[lg policy] Pakistan: The language lab

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Sun Nov 22 19:34:29 UTC 2015

The language lab

Dr Nadia Anwar <http://tns.thenews.com.pk/writers/dr-nadia-anwar/> November
22, 2015 Leave a comment

With Urdu and English vying for supremacy and authority, most of the
leading intellectuals find themselves at the linguistic crossroads
[image: The language lab]
There was a consensus among speakers that Urdu can suffice as the official
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When Muhammad Ali Jinnah as the Governor General made the historic
declamation of assigning Urdu the status of state language in 1948, nobody
knew how honouring this commitment by the founder of Pakistan will become a
challenge for the prospective constitutions and successive governments. In
spite of various movements in favour of a unified linguistic identity,
continual experimentations in educational institutes by authorities with
regard to the implementation of Urdu as the official language and as a
medium of instruction, and the Supreme Court ruling of September 8, 2015
which reiterates the Article 251 of 1973 constitution, Pakistan’s
linguistic situation, instead of becoming clear, has become even more
cloudy and ambiguous.

With this backdrop, the Department of English Language and Literature, The
University of Management and Technology Lahore found it opportune to invite
scholars from different fields and open a discussion on how the decision of
adopting Urdu as an official language can be viewed on the one hand as a
source of controversy and an improbable practice and on the other as a
means to promote national language and facilitate its immersion in the
social and educational fabric of Pakistan. The seminar entitled “Urdu as
the Official Language in Pakistan: Challenges, Implications and Prospects”
held on November 14 aimed to create a platform for eminent linguists,
intellectuals and policy makers to come together and discuss the various
aspects and implications of language pedagogy, policy and planning.

This has become all the more important after the Chief Justice of Pakistan
Jawwad S. Khawaja’s historic judgement of September 8, ordering that within
a period of three months Urdu will be made the official language of
Pakistan. This ruling by the Supreme Court has generated a new debate as to
how and with what implications Urdu can be adopted as an official language.
With this decision there hangs in the air many unaccounted for and
controversial aspects of language use and acquisition in the context of
Pakistan’s official medium of instruction and communication especially in
the education sector, which Dr Tariq Rahman sarcastically calls the white
elephant in the room about which no official documents makes any mention of.

The seminar allowed the speakers and participants to acquaint themselves
with and assess the prevailing views about the topic and propose viable
solutions that carry weight in the formation of language policies in
Pakistan. The seminar was attended by the Rector, UMT, Dr Hasan Sohaib
Murad, former Vice Chancellor, Lahore College for Women, Lahore, Dr Sabiha
Mansoor, Director External Linkages, University of the Punjab, Dr Maria
Maldonado, Dean of Social Sciences and Humanities UMT, Prof Dr Abdul
Hameed, Prof Munawar Ali Malik and various heads of departments, faculty
members, researcher and students from various universities and educational

The speakers underscored the repercussions of the Supreme Court ruling
while wondering how an order which failed to produce results in more than
40 years would be executed in three months. A great deal of emphasis was
put on the impractical nature of the procedural part of the directive.
Strewn with various ambiguities, the ruling is phrased in such a manner as
to leave room for several interpretations. For instance, the reference to
‘unnecessary delays’ in the carrying out of the order, the specification of
impractical timeline, the implications of possible violation of the order,
the parallel existence of Urdu and English versions of official and legal
documents, and the delivery of speeches by the government officials and
dignitaries in Urdu, despite good nationalistic intentions, not only
require further elaboration and explanation but in some cases fail to make
any sense to a rational mind.
*Despite various movements in favour of a unified linguistic identity,
Pakistan’s linguistic situation, instead of becoming clear, has become even
more cloudy.*

Alluding to previous attempts of Pakistani authorities in the promotion of
Urdu, Prof Malik appreciated the National Language Promotion Department
which strove to facilitate the adoption of Urdu as the official language by
taking various measures, including the preparation of dictionaries and
helping material for the training of in-service personnel. The fact,
however, is that all these efforts which if logistically analysed gives off
a sense of half-hearted and unorganised engagement with the problem of
determining the status of Urdu in Pakistan. Consequently, the task of
proper switch-over to Urdu still remains unfulfilled resulting in the
creation of an intricate linguistic demography.

Taking this point further, Dr Maldonado, one of the key speakers of the
seminar, pointed out that in the presence of three different systems of
education in Pakistan it is near to impossible to have one officiating
language. The cornucopia of varying levels of linguistic proficiencies
indirectly affect the understanding and status of both English and Urdu
languages. Before the formation of language policies the educational
infrastructure of Pakistan needs to undergo a radical change, freeing
itself from the bureaucratic privileging of English and prestige associated
with its use and acquisition.

The speakers wondered how the government is planning to measure to what
extent the provincial governments have been able to follow the
implementation process and how much they have progressed in this regard
given that the timeline has almost expired. Since people are still using
English in their official business and as the medium of instruction in
educational institutes, how will they be forced to discontinue their past
practices is a task, if not impossible, herculean in nature. In almost all
academic and professional areas, Dr Maldonado accentuated the need of
experts for the translation of specialised knowledge fields. So if this is
what Supreme Court terms ‘unnecessary delays’, then these delays are going
to continue affecting the progress of the order till eternity.

Some of the major challenges that this ruling raised for provincial
governments were identified by Prof Malik. The first relates to the
proficiency in Urdu speech and drafting which can only be achieved with
rigorous training and preparation of comprehensive syllabus and reading and
writing material. The second challenge is to provide sufficient resources
to National Language Authority to allow them to develop Urdu computer
softwares, an inevitable need of the day. Lastly, there is a need among
certain classes in society to hold Urdu in due esteem, a point reprehending
the existence of two languages in which one is a foreign language and a
sign of imperial hegemony.

There was a consensus among speakers that Urdu can suffice as the official
language in Pakistan. Dr Mansoor, in this regard, strongly supported the
use of Urdu in higher education and official business. However, parallel
with this pro-government stance ran apprehensions shown by some speakers
about the applicability of such a drastic action. They stated that the
transition if inevitable can only happen without disrupting the existing
linguistic scenario and creating a harmony between languages in use which
may perhaps be closer to the ambitious position some scholars have taken by
proposing a new language called ‘Pakistani’, the only way for them to get
out of the linguistic rigmarole Pakistan is beset with today.

Dr Abdul Hameed, while praising the flexibility of Urdu language and its
capacity to adapt itself to newly-emerging linguistic demands and
ever-changing social situation, highlighted the cognitive suitability of
mother tongues for primary education and the need to use English for
scientific and technological purposes. Taking a middle position, Prof Malik
favoured Urdu equivalents of English words and terms, and in cases where
such equivalents are not possible, the availability of current English
terms in Urdu script.

Although different speakers proposed different ways to achieve harmony
between Urdu and English and smooth switchover from one language to
another, Dr Hasan Sohaib Murad, Rector UMT, was skeptic about the recent
ruling which had come out of the blue and without prior homework. While
citing various linguistic situations around the globe, he emphasised the
formation of a unified linguistic sensibility. However, also realising the
pitfalls of making generalisations, he did put forward the benefits of
single state national language and its usage in all walks of life, which
makes it a sign of prestige and delivers its speakers of inferiority

Already a hodgepodge of various dialects and tongues, with Urdu and English
vying for supremacy and authority as official and academic languages and
regional languages dragging behind, most of the leading intellectuals in
the country have found themselves at the crossroads with no direction to
follow. Whether it is about the change in power relations or inversion of
linguistic privileges as in Dr Tariq Rahman’s words, there are serious
problems involved in the doability and the procedure of the action.

Expressing these ideas and thanking the worthy guests, the Chairperson of
the Department, Dr Muhammad Shaban, restated the need to engage scholars
and intellectuals to work alongside government authorities in the formation
of language policies in Pakistan. He emphasised the need to have regular
discussion forums such as this seminar where government officials could
also be attendance.

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