[lg policy] ‘Pakistani’ — a united language for a divided country

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri Nov 6 16:43:09 UTC 2015

‘Pakistani’ — a united language for a divided country
‘Pakistani’ — a united language for a divided country
By Dr Ahmar Mahboob <http://tribune.com.pk/author/6136/dr-ahmar-mahboob/>
Published: November 5, 2015
[image: The writer earned his PhD at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is
currently Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney and has worked in the
areas of language policy development and issues surrounding minority
languages in South Asia]

The writer earned his PhD at Indiana University, Bloomington. He is
currently Senior Lecturer at the University of Sydney and has worked in the
areas of language policy development and issues surrounding minority
languages in South Asia

A country deeply divided on ethno-linguistic lines, Pakistan is in dire
need to reconsider its policies towards language if it hopes to survive and
thrive as a unified national entity. Currently, Pakistan is a country that
does not have any ‘Pakistani’-speaking people; instead, it is a country
where people see themselves and others as Balochi-speaking,
Hindko-speaking, Punjabi-speaking, Pashto-speaking, Sindhi-speaking,
Seraiki-speaking and Urdu-speaking, etc. Our ethnic languages separate us.
And while Urdu, as a national language, is used in most parts of the
county, the idea that it has been successful in uniting us as a nation is a
controversial one. To create a unified national identity, we need a
language that brings us all together.

*Linguistic battle: SLA to fight for Sindhi’s official, educational use

One way of doing this might be by creating a new language — ‘Pakistani’.
This new language will draw on the already established languages in the
country and integrate features from all other languages currently used in
Pakistan (including English). Thus, while it will be a new language in how
it integrates features of all Pakistani languages into one and how it is
used for various purposes, it will be built on languages that Pakistanis
already use and are familiar with. In this way, it will be representative
of all Pakistanis.

Creating and developing languages (or aspects of languages) for national
unity and/or national development is not a new thing. China, Indonesia,
Japan, Malaysia and Turkey, among other countries, have all engaged in
considerable language development and planning work in recent times to help
with national development. Filipino, the national language of the
Philippines, for example, was only created after a policy decision in the
early 1970s. The Philippines, like Pakistan, is a post-colonial,
multilingual, developing country where people have a strong sense of
attachment to their languages. By replacing Tagalog with a newly created
Filipino language, which integrated features from local languages, the
government was able to get past a number of stumbling blocks and
accusations of privileging people from a particular ethnicity/region.
Although there are some issues and controversies in relation to Filipino,
these are being addressed as the language develops; Article XIV of their
1987 Constitution states that “as Filipino evolves, it shall be further
developed and enriched on the basis of existing Philippine and other
languages”. In addition, while Filipino is being strengthened, the
Philippines government recognises all indigenous languages and has laws in
place to promote these through their use in education (through what is
known as mother-tongue-based multilingual education, MTB-MLE).

*Promoting Urdu: Urdu literati off to Istanbul University

The Philippines provide one of many examples that the Pakistani government
can learn from. Language policy and planning can play an instrumental role
in creating national unity and aiding national development. Urdu was
selected to fulfill this role at the time of the creation of Pakistan.
However, it unfortunately has not been very successful in doing so. The
Urdu-Bengali controversy, while not the main cause of the separation of
East Pakistan, played an important symbolic role in the creation of
Bangladesh. Even today, there are groups and communities in Pakistan that
choose not to use Urdu. This reflects a failure of successive governments
to build a national identity through and around Urdu. Court orders on
language use, while symbolic, are not sufficient to deal with the
underlying linguistic issues that the country faces.

While we can lament and criticise people and groups for not accepting Urdu,
such rhetoric does not help resolve the issues. Given the sensitivities and
politics around language, governments prefer not to deal with
language-related issues. However, instead of brushing aside or ignoring
these issues, the government needs to tackle them head on by developing a
well-researched and appropriately resourced language policy. Developing a
well-thought out national language policy may reduce a number of current
language-based sensitivities, divisions, politics and issues. In addition
to decreasing ethno-linguistic conflicts, a good language policy can also
have numerous economic, educational, health, legal, social, and other
benefits. It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss all of these
here, but readers may be interested in looking at the Lahore Declaration on
Language Sciences and the Developing World (

It needs to be noted that the recommendation to create a new language here
is contrary to current proposals presented by some other Pakistani
linguists who recommend the dividing up of provinces based along linguistic
lines (creating a Seraiki-speaking province, for example). Such
recommendations, while appearing to be responding to current sentiments and
attitudes, are arguably ones that will take us further down the road of
disintegration and disunity. Instead of building unity, such
recommendations endorse and strengthen ethno-linguistic divides. If we
create language-based provinces for the larger regional languages today, we
will have smaller regional language-based groups asking for greater
autonomy tomorrow. If new provinces need to be created, then we need strong
administrative reasons for this, not linguistic.

*Official language: Can’t switch overnight, says Saad

The recommendation made in this article, the need to create ‘Pakistani’, is
an approach that aims to unify the people and to allay language-based
misgivings and mistrust. This is because ‘Pakistani’ will draw on and
reflect the linguistic practices and behaviours of the diverse peoples of
the country; it will belong to all Pakistanis and not a particular group.
As a ‘new’ language, it will not be a mother tongue of any existing group
and everyone will need to learn it in schools and colleges. As a ‘modern’
language, it will be flexible and encourage variations that reflect the
needs, desires, customs and habits of the Pakistani people. As a
‘Pakistani’ language, it will be used in education and exist alongside,
draw on, and support the indigenous languages of local communities.

The creation, adoption, use, and development of ‘Pakistani’ is not going to
be an easy task, but it is an achievable one. There are many examples from
around the world that we can learn and draw from in doing so. The
linguistics needed to achieve these goals is already available. What is
needed now is political vision and commitment to make this happen.

*Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2015.*


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