ONE == GENERAL RULES
*1.0 == Why should you learn
*1.1 == Words, syllables, and letters*
*1.2 == Syllables: two letters or one*
*1.3 == Syllables: start with consonants if
*1.4 == Syllables: follow pronunciation*
*1.5 == Long and short syllables*
1.0 == Why should you learn meter?
Because it's there, of course.
It was carefully put there by the classical ghazal poets, and was
completely expected by their audiences. No poet wanted (or dared)
to break the metrical rules; people ridiculed each other for even
the smallest accidental mistake. Meter was there because it was indispensable
to how the classical ghazal works. Here are some of the things you
can do with the help of meter:
*You can memorize verses very easily, because meter creates such
strong and consistent rhythmic patterns.
*You can recite verses with proper understanding and intonation,
and thus with much more pleasure for yourself and your audience; educated
listeners can easily tell whether somebody reciting a verse knows
the meter or not.
*You can compose ghazals of your own that are formally indistinguishable
from traditional ones.
*You can tell where there must, or might, or must not, be an i.zaafat
[i.zaafat]; this is often very important information.
*You can read na:zm [na:zm] and other forms
of metrically freer modern poetry with a much more subtle understanding
of their technique.
*You can detect many calligraphic or editorial errors, since most
of them create unmetrical lines.
*You can often reconstruct half-remembered verses in your mind, and
can tell whether they are formally correct.
NOTE: Urdu meter is not like English meter!
If you have some intuition and a reasonably good ear, you can read
English poetry quite well with very little knowledge of metrical theory.
This is because there is not, and never has been, any single universally-applied
system of English meter. Thus English metrical theory is retrospective
fancy icing on the cake. By contrast, Urdu meter is a large
part of the cake itself. It tells you exactly and reliably
how the verses are made, and helps you enjoy them to the fullest.
1.1 == Words, syllables, and letters
The basic units of analysis in our system are words, syllables,
and letters. Words are made of syllables, and syllables of letters.
We don't intend to define "word" in any special or technical
way. We mean by "word" what people generally mean in common
usage: the smallest independently meaningful unit of language. Given
a line of poetry, therefore, the student will have no trouble recognizing
its division into words.
The middle layer in the hierarchy, the syllable, is the crucial one
for metrical purposes. No line of poetry can be scanned until it has
first been broken into a series of syllables. Each word in the line
of poetry must be divided into metrical syllables according to the
following three criteria.
1.2 == Syllables: two letters or one
The first criterion is that A SYLLABLE MUST CONSIST OF EITHER TWO
LETTERS OR ONE. For metrical purposes, LETTERS include:
*All the characters of the Urdu alphabet from alif
[alif] to ye [ye], except for the do-chashmii
he [do-chashmii he] of aspiration and the nuun-e
;Gunnah [nuun-e ;Gunnah] of nasalization.
*The duplicate letter indicated by a tashdiid
[tashdiid] on any letter.
*The madd [madd] which may appear over alif
*The hamzah [hamzah] sign, ))
, when it appears within a word.
Letters do NOT include: the short vowels indicated by zer
[zer], or zabar [zabar], or pesh
[pesh]; the dotless medial ye [ye] inserted
into a word as a "chair" for hamzah [hamzah];
the do-chashmii he [do-chashmii he] of aspiration,
and the nuun-e ;Gunnah [nuun-e ;Gunnah] of nasalization.
THE TREATMENT OF do-chashmii
he: The do-chashmii he
[do-chashmii he] of aspiration, although it affects the pronunciation
of the syllable in which it occurs, is metrically invisible. This
rule applies to do-chashmii he in its proper
modern usage, when it indicates an aspirated consonant. The rule applies
whether or not it is actually written in the modern way, that is,
as in khaanaa [khaanaa] rather than as in kahnaa
[kahnaa] . (Older texts often use a simple h
, gol he [gol he] for both forms.) The consonants
which the do-chashmii he of aspiration may normally
follow are: b , p , t , ;T , j , ch , d , ;D , ;R
, k , g [b, p, t, ;T, j, ch, d, ;D, ;R, k, g].
In a few cases it may follow n [nuun], as in
nannhaa , or l [laam], as in duulhaa
; all such instances involve Indic words. Sometimes, however, the
two-eyed shape of do-chashmii he may be found
outside the environment of its proper usage, being written in place
of the independent letter gol he . In such cases
it is to be treated as though it were gol he
THE TREATMENT OF ;N
: The nuun-e ;Gunnah [nuun-e
;Gunnah] of nasalization, although it affects the pronunciation of
the syllable in which it occurs, is also metrically invisible. It
is often difficult for the student to distinguish medial ;N
the nasalizer from ordinary medial n , since
they are written in the same way. We can offer one helpful rule of
thumb: in general, ;N the nasalizer can occur
only after long vowels. The only exceptions to this rule are a group
of mostly Indic words in which ;N occurs in
the first syllable. Except for a few rare cases--e.g., andheraa
--these words begin with consonants: sa;Nbhalnaa
, [sa;Nbhalnaa], sa;Nvaarnaa [sa;Nvaarnaa],
mu;Nh [mu;Nh], ha;Nsnaa [ha;Nsnaa],
pha;Nsnaa [pha;Nsnaa], ba;Ndhnaa [ba;Ndhnaa],
etc. Almost all are verbs. Persian nouns, by contrast, more often
have the full n : rang
[rang], band [band], rind
[rind]. (The verb ra;Ngnaa [ra;Ngnaa], however,
has only a ;N .) Despite this handful of exceptions,
our rule that ;N occurs only after long vowels
is generally reliable.
1.3 == Syllables: start with consonants if
The second criterion is that A SYLLABLE MUST BEGIN WITH A CONSONANT
WHEREVER POSSIBLE. Since it's usually possible, most syllables have
one of the following forms:
*consonant + consonant, as in kab [kab]
*consonant + vowel, as in kaa [kaa]
*consonant alone, as in the k of kabhii
At the beginning of a word, it is not always possible for a syllable
to begin with a consonant. Thus the following forms also occur:
*a + vowel, as in the au
of aur [au-r]
*a + consonant, as in ab
*a alone, as in the a
of abhii [a-bhii]
*aa alone, as in the aa
of aadmii [aa-d-mii]
It should be remembered that such syllables normally occur ONLY at
the beginning of a word. (The few exceptions to this pattern involve
alif madd ; most prominent among them is the
word qur aan [qur-aa-n].
VOWELS: For metrical purposes,
all the letters of the alphabet may be considered to be consonants
* a , that is, alif ,
wherever it occurs
* aa , that is, alif madd
, wherever it occurs
* o , ii , e -- that is, vaa))o
and cho;Tii ye and ba;Rii ye
--when they occur as the SECOND letter in a syllable It should be
remembered that orthodox Urdu prosody, based on Arabic prosody, recognizes
only consonants, and considers all the letters of the alphabet to
be consonants. Our use of the terms "consonant" and "vowel" is a practical
tactic for mobilizing the linguistic intuitions of English speakers.
If o or either form of ye
[ye] is doubled by a tashdiid [tashdiid], it
is pronounced both times as a consonant, as in tayyaar
[tayyaar] or ta.savvur [ta.savvur], even though
it appears as the second letter of a syllable. But this never changes
the division of the syllables.
THE LETTER ((ain -- that is, ((
--is usually pronounced as a vowel in modern Urdu; sometimes it is
not pronounced at all. Nevertheless, for scansion purposes it behaves
exactly like a consonant.
THE LETTER hamzah : Similarly, the letter ))
[hamzah] within a word, though of course it is pronounced as a glide,
is to be treated for scansion purposes as a consonant. Thus however
problematical its status in Urdu orthography and pronunciation, within
our system it is clearly defined as a letter and a consonant. It shares
with all other consonants the ability to begin a two-letter syllable,
or to constitute a one-letter syllable, within a word. (Vowels as
a rule have this ability only at the beginning of a word.) Furthermore,
hamzah has one property all its own: it can
never appear as the second letter of a two-letter syllable.
By defining )) [hamzah] within a word as a
full letter, we mean to exclude the )) placed
after a word-final alif in certain Arabic words.
This kind of Arabic )) is very rare and is almost
never scanned at all even if it does appear; see Section
4.4 for further discussion.
THE LETTER madd : The madd
appears only over alif . The two together, as
aa , called alif madd
, always form one syllable. The appearance of madd
thus always signals the beginning of a new syllable. The syllable
consisting of aa is the only all-vowel syllable
which may appear medially, within a word. But this is rare; almost
always it occurs at the beginning of a word.
1.4 == Syllables: follow pronunciation
The third criterion is that the division into syllables must follow
normal standard (prose) PRONUNCIATION as closely as possible. Much
of the time the syllable division will be obvious, even in the case
of new words.
In some cases, however, it will be necessary to ascertain the exact
pronunciation. Unfortunately, many Urdu dictionaries don't give sufficiently
detailed information on pronunciation to be helpful in scanning. For
most words, it's sufficient to ask an educated native speaker and
listen carefully to his or her pronunciation. Or you might want to
consult the very helpful book .si;h;hat-e
alfaa:z , which provides an extensive list of frequently
mispronounced words (pp. 9-42), together with their metrically correct
breakdown into syllables. Or you could look in your trusty Platts
dictionary, or else consult the online
Platts database version.
THREE-LETTER THREE-CONSONANT WORDS: Especially
hard to pronounce and scan accurately are three-letter words composed
of three consonants. Most such words are Arabic in origin. The great
majority of these are divided into first a two-letter syllable, then
a one-letter syllable, as in qism [qis-m], mulk
[mul-k], vaqt [vaq-t], farq
[far-q]. This tendency is particularly marked in those words which
end in ;h or (( , such
as shar;h [shar-;h], sa:t;h
[sa:t-;h], jam((a [jam-((a], qa:t((a
[qa:t-((a]. This division, inherited from Arabic, persists in poetry,
even though in many cases colloquial pronunciation has changed. There
are only a few exceptions: :tama(( [:ta-ma((],
qada;h [qa-da;h], and the convenient :tar;h
which can be broken into either [:tar-;h] or [:ta-ra;h] at the poet's
Note that words that contain any of the letters
;s , ;h , ;z , .s , .z , :t , :z , (( , ;G [;s , ;h , ;z , .s
, .z , :t , :z , (( , ;G ] are almost certainly
Arabic in origin. Words that contain p , ch , zh
, g [p , ch , zh , g], or aspirated or retroflex consonants,
are definitely not.
A minority of three-letter three-consonant words, including both
Arabic and non-Arabic ones, are divided into first a one-letter syllable,
then a two-letter one, as in varaq [va-raq],
qasam [qa-sam], magar
[ma-gar], ;Gazal [;Ga-zal], nikal
Words of this minority group normally change their syllable division
when normal grammatical transformations change their pronunciation.
For example: nikalnaa [ni-kal-naa] gives rise
to nikal [ni-kal], but also to niklaa
[nik-laa] and niklo [nik-lo]; na:zar
[na-:zar] gives rise to na:zre;N [na:z-re;N]
and na:zro;N [na:z-ro;N]. One common exception
to this pattern of change: ;Gala:t [;Ga-la:t]
goes to ;Gala:tii [;Ga-la-:tii].
Such words as these do not, however, usually change their syllable
division when endings from Arabic and Persian grammar are applied:
na:zar [na-:zar] goes to na:zariyah
[na-:za-ri-yah], :tarab [:ta-rab] goes to :tarabiyah
[:ta-ra-bi-yah]. But there are occasional exceptions to this tendency
too: qasam [qa-sam] goes to qasmiyah
1.5 Long and short syllables
In general, any syllable consisting of two letters is LONG, and any
syllable consisting of one letter is SHORT. The difference in pronunciation
is basically quantitative: a long syllable ideally takes twice as
long to say as a short one. In this book a long syllable will be shown
as (=) and a short syllable will be shown as (-). A syllable that
may be used as long or short, at the poet's pleasure, will be called
a FLEXIBLE syllable. It will be shown as (x). A flexible syllable
may be treated as long in some instances, and as short in others.
But in each individual instance, its value is as fixed as that of
any other syllable.