Monday, June 18, 2012

Theories on the Origin of Urdu Language

Last night    while I was stumbling through my bookshelf   I came across an old research paper related to Urdu language[i]. I set down to read it. It's an interesting paper, and amongst many other things, it gives an alternative view on the genesis of Urdu language.

The paper is written by Ahmed Kamran. It's in Urdu, and the title of the paper is:

"Urdu Zaban va Adab kay kerdar ka awami jamoori qaomi saqafat kay nuqta-e-nazar say tajziya"
["The Role of Urdu Language and Literature in the light of the Democratic National People's Heritage"]

The paper focus on four broad subjects:
1. The genesis of Urdu language
2. The evolution of Urdu
3. The status of Urdu in Pakistan
4. What should be the role of Urdu in the propagation of the national democratic people's heritage


The common view on the origin of Urdu claims that the language is an evolved form of Turkish, Arabic, and Persian. The word Urdo means military camp in Turkish, ergo the complete name of the language is Zaban e Urdu e Mualla (The language of the military and the court). Proponents of this view elucidate that Urdu evolved through the interaction of the foreign conqueror with the local in bazaars and courts. The mixing of the common Hindi dialect with the language of the Mughal courts, i.e. Persian, led to the creation of Urdu. Huhmzah elucidates this idea in a forum post:
Urdu is an Indo-European language so it's most visible affinity is with Persian. When it comes to Arabic's influence on the language it must be noted that (a) the weight of this influence is just lexical-borrowing and (b) the vast majority of these Arabic lexical-borrowings into Urdu were by means of Persian rather than directly i.e. they had been Persianized (and so, as an example, we have the word جنت not جنة etc). 
The word Urdu is just the Turkish word "ORDU" i.e. Army. The full name of the language is "Zubané Ordu o Muella" (The Language of the Army and the Court) -- in brief, this was the Lingua Franca of the Army and the Court during the time of the Mughals. The Mughal emperors were of Turkic descent and spoke Turkish (a dialect called Chaghatay). Turkish was thus a strong presence in the Mughal court, and many of their memories and personal discourses are written in Turkish. Farsi was used when it came to formal discourse. Native Indic languages were also a presence in the court. Urdu is thus, by design, a hybrid of these languages.
He goes on to give different examples on the grammatical and syntactical similarities between Turkish, Urdu and Persian. Huhmzah presumes that Urdu is an Indo-European language; hence it has no ancestral relationship with local languages spoken in the subcontinent prior to foreign conquests.

Another commonly held view on the origin of Urdu is given be Mahmud Sherani. He says that Urdu developed after Mahmud Ghaznavi conquered Sind and Punjab. He holds the view that:
Urdu language originated in the first contact of the Muslims and Hindus after the conquest and incorporation of the Punjab and Sind In the Empire of Mahmud of Ghazni. In his book Punjab men Urdu, he has discussed the structure and morphology of the Urdu language and has shown grammatical affinity which it has with the Punjabi language. After the occupation of Delhi by the Ghoris, the Punjabi Muslims and Hindus, who had already become familiar with the Persian language migrated to Delhi in order to run the administration of the new government. This exodus of people on a large scale from Lahore to Delhi influenced the Khari Bholi or the Hindi spoken in Delhi and its neighbourhood. In course of time the Punjabi words and idioms became interwoven in the Hindi of Delhi and thus a new language came into being.
Like the first view, Mamud Sherani also postulates that Urdu developed after foreigners attacked the subcontinent. There was no existence of Urdu prior to the attack led by Mahmud of Ghazni. Later on it developed as a language through interactions in the Persian courts.

Both of these commonly held views consider Urdu a foreign creation. That is to say, it was after the attack of Muhammed bin Qasim on Sindh during the Umayyad Caliphate that Urdu came into existence. Hence, Urdu has no cultural, social, historical, or literary roots in the sub-continent. If there had been no conquest in the year 711, there would have been no Urdu.

The paper by Ahmed Kamran differs from these commonly held views. He says that Urdu sentence structure  was present in the sub-continent before foreign powers came into the subcontinent. Urdu has neither developed as a result of the interaction between Persian and Arabic languages nor did it come into existence in the reign of Shah Jahan. The author claims that Urdu was one of those hundreds of local dialects spoken in the subcontinent. He writes:
"[Urdu] is one of those hundreds of commonly used dialects that were spoken in the subcontinent at the time when Aryan-Vedic languages came here, and from than on, it has been used continuously as a vernacular. We call these dialects Prakerteen. The grammar, syntax, structure, diction, and pronunciation of Urdu are all Indian (in nature)."
He continues:
"[Urdu] has a three thousand years old history. During this interval different foriegn languages, e.g. Vedic, Persian, Arabic, and English intermixed with Urdu, hence different Prakert became a part of it." 
The author cites examples of Hindu reformers, e.g. KhabeerDaas and Naam Veo,  who used Urdu as a tool to interact with the common folks. We can also find the presence of Urdu syntax in the Hindu scripture Reeg Veda. This elucidates the point that Urdu was an old language which was already in use.

It should be noted that the ambiguity about the evolution of Indian languages was deliberately propounded  by the colonial rulers. They presumed that when foreign nations occupy a land, then cultures, myths and folklores of that particular civilization starts to diminish. The foreign power overwhelms all walks of life, toppling all traditional structures formerly present. The author writes:
"They hold this opinion because they themselves were a foreign power, and wanted to keep India under their control forever. Hence, they concluded that after the arrival of Aryans, the local people vanished or migrated toward the south as Black people. Their languages vanished, and Aryan became the lingua franca."
Rather than trying to seek the origins of Urdu in some foreign land; we should search its genesis inside the subcontinent. A language is a source of pride, value, and love for every nation around the world. It is through words that people express emotions, feelings, believes, and retention of scared literature is possible through languages. A theory which tries to sought the origin of a language inside its land will always ameliorate the amiability of the people.

One of the well-known tragedies with Urdu has been is that it's considered a foreign Muslim invention. This is nothing more than a myth. There had been great non-Muslim writers, e.g. Preem Chand and Ghang Bhat, who had helped in the development and evolution of Urdu. An attempt to Persianize `or Arabinize Urdu will only weaken its natural beauty. People deliberately use foreign words in order to pontificate. Some of my observations are:




Reference:
[iv] VIEW: The origins of Urdu —Ishtiaq Ahmed

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