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Benjamin Schulze (1689-1760), an orientalist and Lutheran missionary who lived in India between 1726 and 1743 and established the first Christian mission in Madras, wrote in his ‘A grammar of Hindoostani language’ (1745) that Hindustani, or Urdu, was “a provincial dialect of Persian”. It was, perhaps, the beginning of weaving the speculative theories around the issue of Urdu’s origin, which was to go on for a couple of centuries.

When Abul-Lais Siddiqi translated Schulze’s work from English into Urdu, he discussed in his preface in detail Schulze’s work and said that Schulze penned the book originally in Latin in 1741 and it was later translated into English.

Schulze was a German and the king of Denmark had sent him to the court of Karnataka, India. While he preached Christianity and completed the translation of the Bible into the Malabari language, which was left unfinished by one of his companions, Schulze learnt local languages, notably Telugu and ‘Hindoostani’, or Urdu, so that he could reach out to the masses. In the process, he wrote his Urdu grammar, indeed an invaluable work from historical point of view, albeit not without shortcomings.

We must appreciate the contribution of Schulze, and other orientalists for that matter, but his saying that Urdu was a dialect of Persian was simply not correct. But it was not only Schulze who had wrong assumptions about Urdu. Until the first quarter of the 20th century, most of what was written on the origin of Urdu was not based on linguistic research but on assumptions.

Mir Amman, for instance, thought Urdu was a ‘camp-language’ born in Mughal army camps. Muhammad Hussain Azad, in addition to lending credulity to the simplistic theory presented by Mir Amman (if it can be called a theory at all), said Urdu was an offshoot of Brij Bhasha. In the 1920s, some new theories about Urdu’s origin sprang up.

Syed Sulaiman Nadvi wrote that since the Arabs landed in Sindh first, Urdu must have taken its earliest shape in Sindh. Naseeruddin Hashmi wrote that since Arabs were good seafarers and used to dock at the shores of Malabar and other south Indian destinations even before the advent of Islam, Urdu must have been born in Deccan.

Both the theories, however, were dismissed for certain linguistic reasons and Naseeruddin Hashmi even corrected his views in the latter editions of his work Deccan mein Urdu.

In the late 1920s, Hafiz Mahmood Sherani surmised that Urdu was born in Punjab. Though the theory was challenged by linguists such as Masood Hussain Khan and Shaukat Sabzwari, many scholars did, and some still do agree with Sherani’s theory.

But there was another linguist, perhaps the first scholar from the Subcontinent to have opted to research the origin of Urdu on a scientific basis, working independently in London. He was Mohiuddin Qadri Zor and he had reached the same conclusion as Sherani, though at that time he did not know about Sherani’s theory. But there were some differences in details indeed: Zor Sahib said the language that developed after Mahmood Ghaznavi’s conquest of Punjab was spoken not only in Punjab but also in a wider area that spread from the borders of the North-West Frontier Province to Allahabad and the adjoining areas. He also said that in those days there was very little difference between the language spoken in Punjab and other parts of the vast area that was the cradle of this language, which later developed further and was named Urdu or Hindi or Hindvi and was also called Hindustani by some orientalists.

Zor sahib wrote that some languages and dialects such as Brij Bhasha, Khari Boli and modern Punjabi were born in the later era and these dialects could not have given birth to Urdu or Hindi. Dr Zor has discussed his theory in his two books, Hindustani Lisaniyaat (Urdu) and Hindustani Phonetics (English).

Prof Dr Syed Mohiuddin Qadri Zor was a research scholar, academic, linguist, critic and poet. He passed his matriculation examination from Hyderabad (Deccan), a city where he was born on Dec 6, 1904. Having secured first position both in BA and MA (Urdu) at Usmania University, Zor was awarded a scholarship by the princely state of Deccan for higher studies abroad. He went to England in 1929 and got a doctorate from London University for his research work on Aryan languages. After his PhD, he went to Paris and carried out research on phonetics.

When he returned to Hyderabad Deccan in 1931, Zor sahib was appointed reader (a post almost equivalent to assistant professor) at Usmania University’s Urdu department. In January 1931, some writers and scholars founded Idara-i-adabiyaat at Hyderabad (Deccan). Those who worked for its establishment included Dr Mohiuddin Qadri Zor, Naseeruddin Hashmi, Abdul Qadir Sarvari and some others. Zor sahib was instrumental in establishing Aiwan-i-Urdu, too, a research centre, at Hyderabad (Deccan). These two institutions have been playing a vital role in Urdu research and research publications. Later, Zor sahib became a professor at Usmania University. On his retirement, he was made chairman of postgraduate Urdu and Persian studies department at Srinagar University, Kashmir.

There are over 30 books to his credit and more well-known among them are Hindustani lisaniyaat, Hindustani Phonetics, Urdu Shehpaare, Urdu ke asaleeb-e-bayan, Rooh-e-Ghalib, Deccani adab ki taareekh, Hayat-e-Sultan Muhammad Quli Qutub Shah, Sarguzasht-e-Garcin de Tassy, Kulliyaat-e-Quli Qutub Shah and Tazkira-e-makhtootaat. His contribution to Deccani language, Deccani literature and Urdu linguistics is unforgettable.

Prof Dr Syed Mohiuddin Qadri Zor died on Sept 25, 1962, in Srinagar.

Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2014