Regional languages get left behind in an era where everything is about instant and rapid global exchanges. Perhaps such shifts alienate populations which desire to preserve their indigenous traditions and values, especially in countries such as Pakistan which is fractured along ethnocentric lines.
Linguists, researchers, writers and activists all stressed the need to recognise native languages, as International Mother Language Day was observed worldwide on February 21. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) initiated this annual celebration of linguistic and cultural diversity in 1999.
According to some experts, there are around 60 languages spoken in Pakistan, 30 of which are spoken in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan.
“It is a good omen that after the passage of the 18th Amendment, the government decided to provide primary education in the mother language,” former chairman of the Pashto Department, University of Peshawar and researcher Raj Wali Khattak told The Express Tribune.
He added there was a need to fill the gap and protect minority languages in order to “safeguard indigenous wisdom of the nation”.
“It is a tough challenge and this is a critical stage to implement the move, in letter and spirit, as we live in a mixed society,” he stressed. “The government will have to make drastic changes in government institutions.”
Khattak said there was a lack of research centres to study and promote Pashto and other languages. “This is not a matter of concern for just one language – all languages are special and are our cultural assets.”
“Such centres will document and promote languages for the restoration of peace, cultural diversity and national harmony.”
Regional languages are rapidly disappearing, which is a matter of concern, noted Khattak. “Even most educated parents do not speak to their children in their mother tongues, which is contributing to the swift extinction of these languages.”
Speaking about the internal displacement of people from Swat and Waziristan to the settled regions, Khattak said: “We cannot ignore the positive aspects of this displacement as the people who came across knew a variety of regional dialects.”
The day is commemorated in memory of February 21, 1952 when students demonstrated for the recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of Pakistan. Many of these students were shot and killed by the police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.
“We need to learn from the past and concentrate on measures to preserve our languages, especially the less-spoken ones, to avoid any further disintegration,” Khattak added.
“Pakistan came into being on the basis of religion and disintegrated due to the clash on languages,” said researcher Aqeel Yousafzai.
Yousafzai opposed the idea of teaching the academic curriculum in Pashto. According to him, such a move would make it hard for the region’s youth to compete internationally.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 22nd, 2013.