Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language spoken chiefly in South Asia. It is the official national language and lingua franca of Pakistan. In India, Urdu is an Eighth Schedule language whose status, function, and cultural heritage is recognised by the Constitution of India; it has some form of official status in several Indian states. In Nepal, Urdu is a registered regional dialect.
Urdu has been described as a Persianised standard register of the Hindustani language. Urdu and Hindi share a common Indo-Aryan vocabulary base, phonology and syntax, making them mutually intelligible in colloquial speech. While formal Urdu draws literary and technical vocabulary from Persian, formal Hindi draws these from Sanskrit.
Urdu was chosen as the language of East India Company rule across northern India in 1837 when the Company chose it to replace Persian, the court language of the Indo-Islamic empires. Religious, social, and political factors arose during the colonial period that advocated for a distinction between Urdu and Hindi, leading to the Hindi–Urdu controversy.
Urdu became a literary language in the 18th century and two similar standard forms came into existence in Delhi and Lucknow; since 1947 a third standard has arisen in Karachi. Deccani, an older form used in the south, became a court language of the Deccan Sultanates in the 16th century.
According to Nationalencyklopedin's 2010 estimates, Urdu is the 21st most spoken first language in the world, with approximately 66 million who speak it as their native language. According to Ethnologue's 2018 estimates, Urdu is the 11th most widely spoken language in the world, with 170 million total speakers, including those who speak it as a second language.
Urdu is spoken as a first language by nearly 70 million people and as a second language by more than 100 million people, predominantly in Pakistan and India. It is the official state language of Pakistan and is also officially recognised, or “scheduled,” in the constitution of India. Significant speech communities exist in the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States as well. Notably, Urdu and Hindi are mutually intelligible.
Urdu developed in the 12th century CE from the regional Apabhramsha of northwestern India, serving as a linguistic modus vivendi after the Muslim conquest. Its first major poet was Amir Khosrow (1253–1325), who composed dohas (couplets), folk songs, and riddles in the newly formed speech, then called Hindvi. This mixed speech was variously called Hindvi, Zaban-e-Hind, Hindi, Zaban-e-Delhi, Rekhta, Gujari, Dakkhani, Zaban-e-Urdu-e-Mualla, Zaban-e-Urdu, or just Urdu, literally ‘the language of the camp.’
Urdu is closely related to Hindi, a language that originated and developed in the Indian subcontinent. They share the same Indo-Aryan base and are so similar in phonology and grammar that they appear to be one language. In terms of lexicon, however, they have borrowed extensively from different sources—Urdu from Arabic and Persian, Hindi from Sanskrit—so they are usually treated as independent languages. Their distinction is most marked in terms of writing systems: Urdu uses a modified form of Perso-Arabic script known as Nastaliq (nastaʿlīq), while Hindi uses Devanagari.