Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Some observations on Perso-Arabic word choice in Urdu and Punjabi news broadcasts on All India Radio Delhi

14th July 2010 – AIR 666 MHz AM
Today in the morning I heard the news on the radio and discovered something interesting.  The radio channel AIR FM channel 666 MHz broadcasts the news in all of the 4 official languages of Delhi: English, Hindi, Urdu and Punjabi. Usually I just listen to the Hindi broadcast which runs for 15 minutes, and then the English broadcast of the same stories in the same words as the Hindi one, again runs for 15 minutes.

However sometimes I listen to the Punjabi and the Urdu news broadcasts as well, again 15 minutes each. The same stories, in the same order, with the same news matter, the same words just different languages .

Now what I noticed in today’s news broadcasts was that although often the Punjabi and the Urdu broadcasts use the same Perso-Arabic words for the same meaning in the same stories, in some places they use different words as well for the same stories.

Urdu and Spoken Punjabi have both developed in medieval India and both have been influenced by a common set of factors such as the Perso-Arabic lexicon of the ruling class, the Sufi tradition, the use of Persian as a court language in Medieval India and major cultural and literary overlaps. Although Urdu has taken on many more Perso-Arabic words than has Punjabi, there are still thousands of identical words shared by the two languages. My personal opinion is that upwards of 50% of the  Perso-Arabic words in Urdu are shared by many dialects of Punjabi as well. Coupled with the facts that the grammars of both Urdu and Punjabi are based on Prakarit, hence nearly identical, and that Hindustaani as a language is a common ground between both means that there is a high degree of mutual understanding between speakers of these languages.

Common Words
Both Punjabi and Urdu broadcasts used many common words and the list would be too long to mention here but I shall provide a few examples of special words to illustrate what I wrote above on the same stock of Perso-Arabic words being employed in these two languages:
Gawaahi (testimony), Hukoomat (governement), Tajweez (to suggest), Iqtasaadi (economic), Muhaiyya (make available), Intazaam (arrange), Qaanooni (legal), Dehshat Gard (terrorist) etcetera.
Here I have not mentioned any of the Perso-Arabic words used in regular parlance.

Different Words
On the day in question the choice of which Perso-Arabic to use in the same stories differed in the Punjabi and Urdu broadcast for the following words:
To Die A Martyr (verb) شھید Shaheed ھلاک Halaak
Counterpart (noun) ھم عھدھ Hum Auhdah ھم منصب Hum Mansab
Workers (noun) ملازم Mulaazim ارکان Arkaan
To be sure, all 6 of the words mentioned above are Perso-Arabic in origin as well as in their presently used forms. The respective news readers read out near identical sentences for the same stories; the only difference being the choice between which Perso-Arabic word to use from the two words given in the table above for a single meaning. The words from the Punjabi column are very close substitutes of the words from the Urdu column and vice-versa. The import remains the same regardless of which Perso-Arabic word has been used.
It is a case of so near and yet so far.

Let us look at these words in a bit more detail.

Same Words
1. The first word in the table, Shaheed is an Arabic word often used to denote an honourable death fighting for a cause, in other words it means to be martyred. It also stands for witness. Check out my earlier post on the relationship between the words Martyr and Witness.

2. The second word, Halaak is a Arabic word which is used to indicate total annihilation and destruction. In the sense of the totality of destruction Halak is close to the word Fanaa فناء though in India the former has a negative connotation and the latter is a Sufi term used for a positive annihilation of the self into the Creator.

3. The third word in the table, Hum Mansab is a hybrid Perso-Arabic construction. It is made up of a Persian word, Hum (means together/us) and an Arabic word Mansab (means rank). Hum Mansab means counterpart, another of the same rank/position.

4. The fourth word, Hum Auhdah, is a parallel to Hum Mansab and again, it is a hybrid Perso-Arabic construction. Auhdah is an Arabic word which means position//rank/social standing. Hence Hum Auhdah means of an equivalent position or standing.

From a lexicographical point of view both of these hybrid Perso-Arabic words are exact substitutes of each other when one want to use them in the sense of position in a hierarchy. Both Mansab and Auhdah can and do mean rank/position. The choice of which one to use should be germane to most speakers. However the second words of these hybrids help provide an explanation for the differing choice. Most speakers of Urdu, with a minimalistic level of Urdu education, would feel equally at home with both Mansab and Audah. On the other hand, nowadays the word Mansab has almost completely disappeared from the vocabulary of Hindustaani (or bazaar Urdu or filmy Urdu or call it what you will). Most speakers of Hindustaani would be uncomfortable with the word Mansab and would ponder over the import of this word. Most of these speakers would prefer the word Auhdah. As observed earlier, Punjabi is closer to Hindustaani that to Urdu. Hence the use of this word in the Punjabi broadcast. Now this explains why the Punjabi broadcast chooses to use Hum Audah. But then if these words are almost exact substitutes, why does the Urdu broadcast choose to use Hum Mansab?

Well it turns out these words are not exact substitutes all the times. Perhaps the preference for Mansab over Auhdah lies in the historical use of the word Mansab. Throughout Islamic history, in the various Islamic armies, Mansab has been the preferred word for rank. It was always used in the Medieval and Pre-Modern royal courts in the Sub Continent for official and military rank . In fact, the East India Company whole heartedly adopted this word for rank in its muster rolls and even incorporated the Pre-Mughal and Mughal rank of Mansabdaar as a rank of substance in its official military hierarchy. Some, or perhaps many, Urdu speakers would associate Auhdah more with social hierarchy and Mansab specifically with official hierarchy. I have always heard the Urdu broadcast choose Mansab over Auhdah when talking of the rank of a government official . Hence somewhere the more appropriate construction, Hum Mansab, is preferred over the almost there but not quite, Hum-Auhdah, while talking about officials of equivalent rank.
As a side, I would like to mention that speakers of Urdu and Hindustaani use many such hybrid Perso-Arabic words in everyday speech. Some common examples are Bey Shak (=certainly, Bey - Persian, Shak – Arabic), Naa Mumkin (=impossible, Na – Persian, Mumkin – Arabic), Bad Zaat (=bad character, Bad – Persian, Zaat – Arabic), Dast-e-Khatt (=signature, Dast-e – Persian with ezaafe, Khatt - Arabic), Bad Tameez (=unmannered, Bad – Persian, Tameez – Arabic), Hum Safar (=co-traveller, Hum – Persian, Safar – Arabic) etcetera. This feature of Urdu/Hindustaani wherein hybrid Perso-Arabic words are employed, is one of the reasons why some people draw parallels between Urdu and Ottoman Turkish and Urdu and Chughtai Turkic.

5. The fifth word Mulaazim comes from the Arabic triliteral root LZM and means a lieutenant, an indispensable person, an employee. Many of us in India are unacquainted with this “indispensable” origin of Mulaazim and think of it to connote only  a servant / an empolyee.

6. The sixth word is Arkaan. It is the plural form of the Arabic Rukun. Rukun means a pillar, basis, bolster, the foundation. It is a very close substitute of the original meaning of the previous word Mulaazim, used during the Urdu broadcast. For clarity on this I would like to thank Jamshed Saahab who guided me towards the right word, Arkaan.

It is still not very clear as to why there is a difference between the choice of word for the same meaning between the two broadcasts. The difference could be due to a form of diglossia. However this is not to suggest that one of these is a more classical or “higher” language than the other and this is why I shy away from associating the Urdu-Hindustaani phenomenon with diglossia. And of course, I am completely incompetent to speak on matters of linguistic and language theory anyway. Perhaps this has nothing to do with diglossia at all. However the choice of which Perso-Arabic words to use could be the result of perceived diglosia amongst the speakers of Urdu and Hindustaani in the sub-conscious of those who frame the sentences for the respective broadcasts. One need not be a linguistic to believe that different people use slightly different vocabulary sets for the same / similar languages.

The difference in choice of words could also be due to politics, due to dialectical differences, due to differences in the educational environment of those who frame the news broadcasts, due to the different books the news framers read, etcetera.

Nevertheless there is a difference, and this difference between choice of Perso-Arabic words for the Urdu and the Punjabi broadcast excites me. This difference points out the commonality, the unity. Vive le difference.

PS – There is another difference between the Punjabi and Urdu news broadcasts on AIR FM which comes to my mind. Just like the English and the Hindi news broadcasts, the Urdu news broadcast too has a short section at the end which gives a round up of the headlines in the day’s major newspapers in the concerned language. Hence in the last section of the day’s Urdu news broadcast, the news reader reads out the headlines from 4 or 5 of the major Urdu dailies published in Delhi on that morning.
However this headlines’ round up section is absent in the Punjabi news broadcast as although Punjabi is one of the four official languages of Delhi, there are not many Punjabi newspapers of note published in Delhi (perhaps there are none).