Variations in Urdu pronunciation

Published: December 22, 2013

KARACHI: Some Urdu writers criticise TV anchors for how they pronounce Urdu words. Teachers and students of Urdu are no exception in this regard. Some of the Urdu words they pronounce incorrectly are: adabi (literary), hanafi (person’s name), mutarjim (translator) and so on. They pronounce them as adbi, hanfi, and the last one with an unnecessary stress on jeem.

What should TV anchors do to improve their pronunciation: either TV channels hire an expert in Urdu phonology like Radio Pakistan used to once or they make their anchors consult dictionaries to improve their pronunciation. Most Urdu dictionaries have their own phonological rules.

Some prefer to give the pronunciation being used in Urdu (mutamal) citing the seminal work Darya-e-Llatafat by Inshallah Khan Insha written in the 18th century, which says that a word used in the Urdu language has its own unique meaning in Urdu usage regardless of its connotation or meaning in the original root language.

I can cite two Urdu words assimilated from Arabic — ujlat (haste) and hulya (appearance) — which are both pronounced differently in Urdu than in their original form. In Arabic, they are pronounced ijlat and hilya.

The solution is for Urdu lexicographers to bring out a comprehensive dictionary illustrating each and every word easily aided with pronunciation symbols. Now the book in use, Lughat-i-Farhang, edited by Shanul Haq Haqqi, does not serve the purpose since it does not contain variations in pronunciation.

Jawed Ahmed Khursheed

Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2013.

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Reader Comments (1)

  • Maria
    Dec 23, 2013 - 1:24AM

    I find this emphasis on pronunciation nonsensical. If Urdu has lifted words from Arabic and Persian which it now pronounces incorrectly than the original, wouldn’t it make more sense to return to the original pronunciation? Most Pakistanis are not native speakers of Urdu/ Hindi and would prefer to speak English which is more useful all around. As you know most of the world considers Urdu the same as Hindi – only a slightly different dialect.


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