Archive for April 4, 2017

Truth about language in India

Posted: April 4, 2017 in Hindi, India, Urdu
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This is a very interesting piece on Sanskrit and I have decided to share.

by Santosh Kumar Khare

Sanskrit played the elitist role in ancient India, being the language of religion, government and literature. Pali and subsequently Prakrits and Apabharamshas were spoken by the masses. This is evident from classical Sanskrit plays, which have brahmins and noblemen speaking Sanskrit while lower orders (including women!) use Pali. Sanskrit gave way to Persian in most of India during Islamic rule.

Regional dialects and languages continued to develop at popular levels, acquiring words from Persian, Arabic and Turkish. In northern India the process produced the patois of Amir Khusro and a highly polyglot lingua franca. Called Hindavi or Urdu, it developed in bazaars and military camps through contact between Persian Turkish-speaking elites and soldiers on the one hand and the Bhasha-speaking locals on the other.

During the 19th century English displaced Persian as the rulers’ tongue while regional vernaculars continued to evolve among the masses. Although attempts to embellish Hindavi/Urdu – the literary form was called Rekhta – started in Shahjahan’s times, its development into formal language ironically came about after the ascendancy of English. This was accompanied by a policy directive from the Court of Directors of East India Company in 1832 to replace Persian with local vernaculars as the language of the courts so that the public could understand the proceedings.

The notion of Hindi and Urdu as two distinct languages crystallised at Fort William College in the first half of the 19th century and was given official endorsement in an order promulgated by the NWP and Oudh government (present day UP) in 1900 requiring provincial officials to know both. As far as the script was concerned, the shift from the Persian to the Nagari script stretched from the 1870s and 1880s (Bihar and Central Provinces) well into the 20th century (UP and Delhi).

It is important to bear in mind that modern Hindi and Urdu started with narrow social bases. They represented competing interests of emergent middle class urban Hindu and entrenched Muslim/Kayastha Group respectively. Both had their eyes on lower-level government jobs in the British raj. Hindi and Urdu therefore had to differentiate themselves from each other and in the process from the common vernacular.

Their linguistic and literary repertoires were built up accordingly, Urdu borrowing heavily from Persian/Arabic and Hindi from Sanskrit.

From EPW commentary Dec 14, 2002
‘TRUTH ABOUT LANGUAGE IN INDIA’
by Santosh Kumar Khare

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