A Comprehensive Keyboard Layout for Urdu

Many Urdu speakers first learn how to type in English, and therefore have trouble adjusting to the standard Urdu keyboard layout. The same applies to many of the speakers of languages that use variations of the Arabic script. Some people adjust to the standard layout of the language, but others may prefer an alternative that is more convenient and easier to learn based on their experience using a QWERTY keyboard. As one of those people, I downloaded the Microsoft Keyboard Layout Creator (MSKLC), a really useful tool that allows users to design custom keyboard layouts by assigning different Unicode characters to each key. I used it to create an optimized and comprehensive layout for Urdu, which also has the full capacity to type in Persian, Punjabi (Shahmukhi), Arabic, and other languages.

The main idea behind my keyboard design is to make it easy for someone who already knows how to type in English. Therefore, “p” corresponds to “پ” (“pe”), “k” corresponds to “ک” (“kaaf”), “l” corresponds to “ل” (“laam”), etc. Of course, there cannot be a perfect correspondence between Urdu and English because some letters exist in both languages that don’t have an equivalent in the other. Being able to assign more letters to the “shift” state helps with this because we don’t have to worry about upper and lower cases for languages that use the Arabic script. Thus, “t” corresponds to “ت” but “shift”+“t” corresponds to the less common retroflex “ٹ”. I followed an analogous pattern for retroflex “d” and “r”. For a few letters, I simply had to pick whichever keys were still left, but the majority of keys are intuitively placed. Although there is an accessible keyboard layout for Urdu that follows this phonetic approach (“CRULP Urdu Phonetic Keyboard Layout”), mine has a few advantages. It includes characters specific to Arabic, making this keyboard easily usable for typing in both Urdu and Arabic. Plus, it makes use of every key, allowing for more special characters and punctuation marks.

As I mentioned, this keyboard is also compatible with Arabic, which requires different variations of certain letters. I assigned “ك”, the Arabic version of “kaaf”, to “alt+ctrl”+“k”.This is convenient because it is the same key as the Urdu/Persian version of “kaaf”, in a different state. Similarly, the Arabic “ya” is “alt+ctrl”+“i”, whereas Urdu/Persian “ya” is just “i”. Another feature of this keyboard layout is the extended assortment of special characters, diacritical marks, and punctuation marks that I included. Most of these are in the “shift” or “alt+ctrl” states because they are used less often. The bottom row of keys in those states, for example, includes all the short vowels used in Urdu, Persian, and Arabic. Here are some highlights of the special characters and punctuation marks:

  • The takhallus sign used to indicate the name of a poet is “alt+ctrl”+“z”.
  • The sign used to indicate a line of poetry is “alt+ctrl”+“e”.
  • The sanah sign used to indicate a year is “shift”+“7”.
  • The Bismillah ligature is “alt+ctrl”+“o”.
  • The reverse question mark is “shift”+“/”, replacing the regular version.

The images below show how characters are assigned to each key in the three states. For some computers, you only have to press “alt” for the “alt+ctrl” state instead of both keys. You can download and install this layout on your own Windows computer to use it and even to edit it yourself if you have MSKLC. Click here to download the folder with the necessary files. Installing it just requires running the file called “setup” after you have downloaded and unzipped the folder. Once the keyboard is installed, you can switch between it and the regular QWERTY keyboard by pressing “alt”+“shift”. I hope this Urdu keyboard layout is helpful, and comments and suggestions for improving it are appreciated.

Urdu: Language of Poets

Urdu is an Indo-European language from the central zone of the Indo-Aryan branch, with over one hundred million speakers worldwide. Once associated with the Mughal Empire, it is most prominent in Pakistan, northern India, and South Asian diaspora communities.

Urdu is the official language in Pakistan and some states of India (marked in dark orange; marked in yellow is Hindi).

Due to its mutual intelligibility with Hindi, Urdu and Hindi are often referred to jointly by the term Hindustani (literally: “from the land of the Indus”). Considering Hindustani as a single unit, it is the third or fourth most spoken language in the world, depending on which source you look at.

People often ask what the differences between Hindi and Urdu are, and I would say that there are essentially two. First, the writing system: Hindi employs the Devanagari script, which is a descendant of older Indian scripts, whereas Urdu uses a version of the Perso-Arabic script, which came into use for several South Asian languages after Muslims entered the subcontinent. Second, while the grammar and syntax for both is alike, higher-level vocabulary in Hindi is derived from Sanskrit while in Urdu it is often derived from Persian and Arabic. In regular conversation, though, Hindi and Urdu speakers can communicate with each other perfectly well. Due to the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, the differences between the two have been artificially magnified in Pakistan, where Urdu has national status, and India, where Hindi has national status, in quite a politicized manner.

Anyways, Urdu is known for its great canon of literature and poetry; figures such as Meer, Ghalib, and Iqbal have truly inspired millions. It makes sense that Urdu is a poetic language when one looks at the rich sources it draws from – it is built on a foundation of Sanskrit and Hindi, and ornamented with vocabulary from Persian, Arabic, and even Turkish.

Interestingly enough, the word Urdu is even synonymous with poetry in some cases. For example, take a look at the super-hit Bollywood song “Chaiyya Chaiyya” from the 1999 movie Dil Se. Skip to 1:28 and you’ll hear the line “Woh yaar hai jo khushboo ki tarah, jiski zubaan Urdu ki tarah”. This would translate to “My beloved is like a sweet aroma, whose words sound like Urdu”.

In this post I will highlight some of the interesting features of Urdu. (Of course, many of these apply to Hindi as well)
1) In Urdu, a noticeable number of words rhyme with their antonyms. Here are a few examples:

  • Dena (to give) دینا  – Lena (to take) لینا
  • Aana (to come) آنا – Jaana (to go) جانا
  • Torna (to break apart) توڑنا – Jorna (to fix/join together) جوڑنا
  • Daaein (right) دائیں – Baaein (left) بائیں
  • Tan (physical body) تن – Man (heart) من
  • Mera (my) میرا – Tera (your) تیرا
  • Saaz (instrument) ساز – Awaaz (voice) آواز
  • Dukh (sadness) دکھ – Sukh (happiness) سکھ

There are also many pairs of rhyming words that are connected by a similar theme, and while they aren’t necessarily exact opposites, they are distinct.

  • Neela (blue) نیلا – Peela (yellow) پیلا
  • Mota (fat) موٹا – Chhota (small) چھوٹا
  • Ghoomna (to wander/go around) گھومنا – Jhoomna (to sway/dance) جھومنا
  • Neeche (below) نیچے – Peechhe (behind) پیچھے
  • Agar (if) اگر – Magar (but) مگر

2) This is probably my favorite characteristic of the Urdu language. Many verbs are part of families (usually 3-4 verbs) that use a root verb to derive causative versions of it. Take a look at the examples below to see what I mean. The infinitive form of every Urdu verb end with the suffix “-na” (نا-), just as every English infinitive begins with “to”.

  • Banna (to become) بننا – Banaana (to make) بنانا – Banvaana (to have someone make, as in, to cause to be made) بنوانا
  • Seekhna (to learn) سیکھنا – Sikhaana (to teach) سکھانا – Sikhvaana (to cause to be taught) سکھوانا
  • Karna (to do) کرنا – Karaana (to have done) کرانا – Karvaana (to cause to have done) کروانا
  • Milna (to meet) ملنا – Milaana (to introduce/connect) ملانا – Milvaana (to cause to introduce) ملوانا
  • Khulna (to become open) کھلنا – Kholna (to open) کھولنا – Khulvaana (to cause to open) کھلوانا

It is a little confusing if you’re not used to it, so here is an example of how these multiple forms could be used:
.یہ دروازہ خود کھلتا ہے
Yeh darwaaza khud khulta hai (This door opens by itself).
.تم نے اس دروازے کو کھولنا ہے
Tum ne is darwaaze ko kholna hai (You need to open this door).
.اس دروازے کو کسی سے کھلوانا ہے
Is darwaaze ko kisi se khulvaana hai (Someone must be brought to make this door open).

3) Urdu also has the interesting feature of having rhyming series of certain pronouns and adverbs.

  • Is ka (his/hers, owner present) اس کا – Us ka (his/hers, owner absent) اس کا – Jis ka (whosever) جس کا – Kis ka (whose?) کس کا
  • Idhar (here) ادھر – Udhar (there) ادھر – Jidhar (wherever) جدھر – Kidhar (where?) کدھر
  • Itna (this much) اتنا – Utna (that much) اتنا – Jitna (however much) جتنا – Kitna (how much?) کتنا
  • Yahan (here) یہاں – Wahan (there) وہاں – Jahan (wherever) جہاں – Kahan (where?) کہاں
  • Aise (like this) ایسے – Waise (like that) ویسے – Jaise (however) جیسے – Kaise (how?) کیسے
  • Ab (now) اب – Tab (then) تب – Jab (whenever) جب – Kab (when?) کب

As you can see, there is a pattern, such that the first one always has to do with something removed from the present situation, the second has to do with something related to the present situation, the third is used for general statements applicable to any situation, and the fourth is an interrogative word for an uncertain situation.

4) Like many languages, Urdu has a rich vocabulary, but there is a focus on poetic and romantic words. There exist multiple words for things that have only one word in other languages like English. The reason for this is that some words have South Asian etymologies, while others have Central or Western Asian origins.

  • Dil دل – Man من – Jiya جیا (heart)
  • Nain نین – Aankh آنکھ – Chasham چشم (eye)
  • Zulfein زلفیں – Baal بال (hair)
  • Ishq عشق – Mohabbat محبت – Pyar پیار – Prem پریم (love)
  • Jeevan جیون – Zindagi زندگی (life)
  • Falak فلک – Aasmaan آسمان – Ambar امبر (sky)
  • Haseen حسین – Khoobsoorat خوبصورت – Sundar سندر (beautiful)

I hope that those who are interested in the study of languages enjoyed this post. Please feel free to comment below to ask any questions you may have about Urdu.