Monday, February 25, 2008

Regarding the "purity" of Urdu

Some thoughts regarding Urdu and it's purity that were triggered by a user's comment re : the purity of Urdu and how to preserve it etc.

A user by the id "Saqib" made the following thought provoking comments:
I have one important request to you. The request is in fact to all Pakistanis, but the effect will be much higher if you [Asma Sherazi] start doing it. Please avoid speaking English in Urdu programs. By doing that many people don’t understand the whole meaning of a debate or a sentence and that’s a pity, because we should have maximum effect of your interviews especially because you are fighting a just cause. Another factor is that Urdu as a language is being degraded slowly and effectively. It is common fault committed in Pakistan that one “have” to speak English to show that one is a well educated person. I don’t think this is the case with you (not at this stage), but maybe it has been that in the past and now it has become a habit. Maybe you need to focus a little bit on this issue to enhance Urdu and thereby reach out to an even bigger audience. Please don’t see it as any suggestion not to learn and speak English. The request is only that we should focus on the audience we are trying to reach out to and to avoid “hurting” Urdu.

And my response:
I think Urdu is it’s own worst enemy in more ways than one. First, Urdu is a “framework” language from the start. Urdu is great for fitting other languages’ vocabulary in it.. this is how it became so popular because the grammatical structure is so malleable that you can fit any word and it feels natural be it Turkish, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit etc. Urdu takes whatever is spoken in “the lashkar” as it were, and lets people communicate. Perfect for Pakistan I’d say, but not in it’s current form.

Now, since the inception of Pakistan, there has been this most unfortunate trend of “purification” in which an artifical purity was created in urdu in which local vocabularies were discouraged from entering mainstream use while english and arabic had tacit support as nothing could be done against them (like accusing the users of Islam dushmani etc.).

Add to that the resentment felt by non-urdu majority and a conscious or sub-consicous attempt by them at shunning urdu as a reaction to what Urdu came to represent (the economic interests of a ‘certain class’ ??)

The reason our anchors can’t go two sentences without reaching for english (bad one at that) is that they have no vocabulary in Urdu. There is no vocabulary in Urdu because there is hardly any literature being written in Urdu. Newspapers don’t count because they use a very limited and cliched form meant for the lowest common denominator. There is hardly any literature because the critics would not allow any “impure vocabulary” (read native pakistani words) in and therefore ended up turning Urdu into some clinically pure freak of linguistics which only a dwindling minorty of so called intellectuals speak. So, Urdu literature has become a casualty of the culture and language wars.

The rest of us have gone back to using what is best in Urdu, the framework which uses whatever words you throw at it. Instead of using Persian, Punjabi, Pushto, Sindhi words, we are now using English in the “upper” classes, Arabic words in the “religious & nutcase” classes and native words and accents in the “working” classes.

I am of course with the working classes, and my problem isn’t that Urdu isn’t “pure” any more , rather that it isn’t “properly evolved” anymore. I think the artificiality imposed on Urdu and its main users (Pakistanis) has come back to bite Urdu in the a$$ with a vengeance…

My advice would be counter-intuitive. If you want Urdu (especially prose) to survive with it’s Muslim and eastern shades, then let the local languages in. Otherwise it will end up being a bad imitation of pidgin english with some remnant grammatical constructs thrown in. Kind of what Mr. Malik’s “Urdu” already sounds like.

No comments: