It’s Time We Take Pride In Our Local Languages


Many Pakistanis have shunned the use of their mother tongue for fear of being called backward and dubbed ‘jaahil’ by their peers. This could soon turn into a catastrophe for Pakistan’s diverse culture, as abandoning your native language is akin to abandoning who you are, writes Naureen Nazar

anguage 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 face of the earth, inflicting irreparable loss to its speakers. When a language goes extinct, the humanity has to bear innumerable losses – a unique culture, tradition, knowledge of environment, thinking rationale, religious beliefs, rituals, wisdom and philosophy, the knowledge of the local flora and illness, cultural expressions, including art and music – all get buried along with it.  Per a famous book by renowned linguist ‘David Crystal’, “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.”

Badeshi is an almost extinct Pakistani language that has only three speakers. Image credit BBC

Towards Oblivion

According to the recent research conducted by the United Nations 2018, there are almost 6,000 languages spoken in the world, among which at least 43% of the languages are endangered. There are few hundred languages being taught in schools and used in public domains and less than a hundred languages used in digital communication domain around the world. Due to globalization and increasing internationalist, linguistic diversity is threatened, as the extinction rate of languages is much higher than it was before. Just like other languages, many local languages of Pakistan are also facing a real threat of extinction. Pakistan is generally known for its rich culture around the world and is a land of many languages, which include Punjabi, Siraiki, Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Kashmiri, Hindko, Brahhui, Shina, Balti, Khowar, Dhatki, Haryanvi, Marwari, Wakhi, and Burushaski.

Due to globalization and increasing intersectionality, linguistic diversity is threatened, as the extinction rate of languages is much higher than it was before.

English Enforcement

Mostly languages die out because of the physical annihilation of native speakers, but the reason is quite different in Pakistan. Local languages are being ignored due to the influence of Urdu and English. The main objective of studying in English medium schools and attaining quality education is to get good jobs and maintain a particular 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, many parents decide not to teach their children their traditional languages, rather discourage them from speaking anything but English or Urdu. This is the reason, why children think Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Siraiki and all other local languages are inferior to English and Urdu. To some extent, it is true that the foreign languages, especially English, can ensure good jobs, for it is a universal language and learning it can help us communicate with people almost anywhere in the world. But we must not confuse this with the fact that all languages are equal and have same functionality, thus 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 roots. 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, but the languages themselves 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 in 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 their words are replaced with those borrowed from dominant languages. 

In order to preserve the purity and essence of our local languages, we must take up the challenge of encouraging linguistic diversity and promoting our mother language(s) as esteemed languages.

Return To Roots

Nowadays, the young educated class of Pakistan likes to read English novels, newspapers, watch English movies and prefers to converse in English. The dominance of English in our society has changed the entire system. In order to preserve the purity and essence of our local languages, we must take up the challenge of encouraging linguistic diversity and promoting our mother language(s) as esteemed languages. It is our moral obligation and legitimate right to re-establish the respect of our local languages and accord them 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 future along with our culture. This ultimate goal is not possible unless we start taking pride in speaking our local languages, promote it in the 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 also of the government that must take deliberate steps to promote all local languages equally. As a linguist, I strongly urge that the work of great poets of our local languages – Baba Bullay Shah (Punjabi), Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar (Punjabi), Shah Abdul Latif (Sindhi), Khwaja Ghulam Farid (Siraiki), and Rahman Baba (Pashto) – be included in the school curricula so that the intellectual heritage of scholarship can be preserved in its original form.

Pakistan’s local languages still have large number of prospective speakers, but the languages themselves 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 in 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 their words are replaced with those borrowed from dominant languages. 

Ms. Naureen Nazar has earned her Mphil Degree in Applied Linguistics Fro, renowned Kinnaird College for women and University Lahore. She has more than 5-years of experience in corporate sector, academia and student organization setting .She is a linguist,researcher,curriculum developer,life skills trainer and an educational blogger