Urdu: Inner processing of words ...

Discussion in 'Indo-Iranian Languages' started by UrduMedium, Mar 29, 2012.

  1. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    I remember watching an interview long time ago, of Naeem Bokhari (well-known Pakistani TV celebrity). He related how his family belonged to the old walled city of Lahore and spoke the specific Punjabi dialect that represents that old city (andruun shehr). Mr. Bokhari is an eloquent Urdu and English speaker. However, he said that he dreams in Punjabi. He also spoke about how words matter in terms of the visceral feelings they evoke. He gave an example of the words for donkey-- gadhaa in Urdu, and khotaa in Punjabi. He smilingly said, on the surface both words mean the same, but the feeling that the word khotaa carries for him is nowhere replaceable by the word gadhaa. I thought that was an interesting thought, and could relate to it.

    I feel something similar happens with words that are not intrinsically part of the regional tradition when compared to more indigenous words. I am not suggesting that to mean that the adopted words from other languages are somehow artificial or don't blend in the language. Quite the contrary, they tremendously enhance the expressive power of the language, bring more beauty to it, and make possible writings and thought processes that would not be possible otherwise. However, I am trying to compare how our inner word processing engine processes the two kinds of words, ones that are rooted in the local and regional languages for thousands of years, and ones that are planted through interactions with other cultures. For example, consider the following:

    taqsiim vs baTwaaraa (division)
    bad xuu vs jhagRaaluu (ill-tempered)
    vs baiThak (sitting/event)
    vs pakaR (n.) (capture/seizure)
    Tol Taks vs chungii (toll)

    To me the words on the right are much more intrinsically understood as they are rooted in other words that form the building blocks of our language. They form a neural network with dozens of other words with same/similar roots. They require little "processing", so to speak, to internalize the thought. While the words on the left do not carry these properties and require some degree of "translation" and need more "processing".

    Not sure if I have been able to express my hypothesis clearly. Again, no intent here to show one "type" of words superior to the other. They all have their utilities. Curious if anyone has any comments on the topic.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  2. Alfaaz Senior Member

    Really interesting topic! It seems that it's all subjective! A person who has grown up using the words on the left side of your list (mostly Arabic/Persian origin, except toll tax) will feel comfortable using those and will readily be able to form strong associations with those words. On the other hand, a person who is used to using/hearing the words on the right side of your list (Hindi/Sanskirt/Prakrit derived words) will be comfortable using those and forming associations.
    These could be two groups........and the third could be of those people who have heard and used both sets of words, are comfortable with both, and able to form associations with both sets.
    What associations a person has with certain words depends on how s/he has encountered them in her/his environment. One person might find the word khotaa to have a negative connotation, somewhat insulting, or to be used only in jokes, while another might find it completely normal and equate it to the Urdu "gadhaa" and the English "donkey"!
  3. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Thanks, Alfaaz, for your comment. Couple of followup observations.

    With regard to your comment about khotaa being negative, I don't think that's a relevant angle. The word could be positive or negative, the question is: is it "processed" at an intrinsic level or treated as symbol translation. For example, bad xuu is a negative word, and so is jhagRaaluu. But the latter conjures up a vivid image in the speaker and listener's mind, the way, I argue, the former does not (which needs "symbol processing").

    Also, I feel more than the language source, perhaps what matters is probably whether the word is "related" to many other words, or made up of "building blocks", that we can call the basic vocabulary of the language. Any derivatives or words like 'paRh', 'kaT', 'khaa', 'chaal', etc would meet my definition. Interestingly, a borrowed word like 'badal' (which we recently discussed in another thread), although not native to Urdu/Hindi, works the same way. The fact that 'badal' is a basic building block of a word (further indivisible), any derivatives from it (say, tabdiilii) would be equally intrinsic to our word processing mind. Derivatrives of '3ilm' (also a "basic" word), such as 'ta3liim', 'ma3luum', '3aalim', etc, may also be similar. taqsiim, however remains alien (in my humble view).

    I am not sure exactly where I am going with this :) But one observation would be that the foreign words we bring into Urdu, where their building blocks are alien to the language, they are likely to remain foreign to the language for a long time. For example, the word/term like, "air conditioned", although very commonly used in Urdu, will never "sound" like an Urdu term after a century of use, since neither "air", not "conditioned" evoke any feelings/meaning to an Urdu processing engine.

    I realize I don't have much to offer but "opinions". But hopefully your and others' comments may steer this toward an "understanding".
  4. greatbear Banned

    India - Hindi & English
    An interesting post, UM, and I think of course there is this distinction; some words, sounds remain innate to us, they instantly evoke a reaction in our innermost being, whereas on the other hand there are words that though we easily understand, though are even classified maybe as a higher register or purer, are nothing more than acquired words, which do not have the same kind of connection to our innermost being. In my opinion, it has a lot to do with what cultures we encounter first, which words or which vocabulary interests and excites us from our earliest consciousness, and what's our dream world like.

    I personally don't think that it has always to do with what has been rooted in the local culture over thousands of years; for example, when I think of "character", the English word "character" is the closest to me, not the Hindi word "charitr" which I otherwise like using. It may be because "character" was the word I heard at home, not "charitr"; it could also be because English has always been fascinating and the most beautiful language in the world to me (I am not saying it is; I am only talking of myself). It's of course also the language I have invariably dreamt in. It is also something that I personally was drawn to, and English has had nothing to do with school or family in my life. But one person's "inner" language is a complex affair; it need not come from one source. "Top" is alien to me; I identify with "laTTuu". Both "marbles" and "kanche" are alien; it is "lakhoTiyaaN" that speak to me. For a dumb (foolish) person, a word so unknown as "dhappuu" (hard "d" as in "dandaa") speaks to me, not "buddhuu" or "moorkh", though I loved acquiring "koodhmagz"/"koodhmaguuz" as a child.

    In other words, there are words that we are fond of, even if we acquired them at some stage of life. There are some words floating in our environment. Then there are some that we are curiously drawn to, regardless of what's there in our local roots or not. The language of a person is a complex affair built from all this - if you could analyse it successfully, you could analyse the whole personality of a person, I believe.
  5. Abu Talha Senior Member

    I agree with much of what has been mentioned. As an interesting parallel English words from germanic roots convey a different sense than those coming from Norman French. The phrases "a hearty welcome" and "a cordial reception" are often used to show this difference.
  6. greatbear Banned

    India - Hindi & English
    Interesting; yes, English itself has a most interesting vocabulary, which is one of the reasons it lends itself so readily to rich poetry.
  7. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Thanks GB for your insightful comments. I am aware of, and agree fully, of the role personal upbringing and experiences play in this regard. There's no way to get around that. However, what I am trying to figure out is this. If I am equally aware of/conversant with two words from the two categories I outlined in post #1, which speaks to me more, and why. In other words, discounting/taking out the personal upbringing variable out of the equation (to the extent possible), and then see what's at work here (if anything).

    The example I quoted, I am pretty much equally comfortable with words in each column (may be with the exception of bad xuu). Take nishast and baiThak as an example. I have known both words well, longer than I can remember. However, the fact that baiThak is neurally linked to the concept of baiThnaa and its many variant forms, evokes a much more automatic picture of the subject matter, while nishast on the other hand requires an extra step in the mind to figure out what it means (micro seconds!). May be, the mind translate it to the concept of baiThnaa and then interprets it.

    This phenomenon can be very easily observed in Arabic where a single trilateral root (e.g. 3-l-m) can give you a vast array of words that almost always have some semantic linkage. I have even seen Arabic take a foreign word like cigarette, create a new three-letter root like s-j-r (no g in Arabic), and then use a word like tasjiir for smoking (rhymes with takliif for k-l-f root). This is a powerful way of indegen-izing a borrowed word. Didn't mean to digress into Arabic but thought this may be illustrative.

    In addition each word carries a boat-load of imagery in terms of idiomatic usage, proverbs, classical stories and so on. So, the mind may connect many more circuits on chaNbelii than on yasmeen :)
  8. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    AT saahib, your analogue from English is very pertinent, and possibly right on! Thanks for helping generalize the issue. I too feel a similar dynamic at work between, "a hearty welcome" and "a cordial reception".

    Not sure if a "folksy" vs "refined" perspective is implied here. In some cases that may be true but not in general. For me, nishast and baiThak both can be used in literary contexts.
  9. Abu Talha Senior Member

    That's true... The analogy may not be perfect. baiThak sounds quite proper and literary to me.

    In fact to go back to an earlier thread, parindah, from Persian, for "bird" sounds quite normal to me, even to the point of sounding boring. panchhii, however, despite being Indic, sounds much more interesting (though more rustic).

    With baras and saal, I would even venture to say that baras sounds more literary to me.
  10. BP. Senior Member

    I have had the hypothesis for some time that:
    . we all have an internal meta-language.
    <= grammatical concepts transcend individual languages. E. g. in a conditional sentence if the conditional clause is in the present tense, the second has to be in the future be it French or Urdu (by reflecting on this very example I found out I had been speaking conditionals all my life without knowing it!)
    . the language on your tongue is the translation you, through mental excercise, even if imperceptible to you, give to the world.
    => you are sometimes lost for words, but the sentence is alive and squirming in your head in that internal meta-language, it's your mental translator that has gone hors service.
  11. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Well said, BP saahib! Thank you. Your hypothesis has a ring of truth. The internal meta-language is the language of thought, I guess. Much of thought needs a verbal medium.
  12. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    I follow perfectly your train of thought but I don't agree with your logic. In fact, I agree with gb's and others' point of view. There is something about some words which have a profound affect on people. There are a number of Sanskrit (based) words which I find completely intoxicating. Those words are not rooted in my cultural background. Equally, there are some Persian and Arabic words which have a very similar effect on me. I think this is a very personal matter.

    Looking at your list..

    taqsiim vs baTwaaraa (No difference for me)

    bad-xuu vs jhagRaaluu (two different meanings)

    nishast vs baiThak (Again, not quite the same meaning)

    girifit/pakaR (us kii girift/pakaR Dhiilii paR ga'ii..no different feeling for me)

    Tol Taiks vs chungii (may be)
  13. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Thanks, QP saahib. Your point is well taken.

    Just by way of clarification, I did not present this as solely Indic/non-Indic issue. In fact I used badal and 3-l-m root words as examples of ones that are processed much more intrinsically (for me at least). The hypothesis I tried to present was that it is the various neural connections the word makes (because of various word forms, direct linkage to verbs, idiomatic use, proverbial use, etc), and whether their composition in piece-parts is "familiar" to us linguistically, play a role in whether we can feel the word in our bones, or not.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2012
  14. greatbear Banned

    India - Hindi & English
    Sometimes, yes, but I don't think always; there are even times when we are completely unaware of those connections, and even two related words come across to us as two different words for two different things and we haven't any inner inkling of a connection. To take the example of a recently discussed item here, "ghaRiaal" (the reptile) doesn't evoke the word "ghaRaa" (pot), even though the former derives from the second: in spite of the etymological connections and similar sounds, a person using "ghaRaa" might very well feel "magar" in his bones rather than "ghaRiaal" (forgetting for the moment, as is done in colloquial speech, that mugger and gharial are two distinct species).
  15. tonyspeed Senior Member

    JA- English & Creole
    I think how a word sounds and feels on the tongue can also have an impact on one's perception of it.
    Much like with music, one can make subjective decisions about how words sound - how they feel.
    For me donkey feels like a descriptive word. Gadhaa seems like so much more.
    If I say "you're such a donkey", it sounds stiff.
    This is probably why it was replaced in English with a non-so-nice three-letter word.
    But when you say "gadhaa!" there is a beauty in how the "dhaa" rolls off the tongue.
    Even for me, the word silence...sounds soft and lifeless, but sanaaTTa! Now there is a word that brings a silence, a calm like a crash.
    It sounds like a profound word.

    It seems to me that in infancy we develop a liking for certain speech patterns and sounds.
    Whenever we hear it in a word then it speaks to us.

    For an Urdu vs Hindi example, chiTThii speaks to me more than xat, but xwaahish speaks to be more than icchaa.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2012
  16. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Thanks everyone for a most thoughtful and interesting exchange. Great examples from both TS and GB sahibaan!

    One final example ... salaam, aadaab, namaste, good morning, all carry some meaning behind them from their linguistic building-blocks. salaam (greetings of peace), aadaab (expression of respect), namaste (bowing in honor), good morning (wishing a pleasant morning). This meaning comes from what these words are composed of. A hello, is pretty much devoid of it, and evokes no such inner meaning or sentiment (for me!). I suspect, the pattern applies to a word like salaam too. If one makes no neural linkage to its meaning, the inner processing will be lacking in some way. How words are formed is part of how they derive their inner meaning.
    Last edited: Mar 30, 2012
  17. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو

    Naeem Bokhari may be surprised to learn (as I was) that "gadhaa" is a word used by Waris Shah in his "Heer".

    peT vaaste phiran amiir dar-dar, sayyid-zaadiyaaN ne gadhe chaarne ne

    I am sure you are able to follow the gist of it, but just in case..

    peT vaaste phireN amiir dar dar, sayyid-zaade bhii gadhe charaa'eN ge.
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2012
  18. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Great find! Many thanks.
  19. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Just wanted to register this excellent couplet quoted by QP saahab (big thanks!) in another thread as an example of how powerful/beautiful an effect words sprouting from a basic stem like basnaa can create. This in my view is why these words create a more profound inner meaning as our mind can approach them from so many different angles, hence enable us to 'feel them in our bones'. I know very subjective, but its a good example of how I look at it.

    dil kaa ujaRnaa sahl sahii, basnaa sahl nahiiN zaalim
    bastii basnaa khel nahiiN baste baste bastii hai

    Last edited: May 8, 2012
  20. greatbear Banned

    India - Hindi & English
    I do understand what you're trying to say here, UM! Words coming from the same "source" provide a kind of habitation, a complex, in which we, our mind, can live, for it is easy then to make associations and sounds themselves get associated with instant images in our minds, thus the "feeling in the bones". It often happens to me in English, the primary language in which I communicate: "clog", "clogged", "clagged" are all similar-sounding words making me feel instantly being blocked, but "clog" and anything related also makes me feel instantly wood, and after all the wooden sandals are another meaning of a clog, not just blocking: thus blocking by a piece of wood and movement through a piece of wood, two apparently opposite motions, are tied in my brain through one word - and wood.

    The Hindi word for "silent, quiet" - "chup", "gupchup", "chupchaap", "chuppii" -, and not too far soundwise "sushupt" (which means "sleeping") - and the games like "chhuppam-chhuppaii" (hide and seek), expressions like "chhupe ruustam", and alliterations like "chup hai chaand" - these are the means one feels a language in one's bones. However, to me, these are but one of the possibilities; another thing may also produce the same feeling in me when through sounds or poetry it can generate what I had been unable to express thus far.
    Last edited: May 8, 2012
  21. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Thanks, GB for sharing your perspective on this.

    Tangential comment: gupchup, chuppii are new for me. Perhaps not used in Urdu. Also, I grew up calling chhupan chhupaa'ii instead.
  22. Alfaaz Senior Member

    گُپ چُپ
  23. UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Correction, as per this book, this shi3r is from Faani Badaayuuni, not Miir. QP Saahab, please correct if this reference is not accurate.
  24. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    ^Yes, your reference is correct, HM SaaHib.

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