Persian and Urdu

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The Persian language and Urdu have had an intricate relationship throughout the history of the Urdu language. Persian historically played a significant role in the formation of modern Urdu, and today acts as its prestige language.

Persian was brought to the Indian subcontinent by Turko-Persian rulers from the west in the region's medieval period. Persian's effect on Urdu is due to its historical status as official and literary language under many of these rulers, as well as lingua franca of much of the subcontinent. This was part of Persian's larger role as lingua franca and prestige language in Greater Iran and beyond throughout Asia's medieval history.

Persian was displaced by Urdu in colonial-era South Asia, and is today used mainly in Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan. Urdu is currently the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan, and an officially recognised language in India.[1]

Overview[edit | edit source]

Hindustani (sometimes called Hindi-Urdu) is a colloquial language and lingua franca of Pakistan and the Hindi Belt. It forms a dialect continuum between its two formal registers: the highly Persianised Urdu, and the de-Persianised, Sanskritised Hindi.[2] Urdu uses a modification of the Persian alphabet, whereas Hindi uses Devanagari. Hindustani in its common form is often referred to as Urdu or Hindi, depending on the background of the speaker/institution. This situation is fraught with sociopolitical factors and controversies, in which Persian plays a part.[3] The common linguistic position is to use Urdu as the term for the register, and Hindustani for the spoken, common language.

Hindustani bears significant influence from Persian. In its common form it already incorporates many long-assimilated words and phrases from Persian, which it shares with speakers across national borders. As the register Urdu, it bears the most Persian influence of any lect in the subcontinent, featuring further vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation influences.[3] The latter form of the language is associated with formal contexts and prestige, and is deployed as the medium of written communication, education, and media in Pakistan. This happens in more restricted settings in India, where the de-Persianised register Hindi is more widely used for these purposes; Urdu appears in the social contexts and institutions associated with the Muslims of India, as well as in literary circles.[4] It is one of India's 22 scheduled languages, and is given official status in multiple Indian states.

History[edit | edit source]

Persian and Urdu (Hindustani) are distinct languages. Persian is classified as Iranian, whereas Urdu is Indo-Aryan. They fall under the larger grouping of the Indo-Iranian languages, and hence share some linguistic features due to common descent.

However, the majority of influence from Persian is direct, through a process often called Persianisation. Following the Turko-Persian Ghaznavid conquest of South Asia, Persian was introduced into the Indian subcontinent. The Delhi dialect of the Old Hindi language and other dialects of South Asia, received a large influx of Persian, Chagatai and Arabic vocabulary.[5] The subsequent Turko-Afghan Delhi Sultanate gave way for a further continuation of this. The basis in general for the introduction of the Persian language into the subcontinent was set, from its earliest days, by various Persianised Central Asian Turkic and Afghan dynasties.[6]

This lexically diverse register of language, emerged in the northern subcontinent, was commonly called Zaban-e Urdu-e Mualla ('language of the orda - court').

Unlike Persian, which is an Iranian language, Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language, written in the Perso-Arabic script; Urdu has a Indic vocabulary base derived from Sanskrit and Prakrit, with specialised vocabulary being borrowed from Persian.[7][8][9][10] Some grammatical elements peculiar to Persian, such as the enclitic ezāfe and the use of pen-names, were readily absorbed into Urdu literature both in the religious and secular spheres.[11]

Hindustani gained distinction in literary and cultural spheres in South Asia because of its role as a lingua franca in the subcontinent as a result of the large number of speakers the language has, both as a first and second language.[12] A prominent cross-over writer was Amir Khusrow, whose Persian and Urdu couplets are to this day read in South Asia. Muhammad Iqbal was also a prominent South Asian writer who wrote in both Persian and Urdu.

Sample comparison[edit | edit source]

The following is a comparison between Iranian Persian and formal Urdu, using text from Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Both are in the Nastaliq calligraphic hand.

Iranian Persian همه‌ی افراد بشر آزاد به دنیا می‌آیند و حیثیت و حقوق‌شان با هم برابر است، همه اندیشه و وجدان دارند و باید در برابر یکدیگر با روح برادری رفتار کنند.
Transliteration Hame-ye afrād-e bashar āzād be donyā mi āyand o heysiyat o hoquq-e shān bā ham barābar ast hame andishe o vejdān dārand o bāyad dar barābare yekdigar bā ruh-e barādari raftār konand.


[hæmeje æfrɒde bæʃær ɒzɒd be donjɒ miɒjænd o hejsijæt o hoɢuɢe ʃɒn bɒ hæm bærɒbær æst hæme ʃɒn ændiʃe o vedʒdɒn dɒrænd o bɒjæd dær bærɒbære jekdiɡær bɒ ruhe bærɒdæri ræftɒr konænd]
English translation All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Standard Urdu دفعہ ١: تمام اِنسان آزاد اور حُقوق و عِزت کے اعتبار سے برابر پَیدا ہُوئے ہَیں۔ انہیں ضمِیر اور عقل ودِیعت ہوئی ہَیں۔ اِس لئے انہیں ایک دُوسرے کے ساتھ بھائی چارے کا سُلُوک کرنا چاہئے۔
Transliteration (ISO 15919) Dafʻah 1: Tamām insān āzād aur ḥuqūq ō ʻizzat kē iʻtibār sē barābar paidā hu’ē haĩ. Unhē̃ żamīr aur ʻaql wadīʻat hu’ī haĩ. Isli’ē unhē̃ ēk dūsrē kē sāth bhā’ī cārē kā sulūk karnā cāhi’ē.


dəfaː eːk təmaːm ɪnsaːn aːzaːd ɔːɾ hʊquːq oː izːət keː ɛːtəbaːɾ seː bəɾaːbəɾ pɛːdaː hʊeː hɛ̃ː ʊnʱẽː zəmiːɾ ɔːɾ əql ʋədiːət hʊiː hɛ̃ː ɪslɪeː ʊnʱẽː eːk duːsɾeː keː saːtʰ bʱaːiː tʃaːɾeː kaː sʊluːk kəɾnaː tʃaːhɪeː
English translation Article 1—All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience. Therefore, they should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Wasey, Akhtarul (16 July 2014). "50th Report of the Commissioner for Linguistic Minorities in India (July 2012 to June 2013)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 8 July 2016. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  2. Rahman, Tariq. From Hindi to Urdu: A Social and Political History (PDF). Oxford University Press. p. 99.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Shackle, Christopher. "Persian Elements in Indian Languages". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  4. Matthews, David. "Urdu". Encyclopaedia Iranica.
  5. Strnad, Jaroslav (2013). Morphology and Syntax of Old Hindī: Edition and Analysis of One Hundred Kabīr vānī Poems from Rājasthān. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-25489-3. Quite different group of nouns occurring with the ending -a in the dir. plural consists of words of Arabic or Persian origin borrowed by the Old Hindi with their Persian plural endings.
  6. Sigfried J. de Laet. History of Humanity: From the seventh to the sixteenth century UNESCO, 1994. ISBN 9231028138 p 734
  7. Ahmad, Aijaz (2002). Lineages of the Present: Ideology and Politics in Contemporary South Asia. Verso. p. 113. ISBN 9781859843581. On this there are far more reliable statistics than those on population. Farhang-e-Asafiya is by general agreement the most reliable Urdu dictionary. It was compiled in the late nineteenth century by an Indian scholar little exposed to British or Orientalist scholarship. The lexicographer in question, Syed Ahmed Dehlavi, had no desire to sunder Urdu's relationship with Farsi, as is evident even from the title of his dictionary. He estimates that roughly 75 per cent of the total stock of 55,000 Urdu words that he compiled in his dictionary are derived from Sanskrit and Prakrit, and that the entire stock of the base words of the language, without exception, are derived from these sources. What distinguishes Urdu from a great many other Indian languauges ... is that it draws almost a quarter of its vocabulary from language communities to the west of India, such as Farsi, Turkish, and Tajik. Most of the little it takes from Arabic has not come directly but through Farsi.
  8. Dalmia, Vasudha (31 July 2017). Hindu Pasts: Women, Religion, Histories. SUNY Press. p. 310. ISBN 9781438468075. On the issue of vocabulary, Ahmad goes on to cite Syed Ahmad Dehlavi as he set about to compile the Farhang-e-Asafiya, an Urdu dictionary, in the late nineteenth century. Syed Ahmad 'had no desire to sunder Urdu's relationship with Farsi, as is evident from the title of his dictionary. He estimates that roughly 75 percent of the total stock of 55.000 Urdu words that he compiled in his dictionary are derived from Sanskrit and Prakrit, and that the entire stock of the base words of the language, without exception, are from these sources' (2000: 112–13). As Ahmad points out, Syed Ahmad, as a member of Delhi's aristocratic elite, had a clear bias towards Persian and Arabic. His estimate of the percentage of Prakitic words in Urdu should therefore be considered more conservative than not. The actual proportion of Prakitic words in everyday language would clearly be much higher.
  9. Taj, Afroz (1997). "About Hindi-Urdu". University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Archived from the original on 15 August 2009. Retrieved 27 March 2018.
  10. Kachru, Yamuna (2006). Hindi. John Benjamins Publishing. ISBN 90-272-3812-X.
  11. Bhatia, Tej K.; Ritchie, William C. (2006). The Handbook of Bilingualism. John Wiley and Sons. p. 790. ISBN 9780631227359.
  12. "Jammu and Kashmir Burushaski: Language, Language contact and change" (PDF). Sadaf Munshi, Doctor of Philosophy, University of Texas. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2016-09-21. Retrieved 2016-08-24.

External links[edit | edit source]

Template:Persian language Template:Urdu