UK's first Urdu degree offered by Manchester Metropolitan University

Sheraz Ali Lecturer Sheraz Ali will be teaching the new undergraduate degree course

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Manchester Metropolitan University has become the first higher education institute in the UK to offer students the chance to earn a degree in Urdu.

From September, it will offer the language to students also reading international business and politics.

While shorter courses are available at other universities, this is the first time Urdu has been included in the title of an official degree.

About 100 million people speak it in the world, including 400,000 in the UK.

Yasmin Hussein Yasmin Hussein from Routes Into Language encourages the teaching of minority languages

Yasmin Hussain from the Routes Into Languages university consortium campaigned for the introduction of the new degree.

She said: "The discourse is that modern foreign languages like French and Spanish are more important. Minority languages aren't seen to be as valued and so it has taken a long time."

Students on the full-time courses will have the chance to learn how the language has been used in film and literature, as well as using Urdu to discuss topics related to their core subject.

The launch of the course saw students from local schools take part in workshops and activities, as well as performances by poets and musicians.

Sabeena Khan Writer and artist Sabeena Khan says Urdu is a "rich and beautiful" language

Writer Sabeena Khan was among those at an open day to launch and promote the Urdu courses.

She believes young British Pakistanis in particular would benefit from having Urdu as part of their degree.

Ms Khan said: "The language is rich in meaning, its style and usage. It's beautiful and I don't want to see it die out, I want to see more people learning Urdu."

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Urdu facts...

  • "Urdu" comes from the Persian "zaban-e-urdu-e-mu'alla", which means "language of the imperial court"
  • It is the fourth most popular language at GCSE after French, Spanish and German, with about 5,000 pupils sitting exams in the subject every year
  • The first book in the language, Sabras, was an allegorical mysterious romance written in 1635-36 by Mullah Asadullah Wajhi. Copies were handwritten as the printing press had not yet reached India at the time.
  • Following partition in 1947, Urdu became the official language of Pakistan but there are also large numbers of speakers in India

... And it has also contributed a few words to English

  • Cushy comes from "khushi", meaning ease or happiness
  • Pukka comes from "pakka", meaning solid
  • Cummerbund comes from "kamarband", meaning waist binding
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Sheraz Ali is one of the lecturers who will be teaching the new undergraduate degree course.

"There is a demand for Urdu-related jobs not just in this country but also in many others, especially within professions such as teaching and the health and legal sectors," he said.

Mr Ali believed the course would attract students from different backgrounds and not just native speakers of the language.

He added: "The Urdu degree is open to everyone, not just people from the South Asian diaspora. We live in a multicultural society, where language isn't only a pile of words but something which can bring people together."

You can hear more on this story on BBC Asian Network at 17:00 GMT on Friday, or after that on the BBC iPlayer.

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