*2.1 == Flexible words: the common monosyllables*
*2.2 == Flexible syllables: word-final vowels*
*2.3 == Flexible syllable divisions within words*
*2.4 == Flexible spellings to indicate scansion*


So far we've discussed the firm, general rules of the Urdu metrical system. Now we will deal with the system's flexible possibilities. If you try sometime to write an Urdu poem yourself, you'll come to cherish every form of flexibility that the system allows.

It should be remembered that flexible syllables are flexible, or subject to change in length, only between one metrical environment and another, between one particular occurrence and another. Once the meter of a particular verse is known, and the syllable's position within the line is known, the syllable is either long or short, period. (The rare instances of continued flexibility are idiosyncratic and beyond our present scope.)

Since the official Arabic-based metrical system generates too many long syllables and too few short ones for the convenience of Urdu poets, flexibility is most often used for creating more short syllables.

2.1 Flexible words == the common monosyllables

Many one-syllable words in Urdu are flexible. They may thus be scanned either long or short, whichever suits the immediate needs of the metrical situation. All flexible words are TWO-LETTER ones, so that their normal length would be long. All flexible words have one of the following two forms:

*Consonant + vowel

*Consonant + h

Not all one-syllable words of these forms are equally likely to be flexible. Words ending in ii , e , h are more likely to be flexible; those ending in o , a bit less likely; those ending in a [alif], less likely still.

The likelihood of flexibility also depends on the nature and origin of the word. Grammatically operative particles, pronouns, postpositions, etc. are almost always flexible. Verb forms are generally flexible, except for familiar imperatives which are always long. Arabic and Persian nouns are almost always long, with no flexibility possible--for example, the words nai , mai , :tai , jaa , juu , ruu , suu are always scanned as long. The vocative address ai is nowadays always long, though in archaic usage it was sometimes treated as short.

But these theoretical possibilities needn't be any problem, for by treating ALL one-syllable words of the forms given above as potentially flexible one never makes errors in ascertaining the meter of a poem. Here is a list of common one-syllable words which ARE flexible. They are listed in the GLOSSARY as well.

to , tuu
thaa , the , thii, thii;N
saa , se , sii
kaa , ke , kii
me;N , mai;N
vuh , yih
huu;N , ho;N
hai , hai;N

In general, one-syllable words not on this list are not flexible, but can be taken as long. The following common one-syllable words are virtually ALWAYS LONG: taa , go , yaa . The two contractions vaa;N for vahaa;N and yaa;N for yahaa;N are always long nowadays, but once in a while may, in older poetry, occur as short. Despite their consonant clusters, jyuu;N , kyaa , kyuu;N are each scanned as one long syllable.

Where a one-syllable word is repeated distributively or rhetorically, its first occurrence is normally scanned as long, while its second may be treated as flexible: Mir has used kyaa kyaa as (= -). But this is rare.

Three special one-syllable words are ALWAYS SHORT in modern usage: bah for "with" in Persian constructions, kih which introduces quoted discourse, and nah for negation. Mir does treat kih and nah as long from time to time, but after him this is almost never done.

THE WORD aur : A special case, a law unto itself, is aur . It can be scanned [au-r], (= -), as one would expect, or simply as one long syllable, (=).

2.2 Flexible syllables == word-final vowels

A flexible syllable is one which may be scanned either long or short. All flexible syllables are two-letter ones; one-letter syllables are invariably short. All flexible syllables have one of the following two forms:

*Consonant + vowel

*Consonant + h

Almost all flexible syllables in words of more than one syllable occur in WORD-FINAL position. There are only a VERY few exceptions, of which two notable ones are ko))ii , scanned (x x), and aa))iinah , scanned (= x x).

In words of more than one syllable, word-final two-letter syllables in which the second letter is ii , e , h are almost always flexible. In words of more than one syllable, word-final two-letter syllables in which the second letter is o or a [alif] are often treated as flexible. In some words, however, these syllables are always long. It's possible to give a few general guidelines. Syllables containing o are more likely to be flexible than those containing a [alif]. Such syllables in Indic words, especially verb forms, are more likely to be flexible than similar syllables in Persian and Arabic words; for example, rahaa from rahnaa [rahnaa] is scanned (- x), while the Persian rihaa [rihaa] meaning "released" is always scanned (- =).

The whole problem of when such word-final syllables are flexible, and when they are not, is complex and controversial. It is not possible to formulate exhaustive rules. For a discussion of this question see ((aruu.z aahang aur bayaan , pp. 35-97. But it's only a problem for the theorist, not in practice for the student. When ascertaining the meter of a poem, ALL such word-final consonant + vowel or consonant + h syllables should initially be considered flexible, and then there will be no problem.

COMPOUND WORDS: Some compound words retain the original flexibility of their separate parts: bandobast [ban-do-bas-t] is scanned (= x = -), from [band o bast], and kaarobaar [kaa-ro-baa-r] as (= x = -), from [kaar o baar]. Words like these are really petrified conjunct expressions containing a medial o ; see Section 3.3 for discussion of o constructions.

GRAMMATICAL FORMS: Equally flexible are future verb forms: jaa))e gaa is scanned (= x x), from [jaa-))e-gaa], and so on for the other forms. Flexibility also sometimes remains within the word after the addition of nominative and oblique plural endings; this seems to occur chiefly with words ending in uu . For example, aa;Nsuu is scanned (= x), while aansuu))o;N is scanned (= x x). In some cases, these endings even increase flexibility: juu is scanned (=), juu))e;N and juu))o;N both (x x).

2.3 == Flexible syllable divisions within words

A few words can undergo an optional redivision of their letters into different syllable patterns. Naturally these are words full of consonants, with few or no vowels to impose syllable breaks more strongly. We have put as many of these as we thought useful into the Glossary. Here are some of the commonest examples:

barhaman , "Brahmin": [bar-ha-man] scanned as (= - =); [ba-rah-man] scanned as (- = =)

barahnah , "naked": [ba-rah-nah] scanned as (- = x); [bar-ha-nah] scanned as (= - x)

;xi.zr , "Khizr": [;xi.z-r] scanned as (= -) [;xi-.zir] or [;xi-.zar] scanned as (- =)

:tar;h , "manner": [:tar-;h] scanned as (= -); [;ta-ra;h] scanned as (- =)

gulistaa;N , "garden": [gu-lis-taa;N] scanned as (- = =); [gul-si-taa;N] scanned as (= - =).

Words like gulistaa;N , in which the word-final ;N represents a shorter variant of a full n, do not have flexible word-final syllables.

A large number of Arabic words which begin with a series of three consonants offer the poet a special kind of flexibility in syllable division. In modern Urdu, most such words are pronounced with an initial long syllable, and may be scanned accordingly. However, they may also be scanned according to their original Arabic pronunciation, with an initial (- -) sequence. Here are some common examples:

barkat , "blessing": [bar-kat] scanned as (= =); [ba-ra-kat] scanned as (- - =)

:zulmaat , "darkness": [:zul-maa-t] scanned as (= = -); [:zu-lu-maa-t] scanned as (- - = -)

kalmah , "speech": [kal-mah] scanned as (= x); [ka-li-mah] scanned as (- - x)

2.4 == Flexible spellings to indicate scansion

Certain words offer the poet the option of changing their scansion by changing their spelling. Such words are always scanned exactly as they are written; the spelling informs the reader of the intended scansion. Since they are hard to predict in advance, a number of the more frequently occurring ones are listed in the Glossary. Here are some of the commonest examples:

"story": afsaanah [af-saa-nah] scanned as (= = x); fasaanah [fa-saa-nah] scanned as (- = x)

"my": meraa [me-raa] scanned as (= x); miraa [mi-raa] scanned as (- x)

"there": vahaa;N [va-haa;N] scanned as (- x); vaa;N [vaa;N] scanned as (=)

"one": ek [e-k] scanned as (= -); yak [yak] scanned as (=); ik [ik] scanned as (=)

"silence": ;xaamoshii [xaa-mo-shii] scanned as (= = x); ;xaamushii [xaa-mu-shii] scanned as (= - x); ;xamoshii [;xa-mo-shii] scanned as (- = x)

The same choices are available for the feminine and plural forms of meraa , and for the comparable forms of teraa, and for yahaa;N as for vahaa;N .

THE LETTERS n AND ;N : Word-final n , if preceded by one of the letters a , o , ii , e , may be transformed to ;N and scanned accordingly: for example, bayaan [ba-yaa-n] scanned as (- = -) can be turned into bayaa;N scanned as (- =), losing its word-final short syllable. In such cases the word-final syllable ending in ;N is nearly always long. Similarly, word-final ;N can be turned into a full n : gulistaa;N [gulistaa;N] can turn into gulistaan [gulistaan], and thus add an extra short syllable at the end.

OPTIONAL TASHDIID : Another kind of flexible spelling involves an optional [tashdiid]. Orthography is not in this case a reliable guide, for often the tashdiid is not written, but must nevertheless be assumed for correct scansion. Most words of this kind are simple perfect forms of certain common verbs. Usually, though not always, these verbs have roots that end in kh . Note the following cases:

*very often with tashdiid : rakhaa , chakhaa

*sometimes with tashdiid : pakaa , u;Thaa

*rarely with tashdiid : likhaa

For example, rakha could be scanned either [ra-khaa], (- x), without the [tashdiid], or [rak-khaa], (= x), with the [tashdiid]. The same applies to the plural and feminine perfect forms of these verbs: rakhe, rakhii , etc.

Using such perfect forms in the past participle tends to decrease the likelihood of a [tashdiid] being present: pakaa hu))aa, u;Thaa hu))aa never have a [tashdiid]. But while likhaa rarely has a [tashdiid], likhaa hu))aa is a bit more likely to have one. To be on the safe side, perfect forms of these verbs can initially be scanned (x x) when ascertaining the meter of a poem. A few nouns may have optional [tashdiid]s which are more often absent than present. Examples: dukaan [du-kaa-n] scanned as (- = -), versus dukkaan [duk-kaa-n] scanned as (= = -); shakar [sha-kar] scanned as (- =), versus shakkar [shak-kar] scanned as (= =).


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