Skip to main content Accessibility help
×
Home
Hostname: page-component-568f69f84b-2wqtr Total loading time: 0.26 Render date: 2021-09-18T17:49:31.815Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": true, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true, "newEcommerce": true, "newUsageEvents": true }

Polyphony of Urdu in Post-colonial North India*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  03 July 2014

RIZWAN AHMAD*
Affiliation:
Qatar University, Doha, Qatar Email: rizwan.ahmad@qu.edu.qa

Abstract

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.

Type
Research Article
Copyright
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2014 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)

Footnotes

*

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.

References

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.

7 See, for example, Faruqi, Shamsurrahman, ‘Strategy for the survival of Urdu through school education’, Annual of Urdu Studies 21 (2006)Google Scholar; Abdul Moghni, ‘urdū hindī nah, na urdū rasm-e-at m tabdīlī mumkin (Urdu is not Hindi; a change in the Urdu script is impossible)’, Hamari Zaban (Our Language) 2002; 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.

8 See Woolard, Kathryn A., ‘Simultaneity and bivalency as strategies in bilingualism’, Journal of Linguistic Anthropology 8, no. 1 (1998a)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

9 Russell, Ralph, ‘Some notes on Hindi and Urdu’, The Annual of Urdu Studies 11 (1996)Google Scholar.

10 Javed, naī urdū qawāed; Khan, Masud Husain, mazāmīn-ē-masūd: adabī aur lesānī mazāmīn kā majmūā (Essays of Masud: a collection of literary and linguistic articles) (Aligarh: Educational Publishing House, 1997)Google Scholar; Narang, Urdu language and literature.

11 McGregor, R. S., Outline of Hindi grammar with exercises (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972)Google Scholar.

12 Sachar, Rajinder, Social, economic and educational status of the Muslim community of India: A report (New Delhi: Government Of India, 2006)Google Scholar.

13 Kelkar, Ashok. R., Studies in Hindi-Urdu I: introduction and word phonology. Deccan College Building Centenary and Silver Jubilee Series 35 (Poona: Deccan College, 1968)Google Scholar; King, Robert D., Nehru and the language politics of India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997)Google Scholar.

14 King, Nehru and the language politics of India, p. 75.

15 Ibid. p. 84.

16 Kelkar, Studies in Hindi-Urdu I, p. 8.

17 Ahmad, Rizwan, ‘Scripting a new identity: the battle for Devanagari in nineteenth century India’, Journal of Pragmatics 40, no. 7 (2008a)Google Scholar; Dalmia, Vasudha, The nationalization of Hindu traditions: Bhāratendu Hariśhchandra and nineteenth-century Banaras (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997)Google Scholar; King, Christopher R., One language, two scripts: the Hindi movement in nineteenth century North India (Bombay: Oxford University Press, 1994)Google Scholar; Orsini, Francesca, The Hindi public sphere (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002)Google Scholar; Rai, Alok, Hindi nationalism (New Delhi: Orient Longman, 2000)Google Scholar; van der Veer, Peter, Religious nationalism: Hindus and Muslims in India (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1994)Google Scholar; Zavos, John, The emergence of Hindu nationalism in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2000)Google Scholar; Ahmad, Rizwan, ‘Hindi is perfect, Urdu is messy: the discourse of delegitimation of Urdu in India’, in Androutsopoulos, Jannis, Jaffe, Alexandra, Sebba, Mark and Johnson, Sally (eds) Orthography as social action: scripts, spelling, identity and power (Boston/Berlin: de Gruyter Mouton, 2012)Google Scholar.

18 King, One language, two scripts, p. 177.

19 Uddin, Sufia M., Constructing Bangladesh: religion, ethnicity, and language in an Islamic nation (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), p. 2Google Scholar.

20 In order to protect the confidentiality of the research participants in my study, all names are pseudonyms.

21 Hindu religious books written in Urdu were available from Dehati Pustak Bhandar in Old Delhi.

22 Bucholtz, Mary and Hall, Kira, ‘Identity and social interaction: a sociocultural linguistic approach’, Discourse Studies 7, no. 4–5 (2005)Google Scholar; van Dijk, T. A., ‘The study of discourse’, in van Dijk, T. A. (ed.) Discourse as structure and process(Thousand Oaks, California: Sage Publications, 1997)Google Scholar; Fairclough, Norman, Discourse and social change (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1992)Google Scholar; Irvine, Judith T. and Gal, Susan, ‘Language ideology and linguistic differentiation’, in Kroskrity, Paul V. (ed.) Regimes of language (Santa Fe, New Mexico: School of American Research Press, 2000)Google Scholar.

23 Silverstein, Michael, ‘Language structure and linguistic ideology’, in Clyne, Paul R., Hanks, William F. and Haufbauer, Carol L. (eds) The elements: a parasession of linguistic units and levels (Chicago: Chicago Linguistic Society, 1979), p. 193Google Scholar.

24 Woolard, Kathryn A. and Schieffelin, Bambi, ‘Language ideology’, Annual Review of Anthropology 23 (1994), pp. 5556Google Scholar.

25 Irvine and Gal, ‘Language ideology and linguistic differentiation’; Paul V. Kroskrity, ‘Language ideologies in the expression and representation of Arizona Tewa ethnic identity’, in Kroskrity (ed.) Regimes of language; Kulick, Don, ‘Anger, gender, language shift and the politics of revelation in a Papua New Guinean village’, Pragmatics 2, no. 3 (1992)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Silverstein, Michael, ‘Language and the culture of gender: at the intersection of structure, usage, and ideology’, in Mertz, Elizabeth and Parmentier, Richard J. (eds) Semiotic mediation (Orlando: Academic Press, 1985)Google Scholar.

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.

30 Ahmad, Aijaz, In the mirror of Urdu: recompositions of nations and community 1947–65 (Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study, 1993)Google Scholar.

31 Ibid. p. 18.

32 See Ahmad, Rizwan, Shifting dunes: changing meanings of Urdu in India (Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan, 2007)Google Scholar for a detailed discussion of this.

33 In Khalidi, Omer, Indian Muslims since Independence (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1995), p. 138Google Scholar.

34 Metcalf, Barbara, ‘Urdu in India in the twenty-first century’, in Farouqi, Ather (ed.) Redefining Urdu politics in India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 66Google Scholar. See also Pai, Pai Sudha, ‘Politics of language: decline of Urdu in Uttar Pradesh’, Economic and Political Weekly 37, no. 27 (2002)Google Scholar for the impact of Partition on the use of Urdu in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

35 See Zamindar, Vazira Fazila-Yacoobali, The long Partition and the making of modern South Asia: refugees, boundaries, histories (New York: Columbia University Press, 2007)Google Scholar; and Ahmad, Irfan, ‘Modernity and its outcast. The why and how of India's Partition’, South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 35, no. 2 (2010)Google Scholar, for the role played by organized violence against Muslims in the migration of Muslims to Pakistan.

36 Pandey, Remembering Partition, p. 124.

37 Bakhshi, S. R. and Sharma, Suresh K., Delhi through ages, Volume 5 (New Delhi: Anmol Publications, 1995)Google Scholar.

38 Bhanu Pratap Singh, ‘Urdu: between rights and the nation’, in Farouqi (ed.) Redefining Urdu politics in India, p. 39.

39 Abbi, Anvita, Hasnain, Imtiaz and Kidwai, Ayesha, ‘Whose language is Urdu?’, Heidelberg Paper in South Asian and Comparative Politics 24 (2004), p. 3Google Scholar.

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.

44 Gupta, R. S. and Kapoor, Kapil, ‘Introduction’, in Gupta, R. S. and Kapoor, Kapil (eds) English in India—issues and problems (Delhi: Academic Foundation, 1991), p. 19Google Scholar.

45 See Agnihotri, Ramakant, ‘English in India: issues and problems’, in Gupta, R. S. and Kapoor, Kapil (eds) Sound patterns of Indian English: a sociolinguistic perspective (Delhi: Academic Foundation, 1991)Google Scholar; and Gargesh, Ravinder, ‘South Asian Englishes’, in Kachra, Braj B., Kachru, Yamuna and Nelson, Cecil L. (eds) The handbook of world Englishes (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2006)Google Scholar, among others, for the phonological structure of Indian English.

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.

48 See Ahmad, Rizwan, ‘Urdu in Devanagari: shifting orthographic practices and Muslim identity in Delhi’, Language in Society 40, no. 3 (2011)CrossRefGoogle Scholar for a detailed linguistic analysis of the process of transliteration.

49 Giddens, Anthony, The constitution of society (Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1984)Google Scholar.

1
Cited by

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure no-reply@cambridge.org is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the @free.kindle.com or @kindle.com variations. ‘@free.kindle.com’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘@kindle.com’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Polyphony of Urdu in Post-colonial North India*
Available formats
×

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Polyphony of Urdu in Post-colonial North India*
Available formats
×

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Polyphony of Urdu in Post-colonial North India*
Available formats
×
×

Reply to: Submit a response

Please enter your response.

Your details

Please enter a valid email address.

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *