languagesandlunches

delicious languages and highly inflected meals

Notes from my time in Korea — November 14, 2016

Notes from my time in Korea

I’ve just got back from one of the most fun holidays of my life. I think a trip’s enjoyability is massively influenced by the life that you’re coming back to at the end. In the case of this trip, Air France’s entire team of stewards had to restrain, drug and haul my weeping and uncooperative corpse onto the plane once I realised that the only thing keeping me from returning to work was a 12 hour flight.

This trip has been the first time in around a year and a half that I’ve been so completely immersed in and surrounded by the Korean language, so I took some notes on my experiences and the things that surprised me, as well as those that were just as expected. One of the reasons for going on this trip was to prepare for the TOPIK (Test of Proficiency in Korean) that I plan to take this coming spring, and spending a couple of weeks eavesdropping on conversations on buses and watching the Korean news (which is more right wing than I knew before!) has been really helpful prep.

  • Honorific, polite and respectful language not as useful/necessary/common as I previously thought

This one shouldn’t have shocked me. In my final year of university I was studying sociolinguistics and the ways in which language and power interact with one another. A Japanese-American academic who supervised me told me that whilst carrying out research in Japan, they had been constantly complimented by Japanese people born in the 30s and 40s for her proper and precise use of honorific grammar and vocabulary. It’s because being Japanese raised overseas, she had been educated and taught Japanese language outside of the sphere of social and linguistic norms of Japan; whereas during her lifetime formal language had fallen out of favour among Japanese teens and young people, in her house there was no such social change.

I am not a Korean raised overseas; I’m a total foreigner who has learnt Korean to some extent (limited, poor, interesting or excellent depending on which of my Korean friends you decide to ask). Having lived in China one three occasions totalling a fairly long time, I have become aware of how useful it is in forming relationships to use the proper forms of address, especially with older people. Even in a shop, addressing the proprietor as auntie before your request notably softens the tone and makes the 阿姨 ayi, or auntie in question much more at ease and amenable. So I took the same idea to Korea and on a few occasions it paid off. Below are a few examples:

Halmeonikkeseo myeot shi buteo beoseureul kidarigo kyeshimnikka?

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Sillyehamnida, jega se bun hamkke sajineul chikkeo teurilkkayo?

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Harapeoji, yogiseo chom anjeushipshio.

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So few foreigners speak Korean that even if I had used regular language I doubt there would have been any negative reaction. It is however quite endearing to use both humble and respectful language- it demonstrates an appreciation of the culture in which a language has developed rather than simply an ability to learn words and grammar.

Necessary though? I would have to say absolutely not. Whilst the language I was using did not seem unusual to the audience, it would almost certainly surprise my Korean contemporaries (i.e. 20-somethings). In interactions that I observed between young and older Koreans, it was very rare for me to hear the respectful register being used. This isn’t news in the grand scheme of the Korean language; there were originally seven registers of varying formality and politeness, and now only four are commonly in use. Potentially in just a few generations we will see two or three of the remaining ones dwindle into disuse.

  • Can’t rely on foreign imported vocabulary so much

This was a foolish error on my part. In most languages you do need to actually learn words in order to communicate. This year however I spent so much of my time both learning and speaking Hindi and Urdu with native speakers that I became quite lazy.

Wanna ask if it’s raining, but forgot the Urdu word for rain? Just say rain:

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Need your phone charger, but not sure how to say it in Hindi? No worries:

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Want to send a postcard from Korea to Canada? Well, you should probably know the word 엽서 yeobseo, because you can’t just walk into a post office and say 안녕하세요, 이 postcard 을 캐나다에 보내고싶습니다 because. It. Doesn’t. Mean. Shit.

  • The semantic relationship with Chinese is more useful than anticipated

On my final day in Seoul the new channel that I was watching announced that large scale protests calling for the resignation of President Park Geunhye were taking place in Gwanghwamun Plaza, directly south of the Gyeongbok Palace, the historic and cultural centre of Seoul. My couchsurfing host was complaining about the high level political vocabulary that was being used by news outlets to discuss the calls for impeachments.

“It really irritates me, our whole lives we’re taught that 탄핵 danhaek means impeach, and now suddenly no one is using it and they’re saying 하야 haya instead. You have to learn a whole new language to watch politics in Korea, it’s bullshit.”

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I chewed over this for a moment. Quite often in Korean there exist two words for the same thing- it’s the same phenomenon that appears in Japanese. One of these words is pure Korean in origin, and the other is Chinese. Once you’re familiar enough with both languages it’s easy to identify. Almost every verb in Korean is pure Korean, unless it ends in 하다 hada, in which case it is probably Chinese. For example 내리다 naerida means to get off a bus, and so does 하차하다 hachahada. As a Chinese speaker and user I find hachahada (which comes from the phrase 下车 haa che/xia che in Chinese) more convenient and pleasant to use, but most Koreans unsurprisingly feel the opposite. My first thought was that one of danhaek and haya would be Korean and one Chinese. However looking at them, it’s very clear that they’re in fact both Chinese. Danhaek (impeach) is the characters 弹劾, which are pronounced in Cantonese as tanhaat. Haya was less obvious, but the Chinese character 下 xia/ha (to put down or descend) is always pronounced as ha in Korean (like in hachahada above). I was able to explain just from knowing this that the reason different words are being used is because they have different meanings, danhaek meaning to impeach (a transitive verb) and haya meaning to give up power, or abdicate (which I later confirmed is derived from the archaic and truly out of date 下野 haaye/xiaye).

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Being surrounded by a language all day isn’t just the best way to learn it, as clichéd language teachers have been insisting all our lives. It’s also the most enjoyable way to further explore and understand the social and psychological environment that both shapes and is shaped by language. I hope following this trip I’ll be able to write more deeply about the linguistics of Korean and of learning this language, as well as the ways in which it interacts with other languages, both Indo-European and within the context of East Asia.

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Hindustani: 0-60 in 3.5 (months) — September 24, 2015

Hindustani: 0-60 in 3.5 (months)

About four months ago I wrote a post moaning about what an unbearable trauma it was to learn the Devanagari script, that I was studying for the purposes of being able to use written Hindi and Sanskrit. I determined that a much faster track to fluency in Hindustani (the generic name given to both Hindi and Urdu, as two mutually-intelligible registers of what is essentially the same language) would be to learn Urdu, which shares most of Hindi’s vocabulary, but is written in the (for me) infinitely simpler Arabic script. I’ve just completed studying Teach Yourself Urdu (David Matthews and Mohamed Kasim Dalvi), a book which professes to allow the student to reach B2 level in Urdu (see below).

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Below I’ve put together a small list of both the quirks and curiosities in Hindustani that made it a challenge, and also some of the techniques I used to quickly overcome these issues. Hopefully it’s useful to those of you trying to learn any language (but if you’re learning either Hindi or Urdu please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!).

The main difficulties

1) A seemingly very odd case system that doesn’t reflect the system in most Indo-European languages. Whereas the case system in other Indo-European languages is fairly complex, in Hindustani there are only two cases (plus a rarely used vocative case). They’re called direct and oblique, and the reason that this opposition is so strange (to me, at least) is that the direct case covers both the nominative AND accusative in meaning. I tend to view these two cases as being somehow opposed to each other, and to see them both represented by the SAME case in Hindustani was quite a surprise. Apart from that though, the cases are declined very regularly (if at all), so beyond the shock to my ethnocentric little mind, this hasn’t been so disastrous.

2) A really weird (ethnocentric again, my bad) way of forming the perfect tenses (see my earlier post on Ergativity in Hindustani), which essentially reverses the roles of subject and object, and requires suffixing the subject in such a way that instead of nominative, it becomes ergative. The reason this is a problem, is that almost all Hindustani verbs (except subjunctives) conjugate according to number and gender, so if the object that you’ve done something to is feminine, so is the verb. For example (assuming a female speaker):

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Main ne na’ee kitaab kharidee. (I bought a new book.)

Main ne nayaa ghar kharidaa. (I bought a new house.)

Ghar (house) is a masculine noun, and as such the verb kharidnaa (buy) is conjugated as masculine and singular (kharidaa). If the speaker had bought multiple houses, the verb would be conjugated as masculine and plural (kharide). Kitaab (book) is a feminine noun, and the verb is conjugated as feminine and singular (kharidee). The suffix -ee is -een in the plural, so if the speaker had bought multiple books the sentence would be “Main ne (bahut) kitaben kharideen.

Again, this is obviously not a huge deal and Hindustani speakers I know don’t really get why it frustrates me so much. I’ll try not to let it.

3) Gender in language, like gender in life, is complete bollocks. In fact if Hindustani didn’t have gender, I probably wouldn’t find the whole ergativity thing such a pain. It’s made worse by the fact that the standard feminine ending in Arabic (-ah) is the standard masculine ending in Hindustani, so quite a lot of feminine nouns borrowed from Arabic become masculine once they have been naturalised into Hindustani (mainly Urdu). Similarly a lot of Arabic nouns that have masculine gender, become feminine in Hindustani. For example kitaab above is an Arabic loanword, which is masculine in Arabic. Not that it matters, because Arabic doesn’t conjugate its perfective verbs according to the gender and number of the object. (Sidebar discussion: is learning Hindustani a legitimate form of masochism?)

4) Syntax: if you’re one of those people in a monogamous relationship with the subject-verb-object structure of your native language, you probably shouldn’t try Hindustani.

What’s been of great help:

1) Using Facebook to follow news websites that publish in Hindi and Urdu. Obviously Urdu is massively easier for me given how many years I’ve been familiar with the Arabic script. It still takes me an absolute age to read an entire article in Hindi.

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Now I flick down my homepage thrilled at the fact that unless the topic is fairly obscure, I’m able to open any of the articles I see and understand the content.

2) The fact that the conjunctive particle linking different clauses together (with the meaning of “that”) is pronounced ke! I just love it, though again Hindustani is an Indo-European language, so it’s to be expected.

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I feel like I’m speaking Spanish when I jokingly scold someone with: Ap kyon na ayaa? Main soch rahaa thaa ke ap ko fursat thi na?! Incidentally this was also my favourite thing about learning Farsi, it cuts out loads of time spent having to get your head around complex subordinate clauses (cf. Korean, Japanese).

3) The fact that the moment I decided to start learning Hindustani my entire circle of Pakistani friends just stopped using English with me. It was hard, and kind of cruelly exclusionary at first, but now I see you only did it because you love me and wanted me to learn faster (right?). Similarly, I realised just how much Urdu I’m surrounded by more or less wherever I go in North-West England. I feel really foolish for being a language glutton in the UK for so many years and never fully appreciating how rewarding and useful a language Hindustani (especially Urdu) could be.

4) The abundant use of loan words from English. Take a look at the news headline below:

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In this one sentence, the English words “Viral video” and “virginity” are simply transliterated directly into the Devanagari script, reading “Viral Video: Patni ne khud ki virginity ke bare men bataakar pati ko hairaan kar deyaa!” (Viral video: wife talking about her virginity gives her husband a shock!”)

Language quirks I — August 26, 2015

Language quirks I

Learning a new language often, or always, feels like an uphill struggle. I’m seasoned now, quite fast, and have a reinforced tolerance that means that even the most obscure grammatical features don’t faze me anymore. But even now, I love encountering little fun nuggets of joy in a language I’m learning that remind me that, actually, learning can be fun and eye-opening. In fact it should be both of those things.

I’ve been studying Urdu and Hindi for around two months now, and very early on I was fascinated by the fact that kal is both the word for tomorrow, and yesterday. These are both languages with tenses, so the meaning of kal can easily be deciphered by listening to the verb that follows it. Essentially, kal means neither tomorrow nor yesterday. It in fact means, a day other than today that is near. A bit further down the line (yesterday in fact, or kal) I discovered that parson is the word meaning either the day after tomorrow, or the day before yesterday, with a similar principle behind it. I sat in my coffee shop chuckling to myself, making bystanders nervous and awkward as I contemplated how random the world is, inspired by these two funny little words.

So in tribute to this unintentional gift of self-awareness and that languages give us, I’ve put together a list of the things that have really tickled me whilst learning. They’re not necessarily funny, but they’re certainly out of your comfort zone and might make you wonder what’s out there in the languages you’re currently learning.

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1) The contemporary use of the character 囧

Occasionally when you’ve been learning Chinese too long, you come across a character that reminds you of a bunny rabbit or your great-aunt. Normally it’s a sign that you need to improve your social life. But that’s not the case with 囧. This character is originally the name of a plant so specific that I’m not even going to look it up in my dictionary to give you the correct name. But in recent years, due to the fact that it looks like a disappointed/heartbroken/panic-stricken face, it has undergone a transition in meaning, and now the character, pronounced jiong (third tone) means OMG I’m so embarrassed/awkward/frustrated.

2) The characters of the Korean writing system look like the parts of the mouth that form them

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I spent a long time looking for the answer to this when I first began learning Korean. In 1446 King Sejong, spurred on by a sense of early nationalism and the knowledge that literacy in highly complex Chinese characters was beyond the capabilities of most of his citizens developed the Hangeul, a simple script for writing the Korean language. In contrast to thousands of Chinese characters that had been used until that point, the newly developed Hangeul consisted of just 27 consonant letters and 16 vowels. Six hundred years later, of these only 14 consonants and 15 vowels are still in use.

But as this writing system was purposefully designed for the adoption of literacy in the Korean populace, and is not the result of generations of evolutionary processes, I wondered how the early Hangeul pioneers decided on the designs of the letters.

The amazing thing is that in 1940 an antique collector, Jeon Hyeongpil, publically revealed an item in his collection called the 훈민정음해례 (Hunmin Cheongeum Haerye), or Explanations and Examples of the Proper Pronunciation for the Instruction of the People. In this ancient document, the origins of Hangeul characters are discussed and explained as diagrammatic representations of the parts of the mouth that move and alter in order to form consonants.

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Below is a photo of the Hunmin Cheongeum Haerye. The explanation is written in Korean Chinese characters. For some perspective, one selection of the document reads: 舌音ㄴ象舌附上腭之形。脣音ㅁ象口形。齒音ㅅ象齒形。

Hunminjeongeumhaerye

This excerpt means: “The lingual consonant ㄴ (n) is intended to resemble the tongue rising to the palate; the labial consonant ㅁ (m) is intended to resemble the shape of the mouth; the dental consonant ㅅ (s) is intended to resemble the shape of a tooth.”

3) The fluidity of Arabic nouns, verbs and adjectives

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Arabic, like most Semitic languages, is based on a system of roots with (normally) three letters. To demonstrate what I mean, I’m going to use the root s-k-n, which when assembled together creates words that mean something to do with living. Askunu means I live, saakin means resident (noun usage), sukoon means living (noun usage), sakan means residence, tusaakinu means she shares a house. There’s an amazing amount of flexibility here, especially as in many varieties of Arabic there are two ways of saying I live in London. One is to say Anaa askunu fee Landan, in which the verb askunu is used, and the other is to say anaa saakin fee Landan, in which the noun is used. This special form of the noun, called the active participle, is actually used as a verb to denote the present tense, as technically Arabic doesn’t have a present tense (in fact Arabic doesn’t have a tense system at all, verbs are conjugated by aspect and there are only two aspects: actions that have been completed, and actions that have not).

Incidentally, the sweet thing about this system is that many Semitic languages share roots. While the verb used in Hebrew meaning to live is not s-k-n, the root s-k-n is used in many words, including shakhen (neighbour), shkhuna (neighbourhood) and shkina (the presence of god).

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Another cool example is the root h-m-r, which relates the things that are red. From this root comes ahmar (red) and ihmarrat (she blushed).

Coming to terms with ergativity, existential crisis and Hindustani verbs — July 10, 2015

Coming to terms with ergativity, existential crisis and Hindustani verbs

One of the first things I do after starting a new language is check out the verb table. Once you have complete mastery over a language’s verbs, everything else starts to move much faster. You can build vocabulary rapidly by employing new words in exemplar sentences with your new, shiny, fully conjugated verbs. Of course some languages (Chinese) are quite disappointing on the verb table front. That being said, every language I’ve learnt does at least SOMETHING to modify its verbs, and I think you’d truly struggle to find a language that doesn’t use some form of marking to express aspect or tense. Even Chinese, famous for its verbs that “never change”, has an array of complex verbal structures that easily baffle the foolish, arrogant basic learner who goes round boasting “Chinese doesn’t have ANY grammar, it’s SOOOOOOO easy” to their friends studying Russian or Japanese.

I knocked this together thinking of the most obvious ways of modifying Chinese verbs that make frequent use of aspect markers and directional complements.

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Every so often though, a surprise comes along. Verbs in Hindustani (true fans of the blog will remember that I recently started studying Urdu and Hindi) look quite simple at first, a system conjugated for time, aspect, person and gender, using verbal suffixes, the auxiliary verb (होना/ہونا) and verbal participles. But I was the surprised by a small footnote in the page I was reading, explaining that this is only the process of conjugating intransitive verbs.

However, when the verb IS transitive and has a direct object, the process is very different in the perfective conjugations. Instead of a subject-object-verb structure, the subject in this sentence is declined as ergative and given the suffix نے/ने (neː), whereas the direct object of the verb is declined as nominative, and the verb then agrees with the nominative object in gender and number.

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The sentence above shows the sentence “I bought a book” in both the Hindi and Urdu scripts. The pronunciation is identical, except for the initial consonant of the final word “bought”. The long ee (i:) sound at the end of the verb bought is a feminine suffix, the masculine equivalent would end in a long aa (a:). Regardless of whether the subject of the sentence is masculine or feminine, it is the object (in this case the feminine noun, kɪt̪a:b, book) that determines how the verb is declined for gender and number.

It’s a system called ergativity, in which the subject of an intransitive verb is declined as if it were the object of a transitive verb. Most languages with these tendencies are not purely ergative, but show some features of ergativity whilst using other kinds of morphosyntax. Other languages that display ergativity are Basque and Georgian, though, like Hindustani, in Georgian ergativity is not shown universally, but only in the aorist tense.

My tiny little ethnocentric mind is still not quite on board with how this system works, but I’ll get there. An obnoxious ex huffed and groaned with boredom and annoyance when I asked them to explain the concept of ergativity to me; it’s not easy to figure out but once you’ve pondered it a few hundred times it starts to kind of make sense. Helpful background reading would be to understand exactly what transitivity entails, and maybe to look into the structure of languages that have a “middle” voice.

Daniel Hernandez Halpern

Misadventures in Devanagari — July 4, 2015

Misadventures in Devanagari

One of my big personality flaws, in all arenas of my life, extending as far as food, shopping AND languages, is greed. Chinese was going well, so I decided to try to hack Japanese in less than three months by manipulating my existing knowledge of Chinese characters. Sadly, it worked, and now I suffer from twin defects in my language learning psyche: not only do I want to do more, faster, but I know that it’s possible too.

Years after a failed attempt to learn Panjabi, I find myself staring at a chart of what is known as the Devanagari script. It all looks painfully familiar, as the writing system of Panjabi that I had attempted learn back then, the Gurmukhi script, is more or less derived from it, and even with the benefit of several years of wisdom and world travel under my belt, it’s intimidating.

I’m learning it, in short, because I’m a language glutton. To give more details, as I’m currently learning Urdu (another Indo-Iranian language that 14-year-old me picked up and dropped several times in 2006), I figured that with not much extra effort I could learn Hindi too. It’s not a subtle brag; on a structural level Hindi and Urdu are mutually intelligible, and are essentially just two different registers of a language often called Hindustani. It’s only when one reaches the levels of official and academic registers in these languages that the cracks begin to show, but even that can be viewed as advantageous. As an Arabic speaker, the formal register or Urdu is likely to be quite easy for me, as due to Islamic influence on Urdu there is abundant lexical sharing. Hindi, on the other hand, takes its high-brow vocabulary from Sanskrit, and I’ve been looking for a short-cut into Sanskrit for YEARS (greed, right?).

These short words show the Varṇamālā, or
These short words show the Varṇamālā, or “Garland of Letters” of the Devanagari script

The script is an abugida, which means that each character represents a consonant sound and comes with an inherent, unwritten vowel sound, which in Hindi is a schwa (how you pronounce the a in about), and if any other vowel sound is present, it must be indicated in writing.

I would upload a picture of the page that I first used to draw up the Devanagari chart, but there’s a very apparent series of holes in the page from when I got impatient and started stabbing my most hated characters with my pen. Instead, this is from my very tasteful and understated sound chart in my exercise book:

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You’ll see that in the Devanagari script the letters are arranged according to how they are sounded (i.e. which part of the body is moved when articulating the sounds [I say body because they’re not limited to one’s mouth, not because there are sounds involving eyelashes or nipples, relax]). Language nerds, normally annoying as fuck, have clubbed together to help you learn this writing system with “ease”; you can see for example, that the section of the alphabet that is ट, ठ, ड are all characters requiring your tongue to line up with the front of your palate.

Sadly, the very same language nerds have decided that on top of an abugida that requires learning a small mountain of consonant-vowel combinations, that because of the propensity in Sanskrit (and its descended languages) to cluster up to five consonants together, consonant clusters, unseparated by vowels, EVEN innocuous little schwas, must be created. That’s where bad bitches like the conjunct character below come from:

devanagari character

This nightmare is what happens when the characters द्ध्र्य occur together without any vowels separating the individual consonants. I’m not going to bother with these, because there’s like a thousand. I’d rather pretend they’re not there and see how it plays out; it worked with tones for the first few months of learning Mandarin after all (potentially another of my character flaws, we’ll see).

Lastly, I should mention that if you’re into sociolinguistics, and you should be, it’s worth looking into the history and development of Hindi and Urdu. I don’t do spoilers, so just make your way to this wiki article for a taster: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindi%E2%80%93Urdu_controversy

Daniel Hernandez Halpern

Don’t sweat the small stuff (aka There’s Something about Urdu) — July 1, 2015

Don’t sweat the small stuff (aka There’s Something about Urdu)

If you’ve lived in the UK it’s highly unlikely that you’ve never encountered Urdu. It’s written using an especially ornate version of the Arabic script (nasta’liq) on countless shop fronts, as one of the most prominent languages of the British South-Asian community it’s often a language offered in public sector services such as libraries and job centres and there are large parts of the country (including where I attended high school c. 35% of the time) where you can’t help but hear one version or another of it being spoken. Oddly, the general interest in the language is low, but for me Urdu has spun its web of intrigue thrice over. Sadly none of these tales ended with me being able to converse or function with literacy in the language, but I’ve determined that will change (for various reasons, that may later become obvious) this time.

It’s an Indo-European language (see my earlier post Why I’m LOVING Farsi right now for more on that) so it’s unlikely to be one of the harder languages I’ve learnt, but in the past I’ve had difficulties that stopped me from going any further with the language.

The script

There are all kinds of names for the script normally used in writing Urdu. Perso-Arabic script refers to the sounds represented; the letters come from the Arabic alphabet, with additions from the Farsi (Persian) script to represent the sounds g (گ), p (پ) and ʒ (ژ).

Nasta’liq on the other hand refers to a style of calligraphy that is used in almost all forms of printed media for Urdu and Pashto. Arabic is generally written in either the naskh or ruq’ah script, which aren’t so different from one another. They’re quite easy for those accustomed to writing in the Latin alphabet, as most of the writing is based on the idea of writing on a horizontal line. Nasta’liq though, whilst aesthetically thrilling, is difficult for a naskh-fan because 1) it slopes downwards from the beginning of each word and 2) a lot of the letters are represented with tiny dots and flicks of the pen that are much more prominent in naskh or ruq’ah.

This is a sample of written nasta’liq (by my own unskilled hand). I’ve found that difficult scripts have to be practised with blood, sweat and tears and that there’s no substitute for sitting down with a large page of original text and copying it.

Urdu dialogue

The sounds

One of the problems with the script or Urdu overflows into the second of my major issues with the language: pronunciation. Below is the pronunciation chart I drew up for learning Urdu. I’ve decided for once to use, sensibly, the International Phonetic Alphabet to accurately learn the sounds represented by the script. There are 34 consonant sounds (as far as I can tell), so using Romanised text (writing Urdu words in the Latin alphabet) is really not a good idea, unless you’re happy with your ʈ (ٹ), t̪ (ط), t̪ʰ (تھ) and ʈʰ (ٹھ) sounding the same, and I certainly am not.

Urdu phonology

It’s easy when you speak English all day to start to use English as a standard by which to measure all other languages, and this is quite tricky when dealing with languages that have a radically different phonology.

For example, you read in your textbook that the letter ٹ is a retroflex consonant, and it’s explained to you that to pronounce this you pronounce the English letter ‘t’ but with the tip of your tongue touching your palate; easy enough, after some practice. The issue is that having spoken about this with a few friends who are native Urdu speakers, the ‘t’ that I consider to be a “normal t” in English (I’m confessing this as a means to helping you, don’t throw it in my face, I know I’m an ethnocentric turd) is actually quite retroflex already. In fact in both Hindi and Urdu, the retroflex ‘t’ consonant is used more often than not to put English words containing a ‘t’ into the Urdu/Hindi script.

This past couple of days I’ve realised that problems arise equally from over-simplifying and over-complicating matters.

Ultimately, there’s no great merit in moving your tongue and lining it up with your teeth in the exact manner of native speakers- indeed the fact that Urdu is so widely spoken around the world means that it’s a pluricentric language now, with no one accepted way of being spoken. Neither is nasta’liq so superior to naskh that it should put you off learning a lnaguage as intricate and fascinating as Urdu. Of course it’s worth trying to adhere to some rules for the purposes of being understood. However, being uptight about pronunciation and orthography is only ever a negative thing, that holds you back from reaching the level that enables you to interact with people and literature, and that’s the point at which language learning becomes enjoyable and able to enrich your life.

Daniel Hernandez Halpern