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On the history of the Urdu language

What is Urdu.

Urdu is popularly regarded to be an offspring of Persian, having been ushered into existence in the camps of the Moslem invaders and the capitals of Moslem Sovereigns in India. People are misled as to its origin, by the preponderance of Persianized words, the prosody of its poetry, and its script. It is fre­quently referred to as the language of the Mohammedans as op­posed to Hindi which is claimed to be the language of the Hindus. An acute controversy has been raging between the protagonists of Urdu and the champions of Hindi over the merits and superiority of one over the other. In the heat of discussion people have forgot­ten the origin of Urdu. Urdu, by origin, is a dialect of Western Hindi spoken for centuries in the neighbourhood of Delhi and Meerut and is directly descended from Sour Semic Prakrit. This living dialect has formed the basis of Urdu, the name having been given at a later period. It retains its original and essential cha­racter in the grammar, idioms and a large number of Hindi words. They clearly point to its Indian parentage. It was an accident that this dialect became the lingua franca of India, for it so happened that Delhi, where this dialect was spoken, became the camping ground and capital of the Mohammedan invaders and sovereigns. It is therefore clearly wrong to say, as is stated by Mir Aman and early Urdu and foreign writers, that Urdu is a 'mongrel pigeon form of speech, made up of contributions from the various lan­guages which met in Delhi Bazaar'. It is true that the camp was an important factor in the life of this dialect and influenced it so largely as to give it its own name. This dialect was in a state of flux and readily assimilated new words and phrases and still shows considerable capacity to absorb words from other sources. The English nomenclature "Hindustani" for Urdu though an improvement over it is misleading, for Hindustani properly comprises dialects prevalent in Hindustani, e.g., Eastern Hindi, Western Hindi and Rajasthani. It is also slightly incorrect to say that Urdu is derived directly from Brij Bhasha, another dialect of Western Hindi as is maintained by Muhammad Husain Azadr for Brij Bhasha though closely akin to and having many simila­rities with the dialect spoken in the neighbourhood of Delhi, is another dialect spoken in Muttra and surrounding districts. It is its sister dialect that is responsible for the birth of Urdu.

Relation of Urdu to Hindi. As is mentioned above, Urdu owes its existence to the dialect prevalent near Delhi and Meerut, an offshoot of Western Hindi.

Hindi and Urdu are of the same parentage and in their natu­re they are not different from each other. But each has taken a different line of development. Urdu, under the tutelage of the Mussulmans, has sought its inspiration from Persian while Hindi has reverted to its original fount — Sanskrit.

Debt of Urdu language and literature to Persian.. In the be­ginning the language was quite simple and homely and sufficed for the few wants of the peasants whose needs were few and whose outlook on life was circumscribed. As it began to develop into a literary language, its vocabulary was enriched with various words from Persian and through Persian from Arabic and Tur­kish. Writers began to draw upon the resonant Persian to secure variety. Persian constructions foreign to the indigenous dialect began to be imported into and engrafted upon the language. The Persian script was borrowed with some modifications as Persian words could only be written with ease and fluency in it. Urdu poetry modeled itself upon Persian poetry and annexed not only metres but themes, imagery, allusions and peculiar phrases and constructions.

Modern Arabic

The intrusion of Europe into the range of vision of the Arab world begins with Napoleon's expedition to Egypt in 1798. The adoption of innumerable elements of Western civilization had far-reaching effects on the written language. This began already with Muhammad Ali's programme of reform which set out deli­berately to take over Western achievements and was focused on France. As a result of the sending of student missions to study in France, the foundation of schools on European lines and the foundation of an Arabic press, and, above all, of the translation of numerous European books, the necessity of finding expressions for a host of foreign ideas was felt first in Egypt and then too in other countries — foreign ideas for which at first only foreign words were available.

A real counter-movement against the excessive use of foreign words did not begin until the second half of the XIX century. The question of how to meet the ever-growing need for new expressions in Arabic became one of the major problems of intellectual life. The impact of Europe in itself awoke among the Arabs, after an interval of centuries, reconsideration of their own linguistic and literary tradition. The revival of the old philologi­cal learning was facilitated by the printing of many old literary works and especially of native dictionaries and grammars. The old purism was revived again, and with it the tendency artificial­ly to control the development of the language, with recourse whe­rever possible to the old model language. The inevitable moder­nization and expansion of the vocabulary of modern Arabic ought, according to the wishes of the purists, to be carried out by drawing to the greatest possible extent on the wealth of words, roots and forms in modern Arabic. After several unsuccess­ful attempts, a scientific academy was founded in Damascus in 1919, which devoted itself to the reform of the language and published many contributions to the language problem in its re­view, which first appeared in 1921. In 1932 the Egyptian Royal Academy of the Arabic Language came into existence. Apart from the study of the old language and literature its main concern is the regulation and expansion of the modern vocabulary. Although the possibility of popularizing newly-coined technical terms in specialist circles has often been overestimated, the practical effect of the purist movement on actual language usage cannot be denied.

Turning to the linguistic facts, the striking feature is the infiltration of English and French phraseology, translated into Arabic (so-called loan translation or "calques") and the change in the inner form. In particular the language of daily communica­tion (press and radio) and of writers with little or no classical education has a distinct European touch. Phraseology and style are far more difficult to check than terminology. This develop­ment is therefore inevitable and must be accepted as a fact. In the field of belles-lettres, on the other hand, we find in many ca­ses a strong attachment to tradition. Authors with a classical education are still able today to keep close to the ideal of ol­den Arabic in their style; they sometimes make use of uncommon words and phrases of the old literature and especially of the Ko­ran as artistic and stylistic devices. But no one can completely escape the influence of European phraseology.

Grammar, on the other hand, which can be defined in rules and which is much more subject to conscious control, gives quite a different picture. The written language has remained untouched by the sound-change, and the morphology has remained constant from the earliest times till the present day; the same is true of the syntax at least in its basic features.

In vocabulary a considerable basic stock has remained alive sinñå the earliest times. Post-classical words, including those from the later Middle Ages, form a further element of the modern vocabulary. A host of generally accepted expressions are available to express ideas which come from Europe. Forgotten words of olden Arabic have been revived and are used without formal alteration but with meanings more or less modified. Until the First World War the majority of foreign words were borrowed from French, others from Italian. English became an influence after the First World War, especially in Egypt and Iraq.

Date: 2016-03-03; view: 1489

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