Urdu is the official language of Pakistan and some Indian states. It is part of the Hindustani language group, which also includes Hindi. Around 100 million people worldwide speak Urdu. Despite it being the official language of Pakistan, only around 7% of the population speak it as a first language; regional languages are more common, and English is also used regularly. Instead, the majority of native Urdu speakers originate from parts of India with a large Muslim populace, such as Kashmir and Hyderabad.
History of Urdu
Urdu evolved in the medieval period from Indo-Aryan languages such as Shauraseni. Like Hindi, it takes influence from the ancient Indian language of Sanskrit. Urdu also takes major influence from Persian and Arabic languages. One of the main differences between Hindi and Urdu is the script which each language is written in. Hindi is written in the Devanagari script, similarly to other Indian languages such as Gujarati, and goes from left to right across a page. However, Urdu is written in a script similar to Arabic and is written right to left. This means Hindi and Urdu speakers could talk to each other relatively easily, but would have trouble understanding the other language in written form. The differences were increased with the separation of India and Pakistan in 1947, with neither country wanting to have a language closely associated with the other. Hindi is used mostly by the majority Hindu population in India, whereas Urdu is preferred by Muslims in both Pakistan and India. Urdu has also taken much more influence from Arabic than Hindi, which mostly originates from Sanskrit.
Urdu is spoken as a native language by around 80 million Indians and 16 million Pakistanis. This means Urdu alone as a first language is not one of the world’s biggest. However, when second language speakers are included, the number of speakers greatly increases, as most Pakistanis have some understanding of the language. Sometimes, Hindustani is considered as one language, and this makes it one of the world’s largest languages in terms of speakers globally. Most Pakistanis use regional languages including Punjabi, Sindhi and Pashto as a first language, but Urdu functions as a universal language alongside English. The usage of Urdu was championed by the founder of modern Pakistan, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, in the 1940’s.
Urdu and English
There are hundreds of thousands of Urdu speakers found in English-speaking countries such as the UK and the USA. As with many languages on the Indian subcontinent, many modern words in Urdu have been lifted straight from English. Many Pakistanis, especially in urban areas such as Karachi and Islamabad, can speak a regional language, Urdu and English. Lots of public signs and newspapers in Pakistan are produced in English. Due to British rule in India and Pakistan, many English words are of Hindustani origin. These include ‘jangal’ (jungle), ‘thhug’ (thug), ‘khushi’ (cushy) and ‘chatni’ (chutney). Urdu is also spoken by many people in the UK – around 269,000 British residents consider Urdu to be their mother tongue, making it the fourth most common language in the UK.