Coming soon: Simple Truths in Urdu
Urdu is one of the most widely spoken languages of South Asia. There are over 100 million native speakers of Urdu in India and Pakistan together. Knowledge of Urdu allows one to speak with far more people than that, because Hindustani, of which Urdu is one variety, is the third most commonly spoken language in the world, after Mandarin and English. Because of the difficulty in distinguishing between Urdu and Hindi speakers in India and Pakistan, as well as estimating the number of people for whom Urdu is a second language, the estimated number of speakers is uncertain and controversial.
Owing to interaction with other languages, Urdu has become localized wherever it is spoken, including in Pakistan. Urdu in Pakistan has undergone changes and has incorporated and borrowed many words from regional languages, thus allowing speakers of the language in Pakistan to distinguish themselves more easily and giving the language a decidedly Pakistani flavor. Because of Urdu’s similarity to Hindi, speakers of the two languages can easily understand one another if both sides refrain from using specialized vocabulary. The syntax (grammar), morphology, and the core vocabulary are substantially identical. Thus linguists usually count them as one single language and contend that they are considered as two different languages for socio-political reasons.
Many people in Pakistan learn Urdu as a second or a third language as nearly 93% of Pakistan’s population has a native language other than Urdu. Despite this, Urdu was chosen as a token of unity and as a lingua franca so as not to give any native Pakistani language preference over the other. Urdu is therefore spoken and understood by the vast majority in some form or another. Urdu it is also taught as a compulsory subject up to higher secondary school in both English and Urdu medium school systems. That practice has produced millions of Urdu speakers from people whose native language is one of the other languages of Pakistan, who can read and write only Urdu.