Introduction == *script chart*; *positional chart*; *more help*

0.1 == The letters

Look at the *alphabet chart*. The letters are read from right to left, the lines from top to bottom. The letters are here seen arranged in standard dictionary alphabetical order. Many letters belong to groups or "series" which all have identical shapes; letters in the same series differ from each other only by their dots (or sometimes by the retroflex marker). The forms shown here are the basic, unattached, "independent" forms of the letters. Like English letters and unlike Devanagari ones, the letters have names that are distinct from their sounds.

The names of the letters are quite important and must be memorized. In general, the letters themselves sound like the first consonants of their names. However, the letters should always be referred to by their names, not their sounds. This is important because, as will be seen, the alphabet contains, among other ambiguities, four "z" sounds. (It's still very much less eccentric than English spelling, however.)

The letters are presented in these notes in a sequence that seems to me convenient for study; but it's just my own choice, and if you want to read about the letters in some other order, it doesn't make a bit of difference.

The style of script traditionally preferred in Urdu is called nasta((liiq (meaning "suspended nas;x "). It is based on an esthetic of curves, and each word tends to slant slightly downwards as it progresses from right to left. Nowadays computer fonts are affecting the old calligraphic styles in complex ways, but that's a subject we needn't go into here. The *calligraphic tradition* in Urdu is tremendously strong, and is very much alive today. In Arabic the horizontal, angular nas;x style is much more common; it's often used in Urdu texts for quotations from the Qur'an and other material presented in Arabic.

Here is *C. M. Naim's introduction to the script*.

0.2 == Connectors and non-connectors

There are no capital and small letters. The most important way of dividing the letters is into connectors and non-connectors. Most of the letters are connectors. This means that they are written cursively, like script. Their shape changes depending on the environment provided by the letters before and after them, to which they are connected. Thus all connectors in principle have three special forms-- "initial," "medial," and "final" --which are used according to how the letters are placed in relation to those around them.

The definition of a non-connector is that after-- take note, AFTER!-- writing it, you always pick up your pen, even in the middle of a word.

The non-connectors, conveniently for us, are the letters that spell out the word urduu : that is, alif ; re and its series; daal and its series; and vaa))o . Non-connectors have no special initial or medial forms, because they don't connect and thus can never be a first or middle letter in a series. Their final forms are virtually or entirely identical to their independent forms.

0.3 == A word about diacritics

It is indeed possible to make more precise definitions of various vowel sounds, both long and short, by the use of certain diacritical marks. This kind of careful, explicit voweling is very common in Arabic, and reaches its culmination in modern presentations of the Qur'an, for which accurate pronunciation is greatly valued. But for the most part diacritics aren't very common in Urdu. The student who becomes too reliant upon them will be lost when encountering real Urdu texts. Therefore diacritics will not be discussed at this early stage, but will be outlined in section 5. There are other types of diacritics too, besides the vowel indicators; they can best come at a late stage of script-learning.

0.4 == A note about these notes

These notes are not a complete, stand-alone way to learn the Urdu script. They contain no practice materials or graded exercises. They are just my own thoughts and observations, gathered over a whole career as a student and teacher of Urdu/Hindi. They are designed to be read alongside a more systematic set of introductory materials. I used to discuss these things orally in class, and finally compiled them in somewhat systematized form to go along with whatever set of exercises, etc. that I was using that year to teach the script. (Over the years I constantly changed my exercises and practice materials, since I never seemed to find any that perfectly suited me.)

In their original form, these notes were strictly script-based. But then I began to incorporate into them various other miscellaneous materials and observations that I used when teaching elementary and intermediate Hindi/Urdu. At first I put such additions in at the end, just because I hated to waste them: there seemed to be no other suitable place for them, and I definitely did not plan to write a whole introductory book. But gradually I found ways to integrate them into the script materials, both for my own enjoyment and because I noticed that these classroom notes seemed to find a larger number of users than I expected.

The basic "target audience" for these notes is people who know English well, and Hindi/Urdu much less well. I also often throw in comments that are addressed to the Urdu script learner who already knows the Devanagari script that is used for Hindi. But I never assume that knowledge when explaining things. So if you don't know Devanagari script, you can use these notes perfectly well, and maybe they will inspire you to learn Devanagari script. It's about ten times easier than the Urdu script, and very much more user-friendly for the beginner. And anybody who doesn't want to have two readable "languages" for scarcely more than the price of one is, in my view, very foolish.

If you're a real native speaker who simply wants the script, you'll find all the observations about grammar and pronunciation unnecessary. But you can just ignore them, and look only at the script-related materials. I'm sure you'll understand that I need to provide more help for others who are learning Hindi/Urdu from the ground up, as I did: from books, teachers, analysis, friendly native speakers, and years of practice.

There are bound to be some script-display glitches and problems, when you use the "script bar" at the bottom of the page. I've tried to anticipate where these might occur, and to provide enough redundancy so that the meaning will always get across. Basically, the display is meant to work as well as possible for the Urdu script; for Devanagari it may often provide a form of transliteration, rather than reflecting modern standard Hindi spelling. Since Urdu script is what we're working on here, that "transliteration" effect may even be helpful at times..

0.5 == A tribute to Devanagari

Devanagari is the script that I started out with. Like most learners, I found that in an hour or two I could grasp its theory very satisfactorily, and in a week or two I knew it well enough to have no further problems. As a language-learner I found it a faithful friend: it was almost entirely phonetic, it helpfully told me all the short vowels-- how could anyone not feel gratitude and affection? By contrast, Urdu script, when I later started to learn it, was a rude shock; it took some years before I could read Urdu as well as I could read Devanagari after two weeks.

I also love the beautifully rational qualities of the Devanagari script. Just take a look at the array of consonants on this standard alphabet chart. Each letter in the main grouping has a place in a grid, with vertical columns identified by the nature of the sound, and horizontal rows identified by the place in the mouth (moving from back to front) where the sound is made. Could anything be more lucid, logical, and linguistically sound? No wonder the letters have no special names in Devanagari: most of them are already defined by their grid-place. (Many other major Indian scripts, including the Dravidian ones, more or less share this kind of consonant grid.)

By contrast, the Urdu script is arranged by shape, in a way that's basically not phonetically useful. And the English alphabet is arranged by no criterion whatsoever. You'd think that Hindi textbooks would enjoy presenting the script chart in all its glory, with more than a trace of smugness about its linguistic elegance. Yet most of them don't: they just give you the letters and move right on. It always surprises and dismays me to see how the beauties of the consonant grid are ignored in many modern textbooks. I'm glad to have this small chance to celebrate the exceptional and wonderful features of Devanagari.


== on to Section 01 == Urdu script index page == fwp's main page ==