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Urdu Language Controversy

Urdu Language Controversy

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Published by: Madiha Imran on Mar 15, 2010
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The Urdu-English Controversy in PakistanTARIQ RAHMAN
Source: Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 31, No. 1 (Feb.,1997), pp. 177-207Published by: Cambridge University PressStable URL:http://www.jstor.org/stable/312861Accessed: 02/02/2010 00:53
I. Introduction:
Pakistan is an ideologically inspired state and Urdu was a part of this ideology. During the development of Muslimseparatism in British India it had become a symbol of Muslim identity and was the chief rival of Hindi, the symbol of Hindu identity(Brass, 1974: 119- 81.
 Thus, after partition it was not surprising that the Muslim League still considered it the unifying symbol for Pakistanis who belonged to different linguistic and ethnic groups. But Urdu was opposed by the supporters of Bengali even before the partition in 1937 when the delegates from Bengal opposed the idea of making Urdu the lingua franca of Muslim India in the Lucknow
References to books and documents are given in the bibliography. Some frequently occurring references to magazines andnewspapers are parenthetically embedded in the text. When the name of the publication is not given in full, the followingabbreviations will identify it.D Dawn (Karachi), English daily.J Jang (Karachi), Urdu daily.M Muslim (Islamabad), English daily.MN Morning News (Karachi), English daily. N Nation (Lahore), English daily. NW Nawai Waqt (Lahore), Urdu daily.PT Pakistan Times (Lahore), English daily.A Note on Transcription:Commonly used names of people and places have been spelt as they are spelt either by the people themselves or inconventional contemporary English orthography (e.g. Bhutto, Lahore and Pakistan, etc.). The system given below, therefore, is onlyrelevant for transliteration from Pakistani languages.The system is meant to give an approximate pronunciation and is not rigorously phonetic. In fact, phonetic symbols have not been used except to explain the sounds given by the Roman letters (and diacritical marks) given below. Letters representing soundscommon to English and Urdu as well as combinations of sounds (such as diphthongs) have been excluded.International PhoneticSymbol ExampleAlphabet (IPA) Symbols Used/a:/a sharp/e:/ as in /ze:/ (sea) e German long 'e' as in /ze:/= sea/e/ e short form of the above
session of the League (Sayeed, 1968: 206). After partition the Bengali movement became highly politicized in 1948 and in 1952 thestate tried to suppress it by force (Murshid, 1985: 233-55). In the western wing, too, language was an issue in the rise of ethno-nationalistic movements though it was mainly in the case of Sindhi that the opposition to Urdu became violent. Even so, the Urdu-Sindhi riots of January 1970 and July 1972 were the response of the supporters of Urdu to what they thought was an effort to dislodgethem from their position and make Sindhis dominant (Amin, 1988: 126). Other ethno- nationalist movements, too, opposed Urdu as asymbol of the Centre's unifying policies (Amin, 1988) though in the case of the Siraiki Movement the opposition was to Punjabi(Shackle, 1985). Although the Punjabi elite was stigmatized as the oppressor, being the major partner in the ruling elitist group, thePunjabi language movement, like other language movements, opposed Urdu as a symbol of the ruling elite (Kammi, 1988; Zaman,1988). Apart from Shameem Abbas's article on the role of English in Pakistan (Abbas, 1993), which focuses on the teaching of English and its power in the country, there are only a few references to the ethno-nationalist linguistic opposition to Urdu in Shackle(1970; 1979) and Amin (1988). The rest of the literature on the use of Urdu in Pakistan is in the form of newspaper articles, propagandist pamphlets and highly polemical and methodologically unreliable books. Some of them are, indeed, part of the pro-Urducampaign by such official institutions as the National Language Authority, because of which they articulate only the official language policy (Kamran, 1992). Other books, especially by supporters of Urdu, invoke simplistic conspiracy theories for explaining theopposition to Urdu. One of them is that the elitist supporters of English have always conspired to protect it in their self-interest; theother that ethno-nationalists, supported by foreign governments, communists and anti-state agents, oppose Urdu (Abdullah, 1976;Barelvi 1987). While such assertions may be partly true, the defect of the publications is that no proof is offered in support of them.Dental sounds (as used in French) are shown by putting the following diacritical marks below them: d, t. Nasalization of vowels is shown by writing n after them. The diacritic (-) above the n will help to distinguishnasalization from the normal /n/ sound.Retroflexion is shown by putting a dot under the letter which stands for the sound, e.g. r is retroflexed /r/.
II. Aim:
The aim of this article is to provide an objective account of the English-Urdu controversy in Pakistan with a view todetermining the political aspects of this controversy. Specifically the following sugges- tions are made:/i./ i beat (ee)/1/i bit
/u:/ a boot/u/ u put/A/ a but/o:/ o cardinal vowel as in Scottish English boat/tf/ ch church/x/ kh loch as in Scottish English/X/ gh Afghanistan (voiced uvular fricative asin Persian and Pashto pronunciationof the above)/d3/ j iudge
1. The ruling elite has ostensibly supported Urdu because of its integrative value as a symbol of Pakistani, asopposed to ethnic, iden- tity. This wins the elite the support of the urban middle class and enables it to consolidate its power in the provinces.2. In this capacity, however, Urdu is opposed by the ethno- nationalistic proto-elites of the provinces who perceive itto be the symbol of Punjabi dominance and counter it through the symbolic appeal of their own languages.3. The ruling elite as a whole supports the continued use of English in formal official domains because it ensures itssocial dis- tinction from the non-elite; facilitates the entry of members of its own class, including the younger generation, into elitist positions and increases the possibility of opening up the international job market. This support is covert, comes from people inunofficial positions and is opposed to declared governmental policy.
III. Methodology:
This article uses the analytical-empirical methodology to analyse the political dimension of the Urdu-English controversy.Using the general framework of the theory of elite rule (Pareto, 1935; Mosca, 1939; Mills, 1956), the controversy is seen as part of theconflict for power and resources between the ruling elite and the proto-elite. The ruling elite, defined as that group which takes or influences 'the major decisions' (Parry, 1969: 59-63) comprises the feudal lords, the military, the bureaucracy and business magnates.
Some members of the upper strata of these elites directly make or influence decisions. The anglicized elite, which uses English withnatural ease and fluency, is part of this class though is not necessarily dominant in every government. However, since even those of itsmembers who were themselves educated in the vernacular feel that English is advantageous for them socially and economically, theytend to favour it in reality. As such, for definitional purposes, all members of the elite are categorized as the anglicized elite.
The proto-elite,
defined as those who 'are (or feel) excluded from the power and influence they covet' (Fishman,1972: 15) are gener- ally those lower middle and middle-class people from the Punjab, the Urdu-speaking mahajirs of Urban Sindhand the urban areas of other parts of Pakistan who believe that the replacement of English by Urdu would facilitate the entry of theless affluent Urdu-educated people of their class into elitist positions.It appears to me, however, that the PE and the RE are not elites in the sense of being the actual possessors of power as aclass. The RE has never actually held power and possesses what can be termed as influence. Even this has increased only since 1977when the PNA made an alliance to oppose Z. A. Bhutto. The PE, which has held 39.5% of the powerful posts, has not held power as aclass. This is conceded by Hussain who agrees that it is weaker than the ME and explains the position as follows: 'For the post of lawminister the governing elite always sought men who would rationalize, justify or legalize the political policies of the regime as
For definitions of elite, power and influence in the context of Pakistan, I have followed Hussain (1979: 34-5). Hussain gives the following representations of dif-ferent elite groups-counting presidents, prime ministers, governors-general, mar- tial law administrators and central cabinet ministers-who have been ruling Pakis- tan between 1947 and 1978:1949-58 1958-69 1969-71 1971-77 1977-78 Total % of TotalLE* 40 10 26 4 62 25.2BE 15 19 2 0 4 40 16.2RE o o o 1 o 1 0.4IE 7 2 2 1 1 13 5-3PE 52 27 4 104 97 39.5ME 1 12 9 o 11 33 13.4TOTAL 115 70 19 18 24 246 100.0(* L stands for landed; B for bureaucratic; R=Religious; I = Industrial; P= Professional and M = Military. From Hussain, 1979: 36.)
The terms anglicized elite and the Urdu proto-elite are not used in any other political analysis. However, as La Porte points out, 'a synthesis of severalstudies' perceives the 'ruling elite' to be 'Western-oriented and Western-schooled' (1975: 12). As there is no empirical study on the schooling of the ruling elites, it isdiffiult to be definitive in this matter. It is, however, certain that English is a status symbol and marker of affluence, cultured upbringing and modernity.
The term proto-elite is not used by Hussain, nor by other writers in Pakistan (La Porte, 1975; Amin, 1988), but it is useful for explaining the RE's as wellas the ethno-nationalist leaders' desire for taking direct power from the ruling elites

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