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ENGLISH LANGUAGE in PAKISTAN, A look at the dilemmas of English in Pakistani society

ENGLISH LANGUAGE in PAKISTAN

Author: Kinza Paracha

“The dialects commonly spoken among the natives of this part of India contain neither literary nor scientific information, and are moreover so poor and rude that, until they are enriched from some other quarter, it will not be easy to translate any valuable work into them. It seems to be admitted on all sides, that the intellectual improvement of those classes of the people who have the means of pursuing higher studies can at present be affected only by means of some language not vernacular amongst them. … it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern — a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.”

— An excerpt from Lord Thomas B. Macaulay’s speech (2nd February 1835)

In the abovementioned speech, Lord Macaulay he asserted that “in India, English is the language spoken by the ruling class. It is spoken by the higher class of natives at the seats of Government. It is likely to become the language of commerce throughout the seas of the East. It is the language of two great European communities which are rising, the one in the south of Africa, the other in Australia — communities which are every year becoming more important and more closely connected with our Indian empire. Whether we look at the intrinsic value of our literature, or at the particular situation of this country, we shall see the strongest reason to think that, of all foreign tongues, the English tongue is that which would be the most useful to our native subjects.”

English, being a standard language, enjoys a status higher than any other language of the world. The seeds of this language in the Indian Subcontinent were sown with the arrival of colonial power and its fruits are still being harvested in Pakistan.

The traces of English language left by the British had psychological impacts, both positive and negative, on Pakistani society. Since English was considered the language of officials and literate people before partition, therefore everyone aspired to learn English in order to get higher posts. Same effect can be witnessed in Pakistan even today as it is still the official language of the country. All the multinational companies and even the government offices conduct interviews in English, prefer employees having good English-speaking skills and all the paperwork is done in English. Thus, the better English you know, the higher job you get.

Our new generation does also want to learn English; they desire to read in English, write in English and talk in English. Though learning the English language is no less than a necessity in the present-day world, our Pakistani society has given it a lot more hype. The educational sector of Pakistan is primarily English-medium. Not only the O/A-Levels but also matriculation students and teachers prefer foreign books. But given the state of education in Pakistan, it won’t be wrong to say that English is being imposed on us and that too to the detriment of Urdu. The English-oriented curriculum is keeping the new generation away from their national language. Urdu literature has lost somewhere in the popularity of English. Besides, our regional languages like Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushto, Balochi, Brahvi and Hindko, to name some, are limited to rural areas. English has become the yardstick to ascertain the knowledge and intelligence of a person — higher the grip on English language, higher the level of intelligence and vice versa.

Moreover, almost all competitive examinations in Pakistan have English-oriented syllabi while Urdu is only included as secondary language. The public offices are the hub of feudalistic elite that knows nothing but English language. The oath-taking ceremonies and many other public events are conducted in English; ignoring the fact that nearly half of this country’s population is illiterate. Additionally, we have inclination toward English than any other language as we feel literary taste in it now. Today’s youth knows more about Shakespeare, Keats and Dickens than Ghalib, Iqbal and Faiz. We have gained nothing from colonial rule except a complex about learning English. Those who speak fluent English consider themselves superior to others. It has become a status symbol in Pakistani society. People are dying to learn English in order to enter the elite class.

The media have also entered into a race to modernization, leaving behind the colours of country’s language and culture. One feels ashamed while communicating in Urdu in public or private gatherings.

We have developed a thinking that English is to the sophisticated and Urdu is to the ignorant. Unfortunately, the beauty of Pakistani traditions is eclipsed by the influence of an alien language. From the state institutions to public offices and from educational sector to entertainment industry, all are promoting English. The growing inclination toward English has been to the detriment of beauty and uniqueness of Urdu. Language is the identity of any nation but we are losing our identity at the hands of an alien language.

Language is the soul and body of a nation. The ruling economies of the world have maintained their identities by preserving their languages. It is high time that we as the Pakistani nation contributed our efforts to the revival of the spirit of our national and regional languages. The Supreme Court’s ruling on making Urdu the official language of Pakistan has shown a ray of hope to revive the glory of our language. We should not forget the historical Hindi-Urdu controversy that strengthened the Two-Nation Theory and proved a key to the establishment of Pakistan. If we wish to regain our lost integrity, then we must free ourselves from the undue influence of foreign language.

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