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Linguistic diversity

Published Mar 21, 2017 05:43am

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LANGUAGE is identity, and it is especially important to acknowledge that in a multi-ethnic society such as Pakistan: a failure to do so can have far-reaching consequences. So while it may have taken five years in coming, the KP government’s decision to at last implement the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Promotion of Regional Languages Authority Act, 2012, is a case of better late than never. Starting with the next academic year which commences in April, government primary and secondary schools will begin teaching regional languages as a compulsory subject in the areas where they are spoken. These languages include Pashto, Hindko, Seraiki and Khowar, while Kohistani, which is also among the five officially designated regional languages of the province, will not be part of the curriculum because of a dispute among its speakers over differences in dialect.

The history of this country illustrates how language is seen as a vehicle of political power, or the lack of it. The protests soon after Partition in what was then East Pakistan over the central government’s decision to declare Urdu the national language arguably sowed the seeds for the Bengali nationalist movement. In the early 1970s, Sindh saw language riots between Sindhi and Urdu speakers. In Balochistan today, neither Balochi nor Brahui are taught in government schools — even as an optional subject. It is telling, therefore, that at Turbat University, located in an area where the insurgency is the strongest, far more students opt for Balochi as their major than any other subject. Even aside from the obvious political connotations, to give regional languages — especially those spoken by smaller, less empowered groups — their due is to celebrate and preserve diversity in its most fundamental form. Language is after all the repository of a people’s collective memory, the heritage that makes each ethnic group so unique. The authorities at the federal and provincial levels have been apathetic in their duty on this score. A 2014 parliamentary paper on the subject pointed out that of 72 languages spoken in this country, 10 are either “in trouble” or “nearing extinction”. Meanwhile, as a conference in Peshawar earlier this year pointed out, the speakers of dozens of other languages are also dwindling rapidly. Among these is Hindko, which makes the KP government’s recent move very timely. For the federal government to declare the major regional languages as national languages would be even more appropriate, not to mention far-sighted.

Published in Dawn, March 21st, 2017

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Comments (10) Closed



AYZA Mar 21, 2017 10:09am

The more the merrier when it comes to language diversity : )

In my own family, we speak Pashto, Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi and English, which is what Pakistan's all about and there's no shame in being proud of one's linguistic heritage - if anything it's a huge plus in promoting cultural cohesion and understanding.

Arif Waswani Mar 21, 2017 11:14am

The concept of "One Unit" was faulty. It has created too many difficulties.

Sooner Pakistan gives recognition to Sindhi, Panjabi, Pashto etc as official medium of language, these languages once again will flourish.

Urdu is a language mainly of Mohajirs and definitely not a ingenious language of Pakistan. Though Urdu is understood by 90% Pakistani. Hence Urdu can remain.

You should never forget the MOTHER TONGUE.

By the way, Gujrati being Mother Tongue of Baba-E-Kaum, should be given a special recognition.

SGH Mar 21, 2017 12:59pm

Agree with the Editorial - with one exception (the last sentence): the Federal Government should declare major regional languages as national languages. .... Sir, please think about the legal implications and demands, that can be extracted out of this declaration. It can lead to chaos in the offices of the Federal and Provincial Governments. Should the Federal Institutions adopt all national languages?

Vijay Reddy Rajput Mar 21, 2017 05:50pm

What about Punjabi and Sindhi?

BAXAR Mar 21, 2017 06:22pm

@Arif Waswani "Urdu is a language mainly of Mohajirs and definitely not a ingenious language of Pakistan." Which was the most commonly understood language prior to 1947, in the areas that made Pakistan. Wasn't that Urdu? How come it is not indigenous of Pakistan, Mohajirs came after 1947. Were Sindhis communicating in English with people of NWFP or Punjab, and then suddenly a handful of Mohajirs imposed "their language" within a year ? Be serious sir.

MUHAMMAD Mar 21, 2017 06:31pm

@Arif Waswani. Agreed with u, not just gujarati but even bengali should be given a special status as being the language of one of the original provines of the country and because a large # of them reside in karachi as legal pak citizens choosing pak over BD. However ur comments regarding urdu not being an 'ingenious' language is wrong, urdu is now the 5th largest lang of the country as per mother tongue & the largest lang of the largest city of the country. In addition it was being used as the official lang of many parts of pak long before independence hence it can not be considered alien at all. Finally, ur comments regarding urdu give a very negative message to the ppl who claim it as their mother tongue that they are not at par citizens of this country. In case of karachi the govt should have a different lang policy in light of multi ethnic nature of the city with urdu being the prime lang while all othe rlangs of the country including gujarati and bengali as optional langs and students having option of taking either urdu literture or any of the regional lang from class 5 onwards. This way everyone will be able to learn their mother tongue rather than only urdu and sindhi.

MUHAMMAD Mar 21, 2017 06:44pm

@Vijay Reddy Rajput, sindhi is already working as the official language of Sindh and a compulsory subject for everyone in sindh. Punjabi however is not working as the official lang and is more of an optional subject for whoever wants to take it. Ppl in Punjab have generally been confortable with urdu esp given the fact that it was the official lang of the whole of punjab region including haryana, himachal and indian punjab since the 19th century. And although Urdu is still flourishing in states like J&K, the same was scrapped in the indian part of punjab and even had to struggle in its own home states like UP and Delhi for a long time as the same was first abolished by the indian govt and was later reinstated but as a secondary lang due to which many yonger urdu speakers were unable to read and write their own language. However recently things have improved and more and more ppl in these states are taking up Urdu again.

DR.Shamir Baloch Mar 21, 2017 07:49pm

The inter communicating and lingua franca power of urdu language can not be denied, whic is a good mixture of greatly hindi, to some extent of persian and arabic. Through the powerful and progressive nature of urdu language today other ethnic groups of pakistan can effectively communicate with each other, which was not available to us before partition. while India, a country in which people speak hundreds of different languages, chose Hindi in the 1950s to be its lingua franca so that citizens would be able to communicate with each other,why not we should keep urdu as our sole national language, while others as only regional languages.

Shahid Mar 21, 2017 09:59pm

@BAXAR @ARIF WASWANI proper terminology is 'indigenous' and it is helps only if its context is clearly understood. It pertains to local of a region or place related to people who have lived in a region for many many generations. In language context it would be what we call regional languages. On that basis Urdu is NOT an indigenous in any region of Pakistan. Being understood by most people does not make Urdu indigenous, for example, to Sindh, KPK, Baluchistan or Punjab, GB, or Kashmir. Unfortunately, like most other issues, language policy is a victim of confusion and is not helping value of diversity as it should. We are miserably failing educational well being of our children because of current language policy where children are not schooled in their 'maan boli'/mother language.

ENIGMA Mar 22, 2017 02:43am

@AYZA - excellent point! Pakistanis should speak multi-languages since many of us are marrying into diverse ethnic groups in Pakistan.

@Arif Waswani - don't think you've ever stepped foot in Pakistan or know much about Urdu's widespread popularity before Partition when Brits learned Urdu from the Mughals whose capital was Lahore which is now in Pakistan Sir! Urdu was the language of the learned in Pre-Partition India - many Muslims from all ethnic backgrounds studied at Aligarh Univ. in India where Urdu was mandatory along with English.