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This article addresses how some influential Indian Muslim intellectuals conceptualized and imagined the Urdu language as the linguistic offspring and heir of the Persian language and Persianate textual cultures from the late nineteenth century through the early 1950s. As the symbolic and material value of Persian gradually declined in India, select Persianate idioms, genres, and histories were drafted for Urdu’s modernity. This article considers the significance of Persian as it was variously construed as either a burden or a model by Urdu scholars and as either a worthy or unworthy predecessor for Urdu from the 1890s to the 1950s. It traces the shifting textual processes by which three prominent Indian Muslim intellectuals constructed a parent-offspring relationship between Persian and Urdu in response to colonial education reforms, competing national projects, and pan-Islamic intellectual currents. In summary, this article excavates the many uses that Persian served as it was simultaneously erased from and encoded into Urdu’s anticipated futures.

In: Philological Encounters