Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Neusprachliche Südasienstudien
SAI|Südasien-Institut

Urdu

Urdu, like Hindi, can be described as a literary variant of Hindustani, the lingua franca of the northern part of the subcontinent. Urdu has been the national language of Pakistan since 1947; however, most Urdu native speakers live in India. Urdu is written in Nastaliq, a Persian variant of the Arabic script.

Urdu is often referred to as the language of South Asian Muslims, but that is only partially true. Only through the political developments of the 19th and 20th centuries did this religious connotation become dominant. In fact, not all South Asian Muslims speak Urdu, and the Urdu of those who speak it often hardly differs from the “Hindi” of their Hindu neighbours. But it is also true that the history of Urdu is linked to Muslim courts, Sufi sanctuaries, and Muslim urban cultures. Urdu emerged around the 12th century as a contact language between Persian and Turkish of Muslim courts and the local North Indian languages of their surroundings. It soon became an important literary language that gave birth to such famous genres as the ghazal. Since the 19th century, Urdu has been the medium of sophisticated modern literature and is also known as the language of Bollywood films.

Studying Urdu offers:

  • Access to one of the biggest modern literary languages of South Asia for those interested in linguistics and literary studies.

  • similarily to Hindi, it offers the advantages of mastering the lingua franca of the northern part of the subcontinent (especially important for ethnologists who primarily need it for oral communication).

  • Insight into an important part of the religious literature in South Asian Islam (Sufism, contemporary Islam, etc.)

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