The story of language

 
February 25, 2020

International Mother Language Day was celebrated this past Friday across the world and in Pakistan. At schools and colleges students delivered speeches or put on short skits, while the issue of...

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International Mother Language Day was celebrated this past Friday across the world and in Pakistan. At schools and colleges students delivered speeches or put on short skits, while the issue of language was also discussed at a variety of forums and other platforms as happens each year. In Pakistan dozens of languages are spoken, aside from the six major languages – Punjabi, Pashto, Urdu, Seraiki, Sindhi and Balochi. It is sad that we only rarely hear many of the less common languages outside the regions where they are still in use. It is sadder still that colleges and universities in the country often do not teach courses in the more obscure languages, Shina, Balti, Hindko, Kashmiri or the many others with strong historical roots of their own. These languages help understand the culture and ideas of those that have spoken them for generations within their communities.

But what is perhaps more significant about International Mother Language Day in our country is that very few are aware of its roots and the reasons why February 21 was declared International Day of Mother Languages by Unesco. We should know. The roots lie in events that took place in the territory that then made up Pakistan in 1952. At that time the language spoken by the majority of the country which existed as two separate territories with a western and eastern wing was Bangla. On February 21 that year, students in Dhaka seeking recognition for Bangla alongside Urdu as a mother language were tear gassed and some killed as a result of shooting by security personnel. This event triggered further outrage in the then East Pakistan.

It is unfortunate that we have forgotten the origins of the day we mark in ignorance. They are a reminder that we need to embrace the diversity of our country and recognize the variety that exists within it as something that we seek to promote rather than quash. This is important not just for the sake of culture but also for the sake of historical knowledge and for harmony within our federation. Mother Language Day then should not just consist of children being asked to list the major languages of the country or being told that Urdu is their mother tongue. It should also be a day when we ask ourselves more complex questions and remember that when the language of the people is not accepted or honoured they feel belittled and may as a result resort to violence that can only damage unity and peace.



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