DAWN - Features; September 30, 2008

Published September 30, 2008

The Sindhi language and its variations

By Rauf Parekh

Language, you will not be surprised to know, keeps on changing. This change does not occur only within a country or across the geographical regions but takes place across the social and ethnic boundaries as well. Sociolinguistics is a science that studies, among other aspects of languages, why and how a language or a dialect changes.

Dialectology is a branch of knowledge which makes an important part of the modern day linguistic science but, sadly, it has not been given much thought in Pakistan, in spite of the fact that we live in a region that offers an amazing array of languages and dialects. Dr Memon Abdul Majeed Sindhi in his ‘Lisaniyat-i-Pakistan’ has given details of some 72 languages and dialects spoken in Pakistan. It is a linguistic paradise for anyone seriously interested in regional linguistic variations.

For these very reasons, whenever I come across any serious study involving regional or social linguistic variations found in Pakistan, I enjoy it. So, when Dr M. Qasim Bughio gave me a copy of his book, ‘Sociolinguistics of Sindhi: a comparative sociolinguistic study of rural and urban Sindhi’, during a seminar organised by the Peshawar University, I was naturally overjoyed.

Dr Bughio, serving as a dean at Jamshoro’s Sindh University, has been working on sociolinguistics and socio-cultural anthropology for long. He earned his doctorate from the United Kingdom while working under the supervision of Prof Peter Trudgill, a renowned authority on sociolinguistics. Dr Bughio has headed the Sindhi Language Authority for a while.

The Sindhi language has many regional dialects, of which the main six are: Siroli, Vicholi, Lari, Thari, Lasi and Kucchi. These dialects are diverse and among them Vicholi, the one spoken in the central region of Sindh, was adopted as the standard language and was used for official and educational purposes during the British rule. The book is in fact a research study of Vicholi, carried out to determine the extent of linguistic change in two speech communities. Of them, one speech community is urban (Hyderabad) and the other is rural (Old Hala). The study investigates the phonological variables.

The introductory chapter familiarises the reader with the socio-historical and linguistic background of Sindh and one finds many interesting historical and linguistic facts. It says, for example, some 650 years before the arrival of Aryans, the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation had stopped using their script and a Hebrew-based script called Brahmi was developed by the Aryans which in turn exerted considerable Sanskritic influence on the Sindhi language. With the arrival of the Arabs in 712, the influence of Arabic was felt. It not only caused many Arabic words and phrases to assimilate into Sindhi but the Arabic script itself was adopted for writing Sindhi, with necessary additions and alterations to accommodate the phonetic sounds that Arabic did not have.

The study, identifying the events, proves the thesis that linguistic changes take place as social and political conditions change and the two speech communities were sensitive to such conditions. The major political event of pertinence to this research was, as the author says, the creation of Pakistan.

The exodus of the Hindus in 1947 and the linguistic contact between the Urdu-speaking and Sindhi-speaking communities, brought about by migration, had a direct and observable effect on the evolution of vowel variables. He has also predicted that with the improved infrastructure, increased communications and under the growing influence of the media, the traditional and indigenous features of the Old Hala speech will give way to the urban forms and ways of speech.

Dr Bughio feels indebted to the speech communities as he has written his dissertation with the understanding of the famous Labov’s argument that linguists have certain duties towards communities from which they obtain data; they have a special responsibility in terms of combating linguistic misconceptions and attacking linguistic prejudices and injustices. He also quotes Trudgill who said: “We have a duty as experts on language not only to these communities but also to ourselves and to the human population of the planet as a whole, to apply our linguistic knowledge to the solution of a particular and a growing real-world problem.”

Since such linguistic and original studies are rare in our country, one wishes that it was translated into Urdu and Sindhi so that the students of linguistics in these languages could have an authentic book to refer to.


Blood, flames and chaos where death struck

Police and Rangers had been around all day long on Sept 20 conducting random physical searches at entrance points to the capital city where the president was to address the joint session of parliament. The explosives laden dumper truck that spread death and destruction that evening at the Marriott Hotel had obviously cheated this supposed security dragnet. There was prior information that day of a likely terrorist attack.

The day remained normal and peaceful until after Iftar when at 7:47pm the office building was jolted by a distant thunder. I and a colleague of mine may not have taken more than 10 minutes to reach the site of the explosion. It was a horrible scene outside in the parking area. A great many vehicles parked on the wayside had been destroyed and nearby one could hear cries of the people injured or in shock.

On the side gate of the hotel I saw people with blood on their faces and clothes sitting on the road and crying for help. Outside the main gate of the hotel, streetlight poles lay fallen and trees uprooted with dozens of vehicles badly damaged on both sides of the Aga Khan Road. The road itself was carpeted with broken glass of the windows panes.

Posted on the main gate I saw well-equipped personnel of a foreign country. Paying no attention to them, I rushed to the main entrance of the hotel jumping over the collapsed wall where some people were sitting on the debris. Some of them were vomiting. I heard someone calling me: “Please rescue the injured stuck under the debris.”

I rushed inside the badly damaged structure of the hotel and saw pieces of human flesh, bodies of the dead and injured lying on the floor, covered in dust and blood. A man carrying an injured person asked me to help but I too was in shock and unable to move. When at last I found my feet and approached the injured person he requested me not to touch as his bones had been broken and he was in great pain. He asked me to help get him a stretcher.

I counted six badly mutilated bodies at the main entrance along with a number of injured persons. Walking around the hotel’s ground floor – the main lobby, the restaurant and the reception --I saw more bodies of the dead.

Hotel staff and some other people were searching for the injured in the darkness with the light of their mobile phones. The heat produced by the fire that had started at the extreme left side of the residential area of the hotel could already be felt at the ground floor.

I returned to the porch where I was asked to seek help of police and paramedics to take out the injured. I could hear the ambulances’ sirens wailing. I rushed outside, saw some police officers along with senior police officers standing by the green isle of the Aga Khan Road. I asked one of them to send police and paramedics to rescue the injured, but he was busy in arranging security measures. Later, I spotted another senior officer and repeated my request. What were they, the paramedics and others, waiting for sitting in their vehicles, he asked. Then he took me along and asked the men to start the rescue work. But they seemed reluctant and took another 10-15 minutes to join the rescue work.

It was a scene of total chaos. Nobody was in charge and no one knew what to do. If police, medical staff or fire fighters were doing something, they were doing that on their own. There was no organisation.

The fire, which erupted in the building, spread and engulfed the residential area quickly. Late and inadequate efforts made by the fire fighters remained unsuccessful in bringing the fire under control. Rescue 1122 and city fire brigade failed as their equipment was not equal to the task. The water canon could not reach the top floor where the fire was spreading. Some women and children who had taken refuge on the roof of the hotel were shouting for help. Those trapped in the rooms were also shouting for help from the windows.

The crater made by the blast was 34 feet deep and 59 feet wide. I was told there were casualties in the Balochistan House across the road and in the PTV Headquarter too. I also learned that a traffic constable deployed at the Aga Khan Road had recorded his last wireless message saying: “I tried to stop a dumper, which suddenly appeared on the road but remained unsuccessful.”

One hotel driver told me that he was standing near the gate when a man started firing and at the same time a dumper appeared at the main gate. “I ran away from the scene to save my life but later heard an explosion.” The dumper caught fire and the security guards started extinguishing the fire but the vehicle burst with a bang.

Another hotel employee said a doctor arrived at the hotel to provide medical treatment to an airhostess of Saudi Airline, but he found the gate blocked with the truck. When he asked the man to give him way he was told he had three minutes to run as the dumper was loaded with explosives.

Later, I was informed that the city administration had sought help of the Army and 111-Brigade was on its way to the hotel. The load of explosives weighing 500 to 600 kilograms comprised aluminum powder together with RDX and TNT as well as mortar shells and artillery rounds. I was told the target could be the officials of FBI, CIA and American Marines who were staying in the hotel. Shortly after the incident, the well-equipped personnel of US marines took up positions to safely remove their colleagues.

More than 1,500 guests, including diplomats, ambassadors and foreigners were present and dining in the hotel when the terrorist attack occurred.

It was learnt that the vehicle carrying the explosives traveled through the Khyaban-i-Margalla and then hit the Marriott Hotel avoiding the red-zone.

But police deployed at the Secretariat and the Aga Khan Road was missing from their duty at the time of the incident. An official said that a police mobile carrying well-equipped and skilled police officers was deputed to patrol the Aga Khan road. But it was nowhere around since early evening.

According to the security plan, five police mobile vans had been deputed to patrol the city including the hotel site. But the mobile police vans carrying police commandos near the hotel had been removed at 4:15pm. The security division was being intimated again and again by the police control room that there had been no police patrolling van outside the hotel, but the police van had been closed.

At around 10:50pm I got a chance to take a round of the red zone area and Margalla road. I found only a few police officers on the Constitution Avenue, Parade Ground, and Ataturk Avenue. On the Margalla Road, there were no law enforcers to check and intercept suspicious people and vehicle.

The Inspector-General of Police, Islamabad, directed all his subordinates deployed in and around the city to reach the blast site to control the law and order situation as hundreds of people were pouring in to witness the destruction. On returning to the hotel, I found hundreds of people, including women and children trying to enter the cordoned area as if a mela was going there at the site. The security people were worried as there were reports a suspicious vehicle had escaped through police watch and entered the city. There was danger of another strike.



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