Don’t Cry For Punjabi

tragedy

 

Written by Randeep Singh

We hear about the “loss” of Punjabi, the “tragedy” of how Punjabi is not taught in schools in West Punjab, of how Punjabi youth speak only Urdu, Hindi or English in Lahore or Chandigarh. “Imagine the sound of Punjabi and the rich cultural heritage it boasts,” writes Affan Chaudhary, “lost forever.”[1]

If there’s a tragedy, it’s the idea that the demise of Punjabi has become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more one believes it, the less likely one will do anything to reverse it and the less likely that anything will change in any positive respect, least of all the feelings of doom and gloom.

I am not denying Punjabi faces challenges, but the circumstances suggest a more balanced view on the question.

First, Punjabi is neither an “endangered” nor a “vulnerable” language.[2] While it may not enjoy national or official status like Hindi, Urdu or French, neither is Punjabi an endangered or vulnerable language like Basque, Corsican or Gaelic all with less than one million speakers.

Punjabi is in fact one of the world’s most spoken languages with its number of speakers ranging from 80 to 110 million.[3] The total number of Punjabi speakers moreover has been increasing, not decreasing, since 1951.[4]

Second, rather than compare Punjabi to Urdu and Hindi, it would make more sense to compare Punjabi to languages like Gujarati, Pashto and Telugu with which its shares a similar legal and official status. What does the experience of these languages have in common with Punjabi? What initiatives have such languages taken in promoting awareness and education in one’s mother tongue in ways which can help Punjabi?

Third, few languages have proved so culturally vibrant in India, Pakistan and in the diaspora as Punjabi. Punjabi has historically dominated the film and music industry in Pakistan thanks to icons like Noor Jehan. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan raised the profile of Punjabi poetry through his musical performances. And Punjabi MC’s bhangra/dance track “Mundiyan To Bachke Rahin” topped charts in the UK, Italy and Germany and crossed over into hip-hop collaborations with Jay-Z and Timbaland.

We could add the growing popularity of Punjabi through Sufi Rock, Coke Studio and Bollywood. The point is that any discussion on Punjabi needs to count its achievements and opportunities along with its setbacks.

So don’t cry for Punjabi just yet.

[1] Affan Chaudhary, “I Speak Punjabi but My Kids Might Not,” in Express Tribune (March 16, 2012): International Tribune: :://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/10622/i-speak-punjabi-but-my-kids-might-not/

[2] UNESCO defines an endangered language as one which children no longer the language as a mother tongue in the home; and a vulnerable language as one which is spoken by most children but whose use is restricted to certain domains like the home.

[3] Ethnologue lists Western Punjabi (Lahnda) and its various dialects as the 11th most spoken language with 82.6 million speakers with an additional 28 million speakers of Eastern Punjabi. The Swedish language million speakers, the Swedish language encyclopedia, Nationalencyklopedin (2007) lists Punjabi as the 10th most spoken language in the world with 102 million speakers.

[4] http://www.statpak.gov.pk/depts/pco/index.html

 

Lost and Found

LOST UNESCO REPORT
Lost and Definitely Not Found is the citation on Punjabi in the UNESCO report referred to by Author Activist Kuldip Nayar that lists Punjabi as one of the languages set to disappear in fifty years. We are getting frantic messages at Uddari from all types of flustered Punjabis to the following effect:

“I have wasted much time in locating the alleged report on Punjabi. It does NOT exist. The language spoken by 120 million people can NOT disappear in 50 years. It is a simple logic.” Poet Amarjit Chandan in an email message from London, Britain.

“For quite some time now reference is being made on both Pakistani and Indian Punjabi Internet networks to a UNESCO report that allegedly predicts that in the next 50 years the Punjabi language will become extinct. I have tried in vain to get hold of the report to make sure it is not a hoax” Author Ishtiaq Ahmed in The News, 5/24/2008 previously Stockholm and now from Singapore.

“Early last month Prof. Ishtiaq Ahmed had asked me about such report and source was Mr Kuldip Nayyar. I checked with several persons including Mr Nayyar. He said he had seen some such report and did not remember where and when. He was quoted in The Tribune of March this year. Accordingly I informed Prof. Ishtiaq” Journalist Gobind Thukhral from Chandigarh, India.

I first heard of this report and Kuldip Nayar’s initiatives from Rights Activist Mohammad Tahseen in Lahore. Now, though unsuccessful in locating Punjabi either in the ‘UNESCO Red Book on Endangered Languages’ or in the UNESCO report ‘Our Creative Diversity’, i did FIND a March 2008 news report where Kuldip Nayar seems to be in the same situation as the rest of us.

“I have gone through a report prepared by Unesco which says the Punjabi language will disappear from the world in 50 years. It shocked me. I am out to save Punjabi language and culture,” he said. He was invited by the Punjabi Bachao Manch seeking his help to save Punjabi in Chandigarh, capital of Punjab, a state carved on the basis of Punjabi language.” (http://www.sikhsangat.org/news/publish/social_issues/Punjabi_language_will_disappear_in_50_years_Unesco_report.shtml)

I must tell you that the FINDING of such a report is an issue of mere academic interest to me because i, coming from the West Punjab, do not need UNESCO or Kuldip Nayar from East Punjab to tell me that Punjabi is an endangered language; and that, if appropriate actions are not taken it will for sure become extinct in the near future. Here is a criteria that United Nations has developed to find the survival state of a language.
“Languages were originally divided into five categories; a sixth, potentially endangered languages, was added later:
(i) extinct languages other than ancient ones;
(ii) nearly extinct languages with maximally tens of speakers, all elderly;
(iii) seriously endangered languages with a more substantial number of speakers but practically without children among them;
(iv) endangered languages with some children speakers at least in part of their range but decreasingly so;
(v) potentially endangered languages with a large number of children speakers but without an official or prestigious status;
(vi) not endangered languages with safe transmission of language to new generations.”
(Source: http://www.helsinki.fi/~tasalmin/europe_index.html)

The status of MaaNboli Punjabi languages in Pakistani Punjab hovers between these two:
(iv) endangered languages with some children speakers at least in part of their range but decreasingly so;
(v) potentially endangered languages with a large number of children speakers but without an official or prestigious status;

And so, i would say to find a way to multiply Kuldip Nayar in both his male and female incarnations, at the rate of Thousand-A-Minute-Aggregate, and give tenacious support to all Kuldip Nayars and Nayara Kuldips in both the Punjabs and the Diaspora, to pull our Maanboli Mothertongue out of this rut.

Still, that UNESCO report needs to be FOUND.

Meanwhile, i like to take this opportunity to log a few other cases of Lost & Found but this time, i will be brief and do it later.

Feel free to make use of this space if you have lost something that you can not do without, something that is not a pet but still has to be found. If there is something of immense cultural value that you have found that was lost and it is not your pet…

Writings of Kuldip Nayar
Endangered Languages