The Urdu language is one of two standardized registers of the Hindustani language, the other being Hindi. Urdu is a member of the Indo-Aryan language group and is one of the 22 official languages of India. It is also the official language of Pakistan. If grouping Urdu together with Hindi as “Hindustani,” there are approximately 329 million native speakers, along with approximately 215 million non-native speakers, making Hindustani the third most spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese and English. If counted separately, there are approximately 67 million native speakers of Urdu, with 51 million speakers in India and 16 million speakers in Pakistan. Urdu is also one of the most widely spoken languages in the United Kingdom, with approximately 400,000 speakers of the language.
Although Urdu is one of the two official languages of Pakistan (the other being English) and the national language, it is mostly learned as a second or third language, as around 93% of the population speaks a native language other than Urdu, such as Punjabi, Pashto, and Sindhi. There are several dialects of Urdu, with the standard version being based on the Khariboli dialect in Delhi, India. One of the key differences between Urdu and Hindi is that Urdu has adopted more Persian (and Arabic, to a lesser extent) vocabulary, while Hindi vocabulary is derived more from Sanskrit, although these differences are typically found mainly in literary and technical settings, and the two languages remain mutually intelligible.
Urdu grammar, which is virtually identical to Hindi, follows a subject-object-verb (SOV) word order, with the semantic stress falling on the second to last word in a sentence or clause. However, there are few fixed rules and a high degree of flexibility and variation. Urdu is also a highly inflected language. In addition to tense, words are inflected to express gender, number, person, and case, and words are inflected by adding a new suffix or by changing the sound of the word endings. Urdu nouns include two genders, two noun types (count or non-count), two numbers, and three cases. Nouns are also divided into classes based on marked and non-marked declension.
Verbs in Urdu are generally structured around aspect and tense/mood, with successive layers of inflectional elements following the lexical base. The three aspects in Urdu verbs are perfective, habitual, and continuous, and are inflected for gender and number. Hindi also utilizes compound verbs, which consist of a verb stem and auxiliary verb, and “conjunct verbs,” that are formed by a noun or adjective with a general verbalizer.
One of the key distinguishing factors between Urdu and Hindi lies in the writing systems. Hindi utilizes the Devanagari script, while Urdu uses a modified Perso-Arabic script in the Nastaliq style. The Urdu alphabet is written right-to-left and consists of 58 letters. The Urdu alphabet was not formally standardized until 2004 by the National Language Authority in Pakistan. In comparison with the Persian alphabet, Urdu has added more letters to represent sounds that are not found in the Persian language.
FUN FACTS: In addition to being the national language of Pakistan, Urdu is also an official language in five Indian states. Several loanwords from Urdu are found in the English language, including khaki, cummerbund, pyjamas, and typhoon.
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