What is Urdu?

Niki Foster

Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language spoken mainly in India and Pakistan. It is one of the two standardized registers of Hindustani, distinguished from the other, Hindi, mainly in its writing system. While Hindi is written with Devanāgarī script, also used to write the ancient Indian language Sanskrit, Urdu is written in an alphabet based on the Islamic Nasta'liq script. The vocabulary and phonetics also show more Persian influence than Hindi.

Urdu is one of the official languages of India.
Urdu is one of the official languages of India.

The national language of Pakistan, Urdu is also one of the official languages of India. It boasts over 100 million speakers worldwide. The language is associated with Muslim speakers, and in its standard form, it includes many Arabic and Persian loanwords.

Urdu is the national language of Pakistan.
Urdu is the national language of Pakistan.

There are four recognized dialects: Dakhini, Pinjari, Rekhta, and Modern Vernacular Urdu. Dakhini is spoken in South India and contains less Arabic and Persian loanwords than other dialects. Rekhta, on the other hand, has the most Persian influence and is typically used for Urdu poetry.

Urdu developed under Persian influence on the Indian subcontinent during the 13th century. It was a minority language for much of its history, though it began to rival Persian as the language of literature and the elite in the latter era of Islamic rule in India. In 1947, Urdu became the official language of Pakistan and gained a much wider following. Today, it is the language of majority in Pakistan and a few Indian states.

There is a large body of literature in Urdu, especially various forms of poetry, many religious in nature. It also boasts the third largest body of Islamic literature, after Arabic and Persian. Secular short stories are another well-developed form in Urdu literature.

Though linguists consider Urdu and Hindi two registers of a single language, speakers often disagree. The two registers are usually mutually intelligible, but a great deal of nationalism is involved in which register one speaks. The language is not simply a register to its speakers, but a symbol of national, religious, and sometimes political identity.

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Discussion Comments


@nextcorrea - In America poetry is kind of a dead art form. It is still written and read but rarely in large numbers. But across the Arab world poetry is alive and thriving.

In almost every Arab country there are huge poetry festivals that attract thousands of listeners. Many Arabs compose poetry as a casual hobby and there is not the same stigma attached to reading and writing poetry that is often found in the US. The idea of poetic Arabs does not always jibe with the unfortunate image that has developed in the popular consciousness over the last 10 years but it is very real. They are a culture that is obsessed with the music of language and the thrilling variety of meanings.


I had ghe privileged of traveling to Pakistan once and there was one night in particular that will always stand out in my mind.

My husband and I did not speak any Urdu and generally found it easy to get around using only English. But one night we happened upon a poetry reading that was held in only Urdu. We sat and watched for almost 2 hours. neither of us had any idea what was being said but the musicality of the language was incredible. In a way it was song like. Its amazing how you can be so taken by the sound of a language, even if you have no idea what the words themselves mean.


I am an Urdu teacher, and teaching online. it's very easy to write and speak.


Urdu is a well known Muslims language. it is so easy to speak. i love this language.


meaning of urdu is 'lashkar'(a band of soldiers), or in other words a group, because Urdu borrowed words from various other languages like persian, arabic, etc., etc.


what is the meaning of urdu?


Can I learn Urdu online?

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