Can Urdu and Hindi be one language?

David Lunn: But this idea — “Hindustani” — still needed some clarification. What was it? What is it? And what was it to do?

The colonial use and misuse of the term dates back to the 18th century, as a host of excellent studies by the likes of Shamsur Rahman Faruqi have demonstrated.

By the 1920s the question remained: was Hindustani a point on a spectrum between a “pure” Hindi stuffed full of Sanskrit and a “pure” Urdu overflowing with Persian and Arabic?

[…] It’s not possible to point to a single codified language of Hindustani today — it has not been adequately institutionalised — and the overwhelming tendency of the language politics of the colonial period have resulted in a situation where Hindi is considered the national language of India (though it has status as an official language only, and of course many non-Hindi speakers, especially in the south, rightly resist its imposition), while Urdu is seen as the national language of Pakistan (though again, speakers of other languages on occasion view it as a muhajir importation).

There is an unfortunate — and historically illiterate — tendency, especially in the West, to think of the link between the nation-state and a single language as somehow natural, right and inevitable.

We tend to imagine European countries as defined at least in part by a monolingual identity, with the borders of the map corresponding to the borders of a language area, and that within as being unified, and given form and reason, through a single language as part of a package of symbols of nationhood.

Of course, this couldn’t be further from the truth — think of Catalan or Basque in Spain as only the most obvious example — but we do know that the modern state has a vested interest in promoting linguistic homogeneity, and has often acted to impose this on its people.

In some ways, the partisans of both Hindi and Urdu in the 19th and 20th centuries bought in to this Eurocentric misunderstanding, and pushed mightily to define communities, and eventually nations, on the basis of language. More here.

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