From: Rizwan Ahmad <rizzahmadgmail.com>
Subject: Shifting Dunes: Changing meanings of Urdu in India
E-mail this message to a friend
Institution: University of Michigan
Program: Center for European Studies
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2007
Author: Rizwan Ahmad
Dissertation Title: Shifting Dunes: Changing meanings of Urdu in India
Subject Language(s): Urdu (urd)
In this dissertation, I investigate the indexicality of the Urdu language
in India. I examine the assumed indexical link between Urdu and Muslim
identity by analyzing the ideological structures of Muslims and Hindus of
Old Delhi. The analysis of the ideologies is supplemented by frequency
distribution of the phonological features that distinguish Urdu from Hindi,
namely the phonemes /f/, /z/, /k̲h/, /g̲h/, and /q/.
The analysis shows that the indexicality of Urdu in India is far more
complex than is generally assumed in the literature. To the first
generation Muslims and Hindus born before the Partition of India in 1947,
Urdu indexes education and cultural refinement. To the second generation
born after 1947, Urdu indexes an exclusive Muslim identity. The
indexicality of Urdu undergoes a reconfiguration again among the third
generation Muslims who were born after the early 1980's; to them, Urdu
indexes a poor, uneducated, and conservative Muslim identity. An analysis
of their ideologies shows that they do not identify themselves as Urdu
speakers; they instead claim to speak a mixed language containing elements
from English, Punjabi, and Hindi. A frequency distribution of the Urdu
phonemes among the third generation Muslims shows that they are losing some
of the Urdu phonemes. I argue that the loss is driven by the stigmatized
indexicality that Urdu acquired after 1947.
Furthermore, I demonstrate that the indexicality of the Perso-Arabic and
Devanagari scripts is undergoing transformation too. Since the third
generation does not control the Perso-Arabic script, second generation
Muslims are transliterating Urdu texts into Devanagari. An analysis of the
transliteration shows that Muslims are trying to preserve linguistic
features of Urdu in Devanagari. The preservation of Urdu features at a time
when they are being lost among the third generation underscores the tension
between the ideologies of the older and younger Muslims and adds to the
complexity of the indexicality of Urdu. Since all three generations
coexist, it is empirically inaccurate to characterize the indexicality of
Urdu in a simple categorical fashion. Urdu represents a palimpsest with
several layers of indexicalities etched on it in such a way that each layer
tells a different story.
This Year the LINGUIST List hopes to raise $60,000. This money will go to help keep
the List running by supporting all of our Student Editors for the coming year.
See below for donation instructions, and don't forget to check out our Fund Drive
2008 LINGUIST List Circus and join us on our many shows!
There are many ways to donate to LINGUIST!
You can donate right now using our secure credit card form at
Alternatively you can also pledge right now and pay later. To do so, go to:
For all information on donating and pledging, including information on how to
donate by check, money order, or wire transfer, please visit:
The LINGUIST List is under the umbrella of Eastern Michigan University and as such
can receive donations through the EMU Foundation, which is a registered 501(c)
Non Profit organization. Our Federal Tax number is 38-6005986. These donations
can be offset against your federal and sometimes your state tax return (U.S. tax
payers only). For more information visit the IRS Web-Site, or contact your
Many companies also offer a gift matching program, such that they will match any
gift you make to a non-profit organization. Normally this entails your contacting
your human resources department and sending us a form that the EMU Foundation fills
in and returns to your employer. This is generally a simple administrative procedure
that doubles the value of your gift to LINGUIST, without costing you an extra penny.
Please take a moment to check if your company operates such a program.
Thank you very much for your support of LINGUIST!
Read more issues|LINGUIST home page|Top of issue