Urdu: Why ط superscript used to represent retroflex in Urdu

Discussion in 'Indo-Iranian Languages' started by UrduMedium, Jun 3, 2012.

  1. UrduMedium

    UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Curious what is the history of adding ط on top of letters to make retroflex sounds, as in ٹ، ڈ، ڑ? Why ط? Does it stand for something specific?

    In some older books I have seen four dots instead of ط also. Did it change to ط at some time?
  2. panjabigator

    panjabigator Senior Member

    غریب الوطن
    Am. English
    Really interesting question, UM Sahib. I believe the copy of Platts that I have renders the retroflex "te" with four dots seated cozily in the boat. BP Sahib can say more about Sindhi, but I've also seen four dots in that script. Pashto, interestingly, uses a little loop attached at the bottom of a letter to signify retroflexion.

    Maybe it has to do with language standardization? I've seen different forms of झ and अ in Hindi in older texts. Conjunct characters like क्क also used to be written differently. Maybe Nastaliq (as used for Urdu) similarly displayed plurality way back when.
  3. BP. Senior Member

    Something it was probably Mr. UM mentioned was an old and obsolete norm for Urdu too. UM sahib might clarify. Thanks.
    Last edited: Jun 3, 2012
  4. UrduMedium

    UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    I have not seen the Pashto-style loop used in Urdu. Again, I'm curious about the choice of ط for this purpose. Why not any other letter.
  5. Alfaaz Senior Member

    I have absolutely no clue, but would like to take a wild guess! :) Could it be that since a ط has a slightly heavier sound than a ت in Arabic, so it was used to represent the "heavier" sounds in Urdu. Now, one could ask that other Arabic letters also have heavier sounds, so why use the ط ? It might have been aesthetically pleasing to people, in comparison to other heavier letters being used for example س <--> ص . A superscript ص in place of ط would probably look a bit awkward. The ط is nice and flat at the bottom but also sharp and grand at the top!
  6. panjabigator

    panjabigator Senior Member

    غریب الوطن
    Am. English
    I'd be interested to know if this particular diacritic is used in Central Asian languages. Maybe it was carried over?
  7. UrduMedium

    UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Thanks, Alfaaz. Good plausible explanation!

    But I would think there's something concrete behind the choice. Otherwise if the intention was to indicate some sounds a Hindii-specific (Indic), a ہ or ھ superscript would have been a better choice.
  8. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    You have posed a very good question. I too believe that the choice of ط has not been a haphazard one but ط must be an abbreviation for something. I have not found the answer for this yet but will continue my efforts.

    Forum members may know that prior to the use of ط four dots and even a horizonatal dash over the letter was in use to indicate retroflex sounds. For a gaaf, three dots above the kaaf were employed. nuun-i-Ghunnah is a relatively new phenomenon (nuun minus the dot) and so is the baRii ye.
  9. UrduMedium

    UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Thinking a bit more about it (and building on Alfaaz's suggestion in #5), I realized that in many "foreign" names containing "t" sound (sometime "d" too), when transcribed into Arabic, the letter of choice is ط not ت. Examples

    Peter - بطروس
    Constantinople - قسطنطنیہ
    Washington - واشنطن
    Tripoli - طرابلس
    Granada - غرناطہ
    Cordoba - قرطبہ
    Palestine - فلسطین
    Malta - ملطہ

    The idea being that ط is perhaps a substitute of choice for "foreign" sounding "t" sounds (and some "d"). This may have made the letter sort of a symbol to represent other foreign sounds as in Indic T, D, R.

    Far fetched, I know ... but possible :)
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2012
  10. Qureshpor Senior Member

    Punjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    I don't think this is far-fetched at all. Another place name is طهران, personal name طہماسپ and a bird's name طوطا. Similar "phenomenon" takes place with a ص as in شصت ,صد and اصفهان.

    ط along with ص are considered two of the "emphatic" consonants of Arabic.
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2012
  11. eskandar

    eskandar Moderator

    English (US)
    It could also be that the other letters already had other abbreviations commonly associated with them, for example ص as you suggested couldn't be used for this purpose because it is already used for صلی الله علیه وسلم .

    If you have in mind the Central Asian Turkic languages written in the Perso-Arabic script such as Uyghur, et al, I can say that none of them use the superscript ط for any purpose.

    This is because all of the words you listed are the Arabic spellings of those words. Especially in 'pre-modern' times it was common in Arabic to transcribe a 'T' in a foreign word with ط rather than ت so that the word wouldn't be parsed as a native Arabic word. For example if قرطبة were instead to be written قرتبة there would be confusion as to whether this was a word derived from the root qaaf-raa-baa, but when spelled with ط it is clear that it's a placename as it can have no other possible meaning. All of these place names were borrowed from Arabic into Persian and Urdu.
  12. UrduMedium

    UrduMedium Senior Member

    United States
    Urdu (Karachi)
    Thanks. This sounds plausible given the use of ت as a utility letter used in noun/verb formation.
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2012
  13. lcfatima Senior Member

    In a teapot
    English USA
    When did the shift from four dots or dash to the tiny toye occur?
  14. Faylasoof Senior Member

    Plato's Republic
    English (UK) & Urdu (Luckhnow), Hindi
    Hard to answer this!

    Platts (1884) has the four dots and the much earlier Shakespear (1834) also uses four dots, i.e. بڙا baRaa. But if you look up Fallon' s Hindustani lexicon of 1879, he omits both the four dots and the small Taa that became standard around the tail end of the 19th or begining of the 20th century, I guess.
    So there (in Fallon) you see برَا baraa insteaad of baRaa (big), گهورَا ghoraa instead of ghoRaa (horse) etc. Sounds quite funny.

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