Urdu and Hindi languages are both living languages that continue to develop and that have been affected by many political and cultural influences since their origins. They are both Indo-Aryan languages, and they are inter-related in so many ways. They also both go back to the time before India was under British rule and were each heavily influenced by various invaders and settlers in the region. The two languages developed differently partly because of these various influences. Over time, Hindi has become somewhat more dominant than Urdu due in part to modern political and cultural forces. However, Urdu remains an important language in its own right and is growing in importance.
A BRIEF HISTORY
Historically, the Indian subcontinent had abundant resources and land, which attracted people of various nations. These other nations began to occupy the land and take advantage of this golden land. Many armies invaded and ruled India over time, including Arabs, Persians and Turks. When these armies invaded India and settled there, they had to find a way to communicate with the locals. They learned a few words from them and made them learn a few words from the foreign languages. This resulted in the formation of a new language known as Hindustani, which was neither Hindi nor Urdu. The word Urdu means ‘language of the troops,’ so it is said that Urdu started developing around the time of various periods of occupation by troops. The language kept developing under different rulers from the 13th through the 18th century and was called by various names such as Hindi, Hindavi and Dehalvi.
Urdu & Hindi Similarity & Difference
With the passage of time, Urdu and Hindi started developing as different languages independently, although they continued to have resemblances. Even today, people who understand Urdu also understand Hindi, which makes it much easier for them to communicate with many people. However, written Urdu is completely different from written Hindi. Urdu resembles the Persian style and is written from left to right, whereas Hindi is written from right to left like the English language. Overall, Urdu was more influenced by the Persian and Arabic language, whereas Hindi was influenced by the Sanskrit language. However, both Urdu and Hindi were equally popular and were extensively used throughout the subcontinent. Many books were written in the Urdu language, and the poetry became very popular in Urdu. People from different religions used Urdu as the medium of communication and helped promote it as the official language, and it finally replaced Persian. In 1837, Urdu became the court and state language of India.
Mughal Empire, Britain & Divide & Conquer
The controversy between Hindi and Urdu started with the fall of the Mughal Empire primarily because of two reasons. First, Urdu had its roots in the Arabic language, and second, it was widely spoken during the Muslim empire and was sometimes called ‘Musalmani’ for that reason. After the end of Mughal rule and the start of British rule, Hindus started looking at the Urdu language with a different perspective. Instead of considering it a widely spoken language, they thought of it as something related to Muslims only and wanted to diminish its prevalence. The British saw this conflict as a golden chance to separate Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent and accomplish their ‘divide and rule’ policy; hence they supported Hindus as much as they could. This resulted in anti-Urdu movements, and the British finally succeeded in replacing Urdu by Hindi. Hindi was considered a language that Hindus speak, although none of the languages had anything to do with any religion originally.
This conflict raised many other issues, and the subcontinent divided into two countries in 1947, India (Hindustan) and Pakistan (Land of the pure). Now, Urdu is the national language of Pakistan, and Hindi is one of many national languages of India.
While this conflict still continues to the present day in various forms, a lot has changed since partition. This is the age of media and films, and whoever has control over these mediums is believed to wield dominant cultural capital. India has a very big film industry commonly known as ‘Bollywood’. Bollywood uses Hindi in most of the films, songs and serials which are watched by millions of people around the globe. Bollywood movies are praised throughout the world, especially in Hindi and Urdu speaking communities. Pakistan, on the other hand, does not have such an extensive film industry like India. The small industry called ‘Lollywood’ does produce a few successful dramas and music, but it does not have the depth of global reach compared to Bollywood when it comes to movies. Even Pakistani people prefer to watch Bollywood movies over their own movies because they are not as entertaining as the Indian movies. Naturally, as a result, Hindi will become more popular than Urdu.
The Modern Period
However, Urdu continues to be spoken in both Pakistan and India and remains an important language. According to recent estimates, the Urdu language has close to 100 million speakers worldwide. It is the official language of Pakistan, and most of the communication throughout the country is done by speaking Urdu. And despite the controversial history of Urdu in India, it remains as one of the official languages in certain states. In India, it is predominantly spoken by the Muslims residing in certain parts of the country. Those include parts of Uttar Pradesh, Delhi, Kashmir, Bhopal and Hyderabad. Some Indian schools, which are usually in the Muslim communities, teach Urdu as a first language and have their own syllabus and exams. Urdu is also spoken in a few areas of Bangladesh, Nepal and Kashmir, as well as throughout the world where Pakistanis have settled. It is also considered the ancestor of the Punjabi language, which is also widely spoken in Pakistan.
Urdu Grammar & Translation
Urdu grammar, sentence formation and structure are very organized with a few exceptions, which are present in all languages. The first challenge is the writing style, which is from left to right. Other challenges are the verbs and their usage. Urdu has both formal and informal verbs which are used differently sometimes with the same noun, as the nouns can be used as masculine and feminine genders. The people who understand Arabic usually find it easy to understand Urdu, but they find it very hard to read and write the language because of the writing style. Sometimes, the words are not pronounced as they are written; for example in some places you must make a little pause, and sometimes it is important to skip a letter. This makes it hard for Urdu language learners to pronounce the word differently from the written script.
Urdu is the main form of communication in Pakistan, but it is evolving with the passage of time. Although Urdu is the official language of Pakistan, the medium of teaching in most educational institutes is English. So, when people learn both languages, the words get mixed up and sometimes they speak more words in English than in Urdu while communicating. Also, Pakistanis who emigrate to different countries grow up learning different languages. When they come home, natives also learn new words from them, and with the passage of time get so used to those new words that they do not sound foreign anymore. Even in the villages where tourism is common, villagers can easily communicate in English because they learn it from the people who visit their areas frequently.
Urdu translators are spread throughout the world because of the settlement of native speakers. Usually in the developed countries there are many communities who speak Urdu only, and it is hard to communicate without a translator or an interpreter. It is usually easier to translate Urdu into English and English into Urdu because both languages are part of the educational system of Pakistan, where typically an educated person from Pakistan has a certain degree of English-language exposure.
The importance of the Urdu language is increasing largely because of the influx of Urdu speaking people settling abroad. There is also the consideration that if one learns to understand Urdu, it is very easy to understand Hindi as well. If someone can understand both languages, he or she will be able to communicate with a large number of people, since Urdu and Hindi combined make up the fourth largest spoken language in the world after Mandarin, English and Spanish. Urdu literature, especially poetry, is greatly appreciated throughout the world. Many books have been translated from Urdu into various languages and attract many readers because of the fine quality of work. Learning Urdu and other Indian languages is also becoming important as economists are considering this part of the world to be extremely important for international trade. If their predictions prove to be true, there will be great need for people around the world to understand these languages in order to communicate properly. Until then, we will need to rely on cultural interlocutors such as translators and interpreters to assist in the transmission of knowledge in both the professional and personal context, especially during legal disputes. I have not seen machines involved (machine translation) too often in automatic translation workflows, but who knows, maybe in the future we may see it work.