According to Ludwig Wittgenstein ‘the limits of my language are the limits of my world’; a culture that does not respect, nay deems inferior, its mother tongue, the language of its forefathers is a culture whose native country is doomed to forever spiral the seventh circle of hell….and here we are!
Now, before I am ostracized and the townsfolk burn me at the stake, hear me out. I know on the blasphemy scale that statement would rate pretty high; insulting Pakistanis and condescending religion in the same sentence?? Sacrilege!
But even as you feel self righteously indignant I’m pretty sure a certain part of you is wondering if that’s why life might be so shitty. No, sadly, we can’t attribute all our problems to our inferiority complexes and wash our hands of the blame. We have many, many other faults friends and neighbors…but we have to start somewhere, right?
So, here’s a quiz to find out how much of a language snob you are:
a) You admit, with a little bit of pride intermingled with embarrassment, that you don’t know your entire Urdu alphabet.
b) You think in some foreign language (English would constitute a foreign language)
c) You hardly ever read Urdu newspapers or books
d) Your music collection rarely has an Urdu song
e) When someone speaks broken English with a foreign accent it’s cute, not so much if it’s local
f) You think ‘Urdu medium’ is quite the cutting insult
If you answered Yes to all or any one of these questions, Congratulations! You are a language snob! Welcome to the club, we have cookies, and not the local ones either!
Let’s treat the root cause instead of the symptoms though, shall we? Urdu is a language rich with meaning, puns and subtlety. Its bastard street version may be replete with dirty words that would make our moms blush but that’s mostly borrowed from our generous neighbors. So, why is it that street slang Urdu is embarrassing but slang English makes you hip? Why do we need to forever be oppressed under the tyranny of a master that still hasn’t quite left?
George Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind, the bit about how newspeak was slowly replacing oldspeak is particularly relevant. The language was being made high context and low context at the same time, where one word had several meanings but the undesirable ones denoting freedom of thought, resistance against an oppressive regime, individualism, democracy etc. were slowly weeded out and made obsolete, it came to the point where the masses were no longer capable of free thought, to a point where they found nothing ridiculous about the fact that the three party slogans:
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength
War is Peace
made no sense at all. Maybe I’m going slightly off track here, it just struck a chord with me, that novel, consequently one of my favorite books, I do have a point here, buried under this deluge of irrelevant facts.
To say language is a tool of communication is to grossly underestimate its potential; you have your Shakespeares and your Winston Churchills, your Bob Dylans and your JFKennedys, your Zulfiqar Ali Bhuttos and your Ghalibs and what have you, put in the hands of the right craftsman it becomes a work of art. Language can be used to rally the troops, make the masses hunger for blood, put the fear of God in the enemy or to promote peace and love. Whatever use it’s put to, language has a profound impact on the senses.
I guess what I’m trying to say is we should learn to take pride in Urdu, learn to love, respect and cherish it. When used by an artisan no other language can beat its delicious intricacies and nuances.