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LINGUIST List 19.1018

Thu Mar 27 2008

Diss: Socioling: Ahmad: 'Shifting Dunes: Changing meanings of Urdu ...'

Editor for this issue: Evelyn Richter <evelynlinguistlist.org>

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        1.    Rizwan Ahmad, Shifting Dunes: Changing meanings of Urdu in India

Message 1: Shifting Dunes: Changing meanings of Urdu in India
Date: 27-Mar-2008
From: Rizwan Ahmad <rizzahmadgmail.com>
Subject: Shifting Dunes: Changing meanings of Urdu in India
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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

Linguistic Field(s): Sociolinguistics

Subject Language(s): Urdu (urd)

Dissertation Director:
Robin Queen
Deborah Keller-Cohen
Barbara Metcalf
Judith Irvine
Sarah Thomason

Dissertation Abstract:

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.

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