Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Language policy in Pakistan

Writing in Dawn on language policy in Pakistan, Shahid Siddiqui describes "two competing schools of thought" which tend to "totally reject" each other in Pakistan:

"The school of thought that is in favour of Urdu or the local languages does not see any role for English. The other school of thought, which favours English, considers native languages insignificant. Since the latter is in power, local languages are either ignored or their potential underestimated. No institutional support is provided to them and they are being subjected to a slow death. The painful fact is that many students who are being educated in English-medium schools find it difficult to read a book written in their mother tongue. Many do not know how to count in Urdu or in their mother tongue. The reason is obvious: they are exposed to English primers before any other reading material. They start learning the English alphabet before any other."

This makes it seem that Urdu and all the other languages of Pakistan (Ethnologue lists 72) are in the same boat, "menaced" by English. But earlier in the essay, Siddiqui laments the neglect of "local languages" when Urdu became the national language of the country.

"The other local languages spoken in the provinces, including Punjabi, Sindhi, Pushto and Balochi, were unfortunately either ignored or relegated to an inferior status. This attitude was manifested in the lack of institutional support offered to these languages. A case in point is Punjabi: it is the mother tongue of about 50 per cent of the citizens of Pakistan but is not taught as a subject at school level. Thus the children of Punjabi families cannot read or write in their mother tongue and are literally cut off from the rich literary heritage of their language. To a lesser extent this is true of other Pakistani languages as well."

So, English menaces Urdu, while Urdu menaces "other local languages". Siddiqui recommends that "we should be striving for a balance between English and the local languages. Such a balance can only be achieved if our local languages are given respect and validation through institutional support. This would mean introducing them in primary classes as a subject."

As this blog has often remarked, "local languages" (read mother tongues) need to be the medium of instruction, the main teaching language, for the first eight years, not merely "a subject" in primary classes. All the research shows that an "early-exit" to a dominant language does not result in high-level multilingualism.


गिरिधर | giridhar | గిరిధర్ said...

My friend in Rawalpindi, Prof Saeed Farani (visit his online bookstore draws our attention to a valuable contribution to the theme:

Speaking Like a State: Language and Nationalism in Pakistan by Alyssa Ayres.

Shirazi said...

Thanks for carrying this article by Dr. Shahid Siddiqui - a famous linguist - here at your very valuable blog. Hope this generates news leads and ideas on the subject.

BTW, you have a very meaningful blog here.

Jonathan said...

Hope I am not off thread to much. From an outsiders view it seems to me that media / online connections change the cultural landscape starting with language / linguistics.
Text "4" U & search engine keyword searches change educational standards radically (for the good)Making communication simpler, that does not mean I would not still read & understand the Art of James Joyce (Ulysses).
An example is even I with No understanding of Hindi registered the domain शर्त.com on the premise that the link to bet? might offer a landing stage for a future brand name. probably wrong but who would have thought a UK based non Hindi speaker would have taken the punt!! If I was you chaps I would have taken a chance on registering a couple of single or two word high traffic keywords (.com or country code only )and held them 5 years. : ) am I close to bet with शर्त.com ?