The writer explores the linguistic richness of Pakistani languages and laments the loss of affinity with the great cultural heritage associated with our local languages.

Every two weeks a language disappears taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. (UNESCO, 2018)

Language is a conduit of human heritage and a carrier of history, values, customs and knowledge of a unique culture. It is a fact that languages die and take a whole culture along with it. History shows that hundreds of languages have been wiped from the global society, inflicting irreparable loss to its incumbents. When a language becomes extinct, humanity has to bear the loss of an entire culture; traditions, knowledge of the inhabitants’ environment, unique thinking rationale, religious beliefs, rituals, wisdom and philosophy, the knowledge of the local flora and fauna, cultural expressions including art and music- all get buried along with it. David Crystal, a renowned linguist, wrote in his famous book that “when a language dies which has never been recorded in some way, it is as if it has never been.” He further added: “A language dies when nobody speaks it anymore.”

According to recent research conducted by the United Nations (2018), there are almost 6000 languages which are spoken in the world, among which at least 43% are endangered. There are a few hundred languages being taught in schools and used in public domains while less than a hundred languages are used in digital communication around the world. Due to globalization and increasing intersectionality, linguistic diversity is threatened as the extinction rate of languages is much higher than history.

Like other languages around the globe, many local languages of Pakistan are also facing a real extinction threat. Pakistan is generally understood regionally and globally as a state which is known for its enriched cultures and also called “Land of Many Languages” that include; Punjabi, Saraiki, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Kashmiri, Hindko, Brahhui, Shina, Balti, Khowar, Dhatki, Haryanvi, Marwari, Wakhi, and Burushaski. Mostly, languages die out because of physical annihilation of native speakers but the reason differs in Pakistan. Local languages are being ignored due to the influence of Urdu and English in Pakistan. The main objective of studying in English medium schools and attaining quality education is to get good jobs and maintain a standard lifestyle. It has become a common misconception in our society that the usage of local languages can prove to be an obstruction in the way of societal cohesion and consequently hinders the speed of overall progress. Despite being educated and well-informed, parents decide not to teach their children their heritage language; rather they discourage them from speaking it. This is the reason why children think that Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Siraiki and all other local languages are inferior to English or Urdu.

To some extent, it is true that foreign Languages especially English can ensure good jobs because English is a universal language and learning English is important as it helps us to communicate with nearly all the people around the world. But we must not confuse this with the fact that all languages are equal and have the same functionality; thus they have equal ability to express abstract thoughts. We must teach our children that every language is special and encourage them to learn their local languages to help them connect with their cultural heritage. Teaching local languages to children will allow them to understand and appreciate the history of their ancestors and their local traditions.

Pakistan’s local languages still have large number of prospective speakers who would not die soon but the languages are losing their originality with time. Most of the words have been borrowed from English and are so frequently used that the native speakers have forgotten the substitute words of their own language. For example, the English terms of kinship ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ are used in Pakistan to address strangers. Languages usually reach the verge of extinction when they are being replaced with the dominant language socially, politically and economically. Nowadays, the young educated class of Pakistan likes to read English novels, newspapers, watch English movies, and prefers to talk in English language.  The dominance of English in our society has changed the whole system as the language is also bringing its culture.

In order to preserve the purity and essence of our local languages, we must take up the cudgels to encourage linguistic diversity and promote our mother language(s) as esteemed languages of Pakistan; because it is our moral obligation and legitimate right to re-establish respect of our local languages and accord them their due status. Being a culture bearer, we must value and promote our local traditions to develop a unique cultural stance across the globe, so that our identities continue to exist in the future along with our culture. This ultimate goal is not possible to achieve unless we start taking pride in speaking our local language, promote it by bringing it in academia, and admire the values that are associated with it. Preserving a language is not just the responsibility of the people who speak it, but the government should also take deliberate steps to promote all local languages equally. As a linguist, I strongly urge that the poetry of the great ‘Classic Poets of Pakistan’; Baba Bullhe Shah (Punjabi), Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar (Punjabi), Shah Abdul Latif (Sindhi), Khwaja Ghulam Farid (Siraiki), and Rahman Baba (Pashto) should be included in the school curricula so that the intellectual heritage of scholarship can be preserved in its original form.

Naureen Nazir

Naureen Nazir has earned her MPhil Degree in Applied Linguistics from the renowned Kinnaird College for Women.

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