The Sindhi language and its variations

September 30, 2008

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Language, you will not be surprised to know, keeps on changing. This change does not occur only within a country or across the geographical regions but takes place across the social and ethnic boundaries as well. Sociolinguistics is a science that studies, among other aspects of languages, why and how a language or a dialect changes.

Dialectology is a branch of knowledge which makes an important part of the modern day linguistic science but, sadly, it has not been given much thought in Pakistan, in spite of the fact that we live in a region that offers an amazing array of languages and dialects. Dr Memon Abdul Majeed Sindhi in his `Lisaniyat-i-Pakistan` has given details of some 72 languages and dialects spoken in Pakistan. It is a linguistic paradise for anyone seriously interested in regional linguistic variations.

For these very reasons, whenever I come across any serious study involving regional or social linguistic variations found in Pakistan, I enjoy it. So, when Dr M. Qasim Bughio gave me a copy of his book, `Sociolinguistics of Sindhi a comparative sociolinguistic study of rural and urban Sindhi`, during a seminar organised by the Peshawar University, I was naturally overjoyed.

Dr Bughio, serving as a dean at Jamshoro`s Sindh University, has been working on sociolinguistics and socio-cultural anthropology for long. He earned his doctorate from the United Kingdom while working under the supervision of Prof Peter Trudgill, a renowned authority on sociolinguistics. Dr Bughio has headed the Sindhi Language Authority for a while.

The Sindhi language has many regional dialects, of which the main six are Siroli, Vicholi, Lari, Thari, Lasi and Kucchi. These dialects are diverse and among them Vicholi, the one spoken in the central region of Sindh, was adopted as the standard language and was used for official and educational purposes during the British rule. The book is in fact a research study of Vicholi, carried out to determine the extent of linguistic change in two speech communities. Of them, one speech community is urban (Hyderabad) and the other is rural (Old Hala). The study investigates the phonological variables.

The introductory chapter familiarises the reader with the socio-historical and linguistic background of Sindh and one finds many interesting historical and linguistic facts. It says, for example, some 650 years before the arrival of Aryans, the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation had stopped using their script and a Hebrew-based script called Brahmi was developed by the Aryans which in turn exerted considerable Sanskritic influence on the Sindhi language. With the arrival of the Arabs in 712, the influence of Arabic was felt. It not only caused many Arabic words and phrases to assimilate into Sindhi but the Arabic script itself was adopted for writing Sindhi, with necessary additions and alterations to accommodate the phonetic sounds that Arabic did not have.

The study, identifying the events, proves the thesis that linguistic changes take place as social and political conditions change and the two speech communities were sensitive to such conditions. The major political event of pertinence to this research was, as the author says, the creation of Pakistan.

The exodus of the Hindus in 1947 and the linguistic contact between the Urdu-speaking and Sindhi-speaking communities, brought about by migration, had a direct and observable effect on the evolution of vowel variables. He has also predicted that with the improved infrastructure, increased communications and under the growing influence of the media, the traditional and indigenous features of the Old Hala speech will give way to the urban forms and ways of speech.

Dr Bughio feels indebted to the speech communities as he has written his dissertation with the understanding of the famous Labov`s argument that linguists have certain duties towards communities from which they obtain data; they have a special responsibility in terms of combating linguistic misconceptions and attacking linguistic prejudices and injustices. He also quotes Trudgill who said “We have a duty as experts on language not only to these communities but also to ourselves and to the human population of the planet as a whole, to apply our linguistic knowledge to the solution of a particular and a growing real-world problem.”

Since such linguistic and original studies are rare in our country, one wishes that it was translated into Urdu and Sindhi so that the students of linguistics in these languages could have an authentic book to refer to.

drraufparekh@yahoo.com