ISLAMABAD: Linguists, researchers and experts have called for preserving, safeguarding and promoting regional languages not only for inclusive and community-based development, but also to save them from dying, as they are the sole transmitter of culture, tradition and distinctive human characteristics.
Speakers at a session titled ‘Endangered Languages of Pakistan’, part of the Pakistan Mother Languages Literature Festival, lamented the apathy of the state and its institutions which have done nothing to preserve, safeguard and promote regional languages. The languages in question include Hindko, Kashmiri, Torwali, Khowar, Shina, Burushaski, Balti, Wakhi, Pahari, Hazaragi and numerous other languages that were facing immediate extinction.
They stressed that promotion of a national narrative in a particular language had overshadowed regional languages.
UNESCO Country Representative Vibeke Jensen said the organisation works with the government and local partners to safeguard the country’s rich heritage, including regional languages to promote cultural diversity, peace and sustainable development.
“Protecting and promoting regional languages and safeguarding diversity will safeguard our societies,” she said.
“New and innovative solutions should be introduced through regional languages to face the challenges faced by the world,” Jensen said, adding that around 70 regional languages are spoken across Pakistan and that some 28 languages were severely endangered. “Intangible cultural heritage is passed through a language, by losing it, we lose contacts,” she explained.
Zubair Torwali, who spoke on the Torwali language, said in upper parts of Swat including Bahrain, Madian, Malam Jaba, said that until recently, Torwali-speakers considered their language inferior and would not speak it in Pashtoon-dominated areas. He said that due to the efforts of some local linguists and private partners, they have been able to not only preserve it, but also promote it. He said that now over 3,000 university and college students use Torwali with their names, and they do not feel ashamed of their language and identity.
Speaking about Hazaragi, spoken in certain parts of Quetta and Afghanistan, Ali Toorani said the language was fast losing a younger generation of speakers, due to the heavy incorporation of words from Urdu and English. He added that Radio Pakistan runs a bulletin in Hazaragi only to promote politics.
Dr Khawaja Abdul Rehman, who spoke on Pahari and Kashmiri, said pluralistic and tolerance-promoting Kashmiri literature was fast dying, as its older generation had failed to transfer the language to its youth. He said that after a few decades, not a single Kashmiri-speaking person will be found in Muzaffarabad, He said that Kashmiri literature was under severe threat of extinction, and that this had led to chaos and intolerance within its society.
Prof Aslam Nadeem, who spoke on Burushaski, spoken in Yasin, Hunza and Nagar in Gilgit-Baltistan, said that though the language was a member of an isolated family of languages, it has large number of speakers. He said that the younger generations of Burushaski speakers know only 70 to 80 words of the language.
Hassan Hasrat, who spoke on Balti, spoken in Skardu, Baltistan, Ladakh, Kargil and some parts of China and Bhutan, said that no government institute existed in the region to promote the language. He called for introducing curriculum and software in regional languages to encourage and promote local languages.
Abdul Khaliq Taj, who spoke on Shina, spoken in large parts of Gilgit-Baltistan, said that though the language was not facing immediate extinction, the young generation speaks it with an amalgamation of Urdu and English words. He said that without losing original words of a language, new words should be welcomed if a language has no particular word for a new invention or a device.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2016.