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Politics on/of Language in Pakistan

Asha Sarangi

By Tariq Rahman
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 320, Rs. 450.00


The language question in Pakistan has remained a politically contested one since the creation of Pakistani state in 1947. In a multilingual society like Pakistan, language becomes an important marker of identity of various communities and groups of people. Language is not simply a communicative device but inhabits a distinctive worldview, a cultural symbol and a set of meanings. Tariq Rahman’s works on Pakistan have continued to inform us about issues of education, ethnicity, identity and community formation within the problematic of linguistic politics. The book under review examines various language movements, their historical development and variegated forms in various parts of Pakistan. Examining the ideology and power bases of these movements reveals to us the close connection between language and culture such as Bengali identity and not Islamic identity or Balochi and Sindhi identity against Urdu identity.   Rahman considers the category of language being important for understanding the problem of ethnicity in Pakistan. Urdu and Islam, in his view, have been used from time to time as ‘key symbols in constructing a sense of unity’ (p.2). On the other hand, the state support to Urdu as the national language has been countered by various other regional language groups who want their own languages to be recognized in the spheres of education, administration, economy and judiciary. The hegemonic status of English as a language of elite power and social prestige has been gradually accepted and used for purposes of economic and cultural mobility and status by the non-elite sections of the society as well. The colonial educational policies regarding the use of English and vernacular languages as media of instruction and administration had consequences for the political economy of these languages and their communities. The dominant language communities (Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, Tamil etc.) began to demand state patronage for their languages to compete against their rival language communities to have control over jobs and educational opportunities. Languages were now market goods having certain exchange and use values for those who knew them. Conflicts and controversies over Hindi-Urdu, Bengali-Urdu and Punjabi-Urdu in different parts of colonial India continued even after the end of colonial rule. After independence, both India and Pakistan have had a number of language based movements which have brought forth the conflicts over national and official languages, over dominant regional languages and minor languages and over English and national languages. Each of these language movements has a strong ...

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