Urdu Profile: How a Word’s Origin Can Affect Its Usage

Courtesy of Wikicommons

Courtesy of Wikicommons


The Lingua File profiles the Urdu language in this post from last month.  Spoken by more than 60.6 millions speakers, Urdu is the official language of Pakistan.  It is often spoken along with English and a local indigenous language.

A notable topic discussed in this profile is the preferences in word choice in Hindi and Urdu when the languages are used in formal and informal contexts.  In most cases, the origin of the word determines the social context in which it is used:

“Etymology of words is used to help decide how polite someone’s speech is. It’s like how in English, words of French origin are often considered to be more formal than those from Old English.  You’d never say ‘let’s commence eating’ in an informal situation.  You’d use the word start instead, unless you were just being silly. The same goes for Urdu.  For example, there are two words meaning ‘water,’ پانی pānī and آب āb.  Words of older Hindustani or Sanskrit origin such as pānī are used coloquially, whereas words of Persian or Arabic origin such as āb are used in formal situations.”

If you are a taking a GLN course, can you think of any examples of words from your class that are best used in formal situations?  What words would you use for informal situations?


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1 Response to "Urdu Profile: How a Word’s Origin Can Affect Its Usage"

  1. Dukey T.

    I’m still trying to figure things out in my German class… I’ve only had 3 classes so far. Right now it seems formality is controlled by the “cases.”

    But……… I can say in Spanish that a funny word (very basic) is Señorita. I have a friend who is dang near 55-60-years-old and she refuses to be called Señora; indeed she has more energy than I do (que triste). But definitely you would not call a woman at that age Señorita…. unless you know her well (in context, I know her well).

    Sometimes, to get around it, we call her Dona (First Name). Donna Angy, which is actually Italian… because Donna means (mujer) woman, but is considered a polite way to recognize that’s she’s older than (me/us) but still has a colloquial ring of informality….. anyway, this is in the Yucatan of México where I often visit or stay for weeks at a time, so it’s definitely not the rule. Interesting, eh?

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