Lafziati Mabahis solves mysteries of many Urdu words

Lexicographer and literary scholar Dr Rauf Parekh has indeed done a service by compiling his articles on various aspects of Urdu morphology (the study of individual words in a language regarding their history or etymology, use, grammatical function, and how they have been derived from other words and other words are derived from them) published in various periodicals into a book titled ‘Lafziati Mabahis’.

Many writers who write interesting pieces for magazines and newspapers, especially those of Urdu, often do not take it upon themselves to compile such pieces in the form of a book. As a result, their writings are forgotten until some researcher sifts them from old issues. Even in this age of the internet, articles published in Urdu magazines or newspapers are not as properly archived as those carried by English-language publications.

Lafziati Mabahis has a total of seven chapters under three sections. The first section, which comprises three chapters, explains the rich vocabulary of the Urdu language to denote colours, animals’ voices and homes, and different modes of rain.

Rain can be slow or fast. It can occur for a short time or for a very long duration. Even the drops falling from the sky vary from time to time. Sometimes the drops are thick and one feels being hit by them. At other times they are too small and one gets wet without feeling the raindrops hitting them.

In the chapter on the rain-related Urdu vocabulary, Dr Parekh has given several words and phrases that show different facets of rain. An interesting word, for example, is ‘Jhaala’, which is sadly not heard much these days but the people of Karachi should start using it because it aptly describes a kind of rain that frequently occurs in the city.

Jhaala is a moderate or heavy rain that occurs in a small area for a short time while nearby areas do not receive it. Such kind of rain commonly occurs in Karachi when you have inundated roads in SITE while the adjoining Nazimabad area is completely dry. And if Urdu has a word for this kind of shower, it should become a part of the everyday language.

The article on the vocabulary of colours in Urdu names many words that have become obsolete. The author has even given examples of colour names that mean something different to different lexicographers. ‘Magasi’ is a colour that is blackish according to the Urdu Lughat Board, but John T Platts in his dictionary that was published in 1884 has described the colour as brownish corresponding to the English term ‘freckled’.

Whereas the first section of the book about vocabulary deals with many words that are not spoken these days, the second section, which is about how other languages influenced Urdu and vice versa, is a more interesting read since it feels more relevant to the languages being spoken these days.

In the chapter about the Arabic origins of Urdu words, the author has identified many a word that is written or pronounced incorrectly. The name ‘Qurratulain’ is mostly not written correctly, writes Dr Parekh, because there should be no Alif in the first part of the word, ‘Qurrat’. Similarly, a word widely used to mean progress or growth, ‘Nashv-o-nama’, is pronounced wrong as ‘Nashv-o-numa’ because if the ‘n’ phoneme is followed by the rounded vowel in case of ‘numa’, it would become a word of Persian-origin meaning something that shows or indicates other thing, whereas ‘nama’ is an Arabic word meaning growth.

The most interesting chapter of the book is perhaps the one with the title ‘Desi Angrezi’. Our linguists are mostly concerned about undue influence being exerted on Urdu by the English language. They seldom notice how Urdu has affected the register of English that is spoken or written in Pakistan.

For example, when Pakistanis did not find an exact equivalent of the Urdu word ‘Mutasira’ in English, they coined a noun ‘affectee’ from the verb ‘affect’. The word affectee is not a part of standard English but is commonly used in Pakistani English. A godown is another such word used for a warehouse in Pakistani English.

Similarly, many English words have changed meanings in the Pakistani register of the language. We commonly use the word ‘hotel’ in place of ‘restaurant’ or ‘eatery’, but in standard English, a hotel is a place where one stays.

Since in Urdu ‘Roza Rakhna’ is used to describe the action of fasting, we Pakistanis use the verb phrase ‘keep fast’ instead of using just ‘fast’ as a verb. Dr Parekh, however, did not mention how we Pakistanis mean differently by ‘breaking fast’. In standard English, breaking fast means completing the fasting period and resume eating. However, as the phrase literally translates into Urdu as ‘Roza Torna’, we Pakistanis use breaking fast to mean starting to eat before completing the required fasting period.

‘Black money’ is another term of local English that is used to describe wealth accumulated through illegal means. Not a part of standard English, it is in fact the literal translation of the Urdu phrase ‘Kala Dhan’.

The last section of the book is about Mushtaqat, which means inflections or derivations through which one word is changed into other words. It has two chapters, the last of which is a scholarly article that Dr Parekh wrote for a seminar that was held in 2010 in connection with the 100th death anniversary of the great Urdu writer Muhammad Hussain Azad.

Lafziati Mabahis, which was published by the City Book Point this year, is a valuable resource for those interested in Urdu morphology. However, there are some typos that should be rectified in the next edition. A book that essentially deals with words cannot afford to have words misspelled in it.

2023-09-24

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