Urdu – The Origin and History of the Language

The time period Urdu derives from a Turkish word ordu that means 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 close contact with one another and communicated in different dialects, which slowly and gradually evolved into current day Urdu. It is for this reason that Urdu is also referred to as Lashkari Zaban or language of the army.

During its development Urdu language additionally assumed varied names like the term Urdu-e-Maullah which means the exalted military which was given by Emperor Shah Jahan and the time period Rekhta meaning 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 relies on the evolution and development of a society where that language is spoken. Various invasions and conquests on a place affect the development of its language. Urdu is no exception as it also underwent numerous 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’s 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 need was felt to differentiate Urdu with different languages especially Hindi. It turned a Hindi-Urdu controversy and as a result Khari Boli and Devanagari turned the identity of Indians while Urdu and Persian of Muslims. In this context, Persian and Arabic words replaced with Sanskrit served the purpose 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. Through 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 become Persianized and enriched with Persian words, phrases and even script and grammar. With the approaching of the British, new English words also grew to become part of the Urdu language. Many English words had been accepted in their real form while others were accepted after some modifications.

Currently, Urdu vocabulary contains approximately 70% of Persian words and the remaining are a combination of Arabic and Turkish words. Nevertheless, there are additionally traces of the French, Portuguese and Dutch language in Urdu. However these influences are little.

Urdu was taken to other parts of the country by soldiers, saints and sufis and by the common people. Because of the political, social and cultural contacts amongst the individuals of various speech and dialects, a mixed form of language formed called ‘Rekhta’ (Urdu and Persian in combined form). Quickly people 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 13th century in India through the Mughal rule. One of the crucial eminent earliest poets who made utilization of Urdu in his poetry is Amir Khusro who could be called the father of Urdu language. In literature, Urdu was normally used along side Persian. Mughal kings were 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) within the kings’ courts. Abul Fazal Faizi and Abdul Rahim Khankhana had been 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 is certainly true that Hindi and Urdu are descendents of the same language i.e. Prakrit, however where 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 totally different as can be. There are marked grammatical, phonological and lexical variations in both languages.

Urdu was also used as a software by the Muslims for freedom struggle and for creating awareness amongst 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 aren’table, who by their poetry and prose provoked the necessary spark within the lives of the Muslims. Urdu was chosen to turn out to be the national language of Pakistan on the time of Independence from British. Urdu is now the nationwide language of Pakistan, spoken and understood totally by mainity of the population.

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