Language politics

ByHoor Asrar Rauf

A national swimming champion and recently Graduated from UCF-USA in Hospitality and Event Management


August 6, 2023

Language politics

Hoor Asrar talks about a
relevant issue

Language politics – Pakistan is a multi-lingual country though officially English and Urdu dominate the national mainstream with Sindhi running as a distant third. Language factor consistently creates controversy in the country as the majority does not possess even working knowledge of English that dominates the official spectrum of the state. Urdu has been established as the lingua franca yet there are areas in the country where it is hardly comprehended. Moreover, Urdu, despite being widely spoken and written, is handicapped because it is not given official patronage and looked down upon by the ruling elite. The ruling circles consider it fashionable to proudly concede that their Urdu is weak though there grip on English language is also observed to be on the weak side. Pakistan probably is the only country where its national language is treated in a derogative manner though generally it is eulogised all over but such attitude is fundamentally hollow and self-defeating.

While looking at the issue of language it is required to understand the matter in terms of political language it is a very relevant issue in terms of state operations. With the passage of time language got strongly attached to the political spectrum as the conquerors refused to adopt the language of the conquered and insisted upon imposing their own language or any other that they favoured. In this context, political language when narrowly defined refers to a specific use of language for political means. In a broader sense, political language refers to language policy or political linguistics pointing out the ways in which governments attempt to shape the linguistic structure of the society or the claims issued by linguistic groups to change existing language arrangements or legislations. This matter pertains to language diversity that supposedly hinders efficient political administration and comparative politics have shown that the most classical sequence of nation building is language rationalisation implying the imposition of one or more official national languages.

It is however also observed that monolingualism is not the norm in the world as most countries have to manage language diversity either by admitting a set of official languages or by tolerating language diversity. It has emerged as the buzzword for multiculturism that is still widely adhered to as the symbol of plural existence considered as an essential part of globalisation. It is also emphasised that the innate human skills have better chance of flowering in a person’s mother language as compared to any other he is required to grow. This probably is the reason that human intellect has striven long and hard to devise a global language framework but it has not been found possible despite the development and propagation of languages used by colonial powers that once decisively controlled large parts of the world.

It must also be borne in mind that language is a subject that has remained relevant throughout human existence and the evolution of human life. To the harbingers of human civilisation, Greeks, considered politics to be language because language enabled deliberation and debate and ruled out violence. Language to them therefore was central to any political activity. Language otherwise is central to social interaction and social scientists have been indebted to pioneer linguists who claimed that language is an informed and recognisable model of society. In other words, society is structured like a language where a sharp line is drawn between the elaborated speech codes of the middle classes seeking social mobility and the restricted speech codes of the working classes. Speech responds to strong cultural pressures as elaborated code summarises general social means and ends whereas a restricted code is limited to local means and ends. This point is clearly borne out by the difference of linguistic idiom within Pakistani social structure. Though Urdu language plays a crucial role in the fields of propaganda and agenda domination yet it does not completely represent the national mainstream.

It is pointed out that classification might be a natural property of language; it enables governments to control society through rules enabled by script. Language policy is an attempt to weigh collective language choices by institutional means, to prescribe the public use of one or more languages and to adopt language legislation. Historically, creating, rationalising, or maintaining a language is the classical European sequence of language policy, mostly congruent with nation building in the 19th century. Official languages are not always national languages yet an official language can coexist with a set of national languages and sub-state national communities or groups with a strong regional identity may challenge the official language and make new language claims.

Official and national language policies are only efficient alongside compulsory education, a wide interest in learning and using the official/national language, and some kind of reward for doing so in professional and symbolic ways— the latter is particularly true for national-language policies. It is observed that the colonial powers insisted on rationalising, spreading, and maintaining their languages as a symbol of common belonging, a means of effective administration in a centralised state, a key element of republican identity, and a sign of equal citizenship. It implies that political praxis and language practice are inseparable.

States indulge in language legislation and consequently language rights. All states speak languages and administer language and it cannot be benignly neglected as religion in monolingual settings, the public sphere is entirely ruled in/by one language. In multilingual states, mostly federations, legislators have a choice between two principles: the territoriality and the personality principles. The first, and most widespread, principle is based on territorial rights where the state apparatus insists upon a monolingual structure. Variants are territorialised individual rights with special policies devised for minorities. Territorial bilingualism is important here to mention as countries like Pakistan do cater to minority languages such as Sindhi that is declared official language of a province.

Territoriality is usually associated with administrative bilingualism as civil servants speak all or part of the official languages to ensure state-wide communication; it provides language stability and language security with small languages getting protected on their territory and language scales are relatively stable but obliges all to speak the official language in its territory of reference. Territoriality generally leads to placing language spoken there as a given though it has the potential to disrupt intercommunity communication. The personality principle is best described by institutional multilingualism as the state acknowledges and recognises individual language choices. Regardless of where one is in the territory, civil administration has to cater to the individual’s language choices.

Language legislations are mostly a blend of different types of territoriality associated with individual rights. Strategic multilingualism hints at political rather than linguistic difficulties in a postcolonial or post-apartheid era and the difficulties have continued to exist as very few states have achieved liberation from the colonial tongue. Most movements in this respect have failed both of political and linguistic grounds and it is observed that the ruling classes of such countries continue using the colonial language and insisting that they remain the official means of communication and ensure that they remain means of upward mobility. One interesting feature of language policy is internationalization of language patterns. Almost all states enforce linguistic assimilation policies and very few states decide not to intervene in language matters, favouring as such the dominant groups. The Weekender


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