The murder of linguistic history — III

The murder of linguistic history — III

By Dr Tariq Rahman

Published: August 6, 2011–iii/

The writer is Distinguished National Professor Emeritus of Linguistic History

School textbooks in both India and Pakistan call Urdu a mixed language (khichri boli) which began during Akbar’s time (1556-1605). Some even fix Shahjahan’s rule (1628-1658) as the time of its emergence. This is surprising since a number of scholars in both countries — Hafiz Sheerani, Masood Hasan Khan, Abdul Haq, Jamil Jalibi, Gian Chand Jain, Shamsur Rahman Faruqi and Gopi Chand Narang to name only a few — have quoted and even edited works of the ancestor of the language going back to the 15th century. However, the writers of children’s textbooks never seem to correct themselves. This article is meant to correct this misperception so that it becomes clear that Urdu is an ancient language and not an upstart pidgin as some people would have us believe.

This fiction probably comes from Meer Amman Dehlavi who, in the preface of Bagh-o-Bahar (1801), asserts that it was in Akbar’s reign that people speaking different languages came together and Urdu was created. This proposition is wrong on both counts. First, Urdu is not a pidgin language which came together simply because people came together to conduct business and, secondly, it is about a thousand years old, not only four hundred years old which would be the case counting from around the time when Akbar ruled.

A pidgin is a ‘reduced language’ which comes into being when people speaking two (or more) languages interact with each other. It is nobody’s mother tongue but is simply an expedient and immediate medium of communication. The ancestor of Urdu was a fully formed language in the 12th century and it picked up words of Persian, Arabic and Turkish. This is not the process of pidginisation, it is the process of lexical borrowing. And all the world’s great languages borrow words in exactly the same manner. This is a normal process and the Indic ancestor — call it Prakrit or Apabhramsa or whatever —went through the same process.

But was this ancestor Sanskrit. The evidence is that it was not. The classical theory is that it was one of the many daughters of Sanskrit. The dissident view is that it was a local language which existed before Sanskrit entered South Asia. It could be a Dravidian or Munda or some other language. However, words of Sanskrit and other languages must have been found in this parent of modern Urdu-Hindi. Unfortunately, samples of this putative parent are no longer available.

In 1942, Pitambar Datta Barthwal compiled the Gorakh Bani which, he said, contains verses from the 11th century in the Devanagari script. In a sample I have used in my book From Hindi to Urdu (2011), 23 words out of 67 are intelligible to speakers of modern Urdu. Modern Hindi speakers will understand more words because they know more words of Sanskrit. But, since this is a religious text, it has more words from Sanskrit. However, the major problem is that these verses were collected together in the 16th century so we cannot be sure exactly which words crept into this oral literature in the four hundred years that followed. Yet another text, again in the Devanagari script, comes from the royal courts of Rajasthan (1172). It goes something like this: “O janana me thari….. (and in the harem you and your …..)” Later there are words like javega (will go); devega (will give); pardhan (chief) etc. Now we come to words of the ancestor of Urdu-Hindi in the Perso-Arabic script. These occur in Persian books and are called ‘ba zuban-e-Hindi’. Amir Khusrau (1253-1324) says that he gave some verses in ‘Hindi’ to his friends (juzve chand nazm-e-hindvi nez nazre dostan karda shuda ast) but the specimens now available — despite the assertions of so great an authority as Gopi Chand Narang — date from the 18th century. However, from the 14th century we do have actual words. For instance, in Hamid Qalandar’s Khairul Majalis we find ‘tu kartar nahi’ (you are not omnipotent) and ‘jo mundasa bandhe so pae pasre (he who wears the turban falls at the feet) and other words.

A complete poem called Masnavi Kadam Rao Padam Rao was written by Fakhar Din Nizami between 1430-1435. However, this has words of South Indian languages and obsolete words too, so it is difficult to understand. Let us remember that Chaucer lived between 1340-1400 and his Canterbury Tales is not fully intelligible to the modern reader of English. Yet, it is called a Middle English text. So there is no reason not to call Kadam Rao anything but an Urdu-Hindi text.

But if you want an even more intelligible text — not only a few lines — there is Bayazid Ansari’s (1526-1574) Khairul Bayan. Probably written in 1560, the text, though only three pages of it survive in the Perso-Arabic script — is perfectly comprehensible to us in India and Pakistan. But by the 16th century there were works in Gujrat, Deccan and elsewhere which would require volumes to be dealt with. Let me refer, however, to two major writers in the Devanagari script because so few Pakistanis know them. These are the poems of Kabir Das (1440-1518) and Sur Das (1478-1581). Kabir wrote in old Avadhi but both his and Sur Das’s lines are intelligible. The other texts normally quoted by scholars are in old forms of Khari Boli. But the works of Kabir etc are included in the canon of Urdu-Hindi on the assumption that all the varieties of a great, unstandardised language from the Khyber to the Bengal are forms of our great languages Urdu and modern Hindi.

But all these varieties did not get equally Persianised. The Khari Boli variety got more Persianised — and Sanskritised too as we shall see — till it came to be called Urdu. So both Urdu and Hindi are ancient languages and, despite borrowings from many languages including English, Urdu remains a South Asian language. It is at least a thousand years old; not merely a few hundred years old. [For those who want details, references and samples see my book From Hindi to Urdu: A Social and Political History (Karachi Oxford University Press and Delhi: Orient Blackswan, 2011)].

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2011


The murder of linguistic history — II


Read any textbook for children and you will be told that the word ‘Urdu’ means ‘military camp’ or ‘cantonment’ in Turkish.

While the word Ordo — from which comes the English word ‘horde’ — does, indeed, mean ‘military camp’ in Turkish, this is not the only name for the ancestor of the language we now call Urdu. Indeed, the oldest name for this common ancestor of both present-day Urdu and Hindi was Hindi, Hindvi and sometimes Hindui.

…. The term ‘Hindi’ was not used only for the ancestor of modern Hindi and Urdu. It was used vaguely by Persian writers for all languages of India (Hind).

By Dr Tariq Rahman

Published: July 23, 2011–ii/

The writer is Distinguished National Professor Emeritus of Linguistic History

Read any textbook for children and you will be told that the word ‘Urdu’ means ‘military camp’ or ‘cantonment’ in Turkish. The inference will be that Urdu is a military language (lashkari zuban). This is explained further in some books by the supposition that Urdu was born in the Mughal military camps, where soldiers speaking different languages came together for martial purposes.211064-DrTariqRahmanNew-1310828381-158-640x480

While the word Ordo — from which comes the English word ‘horde’ — does, indeed, mean ‘military camp’ in Turkish, this is not the only name for the ancestor of the language we now call Urdu. Indeed, the oldest name for this common ancestor of both present-day Urdu and Hindi was Hindi, Hindvi and sometimes Hindui. For those who want to know the details of this should read chapter two of my book From Hindi to Urdu: A social and Political History (OUP, 2011). For others, let me give an outline of what schoolchildren are never told.

The term ‘Hindi’ was not used only for the ancestor of modern Hindi and Urdu. It was used vaguely by Persian writers for all languages of India (Hind). Even today, the census of India uses it in two ways: First, for Sanskritised Hindi, which is the modern, Sanskritised form of Khari Boli, patronised officially in India. And, secondly, for all the area-bound varieties (dialects) of the Hindi belt such as Awadhi, Braj, Bhasha, Bhojpuri etc.

So, after reading many sources, it emerges that the ancestor of Urdu and Hindi was called by the following names: Hindi, Hindvi (13th-19th century); Dehlavi (13th-14th c.); Gujri (15th c.); Dakhani (15th-18th c.); Indostan (17th c.); Moors (18th c.); Rekhta (18th-19th c.); Hindustani (18th-20th c.).

The term Urdu to refer to this language was first used, at least in existing written records, in 1780 by poet Ghulam Hamadani Mushafi (1750-1824). Before Mushafi, the term Zuban-e-Urdu-e-Mualla (the language of the Exalted City) was used for the Persianised language of the Mughal capitals Agra and Delhi.

Later the term was shortened to only ‘Urdu’. Let us also remember that the word ‘Urdu’ in the Persian sources of India did not mean ‘military camp’ but only ‘city,’ and generally the capital city of the empire. Its origin is not military but urban; not soldiering but urbanisation and sophistication; not the battlefield but the hustle and bustle of life, especially life in the courts of kings.

All living languages pick up new words just as we have witnessed with English words — brake, accelerator, clutch, thermometer etc — becoming a part of all our languages. In the same way, all the varieties of a large language stretching all the way from Peshawar to Behar picked up Persian, Arabic and some Turkish words when the Turkish, Pathans and Iranian soldiers, merchants, holy men, scholars, poets, adventurers and bureaucrats came to India. It is my guess that some variety around Delhi (Khari Boli) picked up more such words than others and was taken by the functionaries of the state to Gujrat, Deccan, the urban centres of Awadh and other areas. It is this language which was called by the different names given above. We know about these names because scholars used them. Amir Khusrau (1253-1325) did not call all languages ‘Hindi’. He mentions Sindhi, Lahori (Punjabi), Kashmiri and nine other languages but mentions Hindi as the language around Delhi since ancient times. Abul Fazal, writing in 1590, mentions many languages, including one of Delhi.

The terms ‘Indostan’ and ‘Moors’ were used by Englishmen in India. English traveller Edward Terry, who came to India in 1615, called it the popular language of the Mughal Empire. And popular it must have been because in Kuniguram, Waziristan, Bayazid Ansari (1526-1574) wrote a religious book called Khairul Bayan around 1560 in four languages: Arabic, Persian, Afghan (Pashto) and Hindi. This ‘Hindi’ is written in the Perso-Arabic script and can be understood by anyone who can understand Urdu and Hindi.

The term ‘Moors’ was used by Englishman and one called George Hadley wrote a grammar of it in 1772. But both these terms went out of fashion and the British commonly used the term ‘Hindustani’ for the language which they wrote in the Devanagari, Perso-Arabic and the Roman (English) scripts. Indeed, the army even had a newspaper for soldiers and also orders were given to soldiers in the Roman script.

Similarly the terms ‘Gujri’, ‘Dakhini’ and ‘Rekhta’ went out of fashion by the late 18th century. Hindustani was recorded in British census reports and used by Englishmen in India but disappeared after 1947 as Urdu and Hindi took its place.

Nowadays we use the term ‘Urdu’ for Persianised Khari Boli written in the Perso-Arabic script and Hindi for Sanskritised Khari Boli written in the Devanagari script.

But when we give the false history of the name of ‘Urdu’ from Turkish and call it a military language, we are not only just plain wrong, but also divisive and anti-peace. Instead, let us teach our children that, despite this name, Urdu does not have a military origin.

In India, as Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, one of the greatest scholars of Urdu literature, points out, this myth creates a feeling of guilt in the Urdu-speaking community. That is why Syed Sulaiman Nadvi wanted the name Urdu, which is the latest name for this language, to be abandoned even in 1939 when he wanted the Muslims and Hindus to unite to obtain freedom.

But the name cannot be abandoned now. It is invested with the emotion and love of about two centuries. What is possible is that people should be told that the ancestor of present-day Urdu and Hindi was one and it had many names. That, for at least five hundred years, this ancestor was mostly called ‘Hindi’— even when it was also called Dehlavi, Gujri, Dakhini, Rekhta etc — and that the Persianisation and Sanskritisation of it occurred during the 18th and the 19th centuries respectively.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 24th, 2011.

The murder of linguistic history — I

“Even so, I was surprised when looking at the guidebooks students study for Pakistan studies at the BA level. I found versions of linguistic history which are simply untrue.”
The murder of linguistic history — I

By Dr Tariq Rahman

Published: July 16, 2011–i/

The writer is Distinguished National Professor Emeritus of Linguistic History

KK Aziz’s landmark study of the distortion and falsification of history in textbooks entitled The Murder of History: A critique of history textbooks used in Pakistan, was first published in 1993. Since then, a number of people, including myself, have written on this subject. In India, too, the saffronisation of textbooks was opposed by well-meaning people and Krishna Kumar’s book Prejudice and Pride: School Histories of the Freedom Struggle in India and Pakistan (2001) is a major study on this subject. The gist of all these works is that the state and powerful interest groups distort textbooks of history so as to indoctrinate students to support their narrative and the policies emanating from it.

While some form of indoctrination goes into the deliberate construction of identities — mainly nationalistic identities — all over the world, it is rarely as crude as in the textbooks one comes across in our educational institutions. Even so, I was surprised when looking at the guidebooks students study for Pakistan studies at the BA level. I found versions of linguistic history which are simply untrue. Let me expatiate upon some of these untruths in a series of articles, of which this is the first.

The book in question, published by a shadowy publishing house in the Urdu Bazaar of Lahore, is used by students of Pakistan studies, history, politics, international relations as well as those preparing for their civil service examinations.

The book claims that the British were enemies of Urdu. The facts, however, are that the British taught Urdu, which they mostly called ‘Hindustani’, to their officers in Fort William College.

The first department of Urdu was, in fact, established by them there under the supervision of John Borthwick Gilchrist who wrote A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language in 1796. Urdu was later spread in the lower schools of present-day Utter Pradesh (UP) by British officers, notably James Thomason (1804-1853) during the 1850s. In 1853, the authorities made the knowledge of Urdu necessary for employment so it spread faster. Later, when the British conquered Punjab in 1849, they spread Urdu to the schools in both Punjab and present-day Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. Again, as in UP, they also made Urdu the language of lower jobs and hence, people learned it in their pragmatic interest.

The second major lie in the textbook is that during the Urdu-Hindi controversy, the British drove out Urdu from the courts and imposed Hindi instead.

In fact, while individual British officers were divided amongst themselves, the British government did not drive out Urdu from its major strongholds i.e. present-day UP and Punjab. The guide mentions Lt Governor AP Macdonnell (1859-1925) as the man who threw Urdu out of the lower courts and offices of the North Western Provinces (NWP, present-day UP). Macdonnell’s papers are available in a special collection at the Bodleian Library of the University of Oxford. I read them first in 1993 and again in 2010 for my recently-published book From Hindi to Urdu: A Social and Political History (2011).

Macdonnell received petitions from the supporters of Hindi — about 86 per cent of the population — to replace Urdu by Hindi in the courts. He sat on them for three years and eventually decided that (1) petitions could be received in both Urdu and Hindi scripts (2) summonses and proclamations will also be in both (3) only people who could read both scripts would be given government service (April 18, 1900).

In short, Hindi was allowed but Urdu remained the language of the courts and lower offices.

Macdonnell wrote to the viceroy, Lord Curzon, that it would be politically dangerous to remove Urdu. In his own words of May 18, 1900: “A political danger of considerable magnitude here intervened. The dethronement of Urdu, and the enthronement of Hindi, would mean an embittered war between Mohomedan and Hindu and the excitement of Mohomedan hostility against the government.”

The British government wanted peace and order, of course, and could not afford a civil war (our present governments do not seem to mind that though). Hence Urdu remained the court language till September 1949, two years after the departure of the British, when it was replaced by Hindi in the Devanagari script by the Legislative Assembly of India.

Apart from pure ignorance, one wonders where this notion of the replacement of Urdu by Hindi comes from. My guess is that it comes from developments in Bihar and the Saugor and Nerbudda territories (present-day Madhya Pradesh) and the hill tracts of the NWP, which are confused with the rest of north India.

In 1835, FJ Shore, officiating commissioner of Saugor and Nerbudda, replaced Persian by Hindustani in the Devanagari script. Officials in Kumaun and adjoining hilly areas were also doing this. Yet, at least in the Saugor and Nerbudda areas, the Persian script (Urdu) was introduced 10 years later. Thus, when this area was amalgamated with Central Provinces (CP) in 1861, Urdu came to predominate.

Only in Bihar, two governors, Sir George Campbell and Sir Anthony Eden, removed Urdu. The former attacked Persianised Urdu in 1871, and the latter ordered the use of Hindustani in the Kaithi or the Devanagari scripts to the exclusion of the Urdu script. Later, because of Hindu resistance to Kaithi, it was excluded and Devanagari triumphed.211064-DrTariqRahmanNew-1310828381-158-640x480

Yet, in the cultural heartland of UP and the Muslim-majority areas of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, it was Urdu which was officially supported and promoted — even at the expense of the indigenous languages of the people — by the British.

Hence, to claim that British rule was inimical to Urdu is either ignorance or misleading propaganda. In any case, I would urge authorities to pay more attention to textbooks to create less biased minds than we have done in the past.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 17th, 2011.