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Just How Similar is Arabic to Urdu?

posted on: Oct 13, 2020

Just How Similar Are Arabic and Urdu?

By: Safa M. Qureshi/Arab America Contributing Writer

Arabic is one of the most used languages in the world. It has influenced many languages such as Persian, Turkish, Malay, Hindi, Urdu, Indonesian, Tagalog, Somali, Swahili, and even Spanish. Arabic can be said to be the origin of Urdu. The main difference between Urdu and Arabic is their language families; Urdu belongs to the Indo-European language family whereas Arabic belongs to the Afro-Asiatic language family. In this post, there is a close examination of some of the similarities as well as differences between Arabic and Urdu. 

Introduction to Urdu

Just How Similar Are Arabic and Urdu?

Urdu is the official language of six states of India and the national language of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Urdu is largely made of words taken from the Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit languages. The Urdu language has 38 letters. 

History of Urdu

Just How Similar Are Arabic and Urdu?

The word Urdu originated from the Turkish word “Ordu,” which means the army. Urdu originated and was developed in Delhi, India during the Delhi Sultanate. After the Muslim conquest by Central Asian invaders in the 11th and 12th centuries, the new rulers learned the local language. These rulers spoke Persian and Turkish and wrote their languages in the Arabic Nastaliq script, so when they started speaking Hindi-Urdu, they wrote this new language in the Nastaliq script as well. By the 16th century, it had developed into a dialect of its own termed Urdu, with a prominent literary culture revolving around the royal court. Urdu was created because the Mughal rulers and officials needed a language to communicate with subjects and locals of central India. 

Where is Urdu Spoken?

While Arabic is used in the Middle East, North Africa, and in the horn of Africa, Urdu is spoken in Pakistan and in Northern India (in cities such as New Delhi, Lucknow, and Hyderabad). Urdu is also commonly spoken in Bangladesh, the Middle East (especially in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), and other parts of the world where Pakistani and some Indian communities have settled.

Today, there are 61 million native speakers of Urdu in just India and Pakistan. Urdu is the 20th most populous native language spoken around the world. 

Can Arabic Speakers Read Urdu?

That’s like asking an English speaker if they can read French or Spanish … or asking a Russian if they can read Ukrainian or Kazakh. However, the pronunciation could be tragically off, which could lead to embarrassing situations. One example is the word: عرقِ گلاب. If an Arabic speaker was to read this, it would translate to dog sweat (araq Kaleb), when it should be read as (Arq-e-Gulab), which means rose water in Persian.

According to one source, Arabic speakers can read Urdu but probably won’t understand anything. In addition, it’s important to note that Urdu has its own unique letters and numbers, which are not found in the Arabic language (such as پ, which is the ‘p’ sound). You’ve probably heard Arabs try and pronounce the word Pepsi, but it always comes out as “bebsi”. This is why.

Can Urdu Speakers Read Arabic?

According to one source, Urdu is written in the Nastaliq script, which is descended from Naskh, the modern Arabic writing system, and Taliq, another writing system. If we were to give an Urdu speaker (with no Arabic knowledge) to read something in Arabic, they would be able to read it (since it’s the same script as Urdu, but with missing accent signs). As far as comprehension goes, they would only be able make out bits and pieces of what’s written.

Comparing Alphabets

Unlike English, both Arabic and Urdu are written from right to left.

Below, you will see the Arabic and Urdu numbers listed from 0-9.

Similarities in Vocabulary

Be sure to watch this video, where Meena (an Arabic speaker from Iraq) and Ayesha (an Urdu speaker from Pakistan) challenge each other with a list of words and sentences.

Here is a list of 10 words that are pretty much written and pronounced the same in both Arabic and Urdu:

In conclusion, while there are some similarities between the two languages, it is important to note that the syntax is different. At the same time, it is much easier for Arabic speakers to learn Urdu and for Urdu speakers to learn Arabic because of the similarities. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why so many Pakistanis and Indians learn Arabic in addition to English and Urdu.

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