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Urdu and English are the two official languages of Pakistan. However, only 8% of Pakistanis “speak it as their native tongue,” often deferring to a regional dialect or to English. Below, Zufah Ansari, a business undergraduate student at Szabist in Karachi, makes the case for why we should place a greater emphasis on the Urdu language in Pakistan:

This may seem very ironic indeed. Advocating for the greater revival of Urdu but writing in English.

All of us, at some point in time have been reluctant to speak/write in Urdu, failing to realize the language reflects not only the culture we are a part of, but serves as an identity, a method of communication, a unifying force, and a gateway to works of literature that are phenomenal and praise worthy in all ways possible. Though Urdu remains the mother tongue of the Pakistanis, the factual reality is that only 8% speak it as their mother tongue. The language, in spoken, written and literary form is facing constant erosion in its popularity and usage.

It’s easy to point fingers at our colonial legacy of the English language. It may be one of the reasons but let us not undermine the importance of this language. In fact, it is very crucial to be well-versed in English as it is the global tongue. Being one of the second largest spoken dialects in the world, it taps into all circles of influences of the modern man. Also, the growing importance of regional languages, with Punjabi standing at 45%, is also a contributing factor. The predilection of English and regional dialects over Urdu are not the only reasons at hand.

The media boom is bringing sources of entertainment and infotainment in languages apart from Urdu, which have gained tremendous acceptance and are being unconsciously integrated in to our language and encourage the emergence of Junk Urdu, whereby Urdu phrases are amalgamated with English, leading to an illustration of a ‘confused identity’.

The perceptions attached to Urdu aren’t favorable either. It is looked upon as a language of the inferior and the uneducated, while English has established itself as a language of prestige and elitism.  Apart from the social factors, the educational paradigms haven’t supported Urdu either. Especially in the private educational sector, where numerous private schools have the O/A levels system of education, the English language fixation is apparent, automatically putting Urdu in the backseat as it is treated as the second language in the course structure.

While the amount of language that is practiced is enough to get you through your exam or through the day, Urdu literature is in complete ruins. Only a very minute cut actually indulges in the literature, with most prominence seen in state institutes especially in the course of higher education where it can be taken up as an area of concentration.

It is gradually being depleted from our daily lives, with growing preference for alternative languages, sources of entertainment and literary mediums. Moreover, the masses have shunned Urdu literature altogether. Students are encouraged to delve in to Shakespeare and Jane Austen but not in the literary marvels of Amjad Islam Amjad and Bano Qudsiya and other similarly great writers. What they fail to realize is that most of the literature is relatable as it is written against the background of our culture and history, providing useful insight into different spheres of our own society while of broader settings as well.  We have limited the dispersion of such spectacles to the TV screen which is rarely watched by the young or the adults.

Urdu poetry can only be remembered in the context of Mirza Ghalib or Allama Iqbal while the modern poets are unheard of not because they are not good, but because we refuse to expose ourselves to them. All this has resulted in a hindrance in Urdu’s growth as a language. What is ultimately needed is a major shift in attitudes and exposure. There should be an integration of Urdu language and literature as a compulsory area of study in curriculum, irrespective of whatever system of education a school operates in. The methodology used in teaching Urdu should be improvised to make it more interactive and should be updated to cover contemporary developments in the language and the writers.

The Pakistani media channels can play a proactive role in Urdu’s revival. They can easily set a new stance towards Urdu by promoting it aggressively so that the audiences stop recoiling from what is their inheritance, ultimately contributing their share in to breathing life in to the language once again.

The contribution is the sole opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of CHUP. If you would like to contribute a piece to CHUP, please email Kalsoom at changinguppakistan[at]gmail[dot]com. Pieces should be no longer than 800 words please. For past contributions, click here.

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