The En­dan­gered Lan­guage

There is a need for Pak­istan to wake up to the threat of glob­al­iza­tion and at­tempt to pre­serve the Urdu lan­guage be­fore it be­comes ex­tinct.

Southasia - - Linguistics & Society - By Hafsa Ah­san

As the national lan­guage of Pak­istan as well as the of­fi­cial lan­guage of five In­dian states, Urdu has come a long way. Ac­cord­ing to “A Brief His­tory of Urdu” avail­able on BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/ lan­guages/ other/ guide/ urdu/ his­tory.shtml), Urdu has de­vel­oped over a span of no less than nine hun­dred years un­der Per­sian, Turk­ish and Ara­bic in­flu­ence. Those in­ter­ested in his­tory will dis­cover that the de­vel­op­ment of Urdu over the ages makes for a very en­light­en­ing study. How­ever, for the past cou­ple of decades, Urdu as a lan­guage has been on the de­cline. There are sev­eral rea­sons for this.

Most of the mass me­dia to which the young and the old alike are ex- posed to­day, does not por­tray the lan­guage in its pure form. The med­ley that comes across con­tains vo­cab­u­lary of English and Hindi mixed with Urdu. This hap­pens mainly be­cause of a lack of knowl­edge of Urdu in gen­eral and its vo­cab­u­lary in par­tic­u­lar – when in­di­vid­u­als can­not think of a suit­able word in Urdu to ex­press them­selves they switch to English and/or Hindi.

On the other hand, there is a wide ex­po­sure to me­dia con­tent in English and Hindi, which is again, mak­ing the au­di­ence more aware of these two lan­guages. Com­bine that with the afore­men­tioned fact of the same au­di­ence be­ing less ex­posed to ‘pure’ Urdu with­out any con­tam­i­na­tion and you have the cur­rent re­sult: very few in­di­vid­u­als speak­ing ONE lan­guage at a time, with­out in­tro­duc­ing words of an­other.

The mind­set of the ma­jor­ity in Pak­istan is that ‘Urdu-medium’ is the low­est, deroga­tory so­cial stan­dard. Hence, an ed­u­ca­tion or con­ver­sa­tion in ‘Urdu-only’ is looked down upon. This is the at­ti­tude of the ma­jor­ity, es­pe­cially the new gen­er­a­tion, who would rather speak bro­ken English than flu­ent Urdu. One only needs to con­trast this with the fact that the sub­ject of Urdu has quite a lot of cred­its in for­eign uni­ver­si­ties to re­al­ize its true worth.

In a ma­jor­ity of ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions, English is the of­fi­cial lan­guage. Urdu is re­stricted to one class per day, or at most three times a week. Some schools do en­sure that po­ems of Iqbal are re­cited in the morn­ing assem­bly and that elo­cu­tion and declamation con­tests are held in Urdu as well. How­ever, cer­tain schools ac­tu­ally im­pose pun­ish­ment and fines if they hear stu­dents con­vers­ing among them­selves in Urdu. In such a sce­nario, one can­not re­ally blame the new gen­er­a­tion for im­bib­ing a dis­parag­ing at­ti­tude to­wards Urdu.

For most as­pir­ing writ­ers, the at­trac­tive lan­guage is English – and not just be­cause they are pro­fi­cient in it. It is gen­er­ally be­lieved that English jour­nal­ism and the pub­lish­ing in­dus­try pays more lu­cra­tively than the one in Urdu. Of course it does, but then, this has neg­a­tively af­fected the as­pi­ra­tions of those who could have pro­duced won­ders in Urdu.

How­ever, one should not feel that all is lost on the Urdu front. There have been some pos­i­tive de­vel­op­ments with the ad­vance­ment of tech­nol­ogy. Fol­low­ing are some of them:

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