The cyber world giant, Google, rarely stays out of the news. It has recently launched what is being counted as its first philanthropic effort, a website to help save endangered languages around the world. Experts rate that out of around 7,000 languages currently spoken, nearly half could become endangered by the end of the century. The cultural diversity this would remove from our midst — in a world that, in many ways, is growing narrower by the day, largely as a result of globalisation brought to us through TV and the internet — is frightening to contemplate.
In this context, the Google initiative is interesting, with an especially designed website to be set up for this. Only time will tell how successful this effort will be. It is uncertain how languages can be promoted, given that the issue is such a delicate one, with many aspects of life, mindsets and thinking involved. Naturally, a website alone cannot achieve this, but it may well help create awareness about the matter and bring together experts from around the world to examine and comment on the issues involved.
The matter of language is very relevant to Pakistan. This is a country which has faced language riots over the question of what its national language should be during the early years of its history. Even today, language deeply divides people in a nation where many barely-known dialects are spoken, some with no script of their own. The issue of language is so wrapped up in all kinds of beliefs that some experts have warned in the years to come that even Punjabi — the language spoken by the majority of Pakistanis — may become an endangered one. The reasons for this are simple. Because of the notions created by politicians, which link up to ideas of inferiority and class, it is said that Punjabi speakers, it is said, are less and less willing to speak the language with their children. Censuses conducted show that many parents instead opt to speak Urdu with their children — and, of course, we have elevated English to a position of superiority, which makes it even harder for the local languages to find their place in the country today.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 23rd, 2012.
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