Urdu (Urdu: اردو )is a register of the Hindustani language that is identified with Muslims in South Asia. It belongs to the Indo-European family. Urdu is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan. It is also widely spoken in some regions of India, where it is one of the 22 scheduled languages and an official language of five states. Based on the Khariboli dialect of Delhi, Urdu developed under the influence of Persian, Arabic, and Turkic over the course of almost 900 years. It began to take shape in what is now Uttar Pradesh, India during the Delhi Sultanate (1206–1527), and continued to develop under the Mughal Empire (1526–1858). Urdu is mutually intelligible with Standard Hindi (or Hindi-Urdu) spoken in India. Both languages share the same Indic base and are so similar in phonology and grammar that they appear to be one language. The combined population of Hindi and Urdu speakers is the fourth largest in the world.

Mughals hailed from the Barlas tribe which was of Mongol origin, the tribe had embraced Turkic and Persian culture, and resided in Turkestan and Khorasan. Their mother tongue was the Chaghatai language (known to them as Turkī, "Turkic") and they were equally at home in Persian, the lingua franca of the Timurid elite. but after their arrival in the Indian subcontinent, the need to communicate with local inhabitants led to use of Indic languages written in the Persian alphabet, with some literary conventions and vocabulary retained from Persian and Turkic; this eventually became a new standard called Hindustani, which is the direct predecessor of Urdu. Urdu is often contrasted with Hindi. Apart from religious associations, the differences are largely restricted to the standard forms: Standard Urdu is conventionally written in the Nastaliq style of the Persian alphabet and relies heavily on Persian and Arabic as a source for technical and literary vocabulary, whereas Standard Hindi is conventionally written in Devanāgarī and draws on Sanskrit. However, both have large numbers of Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit words, and most linguists consider them to be two standardized forms of the same language, and consider the differences to be sociolinguistic, though a few classify them separately. Mutual intelligibility decreases in literary and specialized contexts which rely on educated vocabulary. Because of religious nationalism since the partition of British India and continued communal tensions, native speakers of both Hindi and Urdu frequently assert them to be completely distinct languages, despite the fact that they generally cannot tell the colloquial languages apart.


Main article: History of Urdu

 Indo-Aryan languages, grouping according to SIL Ethnologue, Hindi is mutually intelligible with Urdu and is among the languages of the central zone:

  Central zone

  Northern zone

  Northwestern zone

  Eastern zone

  Southern zone

  Insular (Southern)

Urdu arose in the contact situation which developed from the invasions of the Indian subcontinent by Turkic dynasties from the 11th century onwards, first as Sultan Mahmud of the Ghaznavid empire conquered Punjab in the early 11th century, then when the Ghurids invaded northern India in the 12th century, and most decisively with the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate.

The official language of the Ghurids, Delhi Sultanate, the Mughal Empire, and their successor states, as well as the cultured language of poetry and literature, was Persian, while the language of religion was Arabic. Most of the Sultans and nobility in the Sultanate period were Turks from Central Asia who spoke Turkic as their mother tongue. The Mughals were also Chagatai, but later adopted Persian. Muzaffar Alam asserts that Persian became the lingua franca of the empire under Akbar for various political and social factors due to its non-sectarian and fluid nature.However, the armies, merchants, preachers, Sufis, and later the court, also incorporated the local people and the medieval Hindu literary language, Braj Bhasha. This new contact language soon incorporated other dialects, such as Haryanvi, Panjabi, and in the 17th century Khariboli, the dialect of the new capital at Delhi. By 1800, Khariboli had become dominant.

The language went by several names over the years: Hindawi or Hindī, "[language] of India"; Dehlavi "of Delhi"; Hindustani, "of Hindustan"; and Zaban-e-Urdu, "the language of the [army] camp", from which came the current name of Urdu around the year 1800.

When Wali Mohammed Wali arrived in Delhi, he established Hindustani with a light smattering of Persian words, a register called Rekhta, for poetry; previously the language of poetry had been Persian. When the Delhi Sultanate expanded south to the Deccan Plateau, they carried their literary language with them, and it was influenced there by more southerly languages, producing the Dakhini dialect of Urdu. During this time Hindustani was the language of both Hindus and Muslims. The communal nature of the language lasted until it replaced Persian as the official language in 1837 and was made coofficial along with English in the British Raj. This triggered a Hindu backlash in northwestern India, which argued that the language should be written in the native Devanagari script. This "Hindi" replaced traditional Urdu as the official register of Bihar in 1881, establishing a sectarian divide of "Urdu" for Muslims and "Hindi" for Hindus, a divide that was formalized with the division of India and Pakistan after independence from the British, though there are Hindu poets who continue to write in Urdu to this day.

Although there have been attempts to purge Urdu and Hindi, respectively, of their Sanskrit and Persian words, and new vocabulary draws primarily from Persian and Arabic for Urdu and Sanskrit for Hindi, this has primarily affected academic and literary vocabulary, and both national standards remain heavily influenced by both Persian and Sanskrit. English has exerted a heavy influence on both as a coofficial language.

Speakers and geographic distribution

There are between 60 and 70 million speakers of Urdu: there were 52 million in India per the 2001 census, some 6% of the population; 13 million in Pakistan in 2008, or 8%; and several hundred thousand apiece in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, United States, and Bangladesh, where it is called "Bihari". However, a knowledge of Urdu allows one to speak with far more people than that, as Hindi-Urdu is the fourth most commonly spoken language in the world, after Mandarin, English, and Spanish.

Owing to interaction with other languages, Urdu has become localized wherever it is spoken, including in Pakistan itself. Urdu in Pakistan has undergone changes and has lately incorporated and borrowed many words from Pakistani languages like Pashto, Punjabi, Sindhi and Balti, thus allowing speakers of the language in Pakistan to distinguish themselves more easily and giving the language a decidedly Pakistani Flavour. Similarly, the Urdu spoken in India can also be distinguished into many dialects like Dakhni (Deccan) of South India, and Khariboli of the Punjab region since recent times. Because of Urdu's similarity to Hindi, speakers of the two languages can easily understand one another if both sides refrain from using specialized vocabulary. The syntax (grammar), morphology, and the core vocabulary are essentially identical. Thus linguists usually count them as one single language and contend that they are considered as two different languages for socio-political reasons. In Pakistan Urdu is mostly learned as a second or a third language as nearly 93% of Pakistan's population has a mother tongue other than Urdu. Despite this, Urdu was chosen as a token of unity and as a lingua franca so as not to give any native Pakistani language preference over the other. Urdu is therefore spoken and understood by the vast majority in some form or another, including a majority of urban dwellers in such cities as Karachi, Lahore, Sialkot, Rawalpindi, Islamabad, Multan, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Peshawar, Quetta, Jhang, Sargodha and Skardu. It is written, spoken and used in all Provinces/Territories of Pakistan despite the fact that the people from differing provinces may have different indigenous languages, as from the fact that it is the "base language" of the country. For this reason, it is also taught as a compulsory subject up to higher secondary school in both English and Urdu medium school systems. This has produced millions of Urdu speakers from people whose mother tongue is one of the State languages of Pakistan such as Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Potwari, Hindko, Pahari, Saraiki, Balti, and Brahui but they can read and write only Urdu. It is absorbing many words from the regional languages of Pakistan. This variation of Urdu is sometimes referred to as Pakistani Urdu. So while most of the population is conversant in Urdu, it is the mother tongue only of an estimated 7% of the population, mainly Muslim immigrants (known as Muhajir in Pakistan) from different parts of the Indian subcontinent (India, Burma, Bangladesh etc.). The regional languages are also being influenced by Urdu vocabulary. There are millions of Pakistanis whose mother tongue is not Urdu, but since they have studied in Urdu medium schools, they can read and write Urdu along with their native language. Most of the nearly five million Afghan refugees of different ethnic origins (such as Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazarvi, and Turkmen) who stayed in Pakistan for over twenty-five years have also become fluent in Urdu. With such a large number of people(s) speaking Urdu, the language has in recent years acquired a peculiar Pakistani flavour further distinguishing it from the Urdu spoken by native speakers and diversifying the language even further.

 Autograph and a couplet of Last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah II, dated 29th April 1844

A great number of newspapers are published in Urdu in Pakistan, including the Daily Jang, Nawa-i-Waqt, Millat, among many others (see List of newspapers in Pakistan#Urdu-language newspapers).

In India, Urdu is spoken in places where there are large Muslim minorities or cities which were bases for Muslim Empires in the past. These include parts of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra (Marathwada), Karnataka and cities namely Lucknow, Delhi, Bareilly, Meerut, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Roorkee, Deoband, Moradabad, Azamgarh, Bijnor, Najibabad, Rampur, Aligarh, Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Agra, Kanpur, Badaun, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Aurangabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata, Mysore, Patna, Gulbarga, Nanded, Bidar, Ajmer, and Ahmedabad. Some Indian schools teach Urdu as a first language and have their own syllabus and exams. Indian madrasahs also teach Arabic as well as Urdu. India has more than 3,000 Urdu publications including 405 daily Urdu newspapers. Newspapers such as Sahara Urdu, Daily Salar, Hindustan Express, Daily Pasban, Siasat Daily, The Munsif Daily and Inqilab are published and distributed in Bengaluru, Mysore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai (see List of newspapers in India).

In Nepal, there are few publications in Urdu language, written in Nastaliq or local scripts. Radio Nepal broadcasts a short news pragramme in Urdu on a daily basis. Speakers of the language are mainly concentrated in the southern Terai province and in the capital Kathmandu. There are a few historical settlements of Muslim population in the hills around Kaski district who continue to learn Urdu even today.

Outside South Asia, it is spoken by large numbers of migrant South Asian workers in the major urban centres of the Persian Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia. Urdu is also spoken by large numbers of immigrants and their children in the major urban centres of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany, Norway, and Australia. Along with Arabic, Urdu is among the immigrant languages with most speakers in Catalonia

Official status

Urdu is the national and one of the two official languages of Pakistan, the other being English, and is spoken and understood throughout the country, while the state-by-state languages (languages spoken throughout various regions) are the provincial languages. It is used in education, literature, office and court business. It holds in itself a repository of the cultural and social heritage of the country. Although English is used in most elite circles, and Punjabi has a plurality of native speakers, Urdu is the lingua franca and national language in Pakistan.

Urdu is also one of the officially recognised languages in India and has official language status in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand, Jammu and Kashmir and the national capital, New Delhi.

In Jammu and Kashmir, section 145 of the Kashmir Constitution provides: "The official language of the State shall be Urdu but the English language shall unless the Legislature by law otherwise provides, continue to be used for all the official purposes of the State for which it was being used immediately before the commencement of the Constitution." As of 2010, the English language continues to be used as an official language for more than 90% of official work in Kashmir. There are ongoing efforts to make Kashmiri and Dogri, spoken as mother tongues by nearly 80% of the population of Indian-administered Kashmir, as official languages alongside English.

The importance of Urdu in the Muslim world is visible in the Holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, where most informational signage is written in Arabic, English and Urdu, and sometimes in other languages.


Urdu has a few recognised dialects, including Dakhni, Rekhta, and Modern Vernacular Urdu (based on the Khariboli dialect of the Delhi region). Dakhni (also known as Dakani, Deccani, Desia, Mirgan) is spoken in Deccan region of southern India. It is distinct by its mixture of vocabulary from Marathi and Konkani, as well as some vocabulary from Arabic, Persian and Turkish that are not found in the standard dialect of Urdu, and may actually be a distinct Hindi language. In terms of pronunciation, the easiest way to recognize a native speaker is their pronunciation of the letter "qāf" () as "kh" (). Dakhini is widely spoken in all parts of Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. Urdu is read and written as in other parts of India. A number of daily newspapers and several monthly magazines in Urdu are published in these states.

Pakistani variant of the language spoken in Pakistan; it becomes increasingly divergent from the Indian dialects and forms of Urdu as it has absorbed many loan words, proverbs and phonetics from Pakistan's indigenous languages such as Pashto, Panjabi and Sindhi. Furthermore, due to the region's history, the Urdu dialect of Pakistan draws heavily from the Persian and Arabic languages, and the intonation and pronunciation are informal compared with corresponding Indian dialects.

In addition, Rekhta (or Rekhti), the language of Urdu poetry, is sometimes counted as a separate dialect, one famously used by several British Indian poets of high acclaim in the bulk of their work. These included Mirza Ghalib, Mir Taqi Mir and Muhammad Iqbal, the national poet-philosopher of Pakistan.
Urdu has a vocabulary rich in words with and Middle Eastern origins. The language's Indic base has been enriched by borrowing from Persian and Arabic. There are also a smaller number of borrowings from Chagatai, Portuguese, and more recently English. Many of the words of Arabic origin have been adopted through Persian and have different pronunciations and nuances of meaning and usage than they do in Arabic.

Levels of formality

Urdu in its less formalised register has been referred to as a rekhta (ریختہ, [reːxt̪aː]), meaning "rough mixture". The more formal register of Urdu is sometimes referred to as zabān-e-Urdu-e-mo'alla (زبان اردو معلہ [zəbaːn eː ʊrd̪uː eː moəllaː]), the "Language of the Exalted Camp", referring to the Imperial army.

The etymology of the word used in the Urdu language for the most part decides how polite or refined one's 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 former in each set is used colloquially and has older Hindustani origins, while the latter is used formally and poetically, being of Persian origin.

If a word is of Persian or Arabic origin, the level of speech is considered to be more formal and grand. Similarly, if Persian or Arabic grammar constructs, such as the izafat, are used in Urdu, the level of speech is also considered more formal and grand. If a word is inherited from Sanskrit, the level of speech is considered more colloquial and personal.

That distinction has likenesses with the division between words from a French or Old English origin while speaking English

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