Urdu vs English: Are we ashamed of our language?

Unknowingly, unconsciously, somehow or the other we all get sucked into the English-speaking trap.

Amna Khalid June 21, 2011
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.

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.

A group of students of the LUMS Cultural Society trip went to Istanbul, Turkey to mark the 100th Anniversary of the famous Sufi poet Rumi. One day we were exploring the city when we stopped at a café for lunch. The waiter took our orders, and continued to hover around our table during the meal. We barely noticed him until he came with the bill, and asked us:
"Where are you from?"


The waiter looked surprised, and then asked whether we had been brought up in England. We answered in the negative, telling him how Pakistan was where we all had grown up and spent out lives. The waiter genuinely looked perplexed now. Finally he blurted out:
‘Then why don’t you speak in the Pakistani language?’

The waiter went on to explain how Turkey, particularly Istanbul was a hot tourist location, luring millions of people of different nationalities from across the globe. However, when the Dutch would come visit, they would speak Dutch. When the French would come, they would speak French. When the Chinese would come visit, they would speak Chinese. Similarly everyone in Turkey spoke Turkish. He claimed he was very proud of his language and culture and failed to understand how someone would not speak the language of their country and choose instead a foreign tongue.

There were around ten of us there, and we were all at a loss of an answer. We had never thought of it that way. It was just something that you took up because of society. Even when people speak in Urdu, they tend to include a lot of English words in their sentences. Why is that? Is it because we are not proud of our national language? I am sure all of us are aware of how beautiful Urdu is, the poetry, grace and rhythm of our language is exceptional.

One excuse that springs to mind is the concept of ‘ westernisation’ due to the increased pace of globalization in todays world. Globalization is a factor, and yet the Japanese still speak Japanese, the Thai still speak Thai, the Greeks still speak Greek. China, a powerhouse on the global economic front, despite its many factories and western products production still speaks Chinese. In fact when the Chinese Olympics were held in 2008, the Chinese government actually had to ask its Chinese public to learn a few basic English words to help welcome the world.

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. However, it is one way to reach those people who may unconsciously be making the same mistake as I was.

When living in the UK or travelling abroad, I make sure I use Urdu to converse with fellow Pakistanis. At home, I am also trying, though it is admittedly difficult since apparently there is a weird and honestly ‘sad’ association of how ‘cool’, well brought-up and educated a person is with the amount of English he or she speaks. I write this article because it is high time we break such ignorant patterns in our society. Urdu is a beautiful and graceful language and we owe our country the respect it deserves by speaking and portraying our true roots.

Kiya khayal hai?
Amna Khalid An economics major from LUMS, with a MSc in financial economics from Cardiff University. Khalid currently works in London. She blogs at http://surreallist.blogspot.com/
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


amir khan | 12 years ago | Reply Our language urdu is not so rich in words. I think nearly 99.9% modern gadgets and inventions are in English and used exactly the same word in urdu. Urdu is not our language, it was imposed by us by our lakhnow rulers came from India. Our languages are Punjabi, Sindhi, Hindko, baluchis, phushto etc. Indian got nearly 20 languages as their national language but they communicate in English and not in their regional’s languages. They give importance to their regional languages but prefer English as communication language. In Pakistan, we all the time shouting about Urdu as our national language but just for poor people. And we don’t do anything to educate poor people. English is only for rich people. We cannot move in society without using English words, for example there is no more MUNSHI, we have now chartered accountant in offices. We don’t keep money in matkas but we keep in banks. We got hospitals, doctors, engineers, calculators, operation, ultra sound, cancer, sugar, car, dash board, steering, mats, ac tape recorder, dish, manager, station ,etc. in every path of life English is much rooted in us that we cannot move without English. Hasan Nisar very clearly tells us the importance of English in his column (http://www.choraha.net/index.php/badban/world-of-inventors)
S.Siddiqui | 12 years ago | Reply @Manoj: You are wrong. Acknowledging the Muslim past is what has brought out Pakistan, it has created clarity and the way the subcontinent's history has moved in the last century is becuase it was India that refused to acknowledge its Muslim past. The real reason why it chose to replace Urdu with Hindi, which had to pretensions to being imnposed as a court/offcial language. And 60 years of pouring in resources have proved it. i hope you'll agree. As for this Naipaulian outlook on Pakistan, let me tell you, Pakistan does not deny Indua Valley past, just that it is antiquated has no direct continuous link like the Muslim past, that reinforces Pakistan's identity as an amalgam and sysnthesis of middle eastern and Indian culture, that you can say is what Urdu is as distinct from hindi! And what would you say about Indians who create pseudo links with some'invading Aryans, with a chocolate brown skin of varying hues. How is India - Aryan, dear Manoj, with the caste system segregating the brown brahmin from the even darker non brahmin? I was actually awaiting your response when this thread was fresh last month, but you chose to respond after a gap of a week, and by then, I had stopped following it, and it was accidentally that I rediscovered this page, hence this response. I would be glad if you could read this!
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