THIS is with reference to the article ‘Language beyond politics’ (EOS; Sept 5). The opinions expressed therein are not only problematic given Pakistan’s sensitive linguistic context, but also factually incorrect in many ways.

The article seems to be denying all statistical, demographic, pedagogic and linguistic arguments that advocate children’s rights and needs to be educated in their ‘own’ language. The writer goes as far as denying the fact that Urdu is not the ‘mother tongue’ of the majority of the children in the country.

The fact is that the census of 2017 had officially declared that Urdu is the mother tongue of only 7.57 per cent of Pakistanis. The article has made that claim that “in the most recent census, a large number of these heralds of Pakistan’s future declared Urdu — not Punjabi — as their mother tongue”.

As opposed to this claim, the official statistics from the 2017 census show that only 4.51pc of the population in Punjab declared Urdu as their mother tongue compared to 75.2pc of those who said Punjabi was their mother tongue and 17.36pc who declared Seraiki as their mother language.

The write-up seems to be denying the fact that Pakistan actually has isolated linguistic pockets across the country where people have spent all their lives without having spoken a single word other than in their respective mother tongue.

It is a well-settled issue among scholars, educationists, psychologists and linguists that children learn best in their mother tongue and well-established models have been introduced that propose gradual progression of children from their mother tongue to secondary and tertiary languages and finally to an international language.

Most recent debates regarding education in mother tongues emerged during the development of the much talked about Single National Curriculum. According to the relevant federal minister, the SNC has also settled the language issue by allowing the provinces to introduce children’s mother tongue as the medium of instruction at the primary level.

In contrast to the article’s title, the writer has created an unnecessary controversy which is not even a great service to Urdu. It is, indeed, a time when prominent writers of Urdu across the country have started to recognise the importance of linguistic diversity, and are busy building bridges between various linguistic communities.

In a federal and linguistically diverse country like Pakistan, one-language narrative has long been resting in peace and greater acceptance for linguistic and cultural diversity has started to become a reality. The narrative of diversity has rejected the notions of ‘one language at the cost of other’, but propositions, such as put forward in the said article, can potentially undermine the emerging acceptance of linguistic diversity.

Niaz Nadeem
Islamabad

Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2021

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