Losing Language – Losing Identity


I always thought English is our official language, until I read. from the Pakistan Constitution:

251. National language.
“(2) Subject to clause (1), the English language may be used for official purposes until arrangements are made for its replacement by Urdu.”

So, this means, it was meant to be changed with our national language, but I guess everyone was busy copying foreign laws, culture, morals, values, and language, since 1973 and never got the time to even read the constitution again ?  Indeed, when you copy blindly, you lose self-reliance, you develop a tendency to look to others for every wisdom, and that’s how the dependency is created, which eventually results into, what we call modern-day slavery (if we look at it from broader perspective). Do you know as per recent ‘The Economist’ article, Pakistan stood at world number 3, (in slavery) as per the survey report on Global Slavery. We have and we are fast losing our identity.

No nation has progressed really, while totally depending on the wealth, skills, knowledge and the resources of others. Even if you progress temporarily, you would not become competitive globally, and specially in this era of cut-throat competition, you can easily be suppressed. What have we achieved in the past 60 years, copying others ? By imitating the values of others, while inheriting some of our own values in bits and pieces, left us in a confused state. Same is true about our language. Here’s a popular joke about our language:

“The difficulties of being Pakistani: 1) Speak Punjabi in the home; 2) Speak Urdu in school; 3) Answer exam papers in British English; 4) Speak American English in office; and 5) After death, present your account in Arabic. So consider, what can a person do but fail!”

With the worldwide propaganda and bad news associated with Pakistan, many naive Pakistanis, also feel bad about speaking or writing in Urdu, as that psychologically attaches them with Pakistan, which is looked down upon and they want to disassociate with. Another factor for the promotion of English, is the double standard of education we have in the country, and lack of Government control and policy over it. Most of the government schools have lately taught all subjects in Urdu (English though was a separate subject), while most, if not all, of the private schools have taught all subjects in English. So, effectively we’ve created a class difference. Further, due to incompetency of the government, government schools (which caters to the majority of the population), does not uphold quality of education and thus, very much looked down upon by the parents who can afford to pay high-cost of private schools, which provides a lot better education. So, now the class is further classified as haves and havenots. And this is so widespread phenomena now, (since we reared it for more than 30-40 years), many term ‘government schools’ as ‘Peela school’ (like yellow school, as most of government school building are painted in orange-cum-yellow color) or they call it ‘Khada school’, both terms used derogatorily, to demean students who graduated from there. Thus, unknowingly we have created a divide in the society – government school and private school. Learning multiple languages is great, but discriminating on the basis of language  would not help us in any way.

Indeed, those who learned English language well, gained a lot, in terms of knowledge from the developed english speaking countries. But the problem I am highlighting here, is the divide in the society created on the basis of people who know English well, versus who don’t. Let me point out another misconception, prevalent in our society. It’s very much viewed today, not just today, it has it’s roots in pre-partition time (during the creation of Pakistan), people speaking English are synonymous to individuals with wisdom. Indeed, people who knew English well, were able to read and understand a lot more from developed societies. But this overrated regard for English speakers/writers, is bit overblown. So, much so, if people meet any native English speaker in Pakistan, they automatically think that person is so much knowledgeable, having so much wisdom. May be one of the reason, foreigner/tourists are taken high with regard. I don’t mean to say, however, Pakistanis treat their hosts very well. So, a person’s IQ is misconstrued with his ability to speak or read english. If a person doesn’t speak something in English or write in English, the society doesn’t take him/her seriously. Probably, if this article was written in Urdu, it might not have that many audience. This becomes evident, when you go abroad in any English speaking country and realize that, English is just a language of communication and good command over it, does not necessarily mean, a key to success, but good communication skills is. You also realize that there are so many native English speakers, who either don’t write or speak english well, but are ahead in their knowledge and wisdom.

Coming back to the main point, there shouldn’t be discrimination regarding language study. If English had to be official, it should be official for all. If both (English and Urdu) had to be official, it should be for all. Not like, English for haves and Urdu for havenots. Further, don’t get me wrong, I am not promoting Urdu language particularly, neither I am encouraging nationalism/chauvinism, but the point is to cherish your language, which is a key source of most of our cultural heritage. We shouldn’t let the globalization bombard on our values and overwhelm it completely. However, we can adopt good things from anyone (no specific harm in it either), but we must hold on to our language and core values. Example would be, to make mandatory use of urdu scripts on computer usage at Schools, during labs and so on.

Urdu example.svg

Word ‘Urdu’ written in Urdu script

Before I conclude, let me share another fact. Both Urdu (spoken in Pakistan) and Hindi (spoken in India), are similar, when spoken. So, that’s the reason most of Pakistanis watch Indian movies (Bollywood) and have no problem conversing with each other (Indian and a Pakistani). But in terms of writing, they’re totally different. Urdu script is very much like Arabic, while Hindi script is, something like chinese (just to give some idea, otherwise, chinese is way different).

Important point is, to keep ties with your language and not let that die, in honor of any tertiary language. I would be happy to hear your views on importance of language or any other feedback.

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