Why saying ‘Scene On Hai’ is more important than you think

Published: July 26, 2011

July is here and I know this because my friend N came barging into my room and aimed straight for the fan.

“It’s so hot, God you can only wear shalloos.”

“Shalloos?”

Shalwars, obvi.”

And Kay for kameezes, obvi (That’s obviously shortened). This same friend owns a Jenny (generator), gets picked up by her perpetually late D (driver) and has a severe dislike of “meylas” because, you know, they’re such “shady boiz”.

Welcome to Burger-speak. We don’t laugh, we LOL. We take English words in Urdu context, and mix and match as we please. It started out as misspellings on the internet and on our phones, and now it has slipped into our everyday speech.

Somewhere, somehow, my Urdu teacher is reading this and mourning my generation. Note, I say Urdu teacher. When people my age start conversing in two languages, it’s the Urdu that gets shortened or twisted, shoved into awkward English sentences, or turned into one-liners that both end and summarise a long winding conversation: “Dude, chup karr.”

It’s not even Urdu, or at least Urdu that the authors of our textbooks could recognise. But this article is not about new words and what they mean; this is no “Guide to Understanding what your Pakistani Teenagers are Saying”. That’s because words fall in and out of use within weeks, and depend on your location. (Who says Vehshee anymore, apart from Lahoris?) No, the real question is why do we even bother?

One reason could be the linguistic term ‘code switching’. Code switching is when a person is fluent in two languages, but their speech is an amalgam of both. It’s common among, say, Latino-American families whose children are forced to speak Spanish at home and English at school. They end up talking neither and both.

Or in a more localised example, when my Pakistani immigrant aunt wanted to yell at my American-born cousin“Tumhare dost kab jaa rahe hain?” and he replied in a funny mix of “Ssh, mum they’ll hear, um, thori dere mein, okay?”

Code switching has a lot to do with mother tongues and societal pressure. But this isn’t a straight forward mix of clauses and verbs. The words my friend N used were English, but I doubt that jenny/generator would register with anyone outside Pakistan. And for the record, her mother tongue is Sindhi – but her code switching happens only between Urdu and English.

To be Pakistani is to know languages, but this is something else. You could theoretically live a perfectly wonderful life knowing only Urdu in this country. Or you could spend your entire life here knowing only English; our country gives us that option too. But we don’t, and maybe the simplest reason is the most emotional and simple: maybe we, people our age, don’t want to because we don’t have to?

Think about whose catering to whom. Put on MTV Pakistan or Aag (those funny self-proclaimed youth channels) and watch it with your grandmother. The Urdu shows will have English splattered across them, the English shows will feature Urdu so that all you’re hearing is Minglish, and your poor Dadi’s lost.

See what I did there? Stuck an Urdu term (Dadi) in English – and you, as a reader, probably processed it automatically. On one talk show the host says “Humay respect nahin milti hai”. A sixth grader could tell you respect in Urdu is eh’teraam, but the host chose not to use it and we didn’t mind.

Next time you’re on the road, try to count how many billboards are in English, in Urdu and in Romanised Urdu. Chances are the Romanised Urdu will be the most common. You can venture beyond Karachi and spill over to the highway, and you’ll still find TalkShawk haphazardly painted on dwellings in Roman Urdu. And TalkShawk itself is neither English nor Urdu.

The only reason we use both languages and make up our own words is because we’re indebted to both, endeared to both. Could Urdu picked up from cultural enclaves in long-ago northern India work here? Could English – that language we attack for colonial reasons but still use to pass exams – truly work in Karachi?

So we pull and mix to suit our needs, and nobody knows this better than a kid who understands the rules but isn’t constrained by them.

Theek hai, boiz?

Published in The Express Tribune.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Dot

    That goes for basically all languages.
    Take German for example; it’s a norm to use words of English in your sentences.Recommend

  • Nabeedsheikh

    hahaha… True that!!! :) I agreeeeee
    Annoying :sRecommend

  • TT

    Nice read. Could our Minglish ways and the popularity of English be due to the history of British colonies in the sub continent?Recommend

  • Usman Masood

    And what should users take away from this article? Blog posts here are getting exceedingly useless.Recommend

  • Naveed

    Throughly disappointing. A waste of time, really.
    -Naveed (Berkeley ’14)Recommend

  • Yasir Dewan

    hey why not punjabi our mother tounge or sindhi or pushto. i rarely mix english or urdu with my mother tounge… the real question is that urdu was enforced on majority of pakistan and despite 65 years of national language, no one has accepted it!!!
    i dont see anyone mixing their mother languages pashto or balochi or punjabi with english????Recommend

  • Ali

    Worth reading,nicely written.Recommend

  • Tribune Reader

    what a waste of blog space, ET your so letting your standards down, have u ever had a look at what other News Websites and their blog pages look like? You make ET blogs sound like Open Mic Night.Recommend

  • http://www.sidrahmoizkhan.blogspot.com Sidrah Moiz Khan

    Nobody commented here! It’s a surprise, honestly. This is a very nice piece. Very well written.Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/mraliahmad Ali Ahmad

    The girl beat it EVEN this time – Meiryum, could you try writing these kind of pieces for Finance Professionals Market??

    We need a writer like you – to mix a boring topic into a humor. Please contactRecommend

  • Mohsin

    good written article….it is happening and we should workout on this….Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/Tooba_Hatif toobahatif

    LOL.. seriously good one..Meiryam..
    At first i thought ok the writer is “Burger Bachi” too.
    But yeahh i’ll second to all she said.. =)Recommend

  • Ahmed

    Its fine till LOL, the rest is creepy.. i hate that languageRecommend

  • fahad

    well written !Recommend

  • naz soomro

    Thankyou Meiryum for speaking up!!
    Long time overdue, however it is so true! those who think this is grabage live in a different world .
    I visited Phillipines and heard ppl speaking Tagalish….a blend of local language Tagalo & English. No one seemed to mind it.Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/noman.ansari Noman Ansari

    I like to call it “urdish”, and I find it extremely annoying. Recommend

  • Akbhar

    so what?Recommend

  • Tabi

    This is how languages evolve and new languages come into existence. Look at Urdu, its very existence is a proof of the phenomenon discussed. Recommend

  • sohail taj

    thank you for writing such a “mheeta mheeta artice” i enjoyed it a lot. yet feel that there is nothing wrong in this culture (a personal opinion) that’s how things r in here.Recommend

  • umar

    I wish everyone could read this article and follow it.. you said 100% true we are just slaughtering own language urdu for being show off or complex of englishRecommend

  • Sabeen Ghani

    haaaan tu saee hay nae bae ! whats wrong in that ? english bolo tu kehtay hain urdu may bath kero and when you talk in urdu people doubt your communications skills…kahan jaen hum phir !Recommend

  • D

    That’s a pretty boring article girl. Recommend

  • parvez

    You truly are an amazing writer and fun to read as well.
    Your explanation of this mixing of English with Urdu in your last paragraphs where you say its because we are indebted to both and endeared to both, so we pull and mix to suite our need, is very perceptive. Food for thought for the ‘Should we have Urdu or English ‘ debaters.Recommend

  • Thurki Baba

    Who’re the chicks :DRecommend

  • zaraafzal

    Well a much needed article i must say , because atleast i got irritated when i hear people doing this minglish stuff ….. and the most irritating word HOYA , HOEY GA , the urdu at morning shows ….. well now at times i miss Tauseeq Haider and other anchors like him who have quality urdu to speak and to teach us Recommend

  • http://twitter.com/ahsanzee Ahsan

    Nice article

    but im seriously sick of idiots blabbing about how ET blogs are getting worse… Seriously its a BLOG post not Shakespearean literature. if you “tribune readers” don’t have the brains to put a few decent sentences together to write your own blogs then stop criticizing others….Recommend

  • Usama

    I think the rise of texting has also contributed a lot to this Minglish. Majority of the people are not fluent in English, so they type Urdu words in English letters. That’s where this Minglish started and still gets its energy from.Recommend

  • patriot

    The time is not far when people here would ask me if our language is called ‘pakistani’ and instead of correcting them by specifically mentioning Urdu’s name, I’d agree – this new miglish can be called ‘pakistani’ Recommend

  • Fahad Raza

    I gotta hand to you Meiryum Ali. You always get away to get your blogs published even though most think they are immature/without-any-use/confusing/random. Also you never care to show up to take credit/acknowledge/critic on comment section as most of other blogger do here on ET. I know some really good blogger cant get their blogs through (can’t name them obviously). I feel you’ve got excellent reference at the top in ET. Recommend

  • http://fruitforbidden.wordpress.com/ The Forbidden Fruit

    It’s strange but when my cousins come to Pakistan form Canada/US, they speak Khalis urdu and we here speak Minglish which they find quite funny. Their mothers have made it mandatory for them to speak unadulterated urdu at home!Recommend

  • nisa khan

    u’re absolutly right and we ppl does not pay attention to this ………..;)Recommend

  • http://none Bangash

    Who cares ?! attention seeking burgers.Recommend

  • http://girlfromkarachi.wordpress.com/ Nida

    Well done. Another fit piece you got there ;)Recommend

  • aafat

    It’s a fun article. I enjoyed it.
    Keep up the fun writing!Recommend

  • http://www.facebook.com/pakistanyouth.net Asif Hanafi

    Great blog post, loved reading it. Reminds me of a show in Karachi Dude where’s my car!Recommend

  • Ayesha

    well-written indeed! Recommend

  • Arzoo

    It is a thought-provoking article. Pakistani people are not capable of structuring a sentence, whether in Urdu or in English. They suffer a great deal of problems because of this issue not in speaking only but while producing a well-written essay. Yes, Urdu is a language, which has been forced on many people in Pakistan, but unlike India, it is one language that we all speak. It is one of the joining bonds among us apart from our religion. We should be thankful that we are living in a region where we have options to learn so many languages. Language is a power, and you know this when you become minority speaking in any region. I have met so many English-speakers who can speak other European languages and there are many who envy people, who can speak in two languages. However, I must say that Pakistanis need to work on their written expressions, speaking vocabulary along with the correct sentence structure in both languages. I have seen many Pakistani students who cannot express themselves because they do not know how to, in one language!
    Pakistani electronic media can make this mass awareness through their advertisements, etc.. Recommend

  • Sarah

    Great job! Really enjoyed it.Recommend

  • Anonymous

    Respect in urdu is izzat. Recommend

  • A Man of Hope

    I just wasted 5 minutes of my life, that i will never get back ‘yaar!’Recommend

  • Talat Haque

    Love your writing!Recommend

  • Ahmad

    Very good article. You have explained the Urdu and English complex that our youth faces. Urdu is being used less and less while English is being used more and more, even by those not formally educated. The new generation has created a mix language that surpasses the linguistic ability of anybody born before the 90s. You need to expand your column.Recommend

  • Najeeb

    Well all of this has to do with the brain, mostly people who are bi-lingual have multiple body languages, different dialects as there are prominent changes in the brain when human beings articulate in different languages. Also, in a conversation, after speaking urdu for 10 mins and then switching to any other language, the brain takes time to adjust.
    But this jenny, kay and all of this is all about looking and sounding cool :P in front of paindoos :P. Mostly people use who fillers like like, um aaa and these kay and jays, have poor elocution, and diction. So they try to use such words to complete the sentence in their own colloquial form of conversation.Recommend

  • http://sheeraz1022.wordpress.com Sheeraz

    LOL. Nice attempt and agreed with all the facts. Those ppl try to be burgers. :)Recommend

  • Dibs

    loved itRecommend

  • Aqila

    LOL! I can’t stop laughing over how true this is. Being a Norwegian-Pakistani, it makes me laugh even more knowing how much I switch between Norwegian and Urdu when I’m talking to my parents, and how incredibly silly it must sound. Anyway, well-written article! Thumbs up! :)Recommend

  • Junaid

    Lahoris still use Vehshee? Please I’m a Lahoree, never in my life have I ever used the word VEHSHEE and jeez I never will! Recommend

  • Hamza Quadri

    Noor sent me here :p the amount of slating that goes on here is quite astounding from what ive read so far in a few other blogs of yours. but great writing! you got another fan :)Recommend