Urdu: Our National Language


The other day I was travelling in the bus and there was this Afghan teenager sitting beside me. He was the usual poke-my-nose-in-everything kid. As we approached Schon circle where the underpass construction is in full swing, he asked me in the meekiest voice possible:

“Bhai jaan yeh kya ban raha hai?”

I immediately started to say “Underpass…”, but realised that he might not know what exactly is an underpass, so I had to explain him what exactly was going to be built there. It dawned on me that although Urdu is our national language, we often willingly neglect it, and that I didnt see any board depicting what exactly was going on there in Urdu. There are two huge boards displaying the plan of the “ramps” and the “underpass”, but one is at a loss of words when it comes to explaining these things in Urdu to a thirteen-year-old Afghan kid.

I remembered reading the words “Balai Guzargah” on some flyover construction, and my immediate instinct was that these people should put up a board proclaiming:

“Yeh rasta balai guzargah ki tameer ki wajah say band hai, please mutabadil rasta ikhtiar karain. Zehmat kay liye ma’azrat khuwa”

But there is a board that proclaims it in English: “Sorry for Inconvenience”

Where do we live? Have we forgotten that our language is Urdu, not English? That more than sixty percent of the population couldnt read English?

Treat Urdu as the step-language, and we perhaps can never achieve greatness. Our uniqueness is gone.

And I remembered that perhaps Balai Guzargah wont work, the underpass should be called “Nashebi Guzargah”!

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13 Responses

  1. dont sweat it ..

    you see the people who propagated this in our minds say urdu is going out of our lives .. but do this next time open a lughat and see which new words are added .. library is an urdu word too you know 🙂 ..

    languages change because people speaking them change in one way or other and change is a sign of progress and in the end language progresses ..

    the minute this ends .. a language that cant dissolve other lingo’s words .. it dies as it fails to fulfill the needs of the speakers .. as they leave it and turn to alternatives which provide better communication ..

  2. I would have to agree the angrezi language has slowly eaten us away – heck now quite a few words are completely in english and we have no alternatives in urdu for it = Balai or Nashebi 😉 I can understand your dilemma

  3. The underpass is near Defence/Clifton areas – where people would find it easier to understand “Underpass & Ramps” than “balai guzargah etc” 🙂

  4. Most of the traffic at Schon Circle is public transport, and then almost 60% of the private transport is driven by illiterate/semi-literate drivers. And then the boards are so complicated that their effectiveness is not evident at a first glance.

    tdh: ofcourse a language is progressive if it is adaptive, but what if the speakers of the language completely dump it for some other? And it isn’t that there are no alternatives. Atleast try to use Urdu, alternatives can be accepted.

    TeethUncle: Nashebi Guzargah is the word for it, I am dead sure!

    Jon: Its not a matter of comprehension, its a matter of feeling proud of our language. I know it might feel odd since I am advocating us to feel proud of our national language while expressing myself in a foreign language, but still, the message is clear. At the Iranian Embassy there is a banner that proclaims their Election Day proceedings in Urdu (and perhaps Persian). Iranian Embassy is a little distance away from Schon. People that pass through that are the same that can understand Underpass and Ramps. Or that we should say the Iranian people are naive?

  5. I think the two major reasons why a language fades away & eventually die are : 1. As uXuf mentioned no sense of pride, 2. Not enough scientific research.

    We often claim we r proud of our national language but is it so? I once had a conversation with a friend about urdu not having enough words, turned out it does, but i never knew, do u know that actual word ‘saas’ means a blood sucking insect? later was used for mother-in-law, the actual urdu word for her is ‘khush-daman’

    Hold let me find one of my post on the forums i go to, let me post those line, can u translate them into urdu?

    1. Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever is one of the most severe human viral diseases. The causative agent, (CCHFV), is the type species of the genus Nairovirus in the Bunyaviridae family. The virus is transmitted to humans by the bite of Ixodid ticks (mostly of the Hyalomma genus)

    2. An asteroid or comets may hit earth some day, although NEO comets r no danger to us according to space sceintists.

    3. My Computer had a virus when i tryed to copy multimedia file from my PDA, the same file even worked in my cell phone.

    Since we never had a research & when there r plenty of new findings we r not the ones who name them, & we r not proud enough on outr language to give them an alternative name….sigh

    Personally i dont see urdu has a future as it should have, but we can make ir survive with lots of flexibility to adopt new words, maybe Urdu the Next Generation 🙂

  6. JonyDada, you’re damn right. But when Arabic can survive and fit nicely with all the modern languages, why cant we do it with Urdu?

    For example, this is what I saw written at the Saudi Arabian Airlines’ Office at Regent Plaza (beside the English Text) “Al-khutoot al-jawiya al-arabia al-saudia”. You see, translating it very literally, “Khutoot” is arabic/persian/urdu for “lines”. “Jawiya” is something air. When they can do it literally then why cant we. Similar is thing with the Persian people, if you see their airline’s office at Mehran (I think!), they also have the Persian version of their airline’s name. And here in Pakistan, we feel proud of writing “Pee Ayee Aye” in Urdu.

    Fifty years are enough for a nation to get mature, to find its roots, to end the state of confusion. But here we are, always on square one, because we never wanted to step forward.

  7. a few days i said to my dad, ‘hum aik complete sentence bhi urdu mein nahin bol sakte’.
    when was the last time we read an urdu book? i dont know if books in urdu literature even exist. urdu never got the projection it deserved in its own country.
    With english evolving as a universal language pakis dont feel the need to develop urdu, which is wrong.
    Asma Jehangir, the president of HRCP, said one reason why our legal system doesnt work is that we speak in urdu and write in english. the meaning is lost in translation. and half the population doesnt understand it.
    not to forget, the educated class(me included) feels that if dont use english, we wont be able to flaunt our degrees.
    we dont need the english learning centres cropping up all over the country. we need some urdu research centres.

  8. “There are fifty seven languages spoken in Pakistan, and English is understood by about 5% of this population”, this is stated in a research work done by a fastian. We have Urdu research centers all around, when we can have an Urdu University (Karachi) we dont need other centers. What we need is the nurturing of love for Urdu in our hearts.

    English is not the epitome of learnedness, the director of the Center for Research in Urdu Language Processing (CRULP) at FAST-NU, Lahore, is a very learned guy. And you’ll seldom find him talking in English. His English is beautiful, but his Urdu is absolutely breath-taking. Maybe we can say that he wouldnt want to flaunt his achievements, but still.

    When he can feel proud of Urdu then so can we.

  9. I m more inclined to uXuf’s perception. In Urdu confrence, Ahmed Faraz mentioned the reason why our local languages have survived is bcoz we have valued them as one of the important cultural entity. Although those languages some time lack more than Urdu when it comes on moderen vocabulary. Arabic is valued by all the muslims & perhaps the reason of its existence too.

    But we used Urdu just as a barrier language, something to communicate & when its only a matter of communication we find english better. We need to develop a tad bit of love & sense of proudness for urdu. If 3 ppl r talking in english, u dont wana say what u want to say in urdu bcos its a shame 🙂

  10. I’m an Urdu speaking person from Lucknow India. I think, regardless of whether we’re Pakistani or Indian, I feel a lot of us are enamoured by the west and so we tend to use a lot of English words in our Urdu when perfectly beautiful Urdu equivalents exist. The same is happening to Hindi and other languages in India. It’s understandable that we’re forced to use an English word if an Urdu equivalent is non-existent, but why substitute English words when the Urdu one actually sounds much better ?

  11. i dont know why is urdu our national language although it is spoken by only 8% of pakistanis. I m a patriotic Pakistani and proud of it,,,,,, but I hate urdu because it is imposed on us,,,,,,,,,,,,, lets have pakistan asfederation, and each in each state their local language should be used as a culture, scienctific and social language;,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  12. malics, I tend to disagree. A national language serves to bring people closer. It is used so that people from different areas could communicate with each other. I don’t support Urdu just because I am a mohajir or that Urdu is my first language, but because Urdu is the only language that has helped me mingle with countless people and learn about the facts of life. If it hadn’t been for Urdu, I wouldn’t have been able to fully enjoy my trips to Northern Areas, or Punjab, or even Hyderabad!

    You see, even different proprietary operating systems need a common protocol in order to communicate, so why wouldn’t people need a common language?

  13. uXuf,

    I agree with you that there should be some means of communication between people, and let us for a moment, accept that urdu should be our national language, but the questions that comes in my mind are:

    1) Ok. If communication is necessary, then urdu should be taught as a compulsory subject only (although I disagree, and I wll give arguments), and the other subjects should be taught in the regional language. Why should I sacrifice my mother tongue? Think for a momet, why? I love my mother tongue because I talk with my mother in this language. Why should students waste so much time reading a book in one language and thinking in another language (mother language).

    2) Suppose there are 100 students in a class in an area. Why many of them will frequently communicate with the people of another area. Perhaps 1, 10, or 20. Why the rest 80 suffer for just 1, 10 or 20.

    3) Normally when on wants to get a lesson, he will get advice from a skilled person in that field, or just from anybody. Obviously, he should opt for the skilled person. Same is the case with countries. We should look towards the developed countries for getting some lessons. Now let us take the example of Switzerland. What is the national language? Search your self and then tell me. Same is the case with austria belgium, canada and so on,,,,.
    Not only this, a country like USA where more than 80 percent people speak english, english is not a national/official language in some states, an example being New Mexico.
    Let us take another example. France is quitely uniform country ethnically. In the region of Bregtane, they have a different dialect of French called Bretagne. Now when you go through this area, you will see sign boards with both the languages, and the Bregtane language is also taught in schools as well.
    4) As for as your example of Operating System and Protocols is concerned, I hope, I can give you many more examples from distributed systems-my area of expertise, justifying my analysis. I have even many arguments from politics, history, sociology etc, if you wish so.

    My point: Let us be patriotic pakistanis, but be realistic at the same time. In my view, Pakistan will progress only if it is a true federation, acknowleding the rights of all federating units. Again, this is not possible in Army rule, as dictators tend to be more central in their approach considering that power is always centripetal in nature.
    Waitin’ for your comments please.

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