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Status of language

Updated November 29, 2014


A scene from  Gilgit-Baltistan.—AFP/File
A scene from Gilgit-Baltistan.—AFP/File

COUNTLESS languages have come and gone as human societies have developed over the ages, while if current projections are correct, thousands more will be extinct by the end of this century. Grim as it may sound, such is the nature of the beast.

However, this does not mean communities and nations should start accepting the demise of their languages as a fait accompli.

Pakistan is said to be home to around 72 languages, but in keeping with the global trend most of these tongues face an uncertain future. For example, at a recent seminar held in Gilgit, writers called for the preservation of Gilgit-Baltistan’s languages.

While the region’s major languages such as Shina, Balti and Burushaski are in danger of extinction, some tongues are already in their death throes.

As one speaker from Hunza told the conference, his native language, Domaaki, had only a dozen or so speakers left. One of the main reasons for the dire straits some languages find themselves in is the lack of state patronage extended to them, as well as lack of interest in their preservation on part of institutes of higher learning.

This is despite the fact that the preservation of languages and cultures is mandated by the Constitution. While some efforts are being made by NGOs in parts of Pakistan to protect endangered languages, these clearly need greater support.

Saving languages is important, for as scholars have pointed out, when a language dies so does a culture. Pakistan is a multilingual country; hence greater efforts are needed by state and society to promote linguistic diversity.

Some parents may be reluctant to educate their children in their mother tongue as job prospects are tied to ‘languages of power’ — English and Urdu in our case. While learning Urdu and English is important to compete nationally and in a globalised world, local languages must not be left behind and can be given a boost if job opportunities in the media, academia and social services are made available to those who know or learn them.

Published in Dawn, November 29th , 2014