Language policy, multilingualism and language vitality in Pakistan
Table 1. Pakistani languages
Source: Census 2001: 107
As the issue of power is central to policy, both to its making and consequence, let us consider it first.
Power is that quality which enables the users of a language to obtain more means of gratification
than the speakers of other languages. Forms of gratification may be tangible goods: houses, cars,
good food etc. or, they may be intangibles like pleasure, ego boosting, self-esteem etc (for full
explanation see Rahman 2002: 38-42). A powerful language is one that makes it possible for its
speakers and writers to obtain a higher share of these gratifications than others.
This is mostly possible in settled, modernizing or modern societies where there are domains such
as religion, education, the bureaucracy, the judiciary, the military, commerce, the media, research
and so on. In primitive tribes the manipulation of language matters less; in agricultural societies itemerges and becomes pervasive but is not the only passport to power; in industrial, modern
societies it becomes vitally important. Indeed, one simply cannot enter the domains of power
without being able to manipulate language for entry into these domains. It is the language of
Consequences of Pakistan ’s language policies
There have been statements about language policy in various documents in Pakistan—the different versions of the constitution, statements by governmental authorities in the legislative assembly debates and, above all, in the various documents relating to education policy which have been issued by almost every government. These are stated in the 1973 constitution as follows:
(1) The National language of Pakistan is Urdu and arrangements shall be made for its being
used for official and other purposes within fifteen years from the commencing day.
The national language is Urdu (it was Urdu and Bengali from 1955 till 1971 when East Pakistan became Bangladesh) though it is, and has always been, the mother tongue of a minority of the population of Pakistan. This minority came from India, mostly after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, and is called Mohajir (refugee or immigrant).
The rationale for this privileging of Urdu, as given by the government of Pakistan, is that Urdu is so widely spread that it is almost like the first language of all Pakistanis. Moreover, since most jobs are available through Urdu, it is only just that all children should be given access to it. Above all, it is a symbol of unity and helps in creating a unified ‘Pakistani’ identity. In this symbolic role, it serves the political purpose of resisting ethnicity, which otherwise would break the federation. As for the provision that other Pakistani languages may be used, it is explained that the state, being democratic and sensitive to the rights of the federating units, allows the use of provincial languages if desired.
As for the medium of instruction, the rationale is that Urdu, the most widespread urban language, is the one used for teaching. As English is the official and international language, it too is taught at the higher levels especially to those who seek to study science and technology.
The political consequences of the privileging of Urdu.
The major consequence of the privileging of Urdu has been ethnic resistance to it. As mentioned before, Urdu is not the mother tongue of most Pakistanis, as census figures given earlier illustrate. However, Urdu is indeed the most widely understood language and perhaps the major medium of interaction in the urban areas of the country. Even ethnic activists agree that it could be a useful link language between different ethnic groups. However, it has been resisted because it has been patronized, often in insensitive ways, by the ruling elite at the centre. The story of this patronization is given in detail in several books (see Rahman 1996) but it always fell short of what the more ardent supporters of Urdu demanded (for their position see Abdullah 1976). In the beginning, since a very powerful section of the bureaucracy spoke Urdu as a mother tongue (being Mohajirs), there was an element of cultural hegemony about the privileging of Urdu. The Mohajir elites’ position, stated or implied, was that they were more cultured than the speakers of the indigenous languages of Pakistan. Hence it was only natural that Urdu should be used in place of the ‘lesser’ languages. This position, with which we are familiar through the works of linguists who oppose the arrogance of monolingual English speakers (see the following authors for such arrogance in other contexts: Skutnabb-Kangas 2000; Crystal 2000: 84-88; Nettle and Romaine 2000) created much resentment against Urdu and, indeed, may be said to have infused the element of personal reaction to or antagonism against the speakers of Urdu in the first twenty years of Pakistan’s existence.
The main reason for opposition to Urdu was, however, not merely linguistic or even cultural. It was because Urdu was the symbol of the central rule of the Punjabi ruling elite that it was opposed in the provinces. The use of Urdu as an ethnic symbol is given in detail in Rahman (1996) but a brief recapitulation of major language movements may be useful. The most significant consequence of the policy that Urdu would be the national language of Pakistan was its opposition by the Bengali intelligentsia or what the Pakistani sociologist Hamza Alavi calls the ‘salariat’—people who draw salaries from the state (or other employers) and who aspire for jobs (Alavi 1987). One explanation is that the Bengali salariat would have been at a great disadvantage if Urdu, rather than Bengali, had been used in the lower domains of power (administration, judiciary, education, media, military etc). However, as English was the language of the higher domains of power and Bengali was a ‘provincial’ language, the real issue was not linguistic. It was that the Bengali salariat was deprived of its just share in power at the centre and even in East Bengal where the most powerful and lucrative jobs were controlled by the West Pakistani bureaucracy and the military. Moreover, the Bengalis were conscious that money from the Eastern wing, from the export of jute and other products, was predominantly financing the development of West Pakistan or the army which, in turn, was West Pakistani- (or, rather, Punjabi-) dominated (HBWI: 1982: Vol 6: 810-811; Jahan 1972). The language, Bengali, was a symbol of a consolidated Bengali identity in opposition to the West Pakistani identity. This symbol was used to ‘imagine’, or construct, a unified Bengali community, as communities, such as nations, were constructed through print language and other unifying devices in Europe (Anderson 1983).
In Sindh, Balochistan, the N.W.F.P and South Western Punjab the languages used as identity symbols were Sindhi, Balochi and Brahvi, Pashto and Siraiki. The mobilization of people, especially the intelligentsia, as a pressure group, which became possible through these languages, made them powerful ethnic symbols (Rahman 1996). However, Urdu was not resented or opposed much except in Sindh where there were language riots in January 1971 and July 1972 (Ahmed 1992). But even in Sindh the crucial issue was of power. The Mohajirs were dominant in the urban areas and the rising Sindhi salariat resented this. The most evocative symbol to mobilize the community was language and it was this that was used.
Apart from the riots, people’s real conduct remains pragmatic. The Mohajirs, knowing that they
can get by without learning Sindhi, do not learn it except in rural areas where it is necessary for
them. The Sindhis, again because they know they cannot get by without learning Urdu, do learn it.
In short, the privileging of Urdu by the state has created ethnic opposition to it. However, as people learn languages for pragmatic reasons (Rahman 2002: 36), they are giving less importance to their heritage languages and are learning Urdu. This phenomenon, sometimes called ‘voluntary shift’, is not really ‘voluntary’ as the case of the native Hawaiians, narrated by Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine, illustrates (Nettle and Romaine 2000: 94-97). What happens is that market conditions are such that one’s language becomes a deficit in relation to what Bierre Bourdieu, the French sociologist, would call ‘cultural capital’ (Bourdieu 1991: 230-231). Instead of being an asset it becomes a liability. It prevents one from rising in society. In short, it is ghettoizing. Then, people become ashamed of their language as the Punjabis, otherwise a powerful majority in Pakistan, are observed to be by the present author and others (for a survey of the attitude of Punjabi students towards their language see Mansoor 1993: 49-54). Or, even if language movements and ethnic pride does not make them ashamed of their languages, they do not want to teach the language to their children because they think that would be overburdening the children with far too many languages. For instance, Sahibzada Abdul Qayyum Khan (1864-1937) reported in 1932 that the Pashtuns wanted their children to be instructed in Urdu rather than Pashto (LADF 12 October 1932: 132). And even this year (2003), the MMA government has chosen Urdu, not Pashto, as the language of the domains of power, including education, in the N.W.F.P. The same phenomenon was noticed in Baluchistan. Balochi, Brahvi and Pashto were introduced as the compulsory medium of instruction in government schools in 1990 (LAD-Bal 21 June and 15 April 1990). Language activists enthusiastically prepared instructional material but on 8 November 1992, these languages were made optional and parents switched back to Urdu (Rahman 1996: 169). Such decisions amount to endangering the survival of minor languages and they devalue even major ones but they are precisely the kind of policies that have created what is often called ‘Urdu imperialism’ in Pakistan.
In short, the state’s use of Urdu as a symbol of national integration has had two consequences. First, it has made Urdu the obvious force to be resisted by ethnic groups. This resistance makes them strengthen their languages by corpus planning (writing books, dictionaries, grammars, orthographies etc) and acquisition planning (teaching the languages, using them in the media pressurizing the state to use them; for these terms see Cooper 1989). Secondly, it has jeopardized additive multilingualism as recommended by UNESCO and, of course, by many eminent linguists and educationists (Cf., Edwards 1994). As Urdu spreads through schooling, media and urbanization, pragmatic pressures make the other Pakistani languages retreat. In short, the consequence of privileging Urdu strengthens ethnicity while, at the same time and paradoxically, threatens linguistic and cultural diversity in the country.
The policy for English
English was supposed to continue as the official language of Pakistan till such time that the national language(s) replaced it. However, this date came and went, as had many other dates before it, and English is as firmly entrenched in the domains of power in Pakistan as it was in 1947. The major reason for this is that this is the stated but not the real policy of the ruling elite in Pakistan. The real policy can be understood with reference to the elite’s patronage of English in the name of efficiency, modernization and so on.
To begin with, the Civil Service of Pakistan (CSP) was an Anglicized body of men who had moulded themselves in the tradition of the British. The officer corps of the armed forces, as Stephen P. Cohen suggests, was also Anglicized. It was, in his words, the ‘British generation’, which dominated the army till 1971 (Cohen 1994: 162-163). It is understandable that members of this elite had a stake in the continuation of English because it differentiated them from the masses; gave them a competitive edge over those with Urdu-medium or traditional (madrassa) education; and, above all, was the kind of cultural capital which had snob value and constituted a classidentity marker. What is less comprehensible is why members of these two elites, who now come increasingly from the lower-middle and middle classes and who have studied in Urdu-medium schools (or schools which are called English-medium but teach mostly in Urdu), should also want to preserve, and indeed strengthen, the hegemony of English—a language that has always been instrumental in suppressing their class.
Moreover, most people think in terms of present-day realties which they may be critical of at some level but which they take as permanent facts of life. This makes them regard all change as utopian or suspiciously radical. To think of abolishing English is one such disquieting thought because, at least for the last century and a half, the people of this part of the world have taken the ascendancy of English for granted. In recent years, with more young people from the affluent classes appearing in the British O’ and A’ level examinations, with the world-wide coverage of the BBC and the CNN, with globalization and the talk about English being a world language, with stories of young people emigrating all over the world armed with English—with all these things English is a commodity in more demand than ever before.
These results suggest that 16 year-old students of matriculation (or equivalent level) in Pakistani schools are not in favour of English as the medium of instruction in schools except in Englishmedium schools. In the other schools they suffer because of English and, therefore, do not favour it. When they grow up and enter elitist positions their investment in English, which now becomes the language of schooling of their children, grows and they no longer support policies that would replace English with other languages.
However, paradoxically, even school students do not support the abolition of English-medium schools. Perhaps this seems too radical, visionary and impractical to them. Perhaps they feel that English-medium schools provide good quality education and should remain available for the modernization of the country. Or perhaps they understand that such schools are a ladder out of the ghetto of their socio-economic class to a privileged class which their siblings or children might make use of. In short, it is probably because of their pragmatism and a shrewd realization that nothing is going to change that they want the English-medium schools to keep flourishing.
The real policy regarding English
As mentioned earlier, the British colonial government and its successor Pakistani government rationed out English. The stated policy was to support Urdu but that was only to create a subordinate bureaucracy at low cost (vernacular-medium education costs less than Englishmedium education). It was also to keep an anti-ethnic, centrist, ideological symbol potent and vibrant in the country.
The armed forces, better organized than any other section of society, created cadet colleges from the nineteen fifties onwards. These schools, run on the lines of the elitist British public schools, were subsidized by the state. In the 1960s when students from ordinary colleges, who came by and large from vernacular-medium schools, protested against these bastions of privilege, the government appointed a commission to investigate their grievances. The report of this commission agreed that such schools violated the constitutional assurance that ‘all citizens are equal before law’ (Paragraph 15 under Right No. Vl of the 1962 Constitution). However, the Commission was also convinced that these schools would produce suitable candidates for filling elitist positions in the military and the civilian sectors of the country’s services (GOP 1966: 18). This meant that the concern for equality was merely a legal nicety. And this, indeed, was what happened. Today the public schools are as well-entrenched in the educational system of the country as ever before. The total spending is as follows:
The total expenditure is not covered by tuition fees. The cadet colleges report subsidies from the provincial government, grants by visiting dignitaries and free gifts of various kinds from “old boys”and officials of the state.
Spending on other educational institutions is as follows:
In short, by supporting English through a parallel system of elitist schooling, Pakistan’s ruling elite acts as an ally of the forces of globalization, at least as far as the hegemony of English, which globalization promotes, is concerned. The major effect of this policy is to weaken the local languages and lower their status even in their home country. This, in turns, militates against linguistic and cultural diversity; weakens the ‘have-nots’ even further and increases poverty by concentrating the best-paid job in the hands of the international elite and the English-using elite of the peripheries.
English, after all, is the language of the greatest power in the world. It spread as the language of the colonies of Britain in African and Asian countries (Brutt-Griffler 2002). Then, when Britain withdrew from its ex-colonies, English spread because of American economic power, American control of world media and international commerce. This has been condemned as linguistic imperialism by Phillipson (1992: 38-65) and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas calls English a ‘Killer language’ (2000: 46).
Globalization will increase the power of English because it will open up more jobs for those who know it. These jobs will be controlled by multinationals, which are dominated by the U.S.A. They are also controlled by the international bureaucracy—United Nations, World Bank, IMF, donor agencies etc.—which have started operating increasingly in ‘English’. This will increase the demand for English schooling, which will make parents invest in English at the cost of their own languages.
Let us look at the other languages that suffer because of the present policies.
Psychological and cultural costs of linguistic imperialism
As movements for the preservation of minor (or weaker) languages in Europe tell us, if a child is told that his or her language is inferior, the message being conveyed is that he/she is inferior. In short, one is giving a negative image to children by telling them that the ‘cultural capital’ they possess is not capital at all but a stigma and a handicap. This makes children reject an aspect—and an essential one at that—of their legacy, history, culture and identity. What is created is ‘culture shame’—being ashamed of one’s own true identity.
Incidentally, the poor and less powerful classes, gender and communities have always been ashamed of aspects of their identity. In South Asia, the caste system forced manual workers to live miserable lives. This was unjust enough but the worst form of injustice is perpetrated by the fact that the lower castes (or ajlaf, kammis, outcastes, Sudras etc) not only accept lower social status but look down upon people lower in the social scale and even upon themselves. That is why when people became literate and rose in affluence and power, they left their communities and even started using names of groups with higher social respect. Here, ‘the number of Shaikhs and the other categories’—Syed, Mughal and Pathan—increased phenomenally, while the occupational “caste” groups registered a sharp decline’ (Ahmad, R. 1981: 115).
Moreover, there are many literary works in Urdu and other languages—not to mention one’s own observation—that show how embarrassed the poor are by their houses, their clothes, their food, their means of transportation and, of course, their languages. In short, the reality constructed by the rich and the poor alike conspires to degrade, embarrass and oppress the less powerful, the less affluent, the less ‘gifted’ of the human race. This relates to language-shame—being embarrassed about one’s language—and hence to possible language death.
Language vitality in Pakistan
The year 2000 saw three excellent books on language death. David Crystal’s, Language Death; Daniel Nettle and Suzanne Romaine’s Vanishing Voices and Tove Skutnabb-Kangas’, Linguistic Genocide in Education or Worldwide Diversity and Human Rights. These books have made linguists conscious that, with the standardization created by the modern state and the corporate sector, the smaller languages of the world are dying. Either the speakers die or, which is more often the case, they voluntarily shift to a powerful language which helps them survive but as members of another human group rather than their own.
In Pakistan, as brought out earlier, the linguistic hierarchy is as follows: English, Urdu and local language. In the N.W.F.P and Sindh, however, Pashto and Sindhi are seen as identity markers and are spoken informally. In Punjab, unfortunately, there is widespread culture-shame about Punjabi. Parents, teachers and the peer group combine to embarrass students about Punjabi. In all of the elitist English-medium schools the author visited there were policies forbidding students from speaking Punjabi. If anyone spoke it he or she was called ‘Paendu’ (rustic, village yokel) and made fun of. Many educated parents speak Urdu rather than Punjabi with their children. Pakistan TV plays use the term ‘Urdu-medium’ for lack of sophistication. The children of elitist English-medium schools are indifferent to Urdu and claim to be completely bored by its literature. They are proud to claim lack of competence in the subject even when they get ‘A’ grades in the O’ and A’ level examination. They read only English books and not Urdu ones nor those in other languages.
These attitudes are having a squeezing effect on Pakistani languages. Urdu is safe because of the huge pool of people very proficient in it and especially because it is used in lower level jobs, the media, education, courts, commerce and other domains in Pakistan. Punjabi is a huge language and will survive despite culture shame and neglect. It is used in the Indian Punjab in many domains of power and, what is even more significant, it is the language of songs, jokes, intimacy and informality in both Pakistan and India. This makes it the language of private pleasure and if so many people use it in this manner, it is not in real danger.
Sindhi, and Pashto are both big languages and their speakers are proud of them. Sindhi is also
used in the domains of power and is the major language of education in rural Sindh. Pashto is not
a major language of education nor is it used in the domains of power in Pakistan. However, its
speakers see it as an identity marker and it is used in some domains of power in Afghanistan. It too will survive though Pakistani city Pashto is now much adulterated with Urdu words. Educated
Pashtuns often code-switch between Pashto and Urdu or English. Thus, the language is under
Balochi and Brahvi are small languages under much pressure from Urdu. However, there is awareness among educated Balochs that their languages must be preserved. As neither of these languages is used in the domains of power they will survive as informal languages in the private domain. However, the city varieties of these languages will become much Urdufied.
It is the over fifty small languages of Pakistan (Annexure A), mostly in Northern Pakistan, which are under tremendous pressure. The Karakorum Highway, which has linked these areas to the plains, has put much pressure on these languages. The author visited Gilgit and Hunza in August 2002 and met local language activists, among others. They all agree that their languages should be preserved but they are so appreciative of the advantages of the road that they accept the threat to their languages with equanimity. Urdu and English words have already entrenched themselves in Shina and Burushaski and, as people emigrate to the cities, they are shifting to Urdu.
Even in the city of Karachi the Gujrati language is being abandoned, at least in the written form, as young people seek to be literate in Urdu and English, the languages used in the domains of power.
The languages that are about to become extinct are:
Badeshi exists in the Chail Valley of Swat and is probably a variety of Persian. However, Baart (2003) confirms that it is under great pressure and may cease to be spoken soon.
Chilliso, spoken by a small number of people on the east bank of the Indus in District Kohistan, is under great pressure by Shina. According to Hallberg, ‘A point which further underscores the idea that language shift is taking place in this community is the fact that of the thirteen individuals who were asked, four said that they spoke Chilisso in their home as a child but speak Shina in their home today’ (Hallberg in SSNP Vol. 1, 1992: 122-123).
Domaaki is the language of the Doma people in Mominabad (Hunza). Backstrom reported only 500 speakers in 1992 (Backstrom in SSNP Vol. 2, 1992: 82). The present author visited the village in 2002 and estimated 300 only.
Gowro is spoken on the east bank of the Indus in Distinct Kohistan mainly in the village of Mahrin by the Gabar Khel class. Hallberg (in SSNP Vol. 1, 1992: 131). says that ‘it would seem that the dominance of Shina may be slowly erasing the use of Gowro’. Baart (2003) confirms that only a 1000 speakers are left now and it may be dying.
Ushojo is spoken in the Chail Valley of Swat. According to Sandra J. Decker of SIL, it was spoken by 2000 people in 1990 (Decker in SSNP Vol. 1 1992: 66). She also reported that both men and women spoke Pashto with her (ibid, 76). J. Baart (2003) suspects that the language is under great pressure and is moribund.
The smaller languages of Chitral are also about to be lost. The Kalasha community, which follows an ancient religion and lives in valleys in Chitral, is in danger of losing its languages. Some young people are reported to have left the language when they converted to Islam (Decker in SSNP Vol. 5, 1992: 112). Other small languages, Yidgha, Phalura and Gawar-bati, are also losing their vitality.
Two small languages, which would have been lost otherwise, are being recorded by local language activists with the help of Baart. The first is Ormuri, the language of the village of Kunigaram in South Waziristan, which was described as ‘a strong language in that area’ by Hallberg in 1992 (‘Hallberg in SSNP Vol. 4, 1992: 60). This is being recorded by Rozi Khan Burki, a resident of the village, with the help of J. Baart.
The other one is Kundal Shahi which was discovered by Khwaja Abdur Rahman and is spoken in the Neelam Valley in Azad Kashmir about 75 miles from Muzaffarabad. This is being preserved by Khwaja Rahman with the help of Baart.
In short, while only the remotest and smallest of the languages of Pakistan are in danger of dying, all other languages have decreased in stature. The undue prestige of English and Urdu has made all other languages burdens rather than assets. This is the beginning of language sickness if not death.
We have seen that the language policies of Pakistan, declared and undeclared, have increased both ethnic and class conflict in the country. Moreover, our Westernized elites, in their own interests, are helping the forces of globalization and threatening cultural and linguistic diversity. In this process they are impoverishing the already poor and creating much resentment against the oppression and injustice of the system.
Both globalization and the continuation of colonial language policies by the governments of Pakistan have increased the pressure of English on all other languages. While this has also created an increased awareness of language rights and movements to preserve languages, it has generally resulted in more people learning English. In Pakistan this means that the poor are under more pressure than before because they cannot afford expensive schools that ‘sell’ English at exorbitant rates. As such, linguistic globalization is anti-poor, pro-elitist and exploitative.
While it may not be possible to reverse the trend of globalization, it is possible to promote the concept of additive bilingualism rather than subtractive bilingualism. This means that we should add to our repertoire of languages to gain power while retaining skills and pride in our own languages. In order to do this the state and our education system should promote the concept of linguistic rights.
There are tolerance-related and promotion-oriented rights. In Pakistan we have the former but not
the latter. This means that, while we keep paying lip service to our indigenous languages, we
create such market conditions that it becomes impossible to gain power, wealth or prestige in any
language except English and, to a lesser extent, Urdu. This must be changed and the change must
come by changing the market conditions. This is what was done in the case of Catalan, a language
while had been banned by General Franco of Spain, and which has been revived. Making Catalan
the language of jobs and the government of Catalonia (Hall 2001) has changed the power equation
What we need in Pakistan are such promotion-oriented rights for our languages. What is needed along with such rights is a good but fair system of schooling which will teach English and Urdu but equally to all children and not as it is done now—very well to the elite and very badly to all others (for details see Rahman 2002: Conclusion). Such steps might save us from the more harmful linguistic effects of unjust and anti-poor language policies.
MINOR LANGUAGES OF PAKISTAN
Abdullah, Syed. 1976. Pakistan Mein Urdu Ka Masla. Lahore: Maktaba Khayaban-e-Adab.
Hall, Jacqueline. 2001. Convivencia In Catalonia: Languages Living together Barcelona: Fundcio
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