ISO 639-1 ur | ISO 639-2 urd | ISO 639-3 urd

Introduction

Urdu is historically associated with the Muslims of the region of Hindustan. It is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan and an official language of six Indian states. The importance of Urdu in the Muslim world is visible in the Islamic Holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia, where most informational signage is written in Arabic, English, and Urdu.

From the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal Empire until the British Raj, Hindustani, written in the Urdu script, was the language of both Hindus and Muslims. The language was variously known as Hindi, Hindavi, and Dehlavi. The communal nature of the language lasted until it replaced Persian as the official language in 1837 and was made co-official, along with English. This triggered a Hindu backlash in North-Western India, which argued that the language should be written in the native Devanagari script. Thus a new literary register, called “Hindi”, replaced traditional Hindustani as the official language of Bihar in 1881, establishing a sectarian divide of “Urdu” for Muslims and “Hindi” for Hindus, a divide that was formalized with the division of India and Pakistan after Independence. Urdu and Hindi are mutually intelligible because linguistically, they are the same language. If considered the same language, the population of Hindi-Urdu speakers is the fourth largest of the languages of the world, after Mandarin Chinese, English, and Spanish.

Status

Included in the Eighth Schedule to the Constitution, official language of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Official secondary language in Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, and the union territory of Delhi.

The word Urdu is derived from the same Turkish word “ordu” (army) that has given English “horde”.

Script

Urdu is written right-to left and is an extension of the Perso-Arabic script.

Distribution

Over 50 million native speakers of Urdu live in India, and 13 million in Pakistan (where it is the national and one of the two official languages), with the total population of speakers worldwide estimated at over 100 million. Significant speech communities exist in the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Bangladesh, where it is called “Bihari”.

Because of the difficulty in distinguishing between Urdu and Hindi speakers in India and Pakistan, as well as estimating the number of people for whom Urdu is a second language, the number of speakers is uncertain and controversial.

Dialects

Dakhini dialect of Urdu in India has fewer Persian and Arabic loanwords, but more from Marathi, Konkani, Telugu, and Kannada. Rekhta is a form of Urdu used in poetry. Some socio-political movements in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are pushing to emphasize the differences between the local variants of Urdu.

Distribution in India


Hover or click on the buttons to see distribution of speakers.
Between 1,000 – 5,000
Between 100 – 1,000
Between 10 – 100
The figures are in ten thousand speaker increments.

Main sources:

Data on Language from 2001 Indian Census
Eighth Schedule to the Indian Constitution
Ethnologue

The information is part of Andovar’s Languages of India white paper. Click here to download your FREE copy.

All information provided on this page is accurate at the time of writing as far as Andovar can ascertain. If you find any error or have comments you would like to share, please get in touch with us.