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Oblique between `Punjabi` and `Seraiki`

March 15, 2010


THIS is apropos of Shafqat Tanveer Mirza's column 'Punjabi themes' (March 5) in which he has criticised Bashir Ahmad Bilour, senior minister of the NWFP, for advising speakers of other languages living in his province to pack bags and shift to Punjab.

Although many would subscribe to the writer's point of view on the minister's provocative statement against the non-Pakhtun ethnic groups of the province, the way the writer referred to other languages spoken in the province has raised doubts about the ethno-lingual plurality of the country.

While referring to other languages of the NWFP, the writer puts an oblique between Punjabi and Seraiki whilst separating Hindko from them through a conjunction, 'and'. Why did the writer put oblique (/) instead of comma (,) between Punjabi and Seraiki?

And why didn't he put the very oblique between Punjabi and Hindko or Seraiki and Hindko?

To understand the subtle point the writer intended to make through this sentence construction demands a little clarity on the usage of the punctuation mark he opted for.

Oblique, a sloping slash, is used as a punctuation mark between the two mutually interchangeable variants (e.g. word/symbol) to connote 'or' and between the two dichotomous categories (e.g. male/female) to imply 'and'.

However, the usage of oblique between Punjabi and Seraiki by the writer clearly communicates the former sense of the punctuation, which signifies a belief that Seraiki is mere a dialect/variant of the Punjabi language. This belief, widely held among Punjabi intelligentsia and early British administrators, is based on the mutual-intelligibility of Punjabi and Seraiki languages.

If the mutual-intelligibility is anything to go by, the status of Urdu as a language should be reduced to a dialect of Hindi, for the mutual intelligibility between Urdu and Hindi is far greater than between Punjabi and Seraiki.

The implosive sounds that are characteristic of the Seraiki language cannot be even uttered, let alone spoken, by Punjab-speaking people. The Seraiki diction is very much different from Punjabi diction.

The insistence of Punjabi intellectuals on terming Seraiki as a dialect of the Punjabi language is largely perceived as an insult (reduction of their language into a subordinate status of dialect) by Seraiki people.

A decade or two ago when Seraiki ethno-lingual consciousness was not as high as today, such kinds of insults were generously inflicted in a very crude manner.

Perhaps mindful of the sensitivity of the very argument, intellectuals like Shafqat Tanveer Mirza are looking for rather oblique means of communication today to say the same they used to do some quarter century ago.

However, for an educated Seraiki youth today, this oblique between Punjabi and Seraiki is not only a punctuation mark but a mark of slur too.

Dera Ismail Khan