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The origin of Urdu and Suhail Bukhari`s linguistic theories

By Rauf Parekh
January 27th, 2009

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The origin and genesis of Urdu has always been a subject of animated discussion and a source of unending controversy among linguists. There is a wide range of theories about how Urdu originated and developed. The most common among them is the one that links Urdu`s birth with the advent of the Muslims in the sub-continent. This theory, however, should be taken with a pinch of salt. Experts agree that Urdu had begun taking root in the subcontinent before the arrival of the Muslims in the 8th century AD. However, there is no denying the fact that the Muslims played a vital role in Urdu`s early development and its subsequent shaping. Their arrival became for local dialects a catalyst for unhindered growth. To put it in the words of renowned linguist Suniti Kumar Chatterji (1890-1977), had the Muslims not arrived in India, the beginning and development of modern Indo-Aryan languages would have been delayed by a few hundred years. Another theory which does not hold water is that Urdu is a so-called `lashkari zaban` or `camp-language` that originated in the Mughal military camps where troops speaking different languages interacted. It has long been proved that Urdu is neither a camp language nor did it originate in the Mughal era. A language, as every student of linguistics knows, is not formed as a result of intermingling of the speakers of different languages, as the supporters of the `lashkari zaban theory` would have us believe, and a confluence of two or more languages cannot create a new one. Other linguistic assertions try to prove that Urdu was born in either Sindh or Punjab or Deccan or Delhi. Most linguists, however, agree that Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language and has its roots in the local dialects that in turned had developed from Sanskrit. The difference of opinion in most cases arises when it comes to deciding which Prakrit, or an ancient or medieval vernacular dialect, developed into modern languages known as Urdu and Hindi. No doubt Urdu has a vocabulary that includes loan-words from languages as diverse and as alien as Malay, Portuguese and Turkish, not to mention Arabic and Persian, but it is the linguistic base and grammatical peculiarities, and not the word bank, that count while deciding the origin and family of a language. Almost all the linguists agree that the development of Indo-Aryan languages, including Urdu and Hindi, began circa 1500 BC when Aryans arrived in India. There is but one linguist who believed differently and maintained that Urdu had its roots not in Aryan languages but in local Indian especially Dravidian languages and that linguist was Dr Suhail Bukhari. Dr Suhail Bukhari, a linguist, teacher, research scholar, poet and critic, developed his premise over the years and though in the beginning he shared the view of other experts on the subject, in his later works he made a radical departure from his previous point-of-view and arrived at the conclusion that Urdu was not an Indo-Aryan language but a Dravidian one. He said Urdu was an independent language, quite separate from Sanskrit, whose origin was purely Indian and Dravidian. He thought that it existed at the time of the advent of the Aryans in India and it had undergone different forms and different scripts. Though his linguistic theories were not accepted and most linguists rejected them, Dr Bukhari is always quoted and discussed MULTIMEDIA



whenever different notions of Urdu`s genesis are evaluated. At least he had an original theory which he had developed after a deep study of linguistics. He knew Hindi and Sanskrit in addition to being acquainted with other languages and dialects and could read different scripts including Devanagari and Gurmukhi, which must have helped him read the primary sources in the original and draw his own independent conclusions. Dr Suhail Bukhari`s real name was Syed Mahmood Naqvi and he was born in district Meenpuri, UP, on December 6, 1914. Though he had to join the UP government`s education department in 1939, he continued his education and did his BA in 1946 from Agra University and MA in Urdu from Nagpur University in 1950. Later, he migrated to Pakistan and joined PAF station school, Lahore, in 1952 as principal. In 1955, he joined PAF College, Sargodha, as head of the Urdu department where he served till 1974. From Punjab University, he earned a PhD in 1963 on his dissertation `Urdu dastaan`, which was later published by the National Language Authority. Dr Bukhari wrote some 30 books, about a half of which are on linguistics and lexicography. His books `Urdu ka roop`, `Urdu ki kahani`, `Tashrihee lisaniyaat` and `Urdu aur Dakani zaban ka taqabuli mutala` deal with descriptive linguistics and historical linguistics while `Phonology of Urdu language` and `Urdu zaban ka sauti nizam` are on Urdu phonetics. Lexicography was his another field of expertise and excellence and besides serving the Urdu Dictionary Board as Assistant Editor from 1976 to 1979, he compiled an etymological dictionary of Urdu, serialised a book on loan-words in Urdu in quarterly `Urdu` and compiled a couple of dictionaries of technical terms. His book `Nizamiyat-e-Urdu` offers a different approach towards Urdu grammar. Aside from his thesis, Dr Bukhari wrote other books on Urdu`s classical fiction that include `Novel nigari`, `Sabras par aik nazar` and `Bagh-o-bahar par aik nazar`. His other books include `Ghalib ke saat rang`, `Iqbal Mujaddid-e-asr`, `Hindi shaeri mien musalmanon ka hissa`, `Iqbal aik soofi shaer`, `Lisani maqalat` and `Urdu rasm-ul-khat ke bunyadi mabahis`. Some of his books are still unpublished and their manuscripts are lying with different publishers. One such book is an Urdu dictionary of antonyms and synonyms which Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu intended to publish but the book has not seen light of day despite the fact that some 19 years have elapsed since its author`s death. Dr Suhail Bukhari died in Karachi on January 29, 1990.

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