How the meaning of Naya Pakistan developed over time

The term has established itself as a household phrase, almost as if it filled an empty space in our language.
Published August 16, 2019

In his Naya Shivala, Allama Iqbal expresses his dream of building a new temple for all mankind that will destroy the walls of hostility and stand as a symbol of unity, communal harmony, love and loyalty — the vision of an egalitarian society.

The Urdu word 'naya' (new) in Iqbal's poetry is the same as the 'naya' in Imran Khan's Pakistan, which is different from the 'naya' in marketing (for example, a frozen yoghurt relaunched with new packaging and recipe).

The renowned writer Salman Tarik Kureshi made a comment in the Friday Times about the use of the word 'naya' for Pakistan. He mentioned that when the word is applied to minor alteration of size and colour in the advertising profession, it means something different than a genuine tabdeeli (change) in process, a foundational change in the actual product.

Since the initial conceptual meaning of Naya Pakistan is to describe and capture the way the country would look on the occasion of Imran Khan becoming the prime minister, it distinguishes itself from a product or object-related meaning towards an event-related expression.

The adjective 'naya' functions as a modifier of the noun 'Pakistan', inherited from the denotative meaning of the verb 'tabdeeli', to alter so that it becomes 'mukhtalif' (different) from before.

These are semantically related keywords in which they are connected conceptually. When something pre-existing is altered or undergoes a change, it turns different, and that difference becomes a kind of 'new'.

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Although such actions often apply to things that can be touched, the atmosphere of Naya Pakistan can be seen as something almost tangible, evoking a potential event of touching. In a similar way, the neologism 'Brexit’ is also coined to describe the event of Britain leaving the European Union.

As an EU citizen living in the United Kingdom, when I heard the word 'Brexit' frequently associate with the words 'get out' and 'get packing', I felt disconnected and was convinced that I would be kicked out. Meanwhile, as a Pakistan-born, the terminology related to Naya Pakistan such as 'hope' and 'happening' gave me a feeling of expectation and aspiration.

Dismay or invigorate — well, that's the power of semantic collocation and word association in the linguistic study of meaning in language, which forms the basis of my research.

You can understand the meaning of a term from the sequence of words as per semantic collocates, which are words that habitually occur together and thereby convey meaning by association.

Semantic collocations and development

In my research, I examine which associated meaning(s) of Naya Pakistan changed or remained stable over the years by considering its collocates, starting from its initial appearances in the 2013 general elections to the present time.

I did this by using the NOW Corpus (News on the Web) which contains 8.2 billion words of data from web-based newspapers, magazines, blogs and article comments. The corpus included 4,437 instances of Naya Pakistan, growing each month. Then, some tools were employed to cross-check its collocational behaviour and its grammatical relations, using the Sketch Engine corpus platform.

My research shows that until the end of 2014, Naya Pakistan was represented as a novelty term, marked differently by writers and speakers as it entered the language.

An example of this is the use of single quotation marks used around Naya Pakistan, which had the highest frequency of 1,582. Specified phrases such as 'so-called Naya Pakistan', 'establishing a Naya Pakistan' and 'in the name of Naya Pakistan', along with 'a Naya Pakistan' with the indefinite article 'a', functioned as introducing a new concept into the discourse.

The only exception was when the term was associated with 'tabdeeli' or 'change', in which case it expressed a pre-existing frame of understanding: a titular phrase for breaking away from the political status quo and shattering the decades-long position of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz and Pakistan People's Party.

However, through future perfect verb tense forms of 'will marry', 'get married', and 'Imran Khan wants to marry in Naya Pakistan', the word indicated a celebratory event-thinking, where the marriage was expected or planned to happen after a time of reference, and thus carried connotations of a promise.

Much like the young and fresh pre-marriage promises, filled with emotions of hope and excitement, Naya Pakistan had a romantic feel to it. Optimistic phrases like 'regardless of political affiliation, if you listen to Naya Pakistan, it gives you hope with a catchy tune' portrayed something you can inject a bit of emotion into.

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In the years subsequent to 2014 up until 2017, the freshly-coined romance transformed into a visionary desire, yet remained connected with a future event. For example, the verb prepositional phrases 'dream of Naya Pakistan', 'journey to Naya Pakistan', 'promise of Naya Pakistan', 'version of Naya Pakistan', 'cause of Naya Pakistan' and the noun prepositional phrase 'idea of Naya Pakistan', triggered imaginary adventures to our minds.

Fueled with imagining the possibilities, implicitly concealed was a hypothetical meaning. Statements such as 'if we are to build a Naya Pakistan, we need to redefine our history', 'in order to deliver Naya Pakistan PTI has to be transformed into a movement by the Kaptaan' and 'when most of these projects will be completed we will see a true Naya Pakistan' represented a hypothesis.

In the late 2017 and early 2018, the term began to carry a practical value. Some of the most significant verb collocates like 'building', 'heralded', 'appeared', 'rallied', 'carving', 'forming', 'launching' and 'deliver' gave Naya Pakistan a shape and form, as if it's a real world object.

Although not tangible, the verb collocates acted as a complementarity, allowing us to understand what will happen during the construction or flow of this event, metaphorically.

The highest frequency of the use of the word 'Naya Pakistan' can be seen in the period after the 2018 general elections, up until the most recent usage in 2019. The top collocates of 2019 are 'housing', 'programme', 'scheme' and 'recommend', which are in relation to the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme, becoming an insistent request.

However, there is now a gradual weakening of the word's connection with its original and denotative meaning. Members of the opposition party, such as Maryam Aurangzeb, voice it as a taunting remark. In her statement in April 2019, she asks, "is attacking police stations a trend of Naya Pakistan?"

Similarly, others like Ahsan Iqbal, Khawaja Asif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi utter the phrase with an ironic intent and sometimes in all seriousness. In the statement, “in the Naya Pakistan film they promised people heaven but pushed them into hell”, Iqbal expresses it in a contemptuous manner while addressing the media in February 2019, almost comparing a dream with a nightmare.

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In some cases, the reference is for rhetorical purposes: 'so where is Naya Pakistan?' seems to be a coping strategy of the opposition party. At other times, through a challenging tone, it is used to indicate that superficial appearances do not match reality, as in 'real Naya Pakistan' or through the use of the non-factive verb 'seems' in 'this seems to be a gift from Naya Pakistan'.

Other neighbouring collocates in 2019 include the nouns 'failure', 'hypocrisy', 'suffering', 'struggle' and the transitive verb 'play out', in which Naya Pakistan is frequently connected to negativity, rejection and uncertainty. The adverb prepositions of directions, 'under Naya Pakistan' and 'around Naya Pakistan', also give the vague type of movements towards an unknown destination.

However, when the term is presented as belonging to the prime minister — 'Imran Khan's Naya Pakistan', along with hopeful words like 'trust', 'beginning', 'welcoming', 'embrace', 'support', 'shaping' and 'progress' — the event-related initial meaning and the actual arrival of the event is positively confirmed.

Naya Pakistan vs Brexit

Based on a brief observation in the NOW Corpus, I also studied whether Naya Pakistan carries an equally great significance as the political term 'Brexit'.

My research suggests that the neologism 'Brexit' commonly associates with various types of modal verbs to refer to justification and show its likelihood, for example 'will', 'could', 'would' and 'possible'. In a similar way, the transitive verbs and adverbs found occurring with Naya Pakistan create a vague and ambiguous atmosphere of unpredictability.

Linguists Steve Buckledee and Lise Fontaine have analysed Brexit as a grandiloquent, emotionally-charged word with a real world feel. The catchy expressions attractively describing political scenarios and carry energetic tones that influence the attention of floating voters. As portmanteau (blending) words, they are a combination of two words or their parts, resulting in cleverness and inventiveness.

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Yet, Naya Pakistan is a formation of two pre-existing separate words which can also stand independently, whereas 'Brexit' is an amalgamation of ‘Britain’ and ‘exit', creating a completely new word that cannot stand alone when divided.

However, currently, a corpus-related comparison of the two terms is biased, as the frequency of the word 'Brexit' is much higher, used as early as 2011, with considerable growth as a global language phenomenon. It, therefore, falls into the class of international language words.

Although Naya Pakistan has existed since 2013, it's relatively on a smaller-scale, as its spread is limited in extent because of the Urdu insertion. Yet, international publications like The New York Times do interpret it as 'New' Pakistan.

The structure or positioning of Pakistan won't anytime soon be turning new. But, Brexit is in the process of happening. Nevertheless, they both are evidence of strong linguistic campaigns, spilling outside the political realm as well.

Turning Naya Pakistan into art

The Pakistani comedy industry has excelled at punning lines in the post-Naya Pakistan era, comparing it with 'Purana Pakistan'.

Humorous wordings have included, 'Agar Naya Pakistan bangaya ho to purana baych doon?' (If Naya Pakistan has been built then should I sell the old one?). Many enthusiastic comedians, bloggers and vloggers have reacted to the topic. Along with memes, remixes and other user-generated content, they have made the most of the blending word formation, sharing and expressing their feelings with audiences of similar opinions, linguistic fascination and social frustration.

Just as an illustration, Ali Sufian Wasif, in his YouTube video Naya Pakistan or Aladin's Chirag?, challenges 'tabdeeli' as an overnight magical concept. There are also TV programmes with this linguistic term registered in their names, for example Naya Pakistan with Shahzad Iqbal. Anwar Maqsood announced he will be presenting a new theatre play titled Naya Pakistan.

In itself a playful formation, the term almost invited people to toy with it and produce poetry, songs, art and even more fascinatingly, use it as a marketing tool. During a 50% sale, the clothing brand Threads and Motifs used the words 'TABDEELI AA GAYEE! Naya Pakistan Sale!' and 'NP20' as a promotional code.

Naya Pakistan is a kind of term where you can capture a meaning that’s got movement to it, but use it as an attributive adjective phrase. Even though dictionaries are generally classing ‘Naya Pakistan’ as ‘aik mashhoor naara' (one famous slogan), it’s undergoing an ever-changing process.

This linguistic phenomenon also seems to have triggered a whole trend worldwide amongst overseas Pakistanis, indicating a great social and cultural change.

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Although my independent study does not explore the possible factors responsible for the transformation in the meaning of this term, it does consider some.

First, while social media helped Khan's Naya Pakistan gain momentum and shape perceptions of the term positively, it could also carry the capacity to have an effect on it negatively.

Huma Yusaf notes that Khan's call for Naya Pakistan was based around the characteristics that social and other new media seek to exhibit. She questions whether "increased access to social media and other new media technologies spur political and social transformation in Pakistan?"

Second, the rising inflation, increased taxes, debt and falling currency could also be reflective of the pessimistic development of the meaning of the term.

Thirdly, the shift could also mirror the despairing emotional responses of the society and its expectations, which were framed through mental impressions of the notion in the earlier years, quickly becoming unrealistic.

Although the above factors for the development in the meaning of the term may be debatable, what is not debatable is the fact that numerous patterns of Naya Pakistan-related associations are very actively present in press coverage, social media and other media platforms.

Naya Pakistan has established itself as a household phrase in the Roman/Urdu/English lexicon, almost as if it filled an empty space in our language, and the growing significance of the phenomenon it describes.

By accepting this term, by repeating it, we have made it so frequent that it comes out automatically.

Header illustration by Mushba Said

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