By Ashraf Naushahi

South Asia is a subcontinent of languages. Linguistically, most of South Asian languages are from Indo-Iranian subgroup of Indo-European languages, which is the largest group of languages. Sindhi, Gujarati, Bengali, Hindi, Marathi, Nepali, Pashto, Pali, Boro or Bodo, Balochi, Konkani, Maithili, Hindustani, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Punjabi, are South Asian languages to name a few, while numerous are dialects.

Mostly languages in Subcontinent are more than at least a thousand years old. For instance Sindhi language is said to be almost 1100, Gujarati 1000, Bengali 1300, Hindi 1300, Punjabi 1100 years old. South Asian languages developed from various vernaculars used in its different areas more than a thousand years ago, and probable ages of these languages are estimated by considering the earliest writings discovered.     

Among the several South Asian languages, vernaculars and dialects, formation of a new language started to develop in Subcontinent around 700 years ago. It is now known as Urdu language and is a new language comparing to various other South Asian languages.

Different words were used to name the new language, including Rekhta, Hindvi, Dehlavi, Gujjari, Lahori, Hindi, Dakhini, and Hindustani. It is obvious that the development of this new language was affected by several South Asian languages already common in the areas of its development.

It is said the word “Urdu” was taken from the Turkish language. It is also mentioned that Shahjahan had directed to establish a bazar in Delhi from which the language got its name because a meaning of the word “Urdu” was bazar or market, too. From this, it is comprehensible that Urdu was a language of business, trade and economy in the beginning. However, there are different theories about the name and beginning of the new language.

Similarly, different areas are said to be beginning places of Urdu, commonly Delhi, Punjab and Deccan. It was a vernacular in the beginning and developed to become a literary language. It is interesting that the areas mentioned as the beginning places of Urdu, already had other languages in use before the new language started to develop. For instance Punjabi language was spoken in Punjab and had a significant literature. Telugu, Kannada and Marathi languages were spoken in Deccan. Delhi had been a center of different cultures such as Mughals, Rajputs and Turks. It means that theories about the beginning and development of Urdu in Punjab, Delhi and Deccan have substance. The languages spoken and written in the areas obviously affected significantly the new language.        

Apparently Urdu was affected by Persian, Turkish and Hindi languages as well as various other languages in use, during its early period. Poetry written by Ameer Khusro is considerable in this context. Both Persian and Hindi languages were used together in his poetry, written in Persian script:



 Early period of the new language was when prose and poetry were being composed in several languages of the Subcontinent. Tuzk-e-Babri was written in Turkish language, while Humayun Nama, Akbar Nama, Shahjahan Nama and Tuzk-e-Jahangiri were written in Persian, as well as several other prose and poetic works in other languages. Then started the early Urdu literary language period in which Hatim, Arzoo, Meer Dard, Meer Taqi Meer and many prominent poets and writers following them, till the twenty-first century, wrote Urdu poetry and prose developing its literary language.


By: Ashraf Naushahi

(Educator, Writer, Book-Reviewer, Translator)