Since the beginning of human history, humans, also known as social animals, depend on each other. In order to meet these needs of dependencies, we need to communicate with each other. Languages play an important role in building communication and interaction. Urdu is one of these languages, a lingua franca, and the national language of Pakistan, which is witnessing its decline.
The word “Urdu” itself is a Turkish word that means army. Urdu has borrowed words from languages like Prakrit, Sanskrit, Persian, and Arabic. Arabic influence can most clearly be observed after the Muslim rule over the subcontinent. Urdu is not just spoken in Pakistan; in fact, it is spoken in many different countries like India, Bangladesh, and in Middle East countries.
The Urdu Language is an Indo-Aryan language that is spoken by over 10 million people. The language is dominant in Pakistan and India and is spoken by large communities in the United Kingdom, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates (Day Translations, 2019). If any nation loses its identity and culture, it becomes very difficult for the nation to stay independent.
For Pakistan, the Urdu language like any other language is a core component of its culture and is associated with its tradition. “If we are to survive, to continue on and to exist as a people with a distinct and unique culture, then we have to have a language.” (Nuwer para.11). Urdu, like any other language, is a building block of our nation’s culture and identity, but Urdu has seen a decline in usage and popularity in Pakistan.
The importance of Urdu cannot be overlooked. It played a very important role before independence by uniting people from different regions, religions, races, and ethnicities. This idea of creating unity and harmony among different people through a language was highly supported by the leaders at that time including Shibli Nomani, Hasrat Mohani, Allama Iqbal, and Altaf Husain Hali.
Urdu was used to deliver speeches to increase the zeal and zest of the general public. A huge number of poetry, short stories, and essays were being written for the betterment of people and to guide those who were striving for a separate homeland.
“For Pakistan’s founders, Urdu was to be the glue cementing together the new country. The pre-partition Muslim League rejected suggestions that English, Hindi or Hindustani be the official language of undivided India.” (Hoodbhoy). Unfortunately, today what we lack as a nation is unity and harmony, and Urdu can play a key role in building unity and cohesion.
Urdu has very rich literature and is an example of remarkable text and writings. From the short stories of Sadat Hassan Manto, Ghulam Abbas, and Ashfaq Ahmed to novels of Bano Qudsia, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, and Mumtaz Mufti; from poems of Jaun Elia, Ahmed Fraz, and Allama Iqbal to ghazals of Haider Ali Atish, Jiagar Muradabadi, and Mir Taqi Mir, and much more, Urdu literature has variety and impressive content to offer. We cannot, therefore, neglect the fact that our language is as significant and reputable as any other language.
Different observations, facts, and figures prove that the use and popularity of the Urdu language have declined in the last few decades in Pakistan. Starting from the general observations, we mispronounce quite a lot of Urdu words in our daily usage for example ‘mitti’ (mud), ‘bohut’ (sufficient), ‘subah’ (dawn).
According to the information on the website of Eduvision, the first Pakistani educational consultancy organization, only 82 universities in Pakistan offer a degree in the Urdu language, which is BS Urdu, at the undergraduate level with no variation to offer. This is a very small number compared with other degrees being offered; for example, 144 universities across the country offer degrees in different types of engineering.
In an interview, Raza Ali Abdi, an Urdu journalist in England, said that “…Urdu-language teachers are regarded as inferior to their colleagues who teach English. For instance, an Urdu teacher is nearly never made a class teacher. It is small wonder, then, that children no longer want to study the Urdu language.” There are almost no steps taken to engage and develop an interest in the study of Urdu.
The situation is further worsened by how parents react differently to their child’s performance in different subjects as they are more interested in better performance in sciences and other courses than in Urdu. “Most parents just don’t think there is any need to do well in Urdu. So much so, that some parents will be quite alright with their child being unable to read the headline of an Urdu newspaper.” (“National Language: Dying Urdu).
Misuse of language in politics, extremist attitudes, technological advancements, and our obsession with the English language are the most prominent and highlighted reasons for the decline in the usage and popularity of the Urdu language in Pakistan. As mentioned in a journal The Problem of Urdu Language and Script, “It has been a misfortune that Urdu has been a toy in the hands of the politicians, who neither cared to know the circumstances of its birth nor had the capacity to understand its mixed structure.” (Khan 2).
The Urdu language has always been targeted by extremist non-Muslims; they consider it to be solely a language of Muslims solely, but that is not the case and it is just a misconception. Although there is a huge proportion of Muslim Urdu writers and poets who have contributed to the content of Urdu literature, there are many prominent non-Muslim writers as well such as Munshi Praam Chand, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Rajindar Singh Bade, and Krishan Chander, among others.
“In the making of Urdu language and in development of its literature, all communities have their shares. If the Muslims have enriched it with the books of religion and ethics and written books of commentary and popular exegesis in it, the Hindus have employed it for similar purposes.”(Lall).
Similarly, another extremist attitude towards the language comes from within different regions of Pakistan. It is believed that Urdu is the reason for the downfall of regional languages and therefore learning Urdu will further erode the existence of these languages. Unquestionably, regional languages are important and hold a unique identity and should not be undermined but the Urdu language, which itself is in a crippled position, can do no harm to any other language.
The developments in the world of software, digital media, and communication have driven the youth away from the Urdu language. This is because most of these applications are in English. Another very key factor that is playing a role in the decline of the Urdu language is our obsession with the English language. English is an international language and one of the official languages of Pakistan. This obsession has given birth to a new trend which is the blending and mixing of Urdu and English. People tend to use both English and Urdu words in a sentence. In reality, we do justice to neither.
While advancement in the technological world was mentioned as a threat to the Urdu language, if proper use can be made, these advancements will prove to be beneficial. “Use of new technology for learning and promoting a language has been very successful experiment in the Western world we should also try it.” (Khizar, p. 146).
Similarly, providing soft copies of books, journals, articles, and other written materials can encourage and engage readers. Those who are already in the field of writing should write and promote what helps build a positive image of Urdu. The government needs to take steps by building high-quality educational institutions for Urdu languages; promoting language and access to different means which can help connect people and language.
The language issue is complex and hence it should be handled by competent and proficient people. “People who aren’t aware of the works of Yusufi, Insha, or at the very least have not gone over Zia Mohiuddin’s readings, should not get a say on what happens to the language.” (Abdurab, 2015).
- Abdi, Raza Ali. Sitting at Arts Council, Dawn News, 24 Sep 2005, 19 April 2019 https://www.dawn.com/news/158019/karachi-bbc-broadcaster-laments-decline-of-urdu-sitting-at-arts-council
- Abdurab, Adi. “The Death of Urdu the New Illiterate”, Dawn News, 21 May 2015, 16 April 2019 https://www.dawn.com/news/1183150
- Eduvision, “BS Urdu Universities and Colleges Pakistan” 2001 https://www.eduvision.edu.pk/institutions-offering-urdu-with-field-languages-at-bachelor-level-in-pakistan-page-1
- Hoodbhoy, Pervez. “Is Pakistan’s Problem Urdu?” Dawn News, 5 March 2016, 9 May 2019 https://www.dawn.com/news/1243652
- “Importance of Urdu as a National language” Awami Politics, 22 Feb 2012, 18 April 2019 https://www.awamipolitics.com/importance-of-urdu-as-a-national-language-2989.html
- Khan, Masud Hussain, “The Problem of Urdu Language and Script”. Indian Journal of Politics, Volume IV, 1970
- Khizar, Qaiyum. “Urdu aur Qaumi Ektah”, The Art Press, 1975
- LALL, INDER JIT. “Urdu: A Language of Composite Culture.” Indian Literature, vol. 19, no. 4, 1976, https://www.jstor.org/stable/24157278?read-now=1&seq=5#page_scan_tab_contents
- Lucus, Albert. “A World of Languages” https://www.visualcapitalist.com/a-world-of-languages/
- “National Language: Dying Urdu”. Inpaper Magazine, 2 Sep 2012, 14 April 2019 https://www.dawn.com/news/746290/national-language-dying-urdu
- Nuwer, Rachel. “Languages: Why we must Save Dying Tongues”, BBC Future, 6 June 2014, 9 May 2019 http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140606-why-we-must-save-dying-languages
- “The Importance of Studying the Urdu Language now”, Day Translations, 23 May 2018, 14 April 2019 https://www.daytranslations.com/blog/2018/05/the-importance-of-studying-the-urdu-language-now-11605/
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