

Khari Boli is the speech on which the Zabaan-e-Dehlavi is based, and after
the shifting of the Mughal Court to Delhi it survived as a sort of country
cousin of Zabaan-e-Dehlavi. Standard Urdu has abandoned many Khari Boli

The identification of Urdu as Indo-Aryan is based on analysis of its
grammar (verbs, nouns, pronouns, postpositions) and its core vocabulary, as
contained in texts. Modern Urdu is indeed quite Persianized (and
Arabicized), but this was a gradual process. The poems of Amir Khusrau
(1236-1324), which are usually considered the first Urdu texts, are not
heavily Persianized. The poets of the Delhi School of Urdu poetry  (Mir,
Sauda etc.) wrote a somewhat less Persianized Urdu than those of the later
Lucknow School.

The elite of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire spoke Persian, and
considered Zabaan-e-Urdu an Indian (Hindi, Hindavi) language. Hindi and
Hindavi are Persian words.

Standard Hindi based on Khari Boli is a modern language which has been
around for some two centuries. Before being Sanskritized it was almost
identical to Urdu, but without the Perso-Arabic vocabulary. Before the
evolution of Standard Hindi, the literary languages for north Indian Hindus
were Braj Bhasha, Avadhi and Rajasthani.

With best wishes,

Ruth Schmidt

>  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).
>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

Ruth Laila Schmidt
Dept of East European and Oriental Studies
University of Oslo
P.O. Box 1030 Blindern
N-0315 Oslo, Norway
Phone: (47) 22 85 55 86
Fax: (47) 22 85 41 40
Email: r.l.schmidt at east.uio.no

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