Is Urdu a foreign language?

is urdu a foreign language
is urdu a foreign language

By Markandey Justice Katju

Some people in India say that Urdu is a foreign language. But is it? I submit that while Arabic and Persian are no doubt foreign languages, Urdu is a desi or indigenous language. Let me explain.

If we want to know to which language a sentence belongs, we should find out to which language do the verbs in that sentence belong. It is the verb ( called kriya in Hindi and feyl in Urdu ) which determines this, not the nouns, adjectives, or pronouns.

For example, suppose I say “Please aaiye with your wife for dinner to my house tomorrow evening at 8 p.m.“. Now this sentence has 15 words, 14 of which are in English. But it is a Hindustani ( simple Hindi ) sentence, not an English sentence because the verb ‘aaiye’ is a Hindustani word.

In Urdu, all verbs are invariably in Hindustani, not in Persian or Arabic, though many nouns are in Persian or Arabic.

We may take any sher ( couplet ) of any Urdu poet, and we will find that the verbs therein are always in Hindustani ( though the nouns and adjectives are often in Persian or Turkish ). Ghalib’s poetry is often highly Persianised, but the verbs there are always in Hindustani.

Consider this sher :

“Dekho mujhe jo deeda-e-ibarat nigaah ho

 Meri suno jo gosh-e-naseehat niyosh hai “

Here the words ‘deeda’, ‘ibarat’, ‘nigaah’, ‘gosh’, ‘naseehat’, and ‘niyosh’ are all in Persian or Arabic. But the verbs ‘dekho’, ‘suno’, and ‘hai’ are Hindustani words.

So it is a Hindustani sher, not a Persian or Arabic one.

Similarly, consider this :

“Baazeecha-e-atfaal hai duniya mere aage

  Hota hai shab-o-roz tamaasha mere aage “

Here the words ‘baazeecha’, ‘atfaal’, ‘shab’, ‘roz’ and ‘tamaasha’ are Persian or Arabic words. But the verbs ‘hota’ and ‘hai’ are Hindustani words.

So this sher too is a Hindustani, not a Persian or Arabic sher.

If the verbs in a sher are Persian or Arabic words, it would become a Persian or Arabic, not Hindustani, sher.

No doubt Urdu is a special kind of Hindustani, not the Hindustani of the common man. This is because it often uses, particularly in poetry, many Persian and Arabic words which the common man often finds difficult to understand. Nevertheless, it is a form or variation of Hindustani ( because its verbs are all in Hindustani ), not a form or variation of Persian or Arabic. So Urdu is a special kind of Hindustani, not a special kind of Persian or Arabic.

Hence Urdu is an indigenous, not a foreign, language.

problems of writing literary history

हमें गूगल न्यूज पर फॉलो करें. ट्विटर पर फॉलो करें. वाट्सएप पर संदेश पाएं. हस्तक्षेप की आर्थिक मदद करें

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About the Author

Justice Markandey Katju
Markandey Katju is an Indian jurist and former Supreme Court judge of India who served as chairman of the Press Council of India. He is the founder and patron of the Indian Reunification Association (IRA), an organisation that advocates for the peaceful reunification of what is now Pakistan and Bangladesh with India under a secular government.

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