Arabic to Urdu: The Journey of Semantics

by Anushah Hassan

Faculty mentor: Professor Maysoon Al-Sayed

Urdu is a language mainly spoken in South Asian countries like Pakistan and India. The language has been influenced by several different languages spoken in India, Europe, and the Middle East; one such language is Arabic. There are several Arabic borrowings in Urdu, but interestingly, the borrowed words don’t always have the same meaning as they did in Arabic. Throughout the semester, I analyzed borrowed words that have either (1) retained their meaning, (2) evolved in meaning, or (3) completely changed their meaning when they transferred to Urdu. I analyzed a total of 44 words—17 that retained their meaning, 17 that evolved their meaning, and 10 that completely changed their meaning. I analyzed the form, meaning, and use of each word. Through my research, I attempt to fill in gaps within existing research and try and come up with plausible hypotheses as to why the semantic changes have or have not occurred. A couple of the hypotheses I have come up with are (1) borrowed words that referred to more general concepts in Arabic were used to refer to more specific ideas in Urdu and (2) since a majority of the transferred words seem to conform to Urdu’s rules (syntax, grammar, etc.), borrowed words had conformed to Urdu’s needs at the time. Through my research, I have learned that there are many layers to the borrowing of words from Arabic to Urdu. There is no one reason that can attribute to the retention, evolution, or change in meaning. However, I aim to help the existing research and find more plausible reasons for the evolution of semantics through borrowing words.