Urdu-Hindi: Urdu and Devanagri Scripts-A Brief Comparison

Discussion in 'Indo-Iranian Languages' started by Qureshpor, Jul 9, 2011.

  1. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    In a recent thread some discussion took place on the Urdu word "ziyaadah" which in Devanagri script is written as, "zyaadaa". I thought I would attempt to write a brief introduction of both these scripts so that those not familiar with either of them might benefit from it. I hope this to be a learning exercise for those unfamiliar with the "other" script. If there are any errors in my short piece, I would be most grateful for their correction from our friends in the Forum. Please also feel free to fill in the missing gaps.

    First a couple of misconceptions. People often think of Devanagri script, as THE script for the Sanskrit language. However, only since the 19th Century has this script been used almost exclusively to write Sanskrit. Before the colonial period, there was no standard script for Sanskrit, the most common scripts being in use were Brahmi and Kharoshthi. Devanagri first began to be used for the Hindi language as we know it today, at the Fort William College, Calcutta.

    People sometimes call the Urdu script as "Arabic Script" or "Perso-Arabic Script". It is true that Urdu script is based on the Arabic alphabet to which the letters p,ch, Z (as in Television) and g were later added. The first three are formed with three dots on already existing shapes and the g is formed by adding a further diagonal slant on the k. (In older script, three dots were added above the k slant). Further Indic consonants were added namely bh, ph, th, T, Th, jh, chh, dh, D, Dh, R, Rh, kh, gh... No one who is able to read Arabic or Persian will be able to read Urdu script unless they were familiar with it. A do-chashmii (two-eyed) h is used to form the aspirates while a small letter "toe" is placed on top of a letter to form the various retroflexes.

    Devanagri and Urdu scripts are essentially phonetic scripts. In Devanagi all vowels, including short ones are shown explicitly (apart from short -a following a consonant where the a is incorporated within the consonant). In Urdu, short vowels are rarely written. These can be added and are, in children's books for example or where it is necessary to indicate a word unambiguously. Devanagri script tabulates four further vowels which are mainly if not exclusively found in the Sanskrit language.

    R and Rh sounds do not exist in Sanskrit. To represent these sounds, a subscript dot is placed below D and Dh.
    f, z, Kh, Gh and q do not exist in the Devanagri system. Once again subscript dots are used with ph, j, kh, g, and k to form them. I don't believe Hindi has devised a system to represent Z sound found in vision etc.

    There are two or three consonats which do not exist in the Urdu script, the retrofles sh ष and the retroflex l. The latter is included in the Devanagri table of consonats but I believe it existed only in the Vedic Sanskrit. For both these sounds "normal" sh and l are used in Urdu.There is also the nasal retroflex ण, which is not used in Urdu. However, if one needs to represt it, again a small "toe" is placed above the letter nuun.

    Where there is no intervening vowel between one consonant and another, Devanagri has a number of "conjuncts' e.g. pr, ksh, kk and so on. There are two such conjuncts which have taken a distinct shape of their own and these are क्ष (क् + ष) and ज्ञ (ज् + ञ).

    There are a couple of letters in Devanagri which have alternative forms just like the Urdu letter siin can be written in two ways. The first is the short vowel a and the second is the consonat jh.

    The letter r in Devanagri, when coming on its own is witten as र, as in Lord Ram but when it is followed by other consonants without an intervening vowel, it takes at least three seperate shapes.

    In Urdu script, one can not always simply put consonants next to each other to form words. Most letters have initial, medial and final forms which, just as the conjunct combinations, need to be learnt.

    In Urdu script there are some consonats which sound the same in Urdu but in its original Arabic, they had distinct sounds. The advantage of keeping these letters helps to trace the etymology of words formed by them. te=to'e, se =siin=swaad, H=h, zaal=ze=zwaad=zo'e. alif and 'ain have almost merged into each other but not quite!

    ba'd (after بعد ) in Urdu ends up as baad (wind باد) in Devanagri.
    ba'z (some بعض ) = baaz (falcon باز) in Devanagri
    ma'nii (meaning معنى) = maanii ( A famous Iranian painter مانی)
    shi'r (verse شعر) = sher (Lionشیر ) in Devanagri

    I hasten to add that Urdu speakers distinguish between ba'd/baad etc pairs.

    Urdu nah = Devanagri na
    Urdu kih = Devanagri ki
    Urdu dunyaa = Devanagri duniyaa
    Urdu paa'oN = Devanagri paaNv*
    Urdu naa'o (boat) = Devanagri naav
    Urdu jhukaa'o (verbal noun) = Devanagri jhukaav*
    Urdu gaa'e (cow) = Devanagri gaay
    Urdu pardah = Hindi pardaa

    Urdu yih/vuh, without the vowels are shown as "yh" and "vh". In Devanagri, yah/vah are singulars and ye/ve are plurals. Old Urdu had ye/ve but these are no longer used. Whilst one finds yah/vah in Devanagri, in speech (unless one is being "pedantic"), the pronunciation is the same as in Urdu.

    A bit about Urdu letter hamzah, next time perhaps. Also, may be someone can fill in the visarga and anusvara?

    On a closing note, a shi'r or two from Ghalib which indicates that even in his time vah was pronounced vo.

    kahte to ho tum sab kih but-i-Ghaaliyah-mo aa'e
    yak martabah ghabraa ke kaho ko'ii kih vo aa'e

    us anjuman-i-naaz kii kyaa baat hai Ghalib
    ham bhii ga'e vaaN aur tirii taqdiir ko ro aa'e

    * This spelling is also found in Urdu.

    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2014
  2. tonyspeed Senior Member

    English & Creole - Jamaica

    Before, the rise of Devanagari and the political movement it formed, Kaithi was a much more important script for writing Hindustani.

    In a learn Urdu from Hindi book I have from the 70s, the sound Z was represented by a ज with TWO dots underneath.

    The visarga as it is pronounced in Hindi is an aspiration like "h", except the proceding vowel sound is lightly echoed. For example, dukh in it's technically "correct" Hindi form is दुःख, and it ideally pronounced as dUhukh, where the second 'u' is a mild echo of the earlier 'U'. In practice however, people do not pronounce the visarga here. It is found only in words of Sanskrit origin.

    The anusvara or dot can represent either a nasalized vowel or a nasal consonant with the tongue touching the mouth in the same position as the following consonant (in this case, it is always a part of a conjunct, with the first consonant in the conjunct being a nasal consonant). This is opposed to the chandrabindu which always represents a nasal vowel. The use of anusvara is not standardised across publishers and some use the anusvara exclusively for BOTH nasal vowels and nasal consonants. Historically, the anusvara was introduced for nasalised vowels as a practical feature, as printing the full chandrabindu along with certain matras was impractical.

    This question was just in my mind. Thank you for answering this. It gets more complex in Hindi unfortunately as there are teachers who insist vh is pronounced vaha or vaihai and yh as yaha or yaihai.

    My question to you is: what is the standard pronunciation of yh in Urdu. Is it ye as I have learned?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2014
  3. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2014
  4. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Here are a few words which have the final consonant aspirated in Hindi whereas in Modern Urdu, there is no final aspiration.

    Urdu: hoNT
    Hindi: oNTh

    Urdu: jhuuT
    Hindi: jhuuTh

    Urdu: bhuuk
    Hindi: bhuukh

    Urdu: dhokaa
    Hindi: dhokhaa

    Hindi: bhiikh

    Urdu: khambaa
    Hindi: khambhaa

    Urdu: paudaa
    Hindi: paudhaa
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 22, 2014
  5. souminwé Senior Member

    Vancouver, Canada
    North American English, Hindi
    There IS a letter for "Z" or "zh" as more common. It's श़. This letter is very technical, and I've only seen it online and in a few newspapers.
    You can put a nukta under anything. For example, अ़ is used for 3ayn in some transcriptions of the Qur'an (try googling it now!).

    Also QURESHPOR, some of those words are only aspirated in writing.

    HonTH (oNTH is dialectal, I think), jhuuTH, bhuukh and khambha are indeed aspirated
    Bhiikh and paudha are optional and dhokha is almost always dhoka.

    Bhiikh and dhokha are for some reason hard to say for me, and I never say paudha. I also have some difficulty with khambha.

    It seems too many aspirates in one word are too much to be sustained.
  6. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
  7. Gope Senior Member

    Qureshpor SaaHib, I just saw your post. (#1) ; an excellent summary. By the way is there a comprehensive treatment of the different:) avatars that plural forms can take in urdu depending on their etymological origins?
  8. eskandar

    eskandar Moderator

    English (US)
    The plurals of Indic-origin nouns are basically formed regularly. An overview of Persian plural forms used in Urdu can be found in "Urdu: An Essential Grammar" by Ruth Laila Schmidt, p. 252, and Arabic plurals are covered on pp. 265-267. (You can find the book online in PDF form by searching)
  9. Gope Senior Member

    Shukriyah, eskandar SaaHib, I have found this book and shall get back if need be.:)

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