Standard Urdu
Urdu example.svg
Urdu in Nastaʿlīq script
Pronunciation [ˈʊrduː] (audio speaker iconlisten)
Native to India and Pakistan
Region In India:
Urdu-Hindi belt, Deccan
In Pakistan:
Sindh (Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Mirpur Khas)
Ethnicity Urdu-speaking people (Muslims of the Urdu-Hindi Belt, the Deccani people and the Muhajir people)[1]
Native speakers
49.0 million (2021)[2][additional citation(s) needed]
L2 speakers: 121 million (2021)[3][additional citation(s) needed]
Early forms
Official status
Official language in


Recognised minority
language in
 South Africa (protected language)[9]
Regulated by National Language Promotion Department (Pakistan)
National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (India)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ur
ISO 639-2 urd
ISO 639-3 urd
Glottolog urdu1245
Linguasphere 59-AAF-q
Urdu official-language areas.png
  Areas in India and Pakistan where Urdu is either official or co-official
  Areas where Urdu is neither official nor co-official
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Urdu (/ˈʊərd/;[10] Urdu: اُردُو, ALA-LC: Urdū) is an Indo-Aryan language spoken chiefly in South Asia.[11][12] It is the official national language and lingua franca of Pakistan.[13] In India, Urdu is an Eighth Schedule language whose status, function, and cultural heritage is recognized by the Constitution of India;[14][15] it also has an official status in several Indian states.[note 1][13] In Nepal, Urdu is a registered regional dialect.[16]

Urdu has been described as a Persianised standard register of the Hindustani language.[17][18] Urdu and Hindi share a common Sanskrit and Prakrit derived vocabulary base, phonology, syntax as well as grammar, making them mutually intelligible in colloquial speech.[19][20] While formal Urdu draws literary, political and technical vocabulary from Persian,[21] formal Hindi draws these from Sanskrit.[21]

Urdu was chosen as the language of East India Company rule across northern India in 1837 when the Company chose it to replace Persian, the court language of the Indo-Islamic empires.[22] Religious, social, and political factors arose during the colonial period that advocated for a distinction between Urdu and Hindi, leading to the Hindi–Urdu controversy.[23]

Urdu became a literary language in the 18th century and two similar standard forms came into existence in Delhi and Lucknow; since 1947 a third standard has arisen in Karachi.[24][25] Deccani, an older form used in the south, became a court language of the Deccan Sultanates in the 16th century.[26][25]

According to research done in 2021 estimates, Urdu is the 21st most spoken first language in the world, with approximately 61.9 million who speak it as their native language.[27] According to Ethnologue's 2018 estimates, Urdu is the 10th most widely spoken language in the world,[28] with 230 million total speakers, including those who speak it as a second language.[29]


Urdu, like Hindi, is a form of Hindustani.[30][31][32] Some linguists have suggested that the earliest forms of Urdu evolved from the medieval (6th to 13th century) Apabhraṃśa register of the preceding Shauraseni language, a Middle Indo-Aryan language that is also the ancestor of other modern Indo-Aryan languages.[33][34]


In the Delhi region of India the native language was Khariboli, whose earliest form is known as Old Hindi (or Hindavi).[35][36][37][38] It belongs to the Western Hindi group of the Central Indo-Aryan languages.[39][40] The contact of the Hindu and Muslim cultures during the period of Islamic conquests and in the Indian subcontinent (12th to 16th centuries) led to the development of Hindustani as a product of a composite Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb.[41][42][43][44][45][46][47][48] In cities such as Delhi, the Indian language Old Hindi began to acquire many Persian loanwords and continued to be called "Hindi" and later, also "Hindustani".[37][49][50][51][39] In southern India (especially in Golkonda and Bijapur), a form of the language flourished in medieval India and is known as Dakhini, which contains loanwords from Telugu and Marathi.[52][53][54] An early literary tradition of Hindavi was founded by Amir Khusrau in the late 13th century.[55][56][57][58] From the 13th century until the end of the 18th century the language now known as Urdu was called Hindi,[51] Hindavi, Hindustani,[49] Dehlavi,[51] Lahori,[59] and Lashkari.[60] By the end of the reign of Aurangzeb in the early 18th century, the common language around Delhi began to be referred to as Zaban-e-Urdu,[61] a name derived from the Turkic word ordu (army) or orda and is said to have arisen as the "language of the camp", or "Zaban-i-Ordu" or natively "Lashkari Zaban".[62] The Turko-Afghan Delhi Sultanate established Persian as its official language in India, a policy continued by the Mughal Empire, which extended over most of northern South Asia from the 16th to 18th centuries and cemented Persian influence on Hindustani.[63][50] The name Urdu was first introduced by the poet Ghulam Hamadani Mushafi around 1780.[64][51] As a literary language, Urdu took shape in courtly, elite settings.[65][66] While Urdu retained the grammar and core Indo-Aryan vocabulary of the local Indian dialect Khariboli, it adopted the Nastaleeq writing system[39][67] – which was developed as a style of Persian calligraphy.[68]

Other historical names

Throughout the history of the language, Urdu has been referred to by several other names: Hindi, Hindavi, Rekhta, Urdu-e-Muallah, Dakhini, Lahori, Gujjari, Moors, Lahori, and Dehlavi.

Several works of Sufi writers like Ashraf Jahangir Semnani used similar names for the Urdu language. Shah Abdul Qadir Raipuri was the first person who translated The Quran into Urdu.[69]

During Shahjahan's time, the Capital was relocated to Delhi and named Shahjahanabad and the Bazar of the town was named Urdu e Muallah.[70][71]

In the Akbar era the word Rekhta was used to describe Urdu for the first time. It was originally a Persian word that meant "to create a mixture"hta. Khusru was the first person to use the same word for Poetry.[citation needed]

Colonial period

Urdu, which was often referred to by the British administrators in India as the Hindustani language,[72] was promoted in colonial India by British policies to counter the previous emphasis on Persian.[73] In colonial India, "ordinary Muslims and Hindus alike spoke the same language in the United Provinces in the nineteenth century, namely Hindustani, whether called by that name or whether called Hindi, Urdu, or one of the regional dialects such as Braj or Awadhi."[74] Elites from Muslim and Hindu religious communities wrote the language in the Perso-Arabic script in courts and government offices, though Hindus continued to employ the Devanagari script in certain literary and religious contexts while Muslims used the Perso-Arabic script.[74][67][75] Urdu replaced Persian as the official language of India in 1837 and was made co-official, along with English.[76] In colonial Indian Islamic schools, Muslims taught Persian and Arabic as the languages of Indo-Islamic civilisation; the British, in order to promote literacy among Indian Muslims and attract them to attend government schools, started to teach Urdu written in the Perso-Arabic script in these governmental educational institutions and after this time, Urdu began to be seen by Indian Muslims as a symbol of their religious identity.[74] Hindus in northwestern India, under the Arya Samaj agitated against the sole use of the Perso-Arabic script and argued that the language should be written in the native Devanagari script,[77] which triggered a backlash against the use of Hindi written in Devanagari by the Anjuman-e-Islamia of Lahore.[77] Hindi in the Devanagari script and Urdu written in the Perso-Arabic script established a sectarian divide of "Urdu" for Muslims and "Hindi" for Hindus, a divide that was formalised with the partition of colonial India into the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan after independence (though there are Hindu poets who continue to write in Urdu, including Gopi Chand Narang and Gulzar).[78][79]


Urdu was chosen as an official language of Pakistan in 1947 as it was already the lingua franca for Muslims in north and northwest British India,[80] although Urdu had been used as a literary medium for colonial Indian writers from the Bombay Presidency, Bengal, Orissa Province, and Tamil Nadu[clarification needed] as well.[81] In 1973, Urdu was recognised as the sole national language of Pakistan – although English and regional languages were also granted official recognition.[82] Following the 1979 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and subsequent arrival of millions of Afghan refugees who have lived in Pakistan for many decades, many Afghans, including those who moved back to Afghanistan,[83] have also become fluent in Hindi-Urdu, an occurrence aided by exposure to the Indian media, chiefly Hindi-Urdu Bollywood films and songs.[84][85][86]

There have been attempts to purge Urdu of native Prakrit and Sanskrit words, and Hindi of Persian loanwords – new vocabulary draws primarily from Persian and Arabic for Urdu and from Sanskrit for Hindi.[87][88] English has exerted a heavy influence on both as a co-official language.[89] A movement towards the hyper-Persianisation of an Urdu emerged in Pakistan since its independence in 1947 which is "as artificial as" the hyper-Sanskritised Hindi that has emerged in India;[90] hyper-Persianisation of Urdu was prompted in part by the increasing Sanskritisation of Hindi.[91][page needed] However, the style of Urdu spoken on a day-to-day basis in Pakistan is akin to neutral Hindustani that serves as the lingua franca of the northern Indian subcontinent.[92][93]

Since at least 1977,[94] some commentators such as journalist Khushwant Singh have characterised Urdu as a "dying language", though others, such as Urdu poet Gulzar, have disagreed with this assessment and state that Urdu "is the most alive language and moving ahead with times" in India.[95][96][97][94][98][99][100] This phenomenon pertains to the decrease in relative and absolute numbers of native Urdu speakers as opposed to speakers of other languages;[101][102] declining (advanced) knowledge of Urdu's Perso-Arabic script, Urdu vocabulary and grammar;[101][103] the role of translation and transliteration of literature from and into Urdu;[101] the shifting cultural image of Urdu and socio-economic status associated with Urdu speakers (which negatively impacts especially their employment opportunities in both countries),[103][101] the de jure legal status and de facto political status of Urdu,[103] how much Urdu is used as language of instruction and chosen by students in higher education,[103][101][102][100] and how the maintenance and development of Urdu is financially and institutionally supported by governments and NGOs.[103][101]

In India, although Urdu is not and never was used exclusively by Muslims (and Hindi never exclusively by Hindus),[100][104] the ongoing Hindi–Urdu controversy and modern cultural association of each language with the two religions has led to fewer Hindus using Urdu.[100][104] In the 20th century, Indian Muslims initially more or less gradually collectively embraced Urdu[104] (for example, 'post-independence Muslim politics of Bihar saw a mobilisation around the Urdu language as tool of empowerment for minorities especially coming from weaker socio-economic backgrounds'[101]), but in the early 21st century an increasing percentage of Indian Muslims began switching to Hindi due to socio-economic factors, such as Urdu being abandoned as the language of instruction in much of India,[102][101] and having limited employment opportunities compared to Hindi, English and regional languages.[100] The number of Urdu speakers in India fell 1.5% between 2001 and 2011 (then 5.08 million Urdu speakers), especially in the most Urdu-speaking states of Uttar Pradesh (c. 8% to 5%) and Bihar (c. 11.5% to 8.5%), even though the number of Muslims in these two states grew in the same period.[102] Although Urdu is still very prominent in early 21st-century Indian pop culture, ranging from Bollywood[99] to social media, knowledge of the Urdu script and the publication of books in Urdu have steadily declined, while policies of the Indian government do not actively support the preservation of Urdu in professional and official spaces.[101] In part because the Pakistani government proclaimed Urdu the national language at Partition, the Indian state and some religious nationalists began to regard Urdu as a 'foreign' language, to be viewed with suspicion.[98] Urdu advocates in India disagree whether it should be allowed to write Urdu in the Devanagari and Latin script (Roman Urdu) to allow its survival,[100][105] or whether this will only hasten its demise and that the language can only be preserved if expressed in the Perso-Arabic script.[101] Indian poet and writer Gulzar (who is popular in both countries and both language communities, but writes only in Urdu (script) and has difficulties reading Devanagari, so he lets others 'transcribe' his work), maintained in 2003 that there is a single united Hindustani language, and the Urdu script should be abandoned in favour of Devanagari to make the differences and conflicts between groups disappear so that "the language of the people will prevail".[105]

For Pakistan, Willoughby & Aftab (2020) argued that Urdu originally had the image of a refined elite language of the Enlightenment, progress and emancipation, which contributed to the success of the independence movement.[103] But after the 1947 Partition, when it was chosen as the national language of Pakistan to unite all inhabitants with one linguistic identity, it faced serious competition primarily from Bengali (spoken by 56% of the total population, mostly in East Pakistan until that attained independence in 1971 as Bangladesh), and after 1971 from English. Both pro-independence elites that formed the leadership of the Muslim League in Pakistan and the Hindu-dominated Congress Party in India had been educated in English during the British colonial period, and continued to operate in English and send their children to English-medium schools as they continued dominate both countries' post-Partition politics.[103] Although the Anglicised elite in Pakistan has made attempts at Urduisation of education with varying degrees of success, no successful attempts were ever made to Urduise politics, the legal system, the army, or the economy, all of which remained solidly Anglophone.[103] Even the regime of general Zia-ul-Haq (1977–1988), who came from a middle-class Urdu-speaking family and initially fervently supported a rapid and complete Urduisation of Pakistani society (earning him the honorary title of the 'Patron of Urdu' in 1981), failed to make significant achievements, and by 1987 had abandoned most of his efforts in favour of pro-English policies.[103] Since the 1960s, the Urdu lobby and eventually the Urdu language itself in Pakistan has been associated with religious Islamism and political national conservatism (and eventually the lower and lower-middle classes, alongside regional languages such as Punjabi, Sindhi, and Balochi), while English has been associated with the internationally oriented secular and progressive left (and eventually the upper and upper-middle classes).[103] Despite these governmental attempts at Urduisation, the position and prestige of English only grew stronger in the meantime.[103]

Demographics and geographic distribution

An American woman, aged 22 in 2013, who had emigrated from Pakistan aged 10 reflecting on the gratification she often experiences and the diverse reactions she sometimes provokes when speaking Urdu to native Urdu speakers both in the US and in Pakistan.

There are over 100 million native speakers of Urdu in India and Pakistan together: there were 50.8 million Urdu speakers in India (4.34% of the total population) as per the 2011 census;[106][107] approximately 16 million in Pakistan in 2006.[108] There are several hundred thousand in the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, United States, and Bangladesh.[109] However, Hindustani, of which Urdu is one variety, is spoken much more widely, forming the third most commonly spoken language in the world, after Mandarin and English.[110] The syntax (grammar), morphology, and the core vocabulary of Urdu and Hindi are essentially identical – thus linguists usually count them as one single language, while some contend that they are considered as two different languages for socio-political reasons.[111]

Owing to interaction with other languages, Urdu has become localised wherever it is spoken, including in Pakistan. Urdu in Pakistan has undergone changes and has incorporated and borrowed many words from regional languages, thus allowing speakers of the language in Pakistan to distinguish themselves more easily and giving the language a decidedly Pakistani flavour. Similarly, the Urdu spoken in India can also be distinguished into many dialects such as the Standard Urdu of Lucknow and Delhi, as well as the Dakhni (Deccan) of South India.[24][52] Because of Urdu's similarity to Hindi, speakers of the two languages can easily understand one another if both sides refrain from using literary vocabulary.[19]


The proportion of people with Urdu as their mother tongue in each Pakistani District as of the 2017 Pakistan Census

Although Urdu is widely spoken and understood throughout Pakistan, only 7% of Pakistan's population spoke Urdu as their native language around 1992.[112] Most of the nearly three million Afghan refugees of different ethnic origins (such as Pashtun, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazarvi, and Turkmen) who stayed in Pakistan for over twenty-five years have also become fluent in Urdu.[86] Muhajirs since 1947 have historically formed the majority population in the city of Karachi, however.[113] Many newspapers are published in Urdu in Pakistan, including the Daily Jang, Nawa-i-Waqt, and Millat.

No region in Pakistan uses Urdu as its mother tongue, though it is spoken as the first language of Muslim migrants (known as Muhajirs) in Pakistan who left India after independence in 1947.[114] Urdu was chosen as a symbol of unity for the new state of Pakistan in 1947, because it had already served as a lingua franca among Muslims in north and northwest British India.[80] It is written, spoken and used in all provinces/territories of Pakistan, although the people from differing provinces may have different native languages.[citation needed]

Urdu is taught as a compulsory subject up to higher secondary school in both English and Urdu medium school systems, which has produced millions of second-language Urdu speakers among people whose native language is one of the other languages of Pakistan – which in turn has led to the absorption of vocabulary from various regional Pakistani languages,[115] while some Urdu vocabulary has also been assimilated by Pakistan's regional languages.[116] Some who are from a non-Urdu background now can read and write only Urdu. With such a large number of people(s) speaking Urdu, the language has acquired a peculiar Pakistani flavour further distinguishing it from the Urdu spoken by native speakers, resulting in more diversity within the language.[117][clarification needed]


In India, Urdu is spoken in places where there are large Muslim minorities or cities that were bases for Muslim empires in the past. These include parts of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra (Marathwada and Konkanis), Karnataka and cities such as Lucknow, Delhi, Malerkotla, Bareilly, Meerut, Saharanpur, Muzaffarnagar, Roorkee, Deoband, Moradabad, Azamgarh, Bijnor, Najibabad, Rampur, Aligarh, Allahabad, Gorakhpur, Agra, Kanpur, Badaun, Bhopal, Hyderabad, Aurangabad,[clarification needed] Bangalore, Kolkata, Mysore, Patna, Gulbarga, Parbhani, Nanded, Malegaon, Bidar, Ajmer, and Ahmedabad.[citation needed] Some Indian schools teach Urdu as a first language and have their own syllabi and exams. India's Bollywood industry frequently employs the use of Urdu – especially in songs.[118][page needed]

India has more than 3,000 Urdu publications, including 405 daily Urdu newspapers.[119][120] Newspapers such as Neshat News Urdu, Sahara Urdu, Daily Salar, Hindustan Express, Daily Pasban, Siasat Daily, The Munsif Daily and Inqilab are published and distributed in Bangalore, Malegaon, Mysore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai.[121]


A trilingual signboard in Arabic, English and Urdu in the UAE. The Urdu sentence is not a direct translation of the English ("Your beautiful city invites you to preserve it.") It says, "apné shahar kī Khūbsūrtīi ko barqarār rakhié, or "Please preserve the beauty of your city."

Outside South Asia, it is spoken by large numbers of migrant South Asian workers in the major urban centres of the Persian Gulf countries. Urdu is also spoken by large numbers of immigrants and their children in the major urban centres of the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Germany, New Zealand, Norway, and Australia.[122] Along with Arabic, Urdu is among the immigrant languages with the most speakers in Catalonia.[123]

Cultural identity

Colonial India

Religious and social atmospheres in early nineteenth century British India played a significant role in the development of the Urdu register. Hindi became the distinct register spoken by those who sought to construct a Hindu identity in the face of colonial rule.[23] As Hindi separated from Hindustani to create a distinct spiritual identity, Urdu was employed to create a definitive Islamic identity for the Muslim population in British India.[124] Urdu's use was not confined only to northern India – it had been used as a literary medium for British Indian writers from the Bombay Presidency, Bengal, Orissa Province, and Tamil Nadu as well.[125]

As Urdu and Hindi became means of religious and social construction for Muslims and Hindus respectively, each register developed its own script. According to Islamic tradition, Arabic, the language spoken by the prophet Muhammad and uttered in the revelation of the Qur'an, holds spiritual significance and power.[126] Because Urdu was intentioned as means of unification for Muslims in Northern India and later Pakistan, it adopted a modified Perso-Arabic script.[127][23]


Urdu continued its role in developing a Muslim identity as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was established with the intent to construct a homeland for Muslims of South Asia. Several languages and dialects spoken throughout the regions of Pakistan produced an imminent need for a uniting language. Urdu was chosen as a symbol of unity for the new state of Pakistan in 1947, because it had already served as a lingua franca among Muslims in north and northwest British India.[80] Urdu is also seen as a repertory for the cultural and social heritage of Pakistan.[128]

While Urdu and Islam together played important roles in developing the national identity of Pakistan, disputes in the 1950s (particularly those in East Pakistan, where Bengali was the dominant language), challenged the idea of Urdu as a national symbol and its practicality as the lingua franca. The significance of Urdu as a national symbol was downplayed by these disputes when English and Bengali were also accepted as official languages in the former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).[129]

Official status


Urdu is the sole national, and one of the two official languages of Pakistan (along with English).[82] It is spoken and understood throughout the country, whereas the state-by-state languages (languages spoken throughout various regions) are the provincial languages, although only 7.57% of Pakistanis speak Urdu as their first language.[130] Its official status has meant that Urdu is understood and spoken widely throughout Pakistan as a second or third language. It is used in education, literature, office and court business,[131] although in practice, English is used instead of Urdu in the higher echelons of government.[132] Article 251(1) of the Pakistani Constitution mandates that Urdu be implemented as the sole language of government, though English continues to be the most widely used language at the higher echelons of Pakistani government.[133]


A multilingual New Delhi railway station board. The Urdu and Hindi texts both read as: naī dillī.

Urdu is also one of the officially recognised languages in India and one of the five official languages of Jammu and Kashmir, one of the two official languages of Telangana and also has the status of "additional official language" in the Indian states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and the national capital, New Delhi.[134][135] In the former Jammu and Kashmir state, section 145 of the Kashmir Constitution stated: "The official language of the State shall be Urdu but the English language shall unless the Legislature by law otherwise provides, continue to be used for all the official purposes of the State for which it was being used immediately before the commencement of the Constitution."[136]

India established the governmental Bureau for the Promotion of Urdu in 1969, although the Central Hindi Directorate was established earlier in 1960, and the promotion of Hindi is better funded and more advanced,[137] while the status of Urdu has been undermined by the promotion of Hindi.[138] Private Indian organisations such as the Anjuman-e-Tariqqi Urdu, Deeni Talimi Council and Urdu Mushafiz Dasta promote the use and preservation of Urdu, with the Anjuman successfully launching a campaign that reintroduced Urdu as an official language of Bihar in the 1970s.[137]


Urdu has a few recognised dialects, including Dakhni, Dhakaiya, Rekhta, and Modern Vernacular Urdu (based on the Khariboli dialect of the Delhi region). Dakhni (also known as Dakani, Deccani, Desia, Mirgan) is spoken in Deccan region of southern India. It is distinct by its mixture of vocabulary from Marathi and Konkani, as well as some vocabulary from Arabic, Persian and Chagatai that are not found in the standard dialect of Urdu. Dakhini is widely spoken in all parts of Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Urdu is read and written as in other parts of India. A number of daily newspapers and several monthly magazines in Urdu are published in these states.[citation needed]

Dhakaiya Urdu is a dialect native to the city of Old Dhaka in Bangladesh, dating back to the Mughal era. However, its popularity, even amongst native speakers, has been gradually declining since the Bengali Language Movement in the 20th century. It is not officially recognised by the Government of Bangladesh. The Urdu spoken by Stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh is different from this dialect.[citation needed]

Code switching

Many bilingual or multi-lingual Urdu speakers, being familiar with both Urdu and English, display code-switching (referred to as "Urdish") in certain localities and between certain social groups. On 14 August 2015, the Government of Pakistan launched the Ilm Pakistan movement, with a uniform curriculum in Urdish. Ahsan Iqbal, Federal Minister of Pakistan, said "Now the government is working on a new curriculum to provide a new medium to the students which will be the combination of both Urdu and English and will name it Urdish."[139][140][141]

Comparison with Modern Standard Hindi

Urdu and Hindi on a road sign in India. The Urdu version is a direct transliteration of the English; the Hindi is a part transliteration ("parcel" and "rail") and part translation "karyalay" and "arakshan kendra"

Standard Urdu is often compared with Standard Hindi.[142] Both Urdu and Hindi, which are considered standard registers of the same language, Hindustani (or Hindi-Urdu), share a core vocabulary and grammar.[143][18][19][144]

Apart from religious associations, the differences are largely restricted to the standard forms: Standard Urdu is conventionally written in the Nastaliq style of the Persian alphabet and relies heavily on Persian and Arabic as a source for technical and literary vocabulary,[145] whereas Standard Hindi is conventionally written in Devanāgarī and draws on Sanskrit.[146] However, both share a core vocabulary of native Sanskrit and Prakrit derived words and significant amount of Arabic and Persian loanwords, with a consensus of linguists considering them to be two standardised forms of the same language[147][148] and consider the differences to be sociolinguistic;[149] a few classify them separately.[150] The two languages are often considered to be a single language (Hindustani or Hindi-Urdu) on a dialect continuum ranging from Persianised to Sanskritised vocabulary.[138] Old Urdu dictionaries also contain most of the Sanskrit words now present in Hindi.[151][152]

Mutual intelligibility decreases in literary and specialised contexts that rely on academic or technical vocabulary. In a longer conversation, differences in formal vocabulary and pronunciation of some Urdu phonemes are noticeable, though many native Hindi speakers also pronounce these phonemes.[153] At a phonological level, speakers of both languages are frequently aware of the Perso-Arabic or Sanskrit origins of their word choice, which affects the pronunciation of those words.[154] Urdu speakers will often insert vowels to break up consonant clusters found in words of Sanskritic origin, but will pronounce them correctly in Arabic and Persian loanwords.[155] As a result of religious nationalism since the partition of British India and continued communal tensions, native speakers of both Hindi and Urdu frequently assert that they are distinct languages.

The grammar of Hindi and Urdu is shared,[143][156] though formal Urdu makes more use of the Persian "-e-" izafat grammatical construct (as in Hammam-e-Qadimi, or Nishan-e-Haider) than does Hindi. Urdu more frequently uses personal pronouns with the "ko" form (as in "mujh-ko"), while Hindi more frequently uses the contracted form (as in "mujhe").[157]

Urdu speakers by country

The following table shows the number of Urdu speakers in some countries.

Country Population Urdu as a native language speakers Native speakers or very good speakers as a second language
 India 1,296,834,042[158] 50,772,631[80] 12,151,715[80]
 Pakistan 207,862,518[159] 15,100,000[160] 94,000,000[citation needed]
 Afghanistan 34,940,837[154] 1,048,225[154]
 Saudi Arabia 33,091,113[161] 757,000[citation needed]
   Nepal 29,717,587[162] 691,546[163]
 United Kingdom 65,105,246[164] 400,000[165]
 United States 329,256,465[166] 397,5022009-2013[167]
 United Arab Emirates 9,890,400 300,000 1,500,000
 Bangladesh 159,453,001[168] 250,0002006 estimate[169]
 Canada 35,881,659[170] 243,0902016 census[171]
 Qatar 2,363,569[172] 173,000[citation needed]
 Oman 4,613,241[173] 95,000[citation needed]
 Iran 83,024,745[174] 88,000[citation needed]
 Bahrain 1,442,659[175] 74,000[citation needed]
 Norway 5,372,191[176] 34,000[citation needed]
 Turkey 81,257,239[177] 24,000[citation needed]
 Germany 80,457,737[178] 23,000[citation needed]



Consonant phonemes of Urdu[179]
Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m م n ن ŋ ن٘
voiceless p پ t ت ʈ ٹ چ k ک (q) ق
voiceless aspirated پھ تھ ʈʰ ٹھ tʃʰ چھ کھ
voiced b ب d د ɖ ڈ ج ɡ گ
voiced aspirated بھ دھ ɖʰ ڈھ dʒʰ جھ گھ
Flap/Trill plain r ر ɽ ڑ
voiced aspirated ɽʱ ڑھ
Fricative voiceless f ف s س ʃ ش x خ ɦ ہ
voiced ʋ و z ز (ʒ) ژ (ɣ) غ
Approximant l ل j ی
  • Marginal and non-universal phonemes are in parentheses.
  • /ɣ/ is post-velar.[180]


  • Marginal and non-universal vowels are in parentheses.


Syed Ahmed Dehlavi, a 19th-century lexicographer who compiled the Farhang-e-Asifiya Urdu dictionary, estimated that 75% of Urdu words have their etymological roots in Sanskrit and Prakrit,[183][184][185] and approximately 99% of Urdu verbs have their roots in Sanskrit and Prakrit.[186][187] Urdu has borrowed words from Persian and to a lesser extent, Arabic through Persian,[188] to the extent of about 25%[183][184][185][189] to 30% of Urdu's vocabulary.[190] A table illustrated by the linguist Afroz Taj of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill likewise illustrates the amount of Persian loanwords to native Sanskrit-derived words in literary Urdu as comprising a 1:3 ratio.[185]

The phrase zubān-e-Urdū-e-muʿallā ("the language of the exalted camp") written in Nastaʿlīq script[191]

The "trend towards Persianisation" started in the 18th century by the Delhi school of Urdu poets, though other writers, such as Meeraji, wrote in a Sanskritised form of the language.[192] There has been a move towards hyper Persianisation in Pakistan since 1947, which has been adopted by much of the country's writers;[193] as such, some Urdu texts can be composed of 70% Perso-Arabic loanwords just as some Persian texts can have 70% Arabic vocabulary.[194] Some Pakistani Urdu speakers have incorporated Hindi vocabulary into their speech as a result of exposure to Indian entertainment.[195][196] In India, Urdu has not diverged from Hindi as much as it has in Pakistan.[197]

Most borrowed words in Urdu are nouns and adjectives.[198] Many of the words of Arabic origin have been adopted through Persian,[183] and have different pronunciations and nuances of meaning and usage than they do in Arabic. There are also a smaller number of borrowings from Portuguese. Some examples for Portuguese words borrowed into Urdu are cabi ("chave": key), girja ("igreja": church), kamra ("cámara": room), qamīz ("camisa": shirt).[199]

Although the word Urdu is derived from the Turkic word ordu (army) or orda, from which English horde is also derived,[200] Turkic borrowings in Urdu are minimal[201] and Urdu is also not genetically related to the Turkic languages. Urdu words originating from Chagatai and Arabic were borrowed through Persian and hence are Persianised versions of the original words. For instance, the Arabic ta' marbutaة ) changes to heه ) or teت ).[202][note 2] Nevertheless, contrary to popular belief, Urdu did not borrow from the Turkish language, but from Chagatai, a Turkic language from Central Asia. Urdu and Turkish both borrowed from Arabic and Persian, hence the similarity in pronunciation of many Urdu and Turkish words.[203]


Lashkari Zabān title in Naskh script

Urdu in its less formalised register has been referred to as a rek̤h̤tah (ریختہ, [reːxtaː]), meaning "rough mixture". The more formal register of Urdu is sometimes referred to as zabān-i Urdū-yi muʿallá (زبانِ اُردُوئے معلّٰى [zəbaːn eː ʊrdu eː moəllaː]), the "Language of the Exalted Camp", referring to the Imperial army[204] or in approximate local translation Lashkari Zabān (لشکری زبان [lʌʃkɜ:i: zɑ:bɑ:n])[205] or simply just Lashkari.[206] The etymology of the word used in Urdu, for the most part, decides how polite or refined one's speech is. For example, Urdu speakers would distinguish between پانی pānī and آب āb, both meaning "water": the former is used colloquially and has older Sanskrit origins, whereas the latter is used formally and poetically, being of Persian origin.[citation needed]

If a word is of Persian or Arabic origin, the level of speech is considered to be more formal and grander. Similarly, if Persian or Arabic grammar constructs, such as the izafat, are used in Urdu, the level of speech is also considered more formal and grander. If a word is inherited from Sanskrit, the level of speech is considered more colloquial and personal.[207]

Writing system

The Urdu Nastaʿliq alphabet, with names in the Devanagari and Latin alphabets

Urdu is written right-to left in an extension of the Persian alphabet, which is itself an extension of the Arabic alphabet. Urdu is associated with the Nastaʿlīq style of Persian calligraphy, whereas Arabic is generally written in the Naskh or Ruq'ah styles. Nasta’liq is notoriously difficult to typeset, so Urdu newspapers were hand-written by masters of calligraphy, known as kātib or khush-nawīs, until the late 1980s. One handwritten Urdu newspaper, The Musalman, is still published daily in Chennai.[208]

A highly Persianised and technical form of Urdu was the lingua franca of the law courts of the British administration in Bengal and the North-West Provinces & Oudh. Until the late 19th century, all proceedings and court transactions in this register of Urdu were written officially in the Persian script. In 1880, Sir Ashley Eden, the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal in colonial India abolished the use of the Persian alphabet in the law courts of Bengal and ordered the exclusive use of Kaithi, a popular script used for both Urdu and Hindi; in the Bihar Province, the court language was Urdu written in the Kaithi script.[209][210][211][212] Kaithi's association with Urdu and Hindi was ultimately eliminated by the political contest between these languages and their scripts, in which the Persian script was definitively linked to Urdu.[213]

An English-Urdu bilingual sign at the archaeological site of Sirkap, near Taxila. The Urdu says: (right to left) دو سروں والے عقاب کی شبيہ والا مندر, dō sarōñ wālé u'qāb kī shabīh wāla mandir. "The temple with the image of the eagle with two heads."

More recently in India, Urdu speakers have adopted Devanagari for publishing Urdu periodicals and have innovated new strategies to mark Urdu in Devanagari as distinct from Hindi in Devanagari. Such publishers have introduced new orthographic features into Devanagari for the purpose of representing the Perso-Arabic etymology of Urdu words. One example is the use of अ (Devanagari a) with vowel signs to mimic contexts of ع (‘ain), in violation of Hindi orthographic rules. For Urdu publishers, the use of Devanagari gives them a greater audience, whereas the orthographic changes help them preserve a distinct identity of Urdu.[214]

Some poets from Bengal, namely Qazi Nazrul Islam, have historically used the Bengali script to write Urdu poetry like Prem Nagar Ka Thikana Karle and Mera Beti Ki Khela, as well as bilingual Bengali-Urdu poems like Alga Koro Go Khõpar Bãdhon, Juboker Chholona and Mera Dil Betab Kiya.[215][216][217] Dhakaiya Urdu is a colloquial non-standard dialect of Urdu which was typically not written. However, organisations seeking to preserve the dialect have begun transcribing the dialect in the Bengali script.[note 3][218][219]

See also

Other Languages