“We are trying to teach English to our younger generations at the expense of our national language without realising that our development does not depend on English. All the developed countries in the world, including China and Japan, have risen while they upheld their languages.”
NED University Vice Chancellor Dr Sarosh Hashmat Lodi expressed these views on Sunday at the Urdu Bagh, the office of the Anjuman Taraqqi-e-Urdu, on the concluding day of the two-day Abdul Haq Conference.
The conference, which featured addresses of notable academics and literary personalities on issues related to Urdu, was organised by the Anjuman to commemorate the 100 years of the research periodical ‘Urdu’ that was first launched by Baba-e-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq in 1921.
The last session of the conference featured speeches by Dr Lodi, veteran journalist Mahmood Shaam, academic Dr Uzma Farman and scholar Dr Anwaar Ahmad, who had come from Multan to attend the conference and who also presided over the session.
Dr Lodi said he did not consider himself eligible to speak at the conference because he could not talk purely in Urdu. He quipped that our younger generations were well-versed in neither English nor Urdu because they only loved to speak without bothering to read or write anything.
He said that although Urdu was officially neglected, it could not be ignored because it was the language everyone understood and it was the very fact that had been prompting university teachers to impart education in Urdu.
He also said university teachers, even though they had to use the English jargon, were forced to communicate in Urdu because they themselves were not very good in English and their students would understand better if they communicated in Urdu.
He recalled that the Osmania University of Hyderabad Deccan had initiated translating the technical jargon of various fields into Urdu, but that work had been lost somewhere. He stressed the need for doing the same in the present era.
The NED vice chancellor said if Urdu manuscripts were scanned and made digitally accessible, a major problem was that no one could search for any word because the computer treated those pages as images.
He said that the technical term for enabling the computer to recognise individual words in those image files was ‘optical character recognition’ (OCR), and various languages, including Sindhi, had their OCR software developed.
Dr Lodi stressed the need for collaboration between organisations, such as the Anjuman, and the academia so that an OCR software could be developed for Urdu. Earlier, Dr Uzma spoke on the situation of Urdu across the world. She said that as the migration of Urdu-speaking people to Europe, North America, and Australia and New Zealand continued, the language found new homes.
She pointed out that in Canada and the United States, there were various job opportunities for Urdu translators, but many of them required a degree in translation, which, unfortunately, no Pakistani university had been offering.
She explained that the US had made a test for Urdu on the pattern of TOEFL, and based on its score, people who knew Urdu could get jobs as translators and interpreters for parent-teacher meetings in schools to state organisations.
Shaam, and later Dr Ahmad as well, made a point that the insistence of a particular ethnic group that they be identified as Urdu-speaking people actually harmed the cause of Urdu. The two speakers maintained that it gave the impression that Urdu was only the language of a particular community, not the entire country, thereby damaging its stature as the national language of Pakistan.
Shaam quipped that Urdu was an oppressed language because we had accorded it the status of our national language without giving it the due respect. He, however, said that being the lingua franca of the country, no major businesses of Pakistan could dispense with Urdu.
The veteran journalist termed the development of Urdu typing a landmark achievement. He also paid rich tributes to Ahmed Jamil Mirza, the creator of the first digital font of Urdu, and Jang Group founder Mir Khalil-ur-Rahman, who bought the digital font after paying a hefty sum and shifted the publication of Jang on it, paving the way for the extensive use of Urdu in the digital era.
Dr Ahmad’s speech covered how we as a nation had failed the cause of Urdu. He recalled that once there were chairs of Urdu in universities of 17 countries where Pakistani academics were deputed by the government. However, when the embassies were asked to curtail their budget, they slashed those Urdu chairs.
The scholar also wisely stated that languages could never be imposed because they were defined by their speakers. “Propagate the national language, don’t impose it” was his advice.
The session was moderated by Dr Yasmeen Sultana Farooqi. In her introductory remarks, she said Maulvi Abdul Haq was well ahead of his time when he launched ‘Urdu’ as a research periodical.
She explained that after its intermittent publication over the years, ‘Urdu’ was now a biannual research journal recognised by the Higher Education Commission in its Y Category. She said the editorial board of the periodical was making efforts to improve its rank and bring it to the W Category.
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