I remember the look on my mother’s face, when she was asked ‘Why do I need Urdu?’ She didn’t deem the question worthy of a response. Safe to say because the question had never arisen in her mind – not by chance but quite the contrary, due to careful deliberation over her values, cultural and linguistic heritage.
Urdu, or for that matter every regional vernacular is a defining aspect of one’s identity. Nuances, comedy and emotion borne out of a culture are expressed through language, (and in the subcontinent hand gestures and head movements). It’s a tool to explore heritage and history and a means of communicating with all those you share that heritage with; being able to communicate with grandparents, and even cousins. For me, being able to rely on all the formal registers not present in English has saved me from many an awkward situation! Matters of culture, to be valued on non-monetary terms are not considered ‘needs’. These are ‘wants’. A desire to engage, experience, and explore.
English has robbed many of their linguistic pride
Modern-day India alone boasts over 120 major languages, with countless different dialects and regional accents, though this vibrant diversity may be viewed as debilitating, not allowing for free communication across the region: Enter English. A ‘gift’ left behind by our colonial rulers, which whilst holding the flag of fluid communication across the globe, has robbed many a country of their linguistic pride. To the extent that which in Punjab, Pakistan today, the local language Punjabi was referred to as “foul language” by a school in Lahore. If educational institutions are not instilling this linguistic and cultural pride, where are children to get it from? Neither MTV nor QTV promote it for its sole cultural value.
Meanwhile, the reputation of the language is again at stake in the raging discussions on the Central Superior Services (CSS) examination in Pakistan. The highly respected Civil Service examinations, with a notoriously low pass rate, (only 3% successfully clearing the exams in 2015), may be conducted in Urdu following 2017. Urdu – a language not native to the majority of Pakistan’s population, nor their go-to idiom for academic work (most being educated in English-medium schools). If efforts are being made to claim back our vernaculars, changes can not only be made in the highest ranks. Grassroots work is required, but first and foremost, a respect for regional and cultural languages must be revived.
Let’s take pride in our linguistic diversity and use it to unite. Strong regional and linguistic identities are crucial to the essence and beauty of the subcontinent.
by Werisha Husaini