Linguistic Ideology: Pakistan’s national language and its evading identity today

Linguistic Ideology: Pakistan’s national language and its evading identity today


Importance of national language

Language has been an important and effective means of communication throughout the course of history. In the contemporary era the role of the Power elite has been to essentially use language as a disposition that bends the public opinion to serve their interest.

People, who have been aware of the importance of language, know that once the political rhetoric is embedded in the social fabric it’s easy to influence the public opinion. Modern leaders and governments use this propaganda to create a perception to ensure a balanced public opinion, domestically and in foreign policy making.

Urdu, one of the most sophisticated languages, contributed to the political and cultural development of society in a very significant way. Great names like Allama Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Ghalib are arguably the best poets when discussed in terms of their deep philosophy of freedom, justice and determination. The history of Urdu language is extensive and has a colorful disposition that is indistinguishably tied to the development of language, Urdu, in which it is inscribed.

Urdu language is a variant of Hindustani that evolved from the 6th century up to the 13th century from a form of Apabhraṃśa that came from the Shauraseni language. The latter is a Middle Indo-Aryan language from which other languages such as the Punjabi dialects came from.

Urdu language is dominated by poetry. While it inclines to be heavily led by poetry, the variety of manifestations achieved in the huge library of a few major verse forms, most importantly the Ghazal and Nazm, has guided to its continued development and growth into other panache of writing, comprising that of the short story or Afsanaas it is called in Urdu.

Being the national language, literature in Urdu is mostly prevalent in Pakistan. It also enjoys extensive acceptance in India and is broadly unstated in Afghanistan. Urdu is finding importance in foreign countries, mostly in South Asia.

About 75% of Urdu words and 90% of verbs have roots from Prakrit and Sanskrit. The Persian language was heavily influential in the development of Urdu, with some help from Arabic.

Urdu may be considered to find its origin around the 14th century in Northern India amid the cultured nobility of Persian crown courts. The existence of the Muslim nobility in a mainly Hindu dominated India, while obviously recognized, actually doesn’t dominate the awareness of the Urdu poet as much as did the ongoing civilizations of Islam and Persia.

The Urdu language is an Indo-Aryan language that is spoken by over 100 million people, which makes it another important language to study. The language is dominant in many parts of India, the Middle East, Nepal, Bangladesh and many other locations worldwide. In India, most of the Urdu speakers live in huge Muslim communities and in cities that used to be the power centers, like Hyderabad, Bhopal, Kashmir, Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

The essence of Urdu is with words and expressions almost divided between Sanskrit-oriented Prakrit and Arabic and Persian words- an evidence of reflection of the novelty of cultural union, hitherto the persistence on recalling the finest and most striking about the regions of Afghanistan as well as Persia. Amir Khusroo is famous for the initial growth of Urdu language.

In terms of the writing system, Urdu uses the Nastalik script, a modified Persian script that is a type of modified Arabic script. This particular script is also used to write Pashto, Persian, Punjabi and Kashmiri. You do not have that many characters to remember when writing Urdu. The language only has 35 scripts while Hindi has 46.

Urdu holds an important position in society. This is indeed an undeniable fact. The intelligent use of our national language through media could be very helpful in order to establish a national narrative on important issues.

Every nation needs some marks of identity. Language is the prime mark of identification of any nation. Pakistan is a federation of four provinces and its national language is Urdu. Quaid-e-Azam also declared Urdu as the national language of Pakistan.

Source of Unity: The national language creates a feeling of unity and national cohesion. People living in different provinces realize that in spite of speaking different languages.

Source of Communication: People speak different languages in different provinces. However, Urdu is spoken and understood in all provinces of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s official language is Urdu, which is also one of India’s official languages. Urdu’s literary tradition is very rich, with poetry and prose being written since the 17th century and the 19th century, respectively. Strategically, Urdu is a vitally important language in the region.

Pakistan needs to unify on certain main aspects. And language could be the best channel in order to address issues that need a different outlook on societal level. Urdu literature has proved it again and again, and it holds the depth to address the ongoing situation of Pakistan.

Learning the Urdu language allows you to gain access to other languages in the region. For one thing, it is closely related to Hindi, so you’ll have a head start in this language if ever you want to pursue it after learning Urdu.

Role in Pakistan Movement: In the early stages of Pakistan Movement, Urdu was the most favored language. Urdu created unity among the people. Many Muslim leaders like Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Abdul Majeed Sindhi, Allama Iqbal, Hasrat Mohani, Allama Shibli Nomani, Quaid-e-Azam and many others favored Urdu.

First use of Urdu

Ghulam Hamadani Mushafi used the term Urdu for the first time in 1780. It used to be called Hindi from the 13th to the 18th centuries. However, Urdu was also called other names, like Dehlavi and Hindavi. In written form, it used the Persian script that Hindus and Muslims used. The practice continued until 1837 when Hindustani replaced Persian as the official language together with English.

Hindustani enjoyed patronage outside of the Indian subcontinent. Because India came under British rule, Hindustani was well promoted by the policies issued by the British to parry the focus on the Persian language.


It’s been said often that the British should learn to speak other languages, which is one of their weak points, considering that the country has international economic concerns.

If you are from any part of the West whose career goal is to be part of a multinational company that has multilingual staff, think of learning Urdu instead of learning German or French. It is not undermining the importance of German and French, but it is a fact that the number of students learning these languages is going down.

The new groups of languages students are most interested in are Portuguese, Urdu, Russian and Chinese. The UK projects that these four languages would be dominant in the very near future as the countries where these languages are spoken are foreseen to be the new world markets. Thus, they are encouraging more students to learn any of these languages. Other South Asian languages that are gaining interest include Punjabi, Gujarati and Bengali.

Just imagine. Learning Urdu will help you to learn other South Asian languages, which could be a very distinct advantage. You can work for a global company, teach or become a translator. It would be easier for you to study a host of regional languages, including Sindhi, Pashto, Punjabi, Balochi and Kurdish.

In the United States, the U.S. Department of Education and Department of State provide scholarship grants to study Urdu through the Foreign Language and Area Studies and Critical Language Scholarship.

Aside from a career angle, knowing Urdu would allow you to understand the rich literary gems from the Indian subcontinent and fully enjoy the movies produced by Bollywood, which is the biggest film producer in the world.

Benefits of learning the Urdu Language

While we are mentioning the many positives, you can gain from learning Urdu, still a lot more benefits are forthcoming.

Learning Urdu helps improve your cognitive abilities. It trains your brain and keeps it strong and healthy. The introduction of new grammatical rules, new vocabulary, new sentence structures and forming new words are good exercises for the brain.

It increases your skills set. Globalization diminishes the boundaries among countries. In order to survive the new environment, it is important to improve your set of skills, to have a market edge and more job chances.

As mentioned, India and Pakistan have rich histories and learning Urdu will open the doors to fascinating, mystical and intriguing cultures – from their age-old practices, traditions, values and norms. You’ll be able to read classic literature from the 14th century. You could read over 4,000 journals, understand shows from 74 TV stations and 70 radio stations.

Neuroscientists say that that the graphic structure and sound system that are unique to the Urdu language activates the front part of the brain. This helps improve your analytical skills and heighten your capacity for making decisions.

As you can see, a surplus of advantages can be gained from learning Urdu. Gaining access to other languages and learning the culture of India and Pakistan.

Unfortunately, in our country the craze of English language is at its peak. Our national language is Urdu, yet we lend so much importance to English.

Japan, China, Germany, Korea and Russia they all are well developed countries but they do not know English. If one wants to work in these countries then it is mandatory for them to learn their local languages.

Development does not mean that everyone in your country is communicating in English development can be achieve by generating an environment of local language, and if we keep promoting the language of other countries then the day is not far away when we will forget our culture along with our language and will be following cultures of other countries.

Our Perspective?

Much to your dismay, this is exactly what many people lack to understand, unknowingly we citizens have gradually accepted western cultures that have completely transformed our lifestyle.

Ever pondered over the fact why a person talking in English is considering most honorable in our society? There are so many English learning institutes in Pakistan they all are busy in teaching ’English’ language to the local people – Why has our society stereotyped people; why do people judge a person’s caliber and personality depending on how fluently he/she can converse in English. The undue importance to ‘English’ language will ultimately decay our nation’s own identity. It’s about time that people realize and empower generations to come, accordingly.

Most Pakistanis have been brought up speaking our national language Urdu and English. Instead of conversing in Urdu, many of us lapse into English during everyday conversation. Even people who do not speak English very well try their best to sneak in a sentence or two, considering it pertinent for their acceptance in the ‘cooler’ crowd.

Am sure we all can relate how every 9 out of 10 people boast about conversing in English, just because it makes you look ‘YO!’? Since childhood, kids are encouraged to focus more on English, considering Urdu – our national language to be secondary in importance. How is this even justified for a Pakistani living in Pakistan?

I wonder where the trend started, but unknowingly, unconsciously, somehow or the other we all get sucked into the trap. It was not until a few years ago while on a college trip to Turkey that I realized the misgivings of our innocent jabber.

In a society where your literacy skills are being tested, by the way you speak English, I did nothing but to secure myself in the society and well, who doesn’t like to be called well-educated by just speaking good English.

If we look at all our universities combined, there’s English everywhere and if someone doesn’t know it, he or she has to learn it first. So, it means to get an education first you have to learn the language that’s other than your national language. Does this give you a sense of studying in your homeland?

Well, we always wonder why as a nation we aren’t that united. Do we not know about the barriers that are causing it? Is a language other than the language of our country not causing a barrier? What if I tell you the literacy rate in Ghana is 80% and people speaking English is only one-third of the population?

Why is it that when we go to countries like Germany, Italy or France they tell us to learn their language or you’ll face difficulties communicating? Do we say the same thing to a person who enters our country? No, because we ourselves are not speaking it on a formal basis.

We are happier to do what others are comfortable with because we want to be them. We don’t speak Urdu because we say English will represent us in the best way, then read this statement by our Quaid and I quote:

Quaid-e-Azam used to speak little Urdu but by then he knew the importance of it. A person is known by the culture he follows so is Urdu not in our culture? and if it is then why do we feel shame in speaking it? Is Urdu just better for identifying or unifying us? Why not learn many languages but to speak in what you’re born with?

You no longer have to tell your Prime minister to speak Urdu in UN, let’s tell everyone what our culture really is. Together we can break the language barrier and start giving respect to Urdu the way it deserves, after all, we are Pakistani’s and we always will be.

I respect how these countries value their sense of identity, culture and language. I was deeply ashamed of what image I was unknowingly portraying of my country. I am very proud of Pakistan and Urdu, as I am sure we all are. No matter the problems, it is still our identity. I understand the irony of this article, since it is written in English.

For a solution, it’s always necessary to attack the problem and not the person.

Urdu is a beautiful and graceful language and we owe our country the respect it deserves by speaking and portraying our true roots.


About author

Rava Desk

Rava is an online news portal providing recent news, editorials, opinions and advice on day to day happenings in Pakistan.


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