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Urdu in Perso-Arabic script
(Nastaʿlīq style)
Pronunciation Hindustani: [ˈʊrd̪u]
Native to Pakistan, India, Bangladesh ("Bihari"), Nepal[1]
Native speakers

66 million  (2007)[2]
Total (only Urdu): 104 million (2010)[3]

Total (including Hindi): 490 million (2010)[4]
Language family
Writing system Arabic (Urdu alphabet [Nastaʿlīq)
Urdu Braille
Official status
Official language in  Pakistan
 India (states of Jammu and Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Delhi)
Regulated by National Language Authority (Pakistan);
National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language[6] (India)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ur
ISO 639-2 urd
ISO 639-3 urd
Linguasphere 59-AAF-q (with Hindi,
including 58 varieties: 59-AAF-qaa to 59-AAF-qil)
Urdu official-language areas.png
     Areas where Urdu is official or coofficial      (Other) areas where Hindi is official

Urdu is the name of one of the languages spoken in South Asia. It is the national language of Pakistan. It is spoken in Pakistan and Indian-administered Kashmir and is the official language of the country. It is also an official language in India. It is spoken all over India, particularly in the states of Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, and Uttar Pradesh.

History[change | change source]

The origin of the Urdu language is the Mughal Empire's word for army, Urdu. However, contrary to popular belief, Urdu was not created in the army camps of the Mughal Army. Urdu is spoken the same as present-day Hindi, but Hindi uses the traditional Devanagari script (a decedent of Sanskrit), whereas Urdu uses the Persio-Arabic alphabet. The poet Ghulam Hamadani Mushafi coined the term Urdu for this language in 1780. However, this began to alienate the two major cultures in India/Pakistan, the Muslims and Hindus. Hindus began to speak and write Hindi, whereas Muslims would begin to speak Urdu. This also lead to a need to "cleanse" Urdu of all its Sanskrit words and lead Hindi speakers to want to be rid of Persian words that remained in their language.

Relations to Persian[change | change source]

Differences[change | change source]

The letters in Urdu are derived from the Persian language which is derived from the Arabic language. The additional letters that are found in Urdu include ٹ ,ڈ ,ڑ (ṫ, ḋ, ṙ). Also to make the language more enriched two letters were created for sounds ه (h) and ی (y). By adding these alphabets to the existing Persian alphabets the Urdu language became more suitable for the people of North India and Pakistan.

Similarities[change | change source]

Urdu is written right to left like the Persian script. More specifically, Urdu is also written in the Nasta’ liq style of Persian Calligraphy. Nastaliq style is a cursive script invented by Mīr ʿAlī of Tabrīz, a very famous calligrapher during the Timurid period (1402–1502).

Levels of formality[change | change source]

Urdu in its less formalized register has been called a rekhta (ریختہ, ), meaning "rough mixture". The more formal register of Urdu is sometimes called zabān-e-Urdu-e-mo'alla (زبان اردو معلہ [zəbaːn eː ʊrd̪uː eː moəllaː]), the "Language of Camp and Court."

The etymology of the word used in the Urdu language for the most part decides how nice or well done your speech is. For example, Urdu speakers would distniguish between پانی pānī and آب āb, both meaning "water" for example, or between آدمی ādmi and مرد mard, meaning "man." The first in each set is used colloquial and has older Hindustani origins, while the last in the set is used formally and poetically.

If a word is of Persian or Arabic origin, the level of speech is thought to be more formal. If Persian or Arabic grammar constructs, such as the izafat, are used in Urdu, the level of speech is also thought more formal and correct. If a word is inherited from Sanskrit, the level of speech is thought more colloquial and personal.[7]

Politeness[change | change source]

Urdu is supposed to be a well formed language; many of words are used in it to show respect and politeness. This emphasis on politeness, which comes from the vocabulary, is known as adab and to sometimes as takalluf in Urdu. These words are mostly used when addressing elders, or people with whom one is not met yet.

Poetics[change | change source]

Two very respected poets who are not only celebrated in the Indian subcontinent but are famous in many other communities worldwide are Mirza Ghalib and Sir Mohammad Iqbal. Ghalib (1797-1869) is famous for his classic satire and sarcasm as seen in the following verse

(Latin alphabet):

umer bhar hum yun hee ghalati kartey rahen Ghalib

dhool ch-herey pei thee aur hum aaina saaf karte rahe


O Ghalib (himself) all my life I kept making the same mistakes over and over,

I was busy cleaning the mirror while the dirt was on my face. 

Iqbal (1877-1938) is considered an inspirational poet who was also a very active politician. He focused his poetry on bringing out the plight of the suffering Muslim community. In his poetry he very boldly highlighted the missing virtues and values in the morally corrupt society. Despite much opposition in the beginning, he ended up leaving a huge impact. He is also called the “Poet of the East” and the “Poet of Islam”.

example (Latin):     

Aapne bhe khafa mujh sei beganey bhe na khush

Mein zeher -e-halal ku kabhi keh na saka qand


I could not keep happy either my loved ones nor the strangers,

as I could never call a piece of poison a piece of  candy     

Common Words/Phrases in Urdu[change | change source]

English Urdu (Pronunciation through Latin Alphabet)
good acha
Bad Bura


Happy Khush
Sad Odaas

(Peace Be Upon You)

How are you? Aap kaisey hein?
I am fine mein theek hu
Okay acha


Can you speak English? 

(when you speak to a man)

Aap angreezi bool saktein hein?
Can you speak English?

(when you can speak to a female)

Aap angreezi bol saktien/sakteen hein?
The weather is good today. Aaj mausam ach ha hei.
Where is the airport ?     Airport kha han hei?
Where is the nearest McDonalds? Sub sey kareeb McDonalds kahan hey?

References[change | change source]

  1. "Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Seventeenth edition, Urdu". Ethnologue. http://www.ethnologue.com/language/urd. Retrieved March 05, 2013.
  2. Nationalencyklopedin "Världens 100 största språk 2007" The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007
  3. Katsiavriades, Qureshi, Kryss, Talaat. "The 30 Most Spoken Languages of the World". http://www.krysstal.com/spoken.html. Retrieved 5 March 2013.
  4. "A Guide to Urdu". BBC. http://www.bbc.co.uk/languages/other/guide/urdu/steps.shtml. Retrieved 2012-01-31.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Hindustani (2005). Keith Brown. ed. Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2 ed.). Elsevier. ISBN 0-08-044299-4.
  6. "National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language". Urducouncil.nic.in. http://www.urducouncil.nic.in/. Retrieved 2011-12-18.
  7. "About Urdu". Afroz Taj (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. http://www.unc.edu/. Retrieved 2008-02-26.

Other sources[change | change source]