It is known that the Urdu script is used to write Hindustani languages and Shahmukhi is used to write Punjabi and Saraiki languages.

But both the Perso-Arabic-based scripts are of the same Nastaliq style, the only minor difference being that Shahmukhi has additional 2 consonants that is not present in modern Urdu. (and Saraiki introduces 4 implosive consonants, 3 of which directly borrowed from Sindhi)

That being the case, what is the (historical?) reason for the apparent perception that both are different scripts? Is there any other significant difference apart from what is mentioned above?

Is there a common name for the script that encapsulates Urdu+Punjabi+Saraiki?

2 Answers 2


From a global point of view, neither Urdu nor Shahmukhi are considered separate scripts, they are just instances of the Arabic Script. This point of view is taken by international standards such as Unicode. I am not aware of any terminology introducing fine grained levels for subgroups of the Arabic script, but since Saraiki or extended Shahmukhi is a strict superset of the others, it would be a fitting designation.

Compare this with the situation of Icelandic: The alphabet contains some additional letters (among them ð, þ, and æ, plus some letters with diacritical marks), but the Icelandic alphabet is still an instance of the Latin script.


The term "script" is used in many different ways. Unicode defines "script" as

A collection of letters and other written signs used to represent textual information in one or more writing systems. For example, Russian is written with a subset of the Cyrillic script; Ukranian is written with a different subset. The Japanese writing system uses several scripts.

In their epic work on writing, Daniels & Bright 1996 simply say that "script" is the same as "writing system". The Oxford English Dictionary does not even hint that Arabic and Latin might be different "scripts" – they say "A type of writing or handwriting, and related senses" and "Any of various typefaces or fonts which imitate the appearance of handwriting, esp. cursive handwriting; lettering in any of these typefaces", which would make European Latin handwriting different from American Latin handwriting. Websters (online) simply refers one to "alphabet", which is technically wrong because Arabic is not an alphabet, except that they also define an alphabet as

a set of letters or other characters with which one or more languages are written especially if arranged in a customary order

so actually they simply reject the linguist's specialized definition of "alphabet". In other words, it depends on how you define "script".

You can consult this page for the scripts recognized in Unicode (which is not necessary exhaustive). You can see that Shahmukhi is not included, nor is the Kurdish alphabet (not an abjad), instead they are subsumed under greater Arabic, although Unicode does recognize Arabic and Arabic Nasta'liq. Similarly, many languages of the former Soviet Union use a Cyrillic alphabet with letters that are not part of traditional Cyrillic, but have been subsumed under broader Unicode Cyrillic (§7.4) that covers all of the distinctive letter shapes used in Cyrillic Kurdish, Komi.

Accordingly, there is no such thing as Urdu script, Kurdish script or Persian script, there are (currently) just two Arabic scripts. This doesn't correspond to ordinary usage, where speakers of a given language tend to think in terms of the system of writing for their language, and they don't generally seek to find the broadest applicable concept – unless there is a reason to do so (as there can be with Arabic script).

  • 1
    Nasta'liq is not a "script" separate from Arabic; it is a style of handwriting, of which there are several others in Arabic (Kufic, Ruq'a etc.)., in the same way that Latin script can be Roman, Italic, Black letter, etc.
    – fdb
    Aug 13, 2021 at 17:49
  • I take it you reject the Unicode decision.
    – user6726
    Aug 13, 2021 at 18:09
  • Unicode does not have separate code points for Nataliq and Arabic, in that sense they are one writing system. The standard ISO 15924 (a different standard from Unicode!) defines a special script code for Arabic Nataliq that is different from Arabic. Aug 13, 2021 at 19:56
  • BTW, ISO 15924 defines also codes for Fraktur and Gaelic as variants of Latin. This does not give them code points in the standard. The presesence of Fraktur code points for math usage is a different story, and they are frequently used non-mathematically, but there is no Fraktur Sharp S or Fraktur O Umlaut there ... Aug 13, 2021 at 21:04

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