Is it a language problem or an inherent flaw?

by Zinnia Shah- Lahore
2 mins read

It is heart-rending to see how some issues may hold enough negativity to seed nothing but differences amongst societal units; or perhaps it is our irritating tendency to fail when it comes to dealing strategically with challenges as a nation.

Last month I attended a seminar. Once the presentation by the chairperson of Punjab Higher Education Commission (PHEC) was over, a lady addressing herself as a public school teacher raised her concern over how more and more of her students were facing depression only because they lacked fluency in English. She also stated that it is just about impossible for someone to prosper using an alien language, which in this case happened to be the English language.

The chairperson replied in terms of enumerating the advantages multilinguals or bilinguals hold over monolinguals. Some agreed, including myself, but the room now sat divided in murmurs of contrasting opinions, and the lady clearly felt dismayed.

In the days that preceded, the infamous incident of a boy getting shamed at a private school for speaking Urdu had gone viral. A lowly deed, indeed. As noted by the article ‘Offences against religion’ (March 29), “our brutalisation as a society is nearing completion”. In the light of the happenings that surround us, the statement sadly proves to be true. But is it too late to set our affairs right before we actually tip off the dreaded edge? Not yet.

It must be acknowledged that the fault exists with our way of dealings. If you are feeling depressed by the language issues, better think again. Are we really that fickle of a nation? Is this the progeny of Iqbal’s Shaheens? I fail to believe so. An entire generation must have faulted in putting its worth in perspective to have us end like this. Some hold China’s success to be the result of sticking with their lingua franca, when in reality progressive and nationalistic policies of its leaders should be given the credit.

Our rival in the region created its own accent of English and faced ridicule. It did not hold them back or pushed them down the drain of depression. The youth today finds shame in identifying itself as a Pakistani because there is a huge baggage associated with that identity in the eyes of the world. Language is a means to an end — communication — and should be treated as such. It is just like money is the means to various ends, but someone switched its importance somewhere and it is only a matter of chance that money accumulation can be seen surfacing as the sole interest of many people.

The plea to censor a politician’s showmanship with a cigar in hand, for instance, is a step towards responsible citizenry. Such a responsible approach and behaviour needs to be made the norm of the nation. The institutions that treat languages with discriminatory standards must be discouraged. Every eye that scoffs at Urdu and takes it even remotely derogatory must be discouraged … condemned, actually.

Embracing one thing does not necessarily have to imply the undoing of another something that exists in parallel. Progress is first conceived by strong and dedicated minds. If a nation is developing so weak that not one or two individuals, but the nation at large is falling into depression only on account of linguistic proficiency, then it is not the language that needs to be debated. We need to talk of the minds that are currently moulding the minds of the young.

As a nation, we have somehow acquired an inherent tendency to seek validation and dependence. Our aid-syndrome is a hugely outstanding example thereof. If anything, we are apparently enjoying our misery, for there is no effort to change tracks. Urdu and English have nothing to do with this at all; it is a matter of the core character of the nation. Let’s do something about that.


Acknowledgement/ Credit: Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2023 (Letter to the Editor)


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