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What is Urdu?

Niki Acker
Updated May 23, 2024
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Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language spoken mainly in India and Pakistan. It is one of the two standardized registers of Hindustani, distinguished from the other, Hindi, mainly in its writing system. While Hindi is written with Devanāgarī script, also used to write the ancient Indian language Sanskrit, Urdu is written in an alphabet based on the Islamic Nasta'liq script. The vocabulary and phonetics also show more Persian influence than Hindi.

The national language of Pakistan, Urdu is also one of the official languages of India. It boasts over 100 million speakers worldwide. The language is associated with Muslim speakers, and in its standard form, it includes many Arabic and Persian loanwords.

There are four recognized dialects: Dakhini, Pinjari, Rekhta, and Modern Vernacular Urdu. Dakhini is spoken in South India and contains less Arabic and Persian loanwords than other dialects. Rekhta, on the other hand, has the most Persian influence and is typically used for Urdu poetry.

Urdu developed under Persian influence on the Indian subcontinent during the 13th century. It was a minority language for much of its history, though it began to rival Persian as the language of literature and the elite in the latter era of Islamic rule in India. In 1947, Urdu became the official language of Pakistan and gained a much wider following. Today, it is the language of majority in Pakistan and a few Indian states.

There is a large body of literature in Urdu, especially various forms of poetry, many religious in nature. It also boasts the third largest body of Islamic literature, after Arabic and Persian. Secular short stories are another well-developed form in Urdu literature.

Though linguists consider Urdu and Hindi two registers of a single language, speakers often disagree. The two registers are usually mutually intelligible, but a great deal of nationalism is involved in which register one speaks. The language is not simply a register to its speakers, but a symbol of national, religious, and sometimes political identity.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker , Writer
"In addition to her role as a Language & Humanities editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "

Discussion Comments

By whiteplane — On Jun 24, 2011

@nextcorrea - In America poetry is kind of a dead art form. It is still written and read but rarely in large numbers. But across the Arab world poetry is alive and thriving.

In almost every Arab country there are huge poetry festivals that attract thousands of listeners. Many Arabs compose poetry as a casual hobby and there is not the same stigma attached to reading and writing poetry that is often found in the US. The idea of poetic Arabs does not always jibe with the unfortunate image that has developed in the popular consciousness over the last 10 years but it is very real. They are a culture that is obsessed with the music of language and the thrilling variety of meanings.

By nextcorrea — On Jun 22, 2011

I had ghe privileged of traveling to Pakistan once and there was one night in particular that will always stand out in my mind.

My husband and I did not speak any Urdu and generally found it easy to get around using only English. But one night we happened upon a poetry reading that was held in only Urdu. We sat and watched for almost 2 hours. neither of us had any idea what was being said but the musicality of the language was incredible. In a way it was song like. Its amazing how you can be so taken by the sound of a language, even if you have no idea what the words themselves mean.

By anon162614 — On Mar 24, 2011

I am an Urdu teacher, and teaching online. it's very easy to write and speak.

By anon147987 — On Jan 31, 2011

Urdu is a well known Muslims language. it is so easy to speak. i love this language.

By anon83600 — On May 11, 2010

meaning of urdu is 'lashkar'(a band of soldiers), or in other words a group, because Urdu borrowed words from various other languages like persian, arabic, etc., etc.

By anon67545 — On Feb 25, 2010

what is the meaning of urdu?

By anwar808 — On May 25, 2009

Can I learn Urdu online?

Niki Acker

Niki Acker


"In addition to her role as a Language & Humanities editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide...
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