Calling all language snobs

Do you avoid Urdu newspapers? Do you think in English? Have you used 'Urdu Medium' as an insult? Welcome to the club.

Nyda Ahmad November 27, 2010
A culture that does not respect, nay deems inferior, its mother tongue, the language of its forefathers is a culture whose native country is doomed to forever spiral the seventh circle of hell… and here we are!

Now, before I am ostracized and the townsfolk burn me at the stake, hear me out. I know on the blasphemy scale that statement would rate pretty high; insulting Pakistanis and being condescending towards religion in the same sentence? Sacrilege!

But even as you feel self righteously indignant I’m pretty sure a certain part of you is wondering if that’s why life might be so horrible. No, sadly, we can’t attribute all our problems to our inferiority complexes and wash our hands of the blame. We have many, many other faults.

Here’s a quiz to find out how much of a language snob you are (mentally check mark all that apply):

a)      You admit, with a little bit of pride intermingled with embarrassment, that you don’t know your entire Urdu alphabet.

b)      You think in some foreign language (English would constitute a foreign language)

c)      You hardly ever read Urdu newspapers or books

d)     Your music player rarely has an Urdu song

e)      When someone speaks broken English with a foreign accent it’s cute, not so much if it’s local

f)       You think ‘Urdu medium’ is quite the cutting insult

If you scored on any one of these questions, congratulations! You are a language snob! Welcome to the club, we have cookies, and not the local ones either!

Let’s treat the root cause instead of the symptoms though, shall we?

Urdu is a language rich with meaning, puns and subtlety. Its bastardised street version may be replete with dirty words that would make our moms blush but that’s mostly borrowed from our generous neighbors. So, why is it that street slang Urdu is embarrassing but slang English makes you hip? Why do we need to forever be oppressed under the tyranny of a master that still hasn’t quite left?

The speak we are talking

George Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind, the bit about how newspeak was slowly replacing oldspeak is particularly relevant. The language was being made high context and low context at the same time, where one word had several meanings but the undesirable ones denoting freedom of thought, resistance against an oppressive regime, individualism, democracy etc. were slowly weeded out and made obsolete, it came to the point where the masses were no longer capable of free thought, to a point where they found nothing ridiculous about the fact that the three party slogans:
Freedom is Slavery

Ignorance is Strength

War is Peace

To say language is a tool of communication is to grossly underestimate its potential. Language can be used to rally the troops, make the masses hunger for blood, put the fear of God in the enemy or to promote peace and love. Whatever use it’s put to, language has a profound impact on the senses.

We should learn to take pride in Urdu, learn to love, respect and cherish it. When used by an artisan no other language can beat its delicate intricacies and nuances.
Nyda Ahmad A masters student who is interested in music and literature
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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