The Urdu alphabet is the right to left alphabet used for the Urdu language. It is a modification of the Persian alphabet, which is itself a derivative of the Arabic alphabet. Urdu is typically written in the calligraphic Nasta'liq script, whereas Arabic is more commonly in the Naskh style. Usually, bare transliterations of Urdū into Roman letters omit many phonemic elements that have no equivalent in English or other languages commonly written in the Roman alphabet. National Language Authority of Pakistan has developed a number of systems with specific notations to signify non-English sounds, but these can only be properly read by someone already familiar with Urdū, Persian, or Arabic for letters such as:ژ خ غ ط ص or ق and Hindi for letters such as ڑ.
The Urdū language developed during the Mughal Empire under the influences of Arabic, Persian and Turkic languages. A modification of the Persian alphabet was developed to suit this language. Despite of the invention of Urdu typewriter in 1911, the Urdū newspapers used to be published from hand-written scripts by masters (called katibs or khush-navees) until the late 1980s. The Pakistani national newspaper Daily Jang was the first Urdū newspaper to use Nasta’liq composition on computer. There are efforts underway to develop more sophisticated and user-friendly Urdū support on computers and the internet. Nowadays, nearly all Urdū newspapers, magazines, journals, and periodicals are composed on computers via various Urdū software programs.
The Nasta'liq calligraphic writing style began as a Persian mixture of scripts Naskh and Ta'liq. After the Mughal conquest, Nasta'liq became the preferred writing style for Urdu/Hindustānī. It is the dominant style in Pakistan, and many Urdu signs in India and elsewhere in the world use it. Nasta'liq is more cursive and flowing than its Naskh counterpart.
A list of the Urdū alphabet and pronunciation is given below. Urdū contains many historical spellings from Arabic and Persian, and therefore has many irregularities. The Arabic letters yaa and haa both have two variants in Urdū: one of the yaa variants is used at the ends of words for the sound [i], and one of the haa variants is used to indicate the aspirated consonants. The retroflex consonants needed to be added as well; this was accomplished by placing a superscript ط (to'e) above the corresponding dental consonants. Several letters which represent distinct consonants in Arabic are conflated in Persian, and this has carried over to Urdū. Some of the original Arabic letters are not used in Urdu. This is the list of the Urdu letters, giving the consonant pronunciation. Many of these letters also represent vowel sounds.
|Letter||Name of letter||Transcription||IPA|
|و||vā'o||v, o, or ū||[ʋ], [oː], or [uː]|
|ہ, ﮩ, ﮨ||choṭī he||h||[h]|
|ھ||do cashmī he||h||[ʰ]|
|ی||ye||y, i||[j] or [iː]|
|ے||bari ye||ai or e||[ɛː], or [eː]|
Vowels in Urdu are represented by letters that are also considered consonants. Many vowel sounds can be represented by one letter. Confusion can arise, but context is usually enough to figure out the correct sound.
This is a list of Urdu vowels found in the initial, medial, and final positions.
|ai||/ɛ/ or /ɑɪ/|
Short vowels ("a", "i", "u") are represented by marks above and below a consonant.
Alif (ا) is the first letter of the Urdu alphabet, and it is used exclusively as a vowel. At the beginning of a word, alif can be used to represent any of the short vowels, e.g. اب ab, اسم ism, اردو urdū. Also at the beginning, an alif (ا) followed by either of wā'o (و) or ye (ی) represents a long vowel sound. Wā'o (و) or ye (ی) alone at the beginning would represent a consonant.
Alif also has a variant, call alif madd (آ). It is used to represent a long "ā" at the beginning of a word, e.g. آپ āp, آدمی ādmi. At the middle or end of a word, long ā is represented simply by alif (ا), e.g. بات bāt, آرام ārām.
Wā'o is used to render the vowels "ū", "o", and "au". It also renders the consonants "w" and 'v', but many people get confused between these two sounds.
Ye is divided into two variants: choṭī ye and baṛi ye.
Choṭī ye (ی) is written in all forms exactly as in Persian. It is used for the long vowel "ī" and the consonant "y".
Baṛī ye (ے) is used to render the vowels "e" and "ai" (/eː/ and /æː/ respectively). Baṛī ye is distinguished in writing from choṭī ye only when it comes at the end of a word.
The letter do cashmī he (ھ) is used in native Hindustānī words, for aspiration of certain consonants. The aspirated consonants are sometimes classified as separate letters, although it takes two characters to represent them.