Is Urdu a dying language?

While our favorite drama serials are littered with heart-warming Urdu dialogues that we can’t help but memorize; and while we believe Urdu to have a glorious past and a bright future, we might be wrong about the latter.

Urdu, as we know it, is a language that has survived alongside the Muslim resistance in colonial India. The “Urdu Movement” started back as early as the fall of the Mughul Empire, when the language was at the risk of falling into disuse because of foreign rule. Championed by Sir Syed Ahmed Khan in its initial stages, it became one of the focal points of Muslim identity and the struggle to keep it alive was only second to the struggle for independence.

So, where did our language come from?

This is how much a layperson knows about the importance of thi language. If we trace our steps back, we come to know that the language has evolved from the Apabhraṃśa register of the preceding Shauraseni language, a Middle Indo-Aryan language that is also the ancestor of other modern Indo-Aryan languages. (Parekh, 2011). If we wish to go back even further, we find that it is also one of the modern languages which evolved from the Indo-European language group, which is turn is the predecessor of P.I.E (Proto-Indo European).

But while it is relatively easy to understand where our beloved language came from, the current situation of Urdu– be it in literature, education or everyday speech– makes us question what path is the language on presently? And how will it affect its future?

The Future of Urdu

Recently, we shared a post on Daastan’s Facebook page about bilingualism. It explained how being a bilingual could affect how we use our languages. On particular commenter, in a long and informative comment, presented counter-arguments about the utility of bilingualism. He went on to say how, as a trilingual himself, he had experienced difficulty learning Urdu, as compared to the other three languages he knew. This he attributed to the fact that Urdu was a language with “no utility” and would “die out miserably” along with Pushto. Have a look at the post here:

The #polyglot problems you won't understand.www.daastan.com

Posted by Daastan on Friday, February 7, 2020
Daastan’s Post on Billingualism

Da’knights Opinion on Urdu language

HEYO EVERYBODY! HERE’S A BIG LONG POINTLESS RANT WHICH ENDS WITH AN ANGRY SPITEFUL AND EMBITTERED TAKE ON URDU! YAY! NOBODY ASKED FOR IT, NOBODY WANTS TO READ IT, BUT EVERYONE SUFFERS BECAUSE OF IT! OH JOY!!!

1) As a trilingual heading to quadralingual, you are MORE likely to remember words in the language you speak most often because of its constant utility. Suppose a word doesn’t exist in Urdu (I mean, come on, with the last official grammar standardization done in 1898, that is the biggest understatement of the year), or it doesn’t exist in some regional language only 300,000 people speak. Supposing this, you have a choice: Submit the word for consideration in the dictionary of the language, assuming that it has a council which accepts words; just borrow words.

You know why English, Spanish, German, Persian, Arabic, French, Italian, Turkish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and virtually all other languages except Urdu are an easier series of languages to learn but Urdu and Pushtu are going to die out miserably? Its because of deliberate psychological stunting done by pathologically hypocritical societies which – unlike English, Spanish, German, Persian, Arabic, French, Italian, Turkish, Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and virtually every other language except Urdu and Pushtu – take ownership.

The Oxford English Dictionary became a standard BECAUSE EVERY SPEAKER OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE CONTRIBUTED TO IT. Punjabi grew as a language because of the Sikh community (it is not just their language of communication, but also their language of lithurgy). Urdu has a council which doesn’t do anything other than live on the dole, and the idiots constituting L1 speakers of Urdu are too caught up in their own shit to contribute to this language’s development.

And while we are on the topic, Urdu is a pygmy language that should fall under the Semitic language family, whereas English, Spanish, German, Turkish (post-1921 language reformation), and Italian are Latin rooted. Granted that Spanish and French are Romance languages, while English and German are Germanic, they still are written in the latin alphabet (whereas Urdu has become an example of Abjad scripts being Romanized and not being allowed to evolve properly).

You, are capable of finding the exact word you are looking for, if you use the same language family. And specifically in language family clusters which have been allowed to grow and groom.

2) Notes in multiple languages are actually a good thing. Why is this a problem? HOW is this a problem?

Oh wait… THIS was an overreaction, sorry about that.

3) Truth be told, this is a lie. And here’s why:

POINT NUMBER 1. And furthermore:

ISO 639 Check: International Language Standards. And while we are on the topic: Persian has existed as a living language in its spoken form for at least three thousand years. In its written form, it has had three scripts. Arabic had a script form BEFORE it became an Abjad which is of significant importance for multiple reasons. What does Urdu have in its favor? Read: A Critique of Languages

But let’s go further. Structuralism and Post-structuralism in Urdu Criticism And A Modest Plea ; Could we have a Proper History of Urdu Literature? Explain well, just how pathetic the situation of the lanugage is.

Coming back to the first point I made in this big long rant. I am fluent in English. It is my primary language. My secondary language is German. And my tertiary language (which I am learning) is Spanish. And I hope to become quatralingual by learning French. I do not count myself as a fluent speaker (even though I have read Naseem Hijazi, I have read Ya Khuda by Qudrutullah Shahab to completion.Every time. Because it has no utility, and unless we as the people of the country of Pakistan, decide that this language will simply become extinct and be beaten like a dead horse by every single snob and shithead of the country.

The sixth most published language in the world, by sheer volume of publications, is German. And these include scientific and academic works. In point of fact, Spanish, French, Chinese, Arabic, English, and Russian all have more publications in all sorts and structures.

While this site is admittedly not that updated, it proves my point (Wikipedia you magnificent bastard): Books Published Per Country Per Year

The UN languages of the world are Arabic, Chinese, French, English, Spanish and Russian.there.

Publications, prior to 2000 in this language do not have ISBN numbers. Furthermore, publications made in the late 90s (even reprints from as late as 2019) still use the handwritten scripts submitted to include in the publication. I wouldn’t be surprised if the author’s script was literally just tossed in as is rather than being typewritten. And it could have been, because InPage did not come into being until 1998, and typewriters specially developed with Urdu had entered the market and still are in use. I know, because I own one.

People still read in the country… to what end? It is a national language, NOT an official language. dramas and radio and all these medium only count if you are referring to people who do not have access to Netflix. And even these are exceedingly, almost neurotically, formal.

National Book Foundation, the government publisher which is open to all members of the public as a source for anyone to get their stuff put on paper, does not publish poetry anymore. Nor does it publish in English. You know why? it is a sunk cost, and with it, it is also a loss maker. They do not get a return for what they publish. I know this, because I went there myself to see if I could publish my own book. And for what it is worth, I’ll just get it self-published rather than go through the dilemma of publishers generally.

If anyone would like to go ahead and prove me otherwise, please, go for it. The fact is that Urdu does not have any intrinsic value to the people of Pakistan, and when you have elite assholes who do not WANT it to have any value, I do not see why I should give a shit about it. I have a documented history of German (which is unbelievably awesome in its own right), and the same for English (which is fascinating), Spanish, Persian (the language is so much more satisfying than Urdu, which might as well be the bastard child which Persian is better off forgetting), Arabic (the more I read about Arabic, and its origins and how it developed, the more I come to realize how important it is as a language), heck the same is the case for Swahili and Afrikaans, which have lesser speakers than Urdu yet have more development and standardization than it. And with all these, I think it just makes more sense to highlight Urdu as a failure of a language, that I can’t relate with. And if anyone wants to relate with it, more power to them.

Shehroze Ameen’s comment on our Facebook Post

While we understand the frustration of a linguist with the limitations of Urdu, we cannot form an opinion or understanding of the matter without first reviewing some key facts about Urdu. Only then, can we be sure of what we say.

About The Language

Urdu language is an amalgamation of a number of languages including Persian, Arabic, Turkish and Hindi. Itenjoyed its development in the 14th and 15th century under the Mughal rulers. It was, however, not the official court language of the mughals. Famous poetry and prose was written during this time. One might think why during this golden period of Urdu literature, had there been no formal documentation of the language. It is perhaps because this langugae had no history of its own. It borrowed whatever traditions, from its parent languages that are Persian, Turkish and Arabic mainly. Since there was no method of compiling a history in these parent languages, Urdu too, remained so.

Development of Urdu under the British Rule

Urdu flourished significantly during the British rule, perhaps as a force of rebellion. Anjuman Taraqq-e-Hind was found in Aligarh in 1903 by Nawab Mohsin-ul-mulk. It was the center for promoting and developing Urdu language in the sub-continent through publications. Even after partition, the Indian government and the Bureau for the promotion of Urdu have largely contributed to the codification and standardization of Urdu language. A 100 000 technical terms have been created in Urdu language and around 600 books published on academic subjects. After independence, Abdul Haq established Anjuman Taraqqi e urdu‘s office in Karachi.

During the Pakistan movement, Urdu became a symbol of Islam, uniting muslims across the sub-continent. When Urdu came into being, its central role was communication amongst people belonging to different cultures, regions and religions. With the Pakistan movement, Urdu became an identity. Once Pakistan came into being, Urdu was shaped into a political agenda; claiming precedence over the Bengali speaking Pakistanis. When Urdu was declared as the national language of Pakistan, a natural split emerged between the various ethnicities within Pakistan.

Urdu’s journey from pride to shame

As Bangladesh came into being and Urdu won its status as the national language, attitude towards Urdu also changed. Urdu speakers became English-enthusiasts and education in English began to be promoted. There was nothing else to be conquered, hence, Urdu fell from being the agent of change, to a glory of the past.

To think of Urdu as a dying language would be too radical a statement since even today, it is spoken as a first language by almost 70 million people and by a 100 million more as a second language. However, Urdu lacks modernization which has perhaps been one of the reasons for the lowered interest in the language. Unfortunately, western education system has further created a class consciousness in the people, associating fluency in English language as the benchmark for being well-educated and belonging to the upper-class. A loss of connection to Urdu with the rest of the world is also apparent in the fact that fewer books are being translated in this language and vice versa.

Is There A Conclusion To This Endless Debate?

It is thus, a sad truth that Urdu lacks significantly as compared to many foreign languages. There is no denying in the fact that interest in the language is falling greatly today. But despite this, Urdu is surviving and doing so with dignity. Millions of Urdu speakers, readers and writers not only enjoy the language but also take immense pride in it. To call Urdu a dying language as of yet, is rather harsh, but it is indeed, in a gradual decline. It is now in our hands to save the grace of this language by promoting and encouraging writers to keep breathing air into this beautiful language. We here at Daastan, work for this very purpose and so can you by becoming a part of our struggle simply by signing up with us at Daastan.

Daastanhttps://daastan.com/blog
Daastan is a literary forum working for revival of literature in Pakistan. We connect writers with opportunities for career growth.

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