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Urdu (o͞orˈdo͞o), language belonging to the Indic group of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages. The official tongue of Pakistan, Urdu is also one of the 15 languages recognized in the 1950 Indian constitution. Urdu has been described as the written or literary variant of Hindustani that is used by Muslims. It is written in a modified form of the Arabic alphabet, and its basically Indic vocabulary has been enriched by borrowings from Arabic and Persian. Grammatically and phonetically, however, Urdu is an Indic language. About 100 million persons in Pakistan and India understand Urdu.


See M. C. Saihgal, Hindustani Grammar (Urdu edition, 1945); E. Bender, Urdu Grammar and Reader (1967); F. Southworth, Student's Hindi-Urdu Reference Manual (1971); W. Bright and S. A. Kahn, The Urdu Writing System (1976).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the official language of Pakistan; one of the modern literary languages of India. It is one of the two literary forms of Hindustani, a lingua franca with more than 150 million speakers (1971, estimate). Urdu is spoken chiefly among the urban population, principally by Muslims in Karachi and Lahore in Pakistan, and in Delhi, Lucknow, Bombay, and Hyderabad in India. It is an Indo-Aryan dialect belonging to the Indo-European language family.

Urdu became a literary language in the late 17th century owing to the poetic achievements of Vali, whose works were written in Dakhini (Hindustani). Urdu is based on northern Hindustani and on its foundation, the Khari boli dialect. The classical period of the development of Urdu is represented by the works of the Muslim poets of North India in the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. The sound features are typical of modern Indo-Aryan languages: short and long vowels, nasal vowels, diphthongs, aspirated (voiced and voiceless) consonants, and retroflex consonants. Specific phonetic features include the uvu-lars q, gh, and kh, the frontals sh and z, and the labial f in the literary pronunciation of loan words.

The grammatical structure of Urdu is analytic. The high style uses the Persian ezafeh suffix -e, the Arabic definite article al-, and Persian and Arabic plural forms. Up to 80 percent of the vocabulary consists of bookish Persian and Arabic loan words. The term “Urdu,” which is often used to refer to the colloquial form of Hindustani, came into use in the early 19th century; the former name was Rekhta. The writing system is based on the Arabic alphabet.


Barannikov, A. P. Khindustani (khindi i urdu). Moscow, 1934.
Zograf, G. A. Khindustani na rubezhe 18–19 vv. Moscow, 1961.
Urdu-russkii slovar’. Moscow, 1964.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


an official language of Pakistan, also spoken in India. The script derives primarily from Persia. It belongs to the Indic branch of the Indo-European family of languages, being closely related to Hindi but containing many Arabic and Persian loan words
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