Category Archives: Language

The New Urdu

ghalib devanagri

Written by Randeep Singh

Why should we worry whether Urdu is written in the Nastalliq, Devanagri or Roman script?

I recently came across an article entitled “Young Professionals Take the Lead In Reviving Delhi’s Romance with Urdu,” written by Manoj Sharma. The article cites the example of Delhites like Ranjeet Chauhan, an engineer who co-founded the Jashn-e-Adab, which organizes the International Urdu Poetry Festival.

Another organizer of Urdu poetry festivals, a Gurgaon-based software professional, Vishal Bagh, suggests that the attitudes that led to the decline of Urdu after 1947 may now be changing.

The relationship between language and script is arbitrary. Mongolian has been written in Mongol, Latin and Cyrillic scripts. Punjabi can be written in the Perso-Arabic, Devanagri and Gurmukhi scripts. Vietnamese is written in a script from a completely different language family. Urdu print magazines in Delhi like Mahkta Anchal are written in Devanagri. Urdu Islamic texts in Delhi like Fazail-i-Amal and Muntakhabat-e-Ahadis  use Devanagri. The “Rekhta” website (www.rekhta.org) features Urdu poetry in Devanagri, Roman and Nastalliq. 

In short, the Perso-Arabic script is no longer treated as the constitutive element of the Urdu language in today’s Delhi.[1] More broadly, the politics of the 19
th century which divided Hindustani/Hindi/Hindvi/Urdu/Rekhta, and the language politics of 1947, are no longer tenable in contemporary India.

So, if Indians read and absorb Urdu literature through Devanagri (or the Roman script), that benefits both those readers and Urdu literature. Why mourn a new script if it brings a new gathering?

Further Reading:

“Young Professionals Take Lead in Reviving Delhi’s Romance with Urdu,” Manoj Sharma, The Hindustan Times: http://www.hindustantimes.com/newdelhi/delhi-is-rekindling-its-romance-with-urdu-through-ghazals-and-nazms/article1-1355867.aspx. 

“Shifting Dunes: Changing Meanings of Urdu in India,” Rizwan Ahmad. Doctoral Dissertation (Linguistics), University of Michigan, 2007.

[1] Rizwan Ahmad,” Shifting Dunes: Changing Meanings of Urdu in India,” Rizwan Ahmad. Doctoral Dissertation (Linguistics), University of Michigan, 2007, 154-55.

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Filed under Delhi, Hindi, India, Language, Urdu

Don’t Cry For Punjabi

tragedy

 

Written by Randeep Singh

We hear about the “loss” of Punjabi, the “tragedy” of how Punjabi is not taught in schools in West Punjab, of how Punjabi youth speak only Urdu, Hindi or English in Lahore or Chandigarh. “Imagine the sound of Punjabi and the rich cultural heritage it boasts,” writes Affan Chaudhary, “lost forever.”[1]

If there’s a tragedy, it’s the idea that the demise of Punjabi has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more one believes it, the less likely one will do anything to reverse it and the less likely that anything will change in any positive respect, least of all the feelings of doom and gloom.

I am not denying Punjabi faces challenges, but the circumstances suggest a more balanced view on the question.

First, Punjabi is neither an “endangered” nor a “vulnerable” language.[2] While it may not enjoy national or official status like Hindi, Urdu or French, neither is Punjabi an endangered or vulnerable language like Basque, Corsican or Gaelic all with less than one million speakers.

Punjabi is in fact one of the world’s most spoken languages with its number of speakers ranging from 80 to 110 million.[3] The total number of Punjabi speakers moreover has been increasing, not decreasing, since 1951.[4]

Second, rather than compare Punjabi to Urdu and Hindi, it would make more sense to compare Punjabi to languages like Gujarati, Pashto and Telugu with which its shares a similar legal and official status. What does the experience of these languages have in common with Punjabi? What initiatives have such languages taken in promoting awareness and education in one’s mother tongue in ways which can help Punjabi?

Third, few languages have proved so culturally vibrant in India, Pakistan and in the diaspora as Punjabi. Punjabi has historically dominated the film and music industry in Pakistan thanks to icons like Noor Jehan. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan raised the profile of Punjabi poetry through his musical performances. And Punjabi MC’s bhangra/dance track “Mundiyan To Bachke Rahin” topped charts in the UK, Italy and Germany and crossed over into hip-hop collaborations with Jay-Z and Timbaland.

We could add the growing popularity of Punjabi through Sufi Rock, Coke Studio and Bollywood. The point is that any discussion on Punjabi needs to count its achievements and opportunities along with its setbacks.

So don’t cry for Punjabi just yet.

[1] Affan Chaudhary, “I Speak Punjabi but My Kids Might Not,” in Express Tribune (March 16, 2012): International Tribune: :://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/10622/i-speak-punjabi-but-my-kids-might-not/

[2] UNESCO defines an endangered language as one which children no longer the language as a mother tongue in the home; and a vulnerable language as one which is spoken by most children but whose use is restricted to certain domains like the home.

[3] Ethnologue lists Western Punjabi (Lahnda) and its various dialects as the 11th most spoken language with 82.6 million speakers with an additional 28 million speakers of Eastern Punjabi. The Swedish language million speakers, the Swedish language encyclopedia, Nationalencyklopedin (2007) lists Punjabi as the 10th most spoken language in the world with 102 million speakers.

[4] http://www.statpak.gov.pk/depts/pco/index.html

 

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Filed under Culture, Diaspora, India, Language, Pakistan, Punjabi