[lg policy] Language Policy and Planning in Pakistan

Zaidi manoo at BRUNET.BN
Tue Apr 19 14:34:55 UTC 2011

The "Zaidi" quoted in the bibliography is not me.
Abbas Zaidi


From: lgpolicy-list-bounces at groups.sas.upenn.edu
[mailto:lgpolicy-list-bounces at groups.sas.upenn.edu] On Behalf Of Harold
Sent: Monday, April 18, 2011 11:46 PM
To: lp
Subject: [lg policy] Language Policy and Planning in Pakistan


I recently discovered this message in the "sent mail" area of
the lgpolicy-list's gmail account, which looks like I am claiming
to be the author.  I am not.  The author is Ibrar Bhatt, which
I found at his blogspot:

I originally Forwarded this message to the list on Sun, Aug 31, 2008 at 7:49

Language Policy and Planning in Pakistan
To: lp <lgpolicy-list at ccat.sas.upenn.edu>

"Language Policy and Planning in Pakistan

As a kind of follow up to the code-switching work, I [Ibrar Bhatt] have
written this
brief piece on Language Policy and Planning in Pakistan.

When Mohammed Ali Jinnah (the founder of Pakistan and its first
Governor-General) declared Urdu as the national language of Pakistan,
only 7.5% of the people in the West of the country, and a mere 0.5% of
those in the East, knew it as a first language (Weinstein, 1983; as
cited by Powell, 2002: 241). Nevertheless Urdu, already the usual
medium of instruction in Panjab, North West Frontier, Balochistan and
Kashmir, was decreed a compulsory subject in all government schools.

The diglossic situation in Pakistan consisted of disparate language
communities each of which preferred its vernacular. These varieties
included Sindhi, which had played a significant official role since
the province was annexed by the British in the 1850s; and Saraiki,
which is spoken around the southern Panjab region. Altogether there
are 58 of these communities in Pakistan (Rahman, 2004: 1). Each of
these communities challenged (and since have challenged) the official
language planning policy since Pakstan's conception resulting in
so-called "language riots" in January 1971 and July 1972 (Ahmed, 1992;
as cited by Rahman, 2004: 4). The greatest opposition, however, came
from East Pakistan, present day Bangldesh. Due to independence the
Bengalis seemed to support Urdu as a symbol of Muslim nationalism, but
afterwards found themselves geographically isolated from the
government (which was based in the western half of the country), and
culturally marginalised despite comprising 54% of the population
(Rahman, 1999; as cited by Powell, 2002: 241). Rahman (1999) describes
the policy of language planning in Pakistan as one which used Urdu to
contain regionalism and English to check Islamisation (ibid: 242).

Powell (2002: 242) writes: "A 1958 National Education Commission under
Ayub Khan's military regime (1958-69) urged the promotion of unity
through Urdu, but since the civil and military bureaucracies were
English-educated and in favour of social modernisation, they sent out
mixed messages."

Eventually, under Zia-ul-Haq (1977-88), the National Education Policy
of 1979 phased out English-medium instruction everywhere, only to be
replaced entirely by Urdu-medium or vernacular-medium. This was offset
by the policies of the later Bhutto government which supported more
English. Hence, the socioeconomic hierarchy of language remained; with
English at the top, Urdu next, and the regional languages below these.
According to Rahman (2005: 1), Muslims in South Asia (including
Pakistanis) have responded to English in three ways: (a) rejection and
resistance, (b) acceptance and assimilation, and (c) pragmatic

This has since been the case in Pakistan and, indeed, in South Asia as
whole. English is the expensive product to which the elite have
access, and as such plays a major role in the construction of
pro-Western secular identities; its snob value makes it a class marker
and symbol of polarisation of a society. Rahman (1998; as cited by
Powell 242) describes the 'double-speak' of Pakistani elites who would
utilise English for their own benefit while promoting Urdu for the
nation; and bureaucrats and politicians who speak up for Urdu in
public but make sure in private that their children learn English
(even General Zia, according to anecdote).

Consequently, Urdu state education has such low esteem that there has
been a huge expansion in private education, nearly all of it
English-medium. This provides a way for some to join the existing
elite, leaving the poorly educated without sufficient proficiency in
the language most highly valued by both the civilian and the military
bureaucracies. In short, English has remained a language for the elite
in order to perpetuate their hegemony.


Ahmed, F. (1992), 'The Language Question in Sindh' in Zaidi, [page unkown]

Rahman, T. (2005), The Muslim Response to English in South Asia: With
Special Reference to Inequality, Intolerance, and Militancy in
Pakistan, Journal of Language Identity & Education, 4:2, 119-135.

Powell, R. (2002), Language planning and the British empire: Comparing
Malaysia and Kenya, Current Issues in Language Planning, 3:3, 205-79.

Rahman, T. (1999), Language and Culture in Education, Karachi: OUP

Rahman, T. (2004), Language Policy and Localization in Pakistan:
Proposal for a Paradigmatic Shift, Crossing the Digital Divide, SCALLA
Conference on Computational Linguistics, 5:7, January. [Available
online http://acl.ldc.upenn.edu/P/P06/P06-1143.pdf]

Weinstein, B. (1983), The Civil Tongue: The Political Consequences of
Language Choices, New York: Longman.

Zaidi, S.A (1992), Regional Imbalances and the National Question in
Pakistan, Lahore: Vanguard Books.


N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
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 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of 
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture 
Dept. of South Asia Studies                     
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138                                      

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com


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