Urdu – The Origin and History of the Language

The term Urdu derives from a Turkish word ordu meaning camp or army. The Urdu language developed between the Muslim soldiers of the Mughals armies who belonged to numerous ethnicities like Turks, Arabs, Persians, Pathans, Balochis, Rajputs, Jats and Afghans. These soldiers lived in shut contact with one another and communicated in different dialects, which slowly and gradually advanced into current day Urdu. It’s for this reason that Urdu can be referred to as Lashkari Zaban or language of the army.

During its development Urdu language also assumed varied names like the term Urdu-e-Maullah meaning the exalted military which was given by Emperor Shah Jahan and the time period Rekhta that means scattered (with Persian words) which was coined by the scholars for Urdu poetry.

History and Evolution of Urdu Language

Evolution and development of any language is dependent on the evolution and development of a society the place that language is spoken. Numerous invasions and conquests on a place have an effect on the development of its language. Urdu is no exception as it also underwent various phases of development.

Urdu belongs to the Indo-Aryan family of languages. Urdu by origin is considered to be a descendent of Saur Senic Prakrit. The time period Prakrriti means root or basis. It is a later model of Sanskrit. As Prakrit language began to develop, it was influenced by Western Hindi dialects of Khari Boli, Brij Bhasa and Haryanvi.

With the approaching of Insha’s Darya-e-Latafat*, a necessity was felt to differentiate Urdu with different languages particularly Hindi. It became a Hindi-Urdu controversy and because of this Khari Boli and Devanagari became the identity of Indians while Urdu and Persian of Muslims. In this context, Persian and Arabic words replaced with Sanskrit served the aim of differentiating Hindi from Urdu.

Urdu emerged as a definite language after 1193 AD – the time of the Muslims conquest. When the Muslims conquered this part of the continent, they made Persian the official and cultural language of India. On account of the amalgamation of local dialects and the language of the invaders – which was either Persian, Arabic and Turkish, a new language developed which later grew to become Urdu. Throughout the Mughals reign, Urdu was spoken in palaces and court and till the tip of the Mughal rule; Urdu was the official language of most of Mughal states. This was the time when Urdu had turn into Persianized and enriched with Persian words, phrases and even script and grammar. With the coming of the British, new English words also became part of the Urdu language. Many English words have been accepted in their real form while others have been accepted after some modifications.

At the moment, Urdu vocabulary comprises approximately 70% of Persian words and the rest are a mixture of Arabic and Turkish words. Nonetheless, there are additionally traces of the French, Portuguese and Dutch language in Urdu. But these influences are little.

Urdu was taken to different parts of the country by soldiers, saints and sufis and by the common people. On account of the political, social and cultural contacts amongst the individuals of various speech and dialects, a combined form of language formed called ‘Rekhta’ (Urdu and Persian in combined form). Soon individuals started to use the new language in their speech and in literature which resulted within the enrichment of Urdu language and literature.

Urdu Literature

The origin of Urdu literature dates back to the thirteenth century in India throughout the Mughal rule. Probably the most eminent earliest poets who made utilization of Urdu in his poetry is Amir Khusro who may be called the daddy of Urdu language. In literature, Urdu was usually used alongside side Persian. Mughal kings have been the nice patrons of artwork and literature and it was under their rule that Urdu language reached its zenith. There used to be a tradition of ‘Sheri Mehfils’ (poetic gatherings) in the kings’ courts. Abul Fazal Faizi and Abdul Rahim Khankhana were the famous Urdu poets of Mughal court. Likewise, Mirza Ghalib, Allama Iqbal, Hakim Momin, Ibrahim Zauq, Mir Taqi Mir, Sauda, Ibn-e-Insha and Faiz Ahmed Faiz have contributed to the evolution of Urdu language by means of their literary works.

It’s indeed true that Hindi and Urdu are descendents of the identical language i.e. Prakrit, but the place the Hindi took influence from Sanskrit and adopted Devanagri script of writing, Urdu absorbed words from Persian, Turkish and Arabic languages and adopted Persian-Arabic script and Nastaliq calligraphic fashion of writing and emerged as a separate language. But beside widespread ancestry, the two languages are as different as can be. There are marked grammatical, phonological and lexical differences in both languages.

Urdu was also used as a device by the Muslims for freedom wrestle and for creating awareness among Muslim communities in South Asia to unite under the banner of Independence from British Raj. For this, services of Maulana Hali, Sir Syed Ahmed Khan and Allama Iqbal should notable, who via their poetry and prose provoked the necessary spark in the lives of the Muslims. Urdu was chosen to become the nationwide language of Pakistan at the time of Independence from British. Urdu is now the nationwide language of Pakistan, spoken and understood thoroughly by majority of the population.

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