Stories about language

Wayward verses

Let us talk today about a wayward creature. Waywardness, of course, is not a preserve of the humankind. There are countless verses in Urdu that merit the tag including some very high standard stuff. One hears and reads verses that would be credit to whoever they were attributed to and yet like some unfortunate orphans or our urban poor they remain ‘homeless’. I mean you don’t see them in a famous poet’s work or in a celebrated anthology of poetry. And yet, they are not quite unfortunate either. Given that you don’t see them in a renowned collection, they have a secure place ...

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Talking about blasphemy in English, over dessert

If you wish to have a peaceful meal always avoid broaching subjects like the blasphemy laws at the dinner table. Be extra careful if steak has been served where sharp knives are at hand. In fact it is best to remain perfectly silent until dessert is served. Once knives are replaced by small, curved silver spoons you can go ahead and exercise your freedom of speech as per your kind pleasure. (You may want to ensure your body guard is around though.) If you truly wish to remain a dominant member of the dinner-table chatter, always speak in English. Remember: 1. ...

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The language of education

The debate surrounding language has long dominated the Pakistani education system. Since the creation of Pakistan, the issue of language has been shaping politics. In fact, the dismemberment of our country can trace its roots back to this problem. There have always been voices calling to teach curriculums in local languages, but the issue is of a more complex nature than it seems given the fact that Pakistan is a multilingual society where at least 69 languages are spoken. Of these around 30 are spoken just in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. If we look at the current situation of basic education in our country, ...

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Are you an SMS junkie?

As I look around, I see everyone firing away at the keys of their mobile phones at supersonic speed. It’s unnerving, and sometimes I feel that we really have been invaded by these miniscule hand-held devices. Sure, it’s great technology and life has definitely become easier, convenient and faster in a lot of ways but they say excess of anything is bad. It is quite correct about incessant text messaging as well which, in my opinion, is not only an addictive nuisance but also causes repetitive strain injury. In the past few years, I have almost become allergic to text messaging ...

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Calling all language snobs

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 being condescending towards 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 ...

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Pakistani fiction hijacked by English language writers

Why is it that I can access Francis W. Pritchet’s English translation of Intizar Hussain’s Basti on the net but find nothing about the original Urdu novel? The only Pakistani fiction that is making its way on the internet is either written in English or is translated into English from Urdu. Thus a majority of Urdu fiction stays locked in the black and white pages of books – out of the reach of potential readers. The world now knows contemporary writers like Nadeem Aslam, Muhammad Hanif, Kamila Shamsi and Daniyal Moeenuddin as representative Pakistani writers because English books can easily ...

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Government schools: What’s lost in translation

Working for a newspaper has definitely brushed up my Urdu reading and comprehension skills, especially when it comes to words like mulzzim (suspect), purisraar (suspicious) and muzzamat (condemn). However, a few days ago when my maid’s 11-year-old daughter brought her social studies book – which is in Urdu – I was left dumbfounded. I had grown accustomed to teaching her English, because I understand that it is not the forte of most government school teachers. Even if a certain class in society has grown used to thinking in English, the majority of the country isn’t familiar with the language at ...

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I am a bunkabab – and proud of it

Yes, I pronounce ‘Cowasjee’ as ‘Cowaaaaasjee.’ Sometimes I say  ‘angrezi’ instead of English and call the letter H – ‘ech.’ Most of the time I find it difficult to understand the meanings of words that most of  my other colleagues understand easily (eg: avid, disheveled, allure etc.) I am often unsure of when to use  ‘a,’ ‘an’ and ‘the’ in a sentence. When making antonyms I misuse the prefixes  ‘im’ and ‘un.’ I don’t understand the appropriate place to ‘lol’ and when I am allowed to ‘lmao’. Yes, I could very easily lose a spelling bee competition. Yes, I am impressed, like most of the Pakistanis ...

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What language do you speak?

Our identity is not something many of us have been nurtured to accept, let alone be proud of. In this fight against ourselves, one of the greatest losses has been that of language, which lies hidden under the inherent shame of who we are and covered by the pretence of who we are not. Many of us who have studied in private schools have been inculcated this sense of shame about Urdu. Back in school, it was embarrassing not being able to express oneself in English, despite the fact that it was not a language most of us were used ...

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