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 various ethnicities like Turks, Arabs, Persians, Pathans, Balochis, Rajputs, Jats and Afghans. These soldiers lived in close contact with one another and communicated in several dialects, which slowly and gradually evolved into present day Urdu. It is for this reason that Urdu can also be referred to as Lashkari Zaban or language of the army.

Throughout its development Urdu language also assumed numerous names like the time period Urdu-e-Maullah that means 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. Various invasions and conquests on a place affect 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’s a later version of Sanskrit. As Prakrit language started 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 particularly Hindi. It became a Hindi-Urdu controversy and in consequence Khari Boli and Devanagari grew to become 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 distinct 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 native dialects and the language of the invaders – which was either Persian, Arabic and Turkish, a new language developed which later became Urdu. Through the Mughals reign, Urdu was spoken in palaces and court and till the top of the Mughal rule; Urdu was the official language of most of Mughal states. This was the time when Urdu had grow to be 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 had been accepted of their real form while others had been accepted after some modifications.

At the moment, Urdu vocabulary comprises approximately 70% of Persian words and the remaining are a mix of Arabic and Turkish words. Nevertheless, there are also 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. On account of the political, social and cultural contacts amongst the individuals of different speech and dialects, a blended form of language formed called ‘Rekhta’ (Urdu and Persian in mixed form). Quickly people started to use 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 13th century in India through the Mughal rule. Some of the eminent earliest poets who made utilization of Urdu in his poetry is Amir Khusro who can be called the father of Urdu language. In literature, Urdu was normally used alongside side Persian. Mughal kings were the great patrons of art and literature and it was under their rule that Urdu language reached its zenith. There was a tradition of ‘Sheri Mehfils’ (poetic gatherings) within the kings’ courts. Abul Fazal Faizi and Abdul Rahim Khankhana were the well-known 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 way of their literary works.

It’s certainly true that Hindi and Urdu are descendents of the identical language i.e. Prakrit, but where the Hindi took affect 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 common ancestry, the two languages are as completely different as can be. There are marked grammatical, phonological and lexical differences in each languages.

Urdu was also used as a device by the Muslims for freedom wrestle 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 are usually notable, who by way of their poetry and prose provoked the mandatory spark in the lives of the Muslims. Urdu was chosen to grow to be the national language of Pakistan at the time of Independence from British. Urdu is now the national language of Pakistan, spoken and understood completely by mainity of the population.

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