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Status of language

Updated Nov 29, 2014 07:43am

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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

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Comments (7) Closed



Babar Mirza Nov 29, 2014 11:35am

Forget culture; it's history! The most important thing a language preserves - for which reason we need to preserve a language and its speakers - is history! why do you think Pakistanis these days act so much like blind people with neither an idea of where they came nor any sense of where they are going? Because they are forgetting the languages of their land and, consequently, their own history.... I wish I could shake this nation out of its suicidal smugness.

Ramesh Nov 29, 2014 12:32pm

Due to official disregard, when even native speakers of Punjabi and Balochi are unable to read and write in own mother tongue, it is not surprising to see the plight of lesser known languages.

Ganga Din Nov 29, 2014 04:57pm

English has global impact like French and Spanish but Urdu? C'mon, this was imposed on Pakistan to accommodate a small minority which has no heritage and are constantly re-inventing themselves. It back fired against them in the past and it is starting to bite them now. Sooner or later they are going to run, like it or not.

krishna Prasad Nov 29, 2014 07:17pm

I stopped commenting here so far due to the feeling that no comment- although constructive, serious and sincere - the actions of the government and the interests that be - never pay attention to the plight of the country's brothers and sisters- so far. Sometimes, comments are not published. If my comments are the consumption of the editorial team that be, it doesn't serve the purpose in the community at large and it is a dis-service to the nation and its people. Free thinking be encouraged- the sour pills be known, the debate sustained and a momentum/ proactive steps taken to develop the society. The seed has to be sown to reap the benefits. Apathy, indifference, negativism, nepotism and ill-feeling for others only result in own's own physical, mental and emotional status aka happiness and won't do any good for any society. Be proud to be a human and never let anyone dictate your own goals, life style and happiness and joy by someone else.

M. Emad Nov 29, 2014 10:48pm

From 1947-1971 Pakistan authority wanted to kill Bengali --- the 7th biggest language of the world !

Naeem Sajjad Nov 30, 2014 12:23am

Write it down!the govts are not going to act handsomly on it.Moreover,we are obsessed with english so much that even those people who are totally unaware of it, endeavour to speak even though few words of it.No language is superior to the other,these are social factors which elevate someone while degrade the other one. As far as english language is concerned,it is need of the hour as every foreign product,newspaper,literature and medium of discourse between people of different countries is english.

Ashwani Nov 30, 2014 05:07am

Best of action is

1) Declare all prominent languages as national languages

Most of the regional tensions will subside in Pakistan.