Published online by Cambridge University Press: 03 July 2014
Many scholars, politicians, and the lay people alike believe that Urdu in North India symbolizes a Muslim identity and culture. Based on an eight-month long ethnographic study and quantitative language data collected in Old Delhi, this article challenges this notion and shows that the symbolic meanings of Urdu have been mutating in post-colonial India. A cross-generational study involving both Muslims and Hindus shows that different generations assign different meanings to Urdu. Unlike the older generation, Muslim youth do not identify themselves with Urdu. A study of the Urdu sounds /f/, /z/, /kh/, /gh/, and /q/ in the speech of Muslim youth further demonstrates that they are losing three of these sounds. Another transformation involves the adoption of the Devanagari script to write Urdu by many Muslims. This change in the literacy practices of Muslims reinforces the shift in the symbolic meanings of Urdu. I argue that the transformation in the symbolic meanings of Urdu is reflective and constitutive of the sociopolitical changes that Muslims have undergone in the twentieth century.
I would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments, which have helped sharpen the focus of this article. I would also like to thank Irfan Ahmad and Erin Holiday-Karre for reading the manuscript and providing useful feedback as well as the College of Arts and Sciences, Qatar University, for giving me a course release, which was helpful in the preparation of the manuscript.
1 I use the term ‘language-ideology’ to refer to the set of beliefs and perceptions that speakers have about their language.
2 Following Pandey, Gyanendra, Remembering Partition: violence, nationalism, and history in India (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001)CrossRefGoogle Scholar, I refer to the events of 1947 as ‘Partition’ rather than ‘Independence’ since the former impacted on the status of Urdu in India more than the latter.
3 This generational conflict and the transformation in the symbolic meanings that it depicts may not be generalized across all regions in India where Urdu is spoken. However, it is largely true in North India. More empirical studies are needed to understand the contemporary meanings of Urdu in other parts of India, especially Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka.
4 Abdussattar Dalvi, ‘ibtedāyiyā (Introduction)’, in Abdussattar Dalvi (ed.) urdū m lesānī tahqīq (Linguistic research in Urdu) (Bombay: Kokil & Company, 1971). See also Javed, Ismat, naī urdū qawāed (Modern Urdu grammar) (New Delhi: Taraqqi Urdu Bureau, 1981)Google Scholar; and Narang, Gopi Chand, Urdu language and literature: critical perspectives (New Delhi: Sterling Publishers, 1991)Google Scholar.
5 I use the symbols /f/, /z/, /kh/, /gh/, and /q/ to represent the first sounds in Urdu words such as ‘fan’ (‘art’), ‘zulm’ (‘injustice’), ‘khush’ (‘happy’), and ‘qarz’ (‘loan’). Later in the article, I also use a micron over vowels to denote long vowels.
6 The Urdu script is a modified version of the Persian script, which is itself adapted from the Arabic script.
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21 Hindu religious books written in Urdu were available from Dehati Pustak Bhandar in Old Delhi.
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26 I am grateful to Dr Aslam Parvaiz, then principal of Zakir Husain College, for allowing me access to the College premises and facilitating my research.
27 See Javed, naī urdū qawāed; Khan, mazāmīn-ē-masūd: adabī aur lesānī mazāmīn kā majmūā; Narang, Urdu language and literature.
28 In transcripts, I use abbreviations consisting of the first letters of research participants’ first and last names.
29 On a personal note, while considering names for my own children, I adopted the same cautionary approach. My children's names—Bilal, Maisoun, and Ayesha—have none of these distinct Urdu sounds.
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40 Here I am simplifying somewhat the pre-1947 complexity of Urdu in India in order to highlight post-1947 changes. The use of Urdu among Hindus in pre-1947 India was largely confined to the Kayastha caste and those who were associated with government bureaucracy. These Hindus especially chose to study Urdu in schools; others didn’t. See Ahmad, Aziz, Studies in Islamic culture in the Indian environment (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1964)Google Scholar; and Ahmad, Shifting dunes, for a detailed discussion on this aspect of Urdu.
41 Interestingly, those young men and women who have minimal contact with the outside world claim to speak Urdu. See Ahmad, Shifting dunes.
42 Khadija Arif, ‘musalmān kō urdū nah taraqqī chāhiyē (Muslims want progress, not Urdu)’, BBC, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/urdu/india/story/2007/04/070422_india_urdu_develop_ra.shtml>, [accessed 9 March 2014].
43 Wakilur Rahman, ‘zab bigRī tō bigRī thī (What if the language had decayed!)’, Rashtriya Sahara, 28 May 2006.
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46 Suggestions to adopt Devanagari for Urdu have come from, among others, Rahi Masum Raza, the noted novelist and scriptwriter of Bollywood cinema, and Khushwant Singh, the famous writer and journalist. Moghni, ‘urdū hindī nah, na urdū rasm-e-at m tabdīlī mumkin’; Abulfaiz Sahar, ‘urdū rasm-e-at kī tabdīlī kā mas’alā aur urdū duniyā kā hatmī faislā (The issue of changing Urdu's script and the final decision of the Urdu world)’, Hamari Zaban (Our Language) 2001.
47 Faruqi, ‘Strategy for the survival of Urdu through school education’, pp. 137–38.