Section 8 == *script chart*; *positional chart*; *more help*


8.1 == The letter chho;Tii he

The letter chho;Tii he is the most common form of "h," and is preferred over ba;Rii ;he from the jiim series except in the case of certain Arabic words. It is also called gol he , "round he." The third form of "h," do-chashmii he , will be considered in section 10.1.

The letter chho;Tii he has four quite distinct forms: the independent, a small circle with ends that slightly overlap at the top; the initial, a small hook like that of the be series, but with a reversed comma below it; the medial, a unique downward-pointing thorn-like shape with (in principle if not always in practice) a reversed comma below it; and the final, a graceful wavy curve moving first up, then down (but never even the smallest bit up again, since it might then resemble a final re ).

In the case of a few words, an extra chho;Tii he is added with seeming arbitrariness: kah , the root of kahnaa , is spelled kaaf + medial chho;Tii he + final chho;Tii he . (No other forms of the verb are so affected.) Other words which are arbitrarily given two chho;Tii he letters in sequence: bah from bahnaa (to flow); sah from sahnaa (to endure); tah (a fold); sometimes faqiih (a theologian). The reason for such augmentation is probably that these often-important but extremely short words (most only two letters long, in Urdu script) need to be made more conspicuous. And kah , the root of kahnaa , by far the most important of the group, also needs to be clearly distinguished from the even more frequently occurring kih ("that").

Urdu shows a great partiality toward chho;Tii he word endings. Perhaps they simply feel right, because there are so many of them. In many Arabic and Persian words and names, chho;Tii he marks the feminine form: .saabir (m.) and .saabirah (f.), one who is patient; ((aabid (m.) and ((aabidah (f.), a worshiper. It also marks the Persian past participle: sanjiidah (weighed, measured, serious); ;xastah (broken, wounded, hurt).

But whatever the reason, chho;Tii he tends to appear even where it shouldn’t: in the case of some Indic words, a word-final "aa" tends to be replaced by a word-final chho;Tii he : raajah instead of raajaa (king). In such cases, the chho;Tii he tends to persist in plural forms-- do raajah rather than do raaje -- and in oblique forms as well: raajah ko would be expected, rather than raaje ko . For a case study, take a look at the two different things Ghalib has done with saayah in the first line of {58,7}. In {6,6}, giryah (weeping) goes to girye ne ; in {15,15} giryah goes to giryah me;N .

It's also conspicuous that this chho;Tii he commonly remains in plural forms of the basic pronouns: vuh (he, she, it that one) can become plural (they, those) without changing its spelling. So can yih (this one), retaining its chho;Tii he spelling even when it becomes plural (these). The pronunciation doesn't change either. Thus there's a marked contrast with Devanagari spellings (which do change); modern Hindi pronunciations sometimes change as well, but quite often they don't.


8.2 == The phantom vowel "eh"

The official short vowels in Urdu are three, and are well known: "a," "i," and "u." For discussion of them, see section 1.1. End of story? No way! There's in fact another vowel sound, and it's associated with the presence of an "h" sound, usually (but not always) that of chho;Tii he . Here are some examples of this fourth, "unofficial" vowel sound:

bahn (sister) is really pronounced "bEHn"
bahtar (better) is really pronounced "bEHtar"
mihrbaanii (kindness) is really pronounced "mEHrbaanii"
shahr (city) is really pronounced "shEHr" (or "shEHar")
((ahd (vow) is really pronounced "EHd"
i;hsaan (favor) is really pronounced "EHsaan" (here the "h" is a ba;Rii ;he )
i;htiyaat (caution) is really pronounced "EHtiyaat" (here too the "h" is a ba;Rii ;he )
ma;hal (palace) is really pronounced "mEHEl" (a kind of special double example)

And even without the presence of an actual "h":

jalnaa (to burn)
chalnaa (to move along)

These two verbs ought to rhyme with malnaa (to rub) and ;Talnaa (to be postponed); but in fact they don't.

These examples are just a few of many. This "eh" short vowel sound is so conspicuous that in Devanagari it's often written as a full "e" sound (like the "e" in namaste ). But please note that in pronunciation, and in Urdu script, it's not. It sounds more like the short "eh" sound in "let" or "self," while the full "e" [ba;Rii ye] sound is more like the vowel in "lane" or "sane."

How then to render it in transliteration, since it's not "a," "i," or "u"? My ustad, S. R. Faruqi, used to insist that I needed to provide it with a special diacritic mark all its own. I resisted, because I thought my life as a transliterator was complicated enough already. But it's really something like sweeping the pile of dust under one corner of the carpet or another: no matter which corner we choose, there's going to be a lump. Either we have an extra, unaccounted-for vowel floating around, or else we have an extra transliteration symbol that doesn't correspond to anything in the orthography. You, dear reader, can watch for this "eh" sound and decide for yourself what to do about it.


8.3 == The phantom vowel "oh"

Nor is "eh" the end of the story, because there's another phantom vowel as well. It's not as common or deeply entrenched as "eh," but it too depends on usually having an "h" sound in its vicinity; usually this is chho;Tii he , but it can also be ba;Rii ;he . Thus the effect seems to be purely phonetic. It too is often reflected in Devanagari spellings. Some common examples:

bahut (much) is often pronounced "baOHt" (yes, with the changed placement of the "h")
suhaag (wedded bliss) is often pronounced "sOHaag"
.su;hbat (companionship) is often pronounced "sOHbat" (here the "h" is a ba;Rii ;he )
mu;habbat (love) is often pronounced "mOHabbat" (here too the "h" is a ba;Rii ;he )
mu;hammad (Muhammad) is often pronounced "mOHammad" (another ba;Rii ;he ; there are many more such cases among "mu-" words)

I really have no special comments to offer about this "oh" sound, except to point it out. Maybe a linguist should look into these phonetic effects sometime.


8.4 == The mysteries of yih and vuh

These two little pronouns not only exemplify (in some speakers' pronunciations) the phantom vowels of "eh" and "oh," but also do more than their share of the pronominal heavy lifting of the language. For in English, we have not only "he, she, it," but also "this, that"; these two different sets divide up the work between themselves. In Urdu, we have only yih ("this, this one") and vuh ("that, that one") to do everything. Their respective meanings of "this" and "that" are quite straightforward, and everybody gets them immediately.

But what about "he, she, it"? Do you choose at random between yih and vuh ? In practice, not at all: ninety percent of the time you use vuh . If you want to say "It's a good book," you say vuh to achchhii kitaab hai , and it sounds neutral; if you say yih instead, it becomes "This is a good book," as though you were holding it in your hand. The yih applies to the part of the universe in your immediate (physical or conceptual) vicinity, and the vuh applies to all the rest of the universe. And just think what a huge disproportion THAT is! (Sorry, couldn't help it, wordplay is in my blood now.)

When it comes to reading instead of speaking or writing, the script adds a fresh layer of confusion. Since the zer and zabar described in section 5.1 in fact rarely appear, the oblique forms is / us , in / un , idhar / udhar , usually look exactly the same in written form. Here's an example in which Mir has taken poetic advantage of this ambiguity: M{1658,3}.

So to make a long story short, unless you have strong proximate or "this" guidance from the previous sentence, just apply the rule above and use the remote or abstract "that" forms, and you'll never go (very) wrong. It sounds much less wrong to use "that" for "this" than to use "this" for "that"-- because, as is pretty clear, the universe is so much fuller of "that" things than of "this" things. And sometimes even educated native Urdu speakers, even under ideal conditions, have to go back and revisit their initial readings of is / us in such cases. (Here I always think appreciatively of the user-friendly short vowels of Devanagari, which give us no such trouble.)

And when it comes to pluralizing, the script adds another fresh layer of confusion. It's very common, especially in older Urdu texts, to spell the singular and plural direct forms of yih and vuh exactly the same. So you often have to figure out whether you're dealing with a "this" or a "these," a "that" or a "those." (Though at least this particular ambiguity doesn't exist in the oblique forms.) When I lamented about this kind of thing to one of my early ustads, he told me consolingly to remember that Urdu script is for very intelligent and mentally active people: thus it keeps your mind always humming along subliminally in the background as you're reading.

xx

== on to Section 9 == Urdu script index page == fwp's main page ==