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“Urdu is a mixture of Persian, Arabic and Turkish words formed with the intermingling of invading Muslim armies and local Hindi-speaking Hindus. It’s a Turkish word which means Army camp, hoard, etc.”

Almost everyone who knows something about the Urdu language knows this statement, which is logically incomprehensible, historically incorrect and linguistically misleading. Irrespective of the fact as to who made this statement, why it was made and when it was initiated for the first time, one thing can be said with utmost certainty that it has profound socio-political and socio-linguistic impact in the Indian Subcontinent for the last 150 years, i.e., with the advent of British Raj in this region.

One can draw a few inferences from this falsehood which has shaped our perception, consciously and sub-consciously that Urdu is not a native language of the Indian Subcontinent rather it’s a language of foreign invaders. Consequently it must be disowned if not hated.

Historically it is incorrect because the Muslim rulers did not introduce any new language. Instead they gave a new script (Persio-Arabic or Nastaliq), which was comprehendible to the spoken language of India. They even invented and introduced new signs or letters for the new sounds which are utterly local to the existing Persio-Arabic script, i.e., all the aspirated sounds of Bha, Pha, Tha, Gha, Dha, Rha, Lha and retroflexed sounds like Rah, Taa, Daa, etc. Hence all the tens of thousands of words spoken in Urdu containing these sounds have their origin in the early Vedic or middle Vedic era, i.e., 400 to 600BC.

In addition to that all the infinitives (Masader) ending on Na sound like Aana, Jaana, Khana, Peena, Uthna, Baithna, Perhna, Likhna, Sona, Jagna, Chalna, Bhagna, Larna, Dhukna, Boolna, Sunna, Kehna, etc. All are words of this language being spoken as the vernacular of early Vedic and middle Vedic period.

The process of loaning words from other languages is a sign of a living and progressing language. Urdu is one such language. All the speakers of Urdu neither became Muslim by including Persian or Arabic words nor are they now converted to Christianity by including English words in its words corpus. On the contrary, perhaps, the Indian ruling elite believe that they will become Muslims if they use Arabic and Persian words, so they are making conscious efforts to replace most of these words with Sanskrit words. This policy may have socio-political advantages albeit not without socio-political repercussions. As a student of linguistics only one comment can be made on this current policy of India that such a policy leads into secluding more people and ethnic groups rather than integrating them.

Lets analyse a few historical facts. The Turks started converting to Islam in 920AD with the invasion of Arabs. The Arabs put their foot on the soil of Sindh in 711AD but they were in constant contact with the Indian Subcontinent for centuries prior to Islam. The Ottoman Turk Empire was established in 1299. Lahore was under the rule of Mahmud Ghaznavi in 1254AD. However, the interaction of Persian speaking people with India via trade goes back to the before Christ (BC) era. In short, the cultural association of Persian and Arabic-speaking people with the Indian people predates Islam.

Arabic, Persian and Turkish vocabularies were brought to India by traders, invaders and preachers. Turkish is the only language which was restricted to invaders or rulers whereas Arabic was introduced by traders as well as early invaders which remained restricted to present day Sindh and southern Punjab. Persian, the most influential of the three, remained the language of invaders, traders and preachers over the centuries. Interestingly, the language of preachers and Sufis and early Muslim poets in India always remained Persian ... neither Turkish nor Arabic.

Coming to the misstatement mentioned in the beginning of this article, let’s analyse the empirical data as to how many words of Turkish are borrowed by Urdu? Based on this data the inference will be made on whether Turkish has any part in the making of Urdu. Leaving aside the syntax and grammar of the two, which are completely different, many people believe the theory of Urdu’s derivation from Turkish, and a few have attempted to prove it too.

One such attempt was made by Mr Purdil Khattak who wrote Urdu aur Turki Kay Mushtarik Alfaz published by Muqtedarah Qaumi Zuban (1987), Islamabad. He did make a great effort and was able to enlist only 2,608 words, which are commonly spoken by a Turkish speaker and an Urdu speaker. If we take this statement as it is even then in a language which has over 3,00,000 words with the base of more than 80,000 Lexemes (as contained in 21 volumes of Urdu Lughat of Urdu Lughat Board Karachi, a meticulous work completed in 25 years), 2,608 words means 0.8 per cent of the total words, which itself means nothing to that claim that Turkish contributed in the formation of Urdu.

The most interesting part of this research is that the list of 2,608 words common in Turkish and Urdu only contains 24 words which are pure Turkish. The rest are either Arabic, Persian or English words used commonly by Turks and Urdu speakers.

This list contains 1,546 pure Arabic words most of them are Quranic words such as ayat (Quranic verse), bait (house), azeem (great), barq (thunder), jahil (illiterate), jannat (heaven), jamal (beauty), jaib (pocket), jehad (holy war), dakhil (interior), jurm (crime), dalil (proof), deen (religion), ambiya (prophets), ahim (important), fatwa(religious decree), atraf (sides), fashi (eloquent), ghafil (indolent), fikr (thought), khaber (news), hakim (ruler), haal (present), khalis (pure), khas (special), harb (war), hilal (crescent), khilaf (opposite), hudood (limits), and so on.

In the same list, 485 words are pure Persian, borrowed from Turkish such as aab-o-hawa (weather), ambaar (heap), asoodah (well off), ashiyana (home/nest), arzoo (desire), arasta (decorated), badan (body), bahaar (spring season), bohran (crisis), buland (high), badter (worst), Beyzar (dejected), kahkasan (galaxy), kiswar (country), kutubkhana (library), madad (help), marasim (relations), masroor (ecstatic), mard (man), maakhana (pub), medaan (ground), murdar (dead), etc.

In addition to that there are 110 words which are commonly used in Arabic and Persian and are not originally Turkish such as islah (correction), idarah (administration), laal (ruby), masheer (heroes), amir (leader), murakab (mix), etc.

According to Turkish Language Association (TLA), Turkish has 1,374 number of Persian loanwords. Interestingly, in this list of Turkish Urdu common words, 270 English words like alarm, album, aristocracy, atlas, bank, bureaucracy, depot, coffee, car, code, committee, conference, majesty, etc., are included pointlessly. All the rest of the words are proper nouns like Allah, Berhaman, Dollar, Afghan, Aflatoon, Eskimo, Nickel, Noah, etc., which cannot be included in any such list of borrowed or loan words.

Resultantly, there only remain the following 24 words which are pure Turkish (they are neither borrowed nor loaned from Persian, Arabic or English).

1. Urdu (which means ‘camp’ or ‘army’ in Turkish but is hardly ever used in this sense in the Urdu language).

2. Begum (means ‘lady’ in Turkish and is used in the same sense in Urdu. In addition it is also used for ‘wife’).

3. Baji (‘elder sister’ in Turkish and used in the same way as in Urdu). 4. Yaldram (‘thunder’, used seldom in spoken Urdu).

5. Jauq (means ‘group of people’. Mostly used in the Urdu phrase Jauq-dar-jooq, seldom used alone). 6. Ghool (a ‘group or pack of birds’, used in the same meaning as in Urdu).

7. Yalghar (‘attack’, used as in Urdu). 8. Yurish (‘attack’, also used as in Urdu).

9. Qadghan (meaning ‘ban’ in Turkish and used as in Urdu). 10. Quli (a career ‘labourer’, used as in Urdu).

11. Qanchi (a pair of ‘scissors’, used as in Urdu). 12. Qanat (‘partition of a tent’, used as in Urdu).

13. Ailchi (‘messenger’, used as in Urdu). 14. Ataleeq (‘teacher’, used as in Urdu).

15. Anna (‘nurse/maid’, used as in Urdu). 16. Tamgha (‘medal’, used as in Urdu).

17. Chaqmaq (‘flintstone’, used as in Urdu).

18. Tuzak (‘administration, memoirs’, etc., seldom used in this sense in Urdu but often used with another word Ahtesham as Tuzuk-o-Ahtesham means ‘glory and writ of a king’).

19. Qurq (‘judicial attachment’, used as in Urdu). 20. Kaash (a ‘slice or piece of orange’, used as in Urdu).

21. Chugha (‘cloak’, used as in Urdu). 22. Yaghi (‘rebellious’, which is used in Urdu with a slight change—baghi).

23. Chi (used with addition of a quality in Urdu with some words like bawarchi [cook], toapchi [cannon bearer], etc.).

24. Tughra (writing of any words in an artistic and complex manner used as in Urdu).

In addition to these words, there are some famous titles used in Urdu. Most of them as surnames or names such as Khan, Khaqan, Altumash, Qizilbash, Tughral, Baid, Chughtai, Mughal, Pasha, Turk, Aaqa and Arsalan that are also of Turkish origin.

After analysing this empirical data how can one justify that Turkish has anything to do with the development or evolution of the Urdu language? According to official statistics of Turkish language published by the Turkish Language Association, an official Turkish Republic body, out of a total of 89,689 Turkish words, some 1,374 are borrowed from Persian and 6,463 from Arabic. Whereas in Persian there are 255 words which are of Turkish origin (all the 24 words mentioned above are included in these words, which are loanwords from Turkish in Persian).

The popularity of this linguistic and historical misstatement, rather a blunder, reflects how careless we are in believing hearsay without carrying out any scientific research and investigation in matters so socio-politically important to us.

I am in the midst of compiling an etymological lexicon of these words. If anyone knows any other words, in addition to these 24, which happen to be pure Turkish not Arabic, Persian or English and are used in Urdu please email me.

The writer, an advocate of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Islamabad, is an author of a few books and articles on linguistics and human rights