Stories about language

War of the words

In 1948, Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah said (in English, most ironically): “The State language, therefore, must obviously be Urdu, a language that has been nurtured by a hundred million Muslims of the sub-continent, a language understood throughout the length and breadth of Pakistan and, above all, a language, which, more than any other provincial language, embodies the best that is in Islamic culture and Muslim tradition.” In 1957, a decade after the partition of India, author Qurratulain Haider published her epic novel Ag Ka Darya (‘River of Fire.’) In which she stated, “In the demand for Pakistan, Urdu was most thoughtlessly ...

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The trouble with academia: Write to impress or write to express?

I’d like to expand on a pearl of wisdom that I received from where most pearls of wisdom originate ─ my grandmother. She is a published Urdu novelist and part-time journalist, but more than that she is an intellectual searching for depth in the meaning of death as she sees herself approaching the imminent reality of it. A more popularly acclaimed introduction would be as Bushra Ansari’s aunt. Lucky for you, I’ve chosen to talk about one of the least morbid topics she happened to discuss with me: Academic writing. Despite having published novels, my grandmother does not consider herself a ...

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Has Hindi become our national language?

Recently, interviews were held for admission at the newly established Cadet College Sarwakai in South Waziristan. It was then that a tribal child, being interviewed by an army officer in Urdu, shocked the interviewer. The child was asked why he was eager to join cadet college. “Sir, I want to join the Army”, replied the child. “Why do you want to join the Army?” asked the interviewer. The innocent child replied, “Sir, main apne desh ki raksha karoon ga.” (Sir, I will protect my country.) The innocent child had no clue that these were not Urdu words, rather he had replied in pure Hindi instead of his national language! ...

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China, Chinglish and some shopping tips

Their rapid economic growth and resultant prosperity aside, the Chinese maintain their distinction in many ways. They call it “Chinese characteristics”- a term often used by their officials during briefings to foreigners. During official briefings, you will hear the words “Chinese characteristics” associated with “political system”, “legal system” and “‘economic system” – all this distinguishes this emerging superpower from the rest of the world. When it comes to communicating with foreigners in the English language, the Chinese have their own version – they call it Chinglish. During a recent visit to China, our communication with the common people involved several rounds of ...

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I speak Punjabi (but my kids might not)

‘Ik Sutti Uthi Dooji Akhon Ka’ani ’- Do you understand what this Punjabi idiom means, or do you need a translation in English first? The literal translation may be “one just woke up and the other one is partially sighted!” but that isn’t what it means.  This funny phrase refers to a person who has just woken up and then on top of their disheveled appearance is cross-eyed as well. It is used “icing on the cake” in English. Most people wonder why everything in Punjabi sounds so comic? Maybe our ancestors just appreciated humour. If you belong to a Punjabi speaking family and couldn’t ...

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One dozen provinces, please

Recently, the voices calling for the division of Punjab have been getting louder and louder. But do we really need to? What will the consequences be? What are the advantages? My personal view is that many people are demanding division for their petty agendas, but the step is not in the larger interest of Pakistan. Keeping personal interests aside and treating the matter without bias we have come to the conclusion that: Pakistan has certainly developed but not uniformly, many smaller cities have been overlooked (not only in Punjab but in all provinces) Facilities are not provided equally to people of all regions A ...

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LUMUN: Students learn the truth in a language they can’t debate in

What’s the point of debating if the person opposite you can’t understand a word you’re saying? In my previous piece, how at model United Nations (MUN) some kids were shaken by the sheer scale of competitiveness – a rampant obsession with coming first across the country. This is why events like these, which bring together such a diverse group of people from across the country, are so useful. You can glean so much from the way people interact, or in this case, don’t. I’m going to talk about the Lahore University of Management Sciences model United National (LUMUN) again, because this ...

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Seraikistan is our right

Seraikis are not ‘south Punjabis’, just like Pathans aren’t ‘north Punjabis’. Stop calling them southern Punjabis; it’s in bad taste. Having one’s cultural identity reduced to a geographical variant of an alien ethnicity is unpleasant. People should realise how incredibly offensive it is when they claim that Seraiki is just a dialect of Punjabi and not a different language. Seraiki is an ancient language, rich with heritage that represents its people. Some even argue that linguistically, Punjabi may be a relatively recent relic of the Sikh invasion, while Seraiki, with its original Sanskrit script, might be significantly older. It’s ironic how a ...

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Love and tears for Dhaka

My stepfather, Afzal Ahmed Syed, is a generally quiet and inward man who occasionally breaks from his reticence with humorous insights about the world. He does this not through fanciful and elaborate explanations, but in pithy quotes or by reciting a shaer. As many thoughtful commentators on his life and poetry have suggested, much of my father’s poetic vision has been shaped by his experience as a witness to immense political tragedies like East Pakistan’s violent rebirth as Bangladesh in 1971, the Lebanese Civil War, and the ethnic and sectarian violence that overwhelmed Karachi in the 1990s. Musharraf Farooqi, my father’s ...

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Some generalisations about the French just aren’t true

Before I left for Paris this January, a horde of advice was thrown at me from aunts, uncles, cousins, friends – almost everyone had an opinion on how I should handle living in France. I got all sorts of cautionary remarks such as: “Un se ziada dosti mat kerna, boht racist hain.” (Don’t be too friendly with them – they are very racist) I was repeatedly warned about the language barrier, and how the French are very arrogant about their language. A lot of friends advised me to learn some basic French before I left. “The French are very unfriendly and they won’t ...

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