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Lashkari (لشکری)
Urdu example.svg
Urdu in Nastaliq script
Pronunciation[ˈʊrduː] (audio speaker iconlisten)
Native toIndia and Pakistan
RegionSouth Asia
Native speakers
68.62 million (2021)
Total: 230 million (2021)[1]
Early forms
Official status
Official language in


Recognised minority
language in
 South Africa (protected language)[7]
Regulated byNational Language Promotion Department (Pakistan)
National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (India)
Language codes
ISO 639-1ur
ISO 639-2urd
ISO 639-3urd
Urdu official-language areas.png
  Areas in India and Pakistan where Urdu is either official or co-official
  Areas where Urdu is neither official nor co-official
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Urdu, also known as Lashkari,[8] or the Lashkari language (لشکری ‍زبان)[9] is the national language of Pakistan and a recognized regional language in India. It is an Indo-Aryan language, meaning it descends from Proto-Indo-Aryan, a language spoken northeast of the Caspian Sea in the third millennia BC.[10]

It is spoken as a lingua franca by most people in Pakistan. It is also spoken in some parts of India like the states of Delhi, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. With some exceptions words are similar to spoken Hindi. When written, it is written completely different from Hindi. That is why speakers of Hindi and Urdu can have a conversation with one another, but may not be able to read or write one of these two scripts.

History[change | change source]

What is today most commonly known as "Urdu" is believed to have been born in the 11th century AD in Uttar Pradesh and its surroundings when the Ghaznavid Empire entered the subcontinent and ruled over Punjab, the land of five rivers.[11]

Punjab was also known as "Hind" or the land east of the Indus.[12]

The Ghaznavids, although racially Turkic, spoke Persian as their main language. When conquering Punjab or Hind with Lahore as its capital, they came into contact with the local population who spoke an Indo-Aryan language which began to adopt Persian words into their language. This local language was also the ancestor of modern standard Punjabi.[13]

The contacts between Persian and the native language of Punjab began to form a new language and that became known as 'Lashkari Zaban' or language of the battalions.[11][14]

This new language also known as Hindavi became the common language of the locals and the ruling Ghaznavids in the region. By the twelfth century AD, the Ghaznavids pushed further east into the subcontinent and brought this language to Delhi where it became influenced by the local language, Khariboli.[15]

From Delhi it spread across much of the northern subcontinent and became the common language of communication. It continued to be influenced by Khariboli and spread to cities like Lucknow and Hyderabad Daccan. It was also given new names and titles through the centuries.[16]

Native poets in these cities and most of the region contributed to its development and added many Persian and Chagatai words to it. They also indirectly added Arabic words which Persian already contained.

It continued to evolve during the Delhi Sultanate under the influence of Khariboli.

The Mughal Empire was another Muslim Empire of Turkic origin and spoke Chagatai natively and Persian as their other language, although they were not ethnically Persian or racially Iranic.

During this time the language commonly became known as the Zaban-i-Ordu or language of the Royal Camp.

By the very late eighteenth century AD, the poet Ghulam Mashafi is believed to have given it the name "Urdu" which was shortened from "Zaban-i-Urdu."[17]

The word is from Chagatai, the native language of the Mughals and belonged to the Eastern Turkic subfamily of languages. Chagatai was closely related to today's Uzbek and Uyghur and distantly related to today's Turkish because all of them belonged to the same Turkic family of languages.

In its own indigenous translation it was Lashkari Zaban and Lashkari for short.

Also during the Mughal Empire, what commonly became known as Urdu was a court language in a number of major South Asian cities, including Delhi, Amristsar, Lucknow and Lahore.[11]

By the time of the British Empire, it also became known as "Hindustani" or the language of Hindustan, the land of the Indus. It continued to serve as a court language in the same cities.

It was adopted as a first language by many people in North India.

By the end of British rule and the independence of Pakistan, it was selected as the national language for the people of the country because they spoke different languages and dialects.

In India it became the national language but went by the name Hindi and was written in the Devanagari script. It also used a lesser amount of Arabic, Persian and Chagatai words and instead Sanskrit words were adopted in their place.

Today it is the most widely spoken language in Pakistan in terms of total speakers and a registered language in 22 Indian states.

Relations to Persian[change | change source]

Differences[change | change source]

The letters in Urdu are derived from the Persian/Farsi alphabet, which is derived from the Arabic alphabet. The additional letters that are found in Urdu include ٹ ,ڈ ,ڑ (ṫ, ḋ, ṙ). To make the alphabet more enriched two letters were created for sounds ه (h) and ی (y). By adding these letters to the existing Persian letters the Urdu alphabet became more suitable for the people of Pakistan and for some people of North India who primarily use nastaliq script. Both are also Indo-Iranic languages descending from Proto-Indo-Iranic, but deriving from separate subbranches, Iranic and Indo-Aryan respectively.[source?]

Similarities[change | change source]

Urdu is written right to left like Farsi (Persian) script. 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). Both belong to the Indo-Iranic language subfamily.[source?]

Levels of formality[change | change source]

Lashkari Zabān ("Battalionese language") title in Nashk script

Informal[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."

In local translation, it is called Lashkari Zabān (لشکری زبان‎ [lʌʃkɜ:i: zɑ:bɑ:n])[18] meaning "language of battalions" or "battalion language." This can be shortened to Lashkari.

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 distinguish between پانی pānī and آب āb, both meaning "water" for example, or between آدمی ādmi and مرد mard, meaning "man." The first word is ad derivative from Adam (آدم) Arabic mean from Adam and it can be used for both man and woman in place of human being. Second word مرد mard refers to a gender or can be used for manly hood as well.

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 Chagatai, the level of speech is thought more colloquial and personal.[19]

Formal[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 Aadab ( Courteous ) and to sometimes as takalluf (Formal) in Urdu. These words are mostly used when addressing elders, or people with whom one is not met yet. Just like French Vous and Tu. Upon studying French and other forms of Language similar formal language construct are present. The whole grammatical layout appears to be almost identical to French language structure. The rules to form sentences and structuring them are identical[source?]

Poetics[change | change source]

Ghulam Hamdani Mushafi, the poet first believed to have coined the name "Urdu" for the language around 1780 AD. Before that this language went by different names.[17]

Two very respected poets who are not only celebrated in the South Asian subcontinent but are famous in many other communities worldwide are Mirza Ghalib and Sir Dr Muhammed Iqbal. 

Mirza Ghalib[change | change source]

Ghalib (1797-1869) is famous for his classic satire and sarcasm as seen in the following verse;

(Latin/Roma 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. 

Sir Dr Muhammed Iqbal[change | change source]

Iqbal (1877-1938) was a poet, and an active politician. He focused his poetry on bringing out the plight of the suffering Muslim community of British India. In his poetry he very boldly highlighted the missing virtues and values in the morally corrupt Indian 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”. His work is displayed in the following verse;

(Latin/Roma Alphabet):     

Aapne bhe khafa mujh sei beganey bhe na khush

Mein zeher -e-halahal 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.  

Iqbal is considered by many an inspirational poet. He played a large role in the Pakistan Movement, with many claiming that he was the one to imagine and initiate it.

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

Formal Urdu:

Aap tashreef rakhein = Please have a seat

Main mu'azzarat chahta/chahti hun = Please excuse me/I apologize

Informal Urdu: Aap bethein (You sit) or Tum betho (Sit, more informal)

Main maafi chahta/chahti hun= I ask for forgiveness


Aap kaisay hein? = How are you?

Main theek hun = I am fine

Assalam O Alaikum = Peace be upon you (It basically means hello, and it is a common greeting used in Islamic countries or among Muslims in general)

Urdu vs Hindi--What's the difference?[change | change source]

Urdu's terminology borrows from Chagatai, Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic. Hindi, also historically known as Hindui (हिंदुई),[20] is a language spoken primarily in India which replaced Farsi, Chagatai and Arabic terminology with Sanskrit. Grammatically they are the same, which is why Hindi and Urdu speakers are able to have a somewhat easy conversation with each other.

Urdu has a majority of its vocabulary words and phrases borrowed from Persian, Chagatai and Arabic, languages spoken in Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, many countries of the Middle East and in Afghanistan etc. Urdu's written script is also in the exact alphabets and scripts of Persian-Arabic and Chagatai. That is why, they are able to read and write easily in Arabic and Persian.

Name of colors, objects, feelings, animals and more are all different in Urdu and Hindi.[source?]

References[change | change source]

  1. "What are the top 200 most spoken languages?". Ethnologue. 3 October 2018. Retrieved 2021-02-26.
  2. Hindustani (2005). Keith Brown (ed.). Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (2nd ed.). Elsevier. ISBN 0-08-044299-4.
  3. Gaurav Takkar. "Short Term Programmes". punarbhava.in. Archived from the original on 15 November 2016. Retrieved 29 March 2015.
  4. "Indo-Pakistani Sign Language", Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics
  5. "Urdu is Telangana's second official language". The Indian Express. 16 November 2017. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  6. "Urdu is second official language in Telangana as state passes Bill". The News Minute. 17 November 2017. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  7. "Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 - Chapter 1: Founding Provisions". www.gov.za. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  8. Aijazuddin Ahmad (2009). Geography of the South Asian Subcontinent: a critical approach. Concept Publishing Company. pp. 120–. ISBN 978-81-8069-568-1. The very word Urdu came into being as the original Lashkari dialect, in other words, the language of the army.
  9. "Lahore During the Ghaznavid Period" (PDF). Kanwal Khalid, PhD Associate Professor, College of Art and Design University of the Punjab, Lahore.
  10. Trautmann, Thomas, and Yoda Press. "Indo-European topics."
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Dogra, Ramesh Chander. "Cataloguing Urdu Names." International Library Review 5.3 (1973): 351-377.
  12. Brard, Gurnam Singh Sidhu. "East of Indus: My memories of old Punjab." (2007).
  13. Nazir Ahmed Chaudhry (1998). Lahore: Glimpses of a Glorious Heritage. Sang-e-Meel Publications, 1998, University of Michigan (origin). p. 18. ISBN 9693509447.
  14. "Lahore During the Ghaznavid Period" (PDF). Khanwal, Kahlid Associate Professor, College of Art & Design, Punjab University.
  15. Bailey, T. Grahame. "Urdu: the Name and the Language." Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 62.2 (1930): 391-400.
  16. Shaheen, Shagufta, and Sajjad Shahid. "The Unique Literary Traditions of Dakhnī." Languages and Literary Cultures in Hyderabad (2017): 7.
  17. 17.0 17.1 Garcia, Maria Isabel Maldonado. "The Urdu language reforms." Studies 26 (2011): 97.
  18. Khan, Sajjad, Waqas Anwar, Usama Bajwa, and Xuan Wang. "Template Based Affix Stemmer for a Morphologically Rich Language." International Arab Journal of Information Technology (IAJIT) 12, no. 2 (2015).
  19. "About Urdu". Afroz Taj (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill). Retrieved 2008-02-26.
  20. Dwyer, Rachel. "Hindi/Hindustani". Key Concepts in Modern Indian Studies, edited by Gita Dharampal-Frick, Monika Kirloskar-Steinbach and Jahnavi Phalkey, New York, USA: New York University Press, 2016, pp. 102-103. https://doi.org/10.18574/9781479826834-041

Further reading[change | change source]

Other websites[change | change source]