Urdu – The Origin and History of the Language

The time period 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 close contact with each other and communicated in several 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.

Throughout its development Urdu language also assumed various names like the term Urdu-e-Maullah meaning the exalted army 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 depends on the evolution and development of a society where that language is spoken. Various invasions and conquests on a spot affect the development of its language. Urdu is not any exception as it also underwent various stages of development.

Urdu belongs to the Indo-Aryan household 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 started to develop, it was influenced by Western Hindi dialects of Khari Boli, Brij Bhasa and Haryanvi.

With the coming of Insha’s Darya-e-Latafat*, a necessity was felt to differentiate Urdu with other languages particularly Hindi. It became a Hindi-Urdu controversy and consequently 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. As a result of the amalgamation of local dialects and the language of the invaders – which was either Persian, Arabic and Turkish, a new language evolved 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 change into Persianized and enriched with Persian words, phrases and even script and grammar. With the approaching of the British, new English words additionally grew to become part of the Urdu language. Many English words were accepted of their real form while others had been accepted after some modifications.

At present, Urdu vocabulary contains approximately 70% of Persian words and the remainder are a mix 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 frequent people. Because of the political, social and cultural contacts amongst the individuals of different speech and dialects, a mixed form of language formed called ‘Rekhta’ (Urdu and Persian in blended form). Quickly people started to make use of the new language in their speech and in literature which resulted in the enrichment of Urdu language and literature.

Urdu Literature

The origin of Urdu literature dates back to the thirteenth century in India during the Mughal rule. One of the crucial eminent earliest poets who made usage of Urdu in his poetry is Amir Khusro who could be called the daddy of Urdu language. In literature, Urdu was often used along side Persian. Mughal kings had been the good patrons of art and literature and it was under their rule that Urdu language reached its zenith. There was once a tradition of ‘Sheri Mehfils’ (poetic gatherings) within 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 their literary works.

It’s indeed true that Hindi and Urdu are descendents of the same language i.e. Prakrit, but 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 frequent ancestry, the 2 languages are as completely different as can be. There are marked grammatical, phonological and lexical differences in each languages.

Urdu was additionally used as a tool by the Muslims for freedom wrestle and for making 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 will not beable, who via their poetry and prose provoked the required spark in the lives of the Muslims. Urdu was chosen to become the national language of Pakistan on the time of Independence from British. Urdu is now the national language of Pakistan, spoken and understood thoroughly by majority of the population.

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