Two Videos in Urdu (both having problems with the language)

By Omar Ali 4 Comments

It so happens that I happened to see the following two videos around the same time.

    1. Pakistani journalist (he seems to be an ISPR/Pak army favorite) Wajahat Khan (aka Waj Bro) has a message for Imran Khan. It is quite hilarious, but this particular post is about his ability to speak Urdu, which is clearly rather limited. He would probably do a better job in English (and he has to rely on English a lot in this video). This is fairly typical of the children of our current elite (not necessarily of the older generation). Check it out

2. The other video appears to be from closer to the other end of the socio-economic spectrum. In this case I have no clue who the speaker is (she states she is from Kasur, and she mentions at one point that she has been “pushed into prostitution”, I have no idea what the back story is) but clearly she is not from the elite class. The thing I am focused on in this post is that while her Urdu is in fact much better than Waj Bro’s Urdu, it is also quite clearly not her mother tongue. One gets the impression she would have done better in Punjabi.

My point today has nothing to do with the politics of each video (and in the case of the second one, I have no clue who she is and what the back story is, we all know cases where the story behind the video turned out to be quite different from what is immediately apparent),  I just wanted to ask what people think about the language issue in Pakistan.

Urdu is the national language and is (supposedly, ideally?) the main language of everyday use, high culture and education. But seems in trouble at both ends:

      1. My anecdotal observation is that the children of the elite cannot speak it well (OK, most are better than Waj bro, but not by much) and are almost completely unaware of (and un-interested in) its high culture (all that great poetry, etc). Their everyday language is mostly English, Urdu being used to converse (at a very basic level) with “the lower classes”;  servants, drivers and so on. Is this impression correct? what will be the long term outcome of this trend? (not a rhetorical question, I am genuinely curious and not sure about the answers, not even sure that my anecdotal observation is completely representative of the super-elite or how far it extends beyond that elite).
      2. At the other end, the “common people” of Pakistan mostly were not born into an Urdu speaking culture. The language of their forefathers is (in almost all cases except middle class and above migrants from North India) not Urdu. The languages of these people used to be Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi and so on. Today, as Pakistanis, they learn Urdu in School and via the mass media and (imperfectly, but frequently, especially in Punjab) from their recently Urduized parents. Actually it seems that many (most? some?) Sindhis, Baloch and Pakhtoons are still speaking their own languages at home, but in the case of Punjabis, it is increasingly common for them to speak Urdu at home (for example, my siblings and I started out speaking Punjabi and then switched to Urdu and stayed with that). And there is no such things as learning in Punjabi or even learning Punjabi as a language at school. You can see the result in the video above. The lady in question is not doing a bad job (she even manages to throw in fragments of a verse and an Arabic quote), but she would clearly be more comfortable in Punjabi. Her children will almost certainly be more comfortable in Urdu, but what level of Urdu? Waj Bro level?

You can see where I am going. The language issue in Pakistan. Which is connected with culture, with nationalism, with modernity. What do people see as the future? (again, not a rhetorical question, I am genuinely curious to know what people think is the current situation, and where it is likely to go).

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