Can Urdu and Hindi be one language?

The politics of Hindi–Urdu division — and unity — stretch back to at least the 19th century.
Updated Oct 07, 2019 04:54pm
—Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro/Dawn
—Illustration by Khuda Bux Abro/Dawn

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“Where did this Urdu-speaking white guy come from?” (or, in most Indian contexts, Hindi-speaking) is a question I hear pretty frequently.

It’s a legitimate one, and arguably better for everyone involved than those occasions when people assume, naturally enough, that this videshi (or pardesi) won’t understand what’s being said around or about him. I won’t go into details of the awkward, and sometimes hilarious, situations that such assumptions have created.

The short answer to the question is Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, where I was born and raised. And yes, there aren’t many white guys there, or anywhere else in the UK or Ireland, who speak Hindi or Urdu.

But that background has been crucial to explaining how I came to get interested in the idea of Hindustani, and to go on to do a PhD on how that idea was used particularly in the 1920s and 30s as a path between the binaries of Hindi-Hindu and Urdu-Muslim.

Tracing the origins

It was a contested term then, and it still is today. Many people thought (and think) they know exactly what it refers to, but once you scratch the surface it quickly becomes clear that the beauty — or ugliness — of Hindustani is very much in the eye of the beholder.

In 1927, at the initiative of several Indian writers, politicians and academics and with the cooperation of the government of the then United Provinces, an institution called the Hindustani Academy was established in Allahabad.

The goal of the institution was never absolutely clear, but as the British governor of the provinces Sir William Marris remarked in typically paternalistic tones:

"The Government resolution which created the Academy recognises Urdu and Hindi as twin vernaculars of the province, and embraces them both in the possibly unscientific but admirably innocuous title of “Hindustani”. Now if I believed that one untoward consequence of the Academy’s creation would be to blow up the embers of linguistic controversy I might have left my hon’ble colleague’s scheme severely alone. I do not believe that any such consequence ought to ensue."

The problem with Marris’ formulation was that the linguistic controversy was far beyond the stage of “embers”.

Since the 19th century, and at least in part as a consequence of British policy, Hindi had increasingly come to be exclusively identified with Hindus, and Urdu exclusively with Muslims.

Related: Born into Punjabi, here’s how I fell in love with Urdu

Indeed, as the Hindi scholar Alok Rai has observed, “the prime candidates for initiating the modern process of linguistic division are, by popular consent, the pedants of Fort William College”, the colonial training ground for officers of the East India Company.

This process of absolute differentiation is a trajectory that links the Hindi and Hindu nationalising politics of Bharatendu Harishchandra in the 1860s with Abdul Haq’s famous comment in 1961: “Pakistan was not created by Jinnah, nor was it created by Iqbal; it was Urdu that created Pakistan”.

But in the 1920s a groups came together around the idea that if an institution existed to promote both Urdu and Hindi together, then perhaps a way could be found to stop the ongoing division between the languages and their associated religious communities.

Plenty of those involved demonstrated and argued that Hindi and Urdu were not separate languages at all, and perhaps most importantly that the registers and creations of each were part of a shared culture — a Ganga-Yamuna tahzeeb — that belonged to Hindus and Muslims alike.

In the words of the Progressive writer Sajjad Zaheer, the Academy existed “to bring Urdu and Hindi closer to one another”.

Too high an idea

But this idea — “Hindustani” — still needed some clarification. What was it? What is it? And what was it to do?

The colonial use and misuse of the term dates back to the 18th century, as a host of excellent studies by the likes of Shamsur Rahman Faruqi have demonstrated.

By the 1920s the question remained: was Hindustani a point on a spectrum between a “pure” Hindi stuffed full of Sanskrit and a “pure” Urdu overflowing with Persian and Arabic?

If so, who was to define this middle point? Was it to be — as it seemed in Gandhi’s understanding — something “simple”, and therefore authentic? If it was some kind of everyday speech, would it not be devoid of all art, beauty and life?

Or was Hindustani an expansive, inclusive umbrella that drew the whole range of Urdu and Hindi language, literary styles and tastes into its happy, welcoming embrace? If so, who could hope to be well-read and educated enough to understand even half of it?

Read next: The Urdu sounds that are disappearing from Bollywood songs

These questions were never conclusively answered by the Academy, though many of its members tried to come up with a solution — including the historian Tara Chand (its general secretary), the politician Tej Bahadur Sapru (its president), and writers, editors and other members such as Premchand, Daya Narayan Nigam, Maulvi Said Ansari, Hafiz Hidayat Husain, Ramnaresh Tripathi and Upendranath Ashk.

And we know that, in a formal sense, the project of the Hindustani Academy failed.

It’s not possible to point to a single codified language of Hindustani today — it has not been adequately institutionalised — and the overwhelming tendency of the language politics of the colonial period have resulted in a situation where Hindi is considered the national language of India (though it has status as an official language only, and of course many non-Hindi speakers, especially in the south, rightly resist its imposition), while Urdu is seen as the national language of Pakistan (though again, speakers of other languages on occasion view it as a muhajir importation).

Confining boundaries

There is an unfortunate — and historically illiterate — tendency, especially in the West, to think of the link between the nation-state and a single language as somehow natural, right and inevitable.

We tend to imagine European countries as defined at least in part by a monolingual identity, with the borders of the map corresponding to the borders of a language area, and that within as being unified, and given form and reason, through a single language as part of a package of symbols of nationhood.

Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth — think of Catalan or Basque in Spain as only the most obvious example — but we do know that the modern state has a vested interest in promoting linguistic homogeneity, and has often acted to impose this on its people.

In some ways, the partisans of both Hindi and Urdu in the 19th and 20th centuries bought in to this Eurocentric misunderstanding, and pushed mightily to define communities, and eventually nations, on the basis of language.

Also read: Exploring how Dilli became the city of poets and of Urdu

As I have said, my own upbringing in Northern Ireland almost certainly pushed me towards an almost natural interest in this question of Hindustani. Before I’d ever been to India or Pakistan — before I even really knew or thought much about these places that have come to mean so much to me — I was aware as a child of how even the simplest, most banal aspects of language could be used to divide people.

Brought up in a largely Protestant community, and attending a primary school with no Catholic children, I was taught by my peers (though not by my parents!) that you could spot a Catholic just by the way they pronounced the letter 'h' (Protestants said “aitch”, Catholics said “haitch”).

Growing older in the 1990s, and as we painfully moved towards a peace settlement in Northern Ireland, I was aware of how opportunities to study Irish, or Gaelic, were only available in Catholic schools — those run by the church, or largely/exclusively attended by Catholic children (and the question of an Irish Language Act remains a politically divisive one in the region today).

And of course the Catholic/Protestant divide even now largely maps on to a Nationalist/Unionist one — between those who would see a united Ireland, and those who prefer the union with Great Britain that we call the UK.

Language, community, nation: South Asia is not alone in facing these issues.

Beyond binaries

My initial university-level training in Hindi–Urdu was pretty eclectic, and my teachers and professors had no interest in policing the boundaries of language or insisting on “purity”.

But when I came to India for more language study, aged around 20, I encountered resistance: from some fellow students who wanted to study “proper Hindi only”, not any of this Urdu vocabulary, and from those who told me not to use certain words — “that’s a foreign word” — and provided appropriately Sanskrit-derived alternatives. Maaf kijie.

But there are many who reject the politics of division, hatred and purity even today. Recently, the hashtag #MyNameInUrdu began trending on Twitter in India. It saw a host of people writing their profile names in Urdu script as a show of solidarity and a direct refutation of the kind of language politics that insisted that Urdu was “foreign” or exclusively Muslim.

Explore: As a love letter to my past, I recreated iconic vinyl album covers in Urdu

And perhaps the most intriguing response was the rise of #MyNameInHindi on Twitter in Pakistan, as people reciprocated and began to write their names in Devanagari or Hindi script. In the words of Prabha Raj, “a symbolic gesture against hate and bigotry”.

These moments on Twitter or social media more broadly are just that — moments, and often ephemeral and quickly over. But they are indicative of something more. Anyway, it gave me the opportunity to quote one of my favourite, satirical rubais:

Ham Urdu ko Arabi kyon na karen Hindi ko voh Bhasha kyon na karen
Jhagre ke lie akhbaron men mazmun tarasha kyon na karen
Aapas men adavat kuch bhi nahin lekin ik akhara qaim hai
Jab is se falak ka dil behle ham log tamasha kyon na karen

Why shouldn’t we turn Urdu into Arabic and Hindi into Bhasha [Sanskrit]?
Why shouldn’t we write divisive articles in newspapers to fuel the fight?
There is no mutual animosity but an arena is prepared:
Why shouldn’t we make a scene, when this cheers the heart of the heavens?

That was written by the then well-known poet and satirist Akbar Allahabadi, around 100 years ago. As they say, plus ça change.

If the politics of Hindi–Urdu division stretch back to at least the 19th century, the politics of Hindi–Urdu unity have roots going back as far.

For me, the thread that connects Akbar Allahabadi’s satirical verse to the laudable efforts of the Hindustani Academy to the social media moments of #MyNameInUrdu/#MyNameInHindi is a spirit of refusal and rejection.

Discover: In the narrow lanes of Old Delhi, a unique and flavoursome dialect of Urdu is going extinct

Allahabadi, as Tara Chand and his fellows, and as those on Twitter, refused to permit a narrow understanding of language and culture, or an exclusive link between language and religious community, to define or limit their tastes and practices. Theirs was and can be again a world of inclusivity, of generosity and of sharing.

That’s not to say the optimists always get their way. Another of my favourite treatments of the Hindi–Urdu controversy was Saadat Hasan Manto’s short story from the 1940s Hindi aur Urdu, beautifully translated by the late Muhammad Umar Memon.

In it, the characters Munshi Narayan Prasad and Mirza Muhammad Iqbal argue about whether lemon or soda is the better drink. They can’t agree — which is better for your health? Which did their parents recommend? Well, maybe they could mix them together? No — one wants lemon-soda, and the other wants soda-lemon.

But Alok Rai gives an appropriately optimistic take on the situation. As he laments the demise of Hindustani as emblematic of the shared culture of Urdu and Hindi, and the rise of “unbending, inhumane politics” in its place, he reflects that “Hindustani presents itself — on the ramparts, at the hour of the wolf — as a utopian symbol, a point of desire, something light, bright and distant from our sphere of sorrow.”

One can only hope.

Are you studying South Asia's socio-linguistic history? Share your insights with us at


Author Image

David Lunn researches and teaches on South Asian and Postcolonial studies at SOAS University of London, with particular interests in Hindi and Urdu language and literature, Indian cinema, and Indian ocean networks in the colonial period. He tweets at @DJLdistraction

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (98) Closed

Neutral Indian
Jan 23, 2019 05:29pm
Well written, David. This satirical Rubais made my day: Ham Urdu ko Arabi kyon na karen Hindi ko voh Bhasha kyon na karen Jhagre ke lie akhbaron men mazmun tarasha kyon na karen Aapas men adavat kuch bhi nahin lekin ik akhara qaim hai Jab is se falak ka dil behle ham log tamasha kyon na karen Why shouldn’t we turn Urdu into Arabic and Hindi into Bhasha [Sanskrit]? Why shouldn’t we write divisive articles in newspapers to fuel the fight? There is no mutual animosity but an arena is prepared: Why shouldn’t we make a scene, when this cheers the heart of the heavens?
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Habib A. Zuberi
Jan 23, 2019 06:23pm
It is a beautiful article. I enjoyed reading it. It should be included in the text books on linguist. A language has nothing to do with any religion. Language is a means through which people communicate.
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Habib A. Zuberi
Jan 23, 2019 06:25pm
@Neutral Indian . Great...fine comment.
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Jan 23, 2019 06:32pm
Superb linguistic history, well-researched with historical backdrop. Thanks for sharing. Very eye-opening.
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Jan 23, 2019 06:34pm
Born in Rawalpindi in 1939 to a Hindu family and with the atmosphere permeated with Hindi, I was surrounded by people and brothers and parents who spoke Urdu more often than Punjabi. Brought up in India from 1947 onward, it was easy for me to pick up Hindi but I never forgot Urdu. In India numerous friends and colleagues were Urdu-speaking. As a result I was comfortable with Hindi, Urdu, and Hinduastani. But the answer to the question in the tile is: No, Hindi and Urdu cannot be one language because Hindus and Muslims cannot be one people and because India and Pakistan (and Bangladesh) cannot be one country. V. C. Bhutani, Delhi/Edinburgh
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Anjum, Los Angeles
Jan 23, 2019 06:46pm
Urdu, Persian, Arabic, and Aramaic have commonalities including the origins and alphabets.
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Jan 23, 2019 06:50pm
if you understand the language of love, than there is no barrier among any nations...The art of communication is the language of leadership.
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Abdur R.Jalalzai
Jan 23, 2019 07:08pm
Several years ago my brother was attending a conference in Jaipur.He said there was apair of Indians who will be looking for me.They used to say we always want to meet you because you speak Hindi so good.He said I want to see you because you speak such a good Urdu
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Jan 23, 2019 07:08pm
There are many differences, between the two languages, Hindi and Urdu, sounds same.
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Jan 23, 2019 07:10pm
Although they are relatively the same language, they have two distinct writing systems. Both Urdu and Hindi have the same language origins. They came from the Indo-European and Indo-Aryan language families. Both languages are derived from Sanskrit.
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Jan 23, 2019 07:11pm
Both the languages are spoken similar but the written transcript for urdu and hindi are very different. They can be called two registers of the same language.
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Jan 23, 2019 07:16pm
Why live in the past? Language evolves just like countries do. Pakistan has made the decision to adopt the Arabic script and move the language closer to the middle east while India has adopted the Devnagari script and moved it closer to its Sanskrit roots. Just as the two countries have diverged, so has the language. There is nothing wrong with this evolution.
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Jan 23, 2019 07:21pm
Nice article David. Urdu and Hindi in terms of phonetics, sound the same. The difference comes in writing. Whilst Urdu comes from Arabic and Persian as well as Pushto, Hindi comes from Sanskrit. These in a nutshell, are the differences.
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Peace Now
Jan 23, 2019 08:20pm
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Jan 23, 2019 08:21pm
"Proper hindi vocabulary, no urdu". That's Arabic actually. Hindi is language made up of mixing Sanskrit with India's local language. Urdu is result of just mixing a bit Arabic with hindi. Urdu isn't a different language. It's a hybrid of Indian and Arabic culture.
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Jan 23, 2019 08:29pm
Hindi and Urdu have same grammar and different scripts. Hindi has more Sanskrit words where Urdu has more Arabic and Persian vocabulary.
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Sardar Balwinder
Jan 23, 2019 08:37pm
Pakistanis and Indians can communicate much better than Pakistanis and Arabs/Persians due to the commonalities of Urdu and Hindi.
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Shahryar Shirazi
Jan 23, 2019 08:42pm
We seem to have a lot of time on our hand. We've argued on this Urdu/Hindi debate generations after generations. This is not the first time two languages are mutually understandable. I have never see this debate when it comes to Russian/Ukranian, Dutch/Flemish, Persian/Dari/Tajiki. And I am sure there are many more which I dont know about.
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Shahryar Shirazi
Jan 23, 2019 08:44pm
@Aradhana "They came from the Indo-European and Indo-Aryan language families. Both languages are derived from Sanskrit " This will be true if we can prove migration from Indus valley all the way up to Europe. There is archeological proof available the other way around.
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Jan 23, 2019 08:58pm
@V C BHUTANI I think you missed the crux of the article
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Jan 23, 2019 09:09pm
@Harris This is wrong both language come from 'Hindustani' language . Though script is different
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Ashish Kumar
Jan 23, 2019 09:14pm
@Harris You have a wrong history. Urdu script is Persian but language itself comes from Sanskrit. That is why they both are understood by each other. Both are fine to share the vocabulary.
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Jan 23, 2019 09:32pm
Hindi and Urdu keep growing in different socio-linguistic environments, ranging from Baluchistan to Telengana in Southern India. Both languages continue to share basic grammar and vocabulary but choices of script and borrowings from widely different sources make them distinct from each other. Respect each other’s choices and understand them as much as possible. They are as much different languages as are other languages of Indo-European origin.
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Jan 23, 2019 09:37pm
I don't understand half of the things people like Amitabh are saying when they speak in hindi.
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Swiss Neutral
Jan 23, 2019 09:49pm
Having grown up in Hyderabad (Deccan), ruled by Nizam, I never tried to learn Urdu but a bit of Hindi. However, when I meet Pakistanis and speak in Hindi, they say that I am speaking Urdu. I always assumed Urdu is Hindi, but written in Arabic.
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Jan 23, 2019 09:53pm
Hindi or Urdu both created by Indian..
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Naveed Burki
Jan 23, 2019 10:53pm
if people decide to make it one language, then changes will be enhanced vocabulary and minor other changes. Pakistanis should learn the Hindi script and the more Indians should learn Urdu script. It is quite possible to do that for the sake of better communication and knowledge.
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M. Siddique
Jan 23, 2019 11:51pm
These two languages may have common vocabulary but the script is a big distinguishing factor. Urdu vocabulary is also derived from Persian and Arabic and hence script. In Pakistan all the regional languages have Arabic script and in India Hindi has Sansikrit script. Hindi mostly driven by Urdu-Persian-Arabic vocabulary and Pakistani Urdu has less of Hindi influence.
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Jan 23, 2019 11:53pm
This is an interesting perspective. I studied in primary and secondary schools in South India and we had difficulties with learning Hindi and there were protests every time the Indian government took steps that were viewed as attempting to discriminate against the non Hindi speaking communities. However, the basic understanding instilled in our minds was that Hindi and Urdu are essentially the same language written in different scripts.
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Jan 23, 2019 11:58pm
Both were Indian language; not part of current Pakistan.
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Sharjeel lasharie
Jan 24, 2019 12:14am
Urdu and Hindi are two different languages and each must exist and retain its identity. Urdu evolved out of farasi and Arabic mixing with Hindi as the Mughals settled down in commonality between the two languages is natural....but then apart form this overlap, each has its own significance....
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Jan 24, 2019 12:25am
@Anjum, Los Angeles - No, Urdu can be written very easily using the Hindi alphabet and Hindi using the Arabic alphabet - these two languages are so close that one can not mostly tell them apart - that is why Hindi movies are so popular in Pakistan.
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Jan 24, 2019 01:04am
I believe no language is superior or inferior, for each person the sweetest language is their mother tongue. Urdu and Hindi can never be one language because of scriptures of Hindu religion and Muslim religion are written in different scripts. I think there is a simple and practical reason why Hindi and Urdu have evolved as two separate languages. Original Hindu Scriptures in Sanskrit were written using Devanagari script. Since Sanskrit had gone out of day-to-day speaking without Hindi language embracing the Devanagari script, the Hindu Scriptures would have become inaccessible to the general public. Before the British arrived in India, the official works in the courts were done in Farsi written in Arabic Script. And most of the record keepers were Hindus who were proficient in Farsi. Even now, there are few Hindus and Sikhs who write in Urdu, even Indian PM Manmohan Singh could not read Hindi script, and his speeches were written in Urdu script.
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Jan 24, 2019 01:06am
Using a different script or words does not make a different language. Neither Urdu nor Persian has anything to do with Arabic other than the script. Neither is a semitic language like Arabic. Both fully belong to Indo-European group of languages, effectively daughters of Sanskrit.
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Jan 24, 2019 01:12am
@Ajit "Urdu is result of just mixing a bit Arabic with hindi" If you were knowledgeable enough then you would know Urdu is a mixture of Hindi not just with Arabic but also Persian and Turkish too. The Mughal court language was Persian, so Persian content is far greater. It just goes to show how misfed you are with distorted history because of your fragile self-esteem due to Mughal Raj.
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Salman Yusuf
Jan 24, 2019 01:25am
Great Article and Insight!! If you review the Bollywood film song lyrics from say 1947 to present - one will notice the great influx of sanskirit (hindi related) words over the decades. For example song lyrics in the 1950s/1960s are very close to Urdu while the current Bollywood song lyrics have are relatively closer to Hindi with lots of smattering of Sanskirit words. This is natural as 80% of Indians are hindus and they ultimately want the stamp of their language. I have visited India and find the common man's vernacular in India (I mean in the Hindi belt) is more towards "Hindustani" which is relatively closer to Urdu than Hindi. Ultimately, I think hindi influence will ultimately prevail, the common vernacular will also become closer to Hindi rather than Urdu but that may take about another generation. In Pakistan, Urdu has universally become not just the elites language but also the common mans vernacular - the little bit of Hindi influence is due to Bollywood movies.
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Jan 24, 2019 01:29am
The fact is, with increased literacy, comes greater identity related to the self. You cannot cry about something that is naturally bound to exist. But, we can encourage respect for both and move forward without the hatred of the other.
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Yemeen ul Islam Zuberi
Jan 24, 2019 01:49am
I advocate that Pakistani schools must have a class of Hindi script, and the Indians must be taught Urdu script. This will help the people of the both countries to understand each other. The people will get more reading material; not only this but the local writers will also be encouraged. We will also be exchanging more words; and we may be using less English words in our day to day speech.
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Nit pick
Jan 24, 2019 01:50am
@Rp In Urdu script one can write perfect Hindi/Sanskrit while in Devnagri /Sanskrit script one can not render all Urdu sounds.
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Ali Kazmi
Jan 24, 2019 02:03am
Urdu grammar as well as mundane vocabulary is common with Hindi. However, it's more sophisticated vocabulary has been imported from Persian, Arabic and to a lesser extent, from Turkish. Besides vocabulary Urdu has also inherited a sense of aesthetics from middle eastern languages, particularly Persian which gave rise to very refined poetry. All our cuisine names come from Arabic and Persian or were coined in South Asia by people who had a good understanding of Arabic and Persian, for instance Nihari.
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Jan 24, 2019 02:14am
An impressive research article by a non-subcontinental person on Urdu and Hindi. But the fact is that most of the people who think they are specking Hindi are really specking Urdu because of the Persian and Arabic derived words / vocabulary they use. If they really spoke a Sanskrit laden Hindi language, even they won't understand it themselves about what they are saying. Just listen to the so called Hindi in some popular Indian movies, they are all talking in Urdu! If you want to listne to real Hindi, go watch Maha-Bharta like Indian religious movies. Let see how much the Hindi speaking Indians themselves understand the language spoken in it! Now a correction to a quote - "and provided appropriately Sanskrit-derived alternatives. Maaf kijie." --- not-true. The word Maaf is derived from Arabic word Mu'aaf into Urdu. The whole sentence is in Urdu not Hindi.
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Ali Kazmi
Jan 24, 2019 02:23am
The Urdu a British colonial administrator needs to learn is not very different from Hindi. It is not surprising that Sir William Marris thought of Urdu and Hindi as what he called 'twin vernaculars'. I am sure a colonial ruler like governor Marris never had a need to read Ghalib's Ghazal or a Marsiya from Mir Anees, or heaven forbid Allama Iqbal's poetry, otherwise he would have realized that there is a side to Urdu which has scant resemblance to any South Asian language. It is small wonder that this colonial administrator coined the term 'Hindustani', thereby saving the expense of having two academies, good administrator but a poor linguist.
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Jan 24, 2019 02:30am
@Dude -Right on the money! Just look around which Indian Bollywood movies were more popular - the one which contained more Urdu than Hindi. Because even the most so called Hindi speaking Indians are not comfortable in understanding the heavily laden Hindi language, while they under stand lightly Persian and Arabic laden Urdu/ Hindi very well.
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Jan 24, 2019 03:07am
As this article also mentions, during British colonial times, 'Hindustani ' remained for long the Lingua Franca for communications in India /the Subcontinent. The Urdu-Hindi division merely focused on communal tensions from the 1930s onwards . The people of this whole South Asian region are in fact one, regardless of religious or other schisms created by certain people.
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Jan 24, 2019 03:23am
@Anir remember Hindustan was a Muslim empire not like Hindu state of today's.
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Farooq Iftikhar
Jan 24, 2019 03:25am
Urdu was created as a common language for the multi-lingual, multi-religion, army of the Muslim rulers in Delhi, before it became the court language. The native languages of the peoples and places that became Pakistan are largely Sanskrit based. However, the need for a common language gives Urdu a prominent role so that Punjabis, Sindhis, Pashtuns, etc. can communicate among themselves. Hindi serves a similar function in India, perhaps to the dismay of Gujratis, Sikhs, etc. But we all, in reality, belong to the Subcontinent.
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Jan 24, 2019 03:28am
But native Indians were Aborigines and Aryans were from Central Asia as per new research. So it means the cast system is a myth and self created.
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Akhand Bharat
Jan 24, 2019 03:28am
All said and done, my hometown Lucknow, speaks the most pure form of Urdu, with extraordinary tehzeeb.
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Jan 24, 2019 03:55am
@V C BHUTANI If it is so why India still cry for division of India?
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Jan 24, 2019 04:01am
@Aradhana You are 100% wrong. Sanskrit is a constructed language but Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Bengali etc developed from Pali and Prakrit. Sanskrit was never a spoken language of ordinary people; it was a language of the Brahmins for official and literary activities and not for everyday use.
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Jan 24, 2019 04:06am
@Ajit Urdu means army in Turkish. The language developed in army garrisons where people stated writing Hindi in Persian script and using heavily Arabic, Persian and Turkish words.
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Jan 24, 2019 04:10am
@Ashish Kumar You are also wrong. Hindi/Urdu did not originate from Sanskrit but from Pali and Prakrit.
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Jan 24, 2019 04:17am
I sure hope not
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Jan 24, 2019 04:34am
Nice article one thought - Hindi and Urdu is same when we speak but when write two different letters/character or languages. Hindi was written in Urdu (easy communication among invaders) and in next 100 years Urdu will be written in English because of cell phone. Food for thought.
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Prabhjyot Singh Madan
Jan 24, 2019 05:00am
Its like punjabi language. We have Shahmukhi script and Gurmukhi script. The delimma is the same here.
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Jan 24, 2019 06:25am
ENjoy the diversity of languaage and just appreciate the beauty. This is what it is. Let us be peace with it.
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Jan 24, 2019 06:27am
Hindi is being driven more towards purity while Urdu is accepting more and more foreign words and influences.
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M. Emad
Jan 24, 2019 06:54am
Urdu language and culture almost disappeared from Dhaka, Bangladesh.
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Mitzvah Kehimkar, Beersheba, Israel
Jan 24, 2019 07:13am
Linguistically, both are the same language with Sanskrit as a base. Just as sprinkling French words in English would not make it a new language, using Arabic or Persian words in Hindi does not make Urdu a different language. They are just two flavours of one language.
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Jan 24, 2019 07:29am
@V C BHUTANI Let me ask you one question, if I say there are "two muslims" sitting in that room over there, now tell me all about them, what can you tell me ? Reducing people and then grouping them on the basis of religion is a stupid idea, and partition actually enforced that fact. Every individual can be different, and has identities far beyond just the religion he/she was born in.
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Jan 24, 2019 08:01am
Spoken urdu and hindi are same for someone whose mother tongue is Bengali. The urdu and hindi dished out by PTV and doordarshan makes life very hard indeed.
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Jan 24, 2019 08:19am
@Rj Correction, both Urdu and Hindi have a different script, Urdu is derived from Arabic/Persian script and alphabets while Hindi script is called Devanagari(If I am correct)?? Urdu was never written in Hindi script. In the post-partition era, Urdu in Pakistan and Urdu in India are changing rapidly. Urdu in its original form is becoming extinct. Urdu has pretty much the same original Urdu/ Hindi/Persian vocabulary but Hindi has, by design displaced many common words from Hindi. And Pakistan did not adopt the Arabic/Persian script in 1947, Urdu is written in the same script ever since the 17th/18th century.
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Jan 24, 2019 08:23am
Urdu should never be compared to Hindi as Urdu is composed of Arabic and Persian words for which we Muslims are extremely proud of our heritage. Whilst Hindi is composed of Sanskrit and Persio-Arabic words.
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Jan 24, 2019 08:44am
On a lighter note, I don't know Hindi and Urdu have root or not but I do know Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi have same root.
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bonapati Barjawee
Jan 24, 2019 09:54am
No Thank you !!!
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Syed Ali
Jan 24, 2019 10:51am
Mahatma Gandhi was a great supporter of Hindustani and launched a magazine where Urdu and Deonagri scripts were used.
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Faiz Rahman
Jan 24, 2019 11:29am
Hindi forms the backbone of Urdu i.e. the vast majority of words in Urdu are Hindi words and also the grammar is very much the same. This is the reason why these two languages are mutually intelligible. Hindi is heavily influenced by Sanskrit so the heavier, less-commonly used words in Hindi have come from Sanskrit. Urdu similarly has a rich infusion from Persian and to a somewhat lesser extent from Arabic. Inclusion of Persian and Arabic words means that Urdu is phonetically richer than Hindi with many sounds that are simply not found in pure Hindi. Being an amalgamation of (mostly) Hindi with decent amount of Persian and Arabic has resulted in Urdu script having the largest number of characters so as to admit all phonemes. Interestingly, there are very few Turkish words in Urdu. When Persian or Arabic is being spoken, an Urdu speaker can recognise a fair number of words but not so when Turkish is being spoken! Due to the inclusion of Persian and Arabic words, Urdu sounds very nice.
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Jan 24, 2019 11:55am
Urdu is very poetic language but unfortunately Pakistanis speak Urdu in wort possible accent.
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Chirag Patel
Jan 24, 2019 12:03pm
urdu is nothing but mix of hindi, arabic and persian written in arabic script....just like we use english alphabet these days to send txt messages or whatsapp
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Jan 24, 2019 01:29pm
Just one question: why don't we feel any Urdu-Hindi difference when it comes to songs popular in both India and Pakistan? The Hindi language used in songs is much different than spoken Hindi in India, but not very different than the spoken Urdu in Pakistan.
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Jan 24, 2019 01:32pm
There is no difference when it comes to speaking. Only difference is in the script. It is just two names for the same language.
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Jan 24, 2019 01:49pm
@Faraz Urdu has a lot of Sanskrit words as well. Pls check the facts.
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Jan 24, 2019 02:28pm
@Faraz hope you are also proud of its Sanskrit grammar and base. No Urdu speaking person can understand Arabic or Persian because borrowed vocabulary doesn't make a language. Let's be proud of who we are and not we perceive ourselves to be.
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Jan 24, 2019 02:31pm
The debate ends when neither an Indian nor a Pakistani can understand Arabic, Persian, or Turkish. But both can understand what's generally being said in Hindustani. Case closed.
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Jan 24, 2019 02:50pm
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Jan 24, 2019 05:09pm
in one of my conversation i never realised till the end that my cust0mer was talking in urdu and i was talking in hindi. !!
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Jan 24, 2019 05:19pm
I hope not...
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Jan 24, 2019 07:56pm
I assumed Urdu and Hindi is the same till I saw Jodhaa Akbar. I had no idea what Hritik was saying in Urdu. Language, clothing etc is never religion based. It is location/culture based. People need to realize that.
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Jehengir khan
Jan 24, 2019 08:33pm
Just watch a bellwood movie....there is no boundary between Urdu and Hindi.....the difference exists only in mind...
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Siraj Khan
Jan 24, 2019 09:13pm
Urdu and Hindi are two different languages and each must exist and retain its identity. There should not be any problem with that. Urdu evolved out of Farsi, Turkish and Arabic mixing way before Hindi came in the picture. In India, Hindi words came in, so commonality between the two languages was natural. Each has its own significance. However, Urdu has its own script and its more than a language - it is a culture. If one was to turn the pages of history, Urdu was already spoken by Razia Sultan (1205-1240). Amir Khusro (1253-1325) is considered Father of Urdu Literature - that was way before Babur and the Mughals started to rule over Delhi. In the last 50-60 years, Indian cinema with its crisp dialogues and songs, have done yeoman's service to Urdu - at least spoken Urdu. The script has got left behind a bit.
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Jan 24, 2019 09:51pm
They are different languages and come from different regions.
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M. Ali Daruwalla
Jan 24, 2019 10:25pm
Urdu made popular because of Muslim writers for the Bollywood.
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Jan 25, 2019 12:19am
Hindi and Urdu are essentially the same language with a base grammar of Sanskrit and superficial touch of persian, arabic and turkish. The fact of the matter is that speakers of Urud and Hindi can converse and understand one another is testament of the fact. It would have been nice had the article gone into more detail about how the British used these languages to essentially give South Asia a common language and suppress the previously spoken Persian especially on the frontier regions to minimize the influence of the Qajar Dynasty in Persia as well as the influence of Afghanistan to the region. Urdu has been detrimental to the local cultures of the sub continent.
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Jan 25, 2019 12:42am
The two languages have different origins, different text, mostly different words and come from different lands. There is nothing common other than the people who can speak with languages.
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Jamil Soomro, New York City
Jan 25, 2019 01:25am
This madness of comparing Urdu and Hindi must stop now.The Mughals came and left.The British came and left.Just as East is East and West is West.Urdu will always be Urdu and Hindi will always be Hindi?
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Jan 25, 2019 02:07am
I loved it.
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Jan 25, 2019 02:08am
Wow you amazed me
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Jan 25, 2019 03:56am
Article by David Lunn. I rest my case
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Farouq Omaro
Jan 25, 2019 05:28am
Good article and food for thought. There are many people in both India & Pakistan who do not see Hindi & Urdu as distinct languages but unfortunately many sucb people are not policy makers or are in any sort of authority. Those in authority are tbose who pander to the extremists, be they Hindu or Muslim. In the 1960s until the 1980s those living in Malaysia and Singapore used to refer to Bollywood movies as Hindustani movies.
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Jan 25, 2019 11:34am
Urdu and Hindi are (still) one language. Both even use the same dialect of the North Indian language continuum as the base. Most of the artificially introduced Sanskrit origin words of Shudh Hindi will eventually be spit out and popular Hindi will return to its true form, both in India and Pakistan. We will still debate Yamuna vs. Jamna or Ram vs. Rama but still, as spoken words overtake the written register with technology, the two streams are bound to converge.
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Jan 25, 2019 02:04pm
In our University abroad, we the students from this sub-continent sometimes used to meet and chat among ourselves, not in English. Zuber from Lahore, Asif from Karachi and Liaquat from NWFP talked in what they would call Urdu and I, a Bengali-speaking Indian, would talk with my limited proficiency of Hindi. And the conversation would go on uninterruptedly. If I had some problem in understanding a few Urdu words, our Bangladeshi friend Afzal would translate it for me to Bengali. I used to really wonder : are Hindi and Urdu really two different languages or the scripts had made them so!
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Jan 25, 2019 04:14pm
The language is the same. How it gets written makes the division and there is no end to it.Even today Pakistanis and Hindus when they meet in other countries have no problem of communication and do not nit pick on whether it is Hindi or Urdu.Bollywood is the best example for Hindustani.
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P. S. Natarajan
Jan 25, 2019 06:13pm
This Hindi-Urdu issue is rooted in and confined to basically Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, and though Urdu might have created Pakistan as suggested by Abdul Haq who himself probably hailed from Hapur in Uttar Pradesh, but it is not an issue in Pakistan as Hindi to my knowledge is nowhere taught in Pakistan. Another important difference between India and Pakistan is that while in the former Hindi is violently resisted and sometimes hated in many of the non-Hindi speaking states where the local languages have the official status over the Hindi as an official language, but in Pakistan the local languages are despised by the ashrafia or the educated class who speak in Urdu though often with a local accent. Punjabi is much more respected, spoken, admired and recognized as a great language in the Indian Punjab than in Pakistani Punjab and even Sindhi has got an official status in the Indian Constitution.
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Jan 25, 2019 11:35pm
I recently met somebody who was born and raised in India and is now living in Canada. We met at a common friend's home at an occasion that brought the brown community together, throw in a bit of Dewali, a bit of Bollywood, some kind of curried chicken balanced in one hand, in awkward paper plates and the conversation goes on. I asked the same question can Urdu and Hindi be the same? The answer he gave me stunned me. He said that in India we speak Hindi and in movies, we use Hindi for the dialogues, but for the song lyrics we use Hindustani which is understood by a larger population. He added in India we don't speak Urdu. This implied to me that in his opinion, Urdu is spoken in Pakistan and is something Pakistani owned and not Indian originated.
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Jan 26, 2019 08:58pm
David, Nice article, but...As is evident from the comments on your article, an overwhelming majority of living speakers of Urdu and Hindi do not know much about the origin or divergence of the language. Unfortunately, your article does not address the question you ask nor does it inform much of the history. Despite some present differences, Urdu and Hindi are almost completely mutually intelligible by the common speakers save for some vocabulary and the written script. As some have noted on this thread, the origin is from Pali and Prakit class of languages and divergence is political. Unlike common belief by Hindi speaking Indians, Urdu is not Hindi with a lot of Arabic. It has loan words from local Indian languages, Farsi, Arabic, Turkish and English. Urdu and Hindi meant the same to literary greats like Ghalib who is thought to have used the work Hindi to refer to the language he wrote in, Urdu. Finally, there is no reason for the language to become the same any more then they already are or not to do so. Natural cultural and political pressures will determine what they diverge further, remain the same, or converge.
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Jan 27, 2019 09:15am
Lovely topic. Urdu minus jargons is hindi. Brothers forever
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Gul metlo
Jan 27, 2019 11:35am
A very well written article. One language can have several names and several scripts. Hindustani language do have several names and several scripts. Urdu is just another name of Hindi/ Hindustani language. It can’t pass the test of the time to be a separate language on its own right. Language computational tools and other high tech systems being put in place will ultimately prove it to be just one language. Transliteration tools available online will tarnish scripts divisions. Online dictionaries and translation tools will again amalgamate division so far created due to certain wasted interests and socio religious biases. As our democratic systems mature and come of age, the wasted interests based on linguistic divisions will also vanish. This will bring back to unity, the created division and diversions of the language. Languages are not created to serve the wasted interests, and such bifurcation would not hold any ground for all times. Languages follow their own course.
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Worried Indian
Jan 27, 2019 12:22pm
Frankly I cannot say the difference between spoken Hindi and spoken Urdu. I am a Hindu brahmin with Tamil as my mother tongue. I still use greetings such as " Salam Alegum" and "Inshalla" quite often, since they have such beautiful meanings! With my extremely limited knowledge of the Arabic script, I believe some sounds like the hard "P" as in Pakistan does not exist in Arabic. Since Arabic writing is non-voweled, I struggle while reading hand written Urdu!
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