It is a fact that everyone understands Urdu in Pakistan, says scholar Iftikhar Arif

It is a fact that everyone understands Urdu in Pakistan, says scholar Iftikhar Arif

Iftikhar Arif and other scholars pondered over why Urdu isn't Pakistan's official language in conference at KU
Updated 05 May, 2017

“If you love your mother and care about your language, how can you turn your back to both and embrace someone else’s mother and language?”

The question by renowned Urdu scholar and poet Iftikhar Arif left many pondering over the matter of ‘Urdu as an official language’ and why it has not happened even after 70 years of Pakistan’s existence. Arif asked this question during a one-day conference on the subject organised by the Urdu Department of the University of Karachi on Thursday.

Also read: Urdu and Hindi are one language, says scholar

“It is a fact that everyone understands Urdu in Pakistan. It is a common language. A majority of children in our country do not have access to education in English. On the other hand, there are the big city kids attending elite English-medium schools. But after finishing school, most won’t stay in this country. They will go abroad. Then who’s left? The kids who didn’t get an English education, obviously,” the scholar pointed out.

“The selection boards here ask their questions in English. The big city kid will say a few words in English and walk out with the job while the one with the brilliant mind who couldn’t express himself will lose out. That is how the majority gets ignored here,” he said.

“By all means, study English because you also need to know what’s going on in the world around you and exchange ideas. There was a time when Latin, Arabic and Persian were the chief mediums of education in the world but it is English now. So yes, study it. But don’t force it on everyone’s head,” he said.

Richness of Urdu

Arif added that Urdu is so rich a language that it carries Persian and Arabic within itself. “You are the inheritors of a most scholarly language,” he said.

Read on: A Delhi artist is trying to popularise Urdu by putting Faiz and Chughtai on T-shirts

Mr Arif, who heads the Muqtadra Qaumi Zaban, the National Language Promotion Department formed to help introduce Urdu as the official language of Pakistan in place of English, said that they have published hundreds of books about Urdu terminology for official use along with dictionaries but since Urdu is still not the official language, the office clerks are used to working over old letter templates. “It sounds silly when a boss sending a termination letter begins by writing ‘I am pleased to inform you that you are terminated’!” he said.

“The civil service people do this all the time. They have stopped using their heads,” he said.

“The selection boards here ask their questions in English. The big city kid will say a few words in English and walk out with the job while the one with the brilliant mind who couldn’t express himself will lose out. That is how the majority gets ignored here.” — Iftikhar Arif

Giving some background about the issue of Urdu and it still not becoming a national language, Urdu lexicographer, newspaper columnist and KU professor Dr Rauf Parekh said that it had been decided in the 1973 Constitution that Urdu should be introduced as the official language of Pakistan within 15 years. To facilitate this, the government decided to set up the Muqtadra Qaumi Zaban to help promote Urdu and bring people to adopt it in their daily work.

“But ironically, it took the government six years to establish Muqtadra itself. Still, the organisation set about doing its work. They even worked with Microsoft, and the Urdu emails which you are able to send and Urdu messaging that you do on your phones are a result of that,” Dr Parekh said.

“But Urdu is yet to become Pakistan’s official language even after the passage of almost three times the time given for bringing about the change, and despite the infrastructure for it laid out long ago by Muqtadra. The only change which came about was Muqtadra’s name being changed to Idara Farogh-i-Qaumi Zaban,” he said.

Urdu dictionary app

Aqeel Abbas Jafri, chief editor of the Urdu Dictionary Board, added that they have also been hard at work at the board as the Urdu dictionary will also be introduced as a mobile phone app this very month.

KU Vice Chancellor Prof Dr Mohammad Ajmal Khan questioned how Urdu can be implemented as the official language when the people in our own households are not speaking it as they converse in a mixture of Urdu and English, not having mastered either language.

Prof Haroon Rasheed, former director of colleges, observed that the obstacle in the way of Urdu being adopted in our offices was our own attitude.

Dr Fatima Hasan of Anjuman Taraqqi-i-Urdu pointed out that literary greats such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, who was Punjabi, and Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, who is Marwari, prefer to express themselves in pure Urdu. “Our next generation doesn’t care for Urdu and the result is that they are not fluent in either,” she said. “Meanwhile, the common man,” she pointed out, “signs on the dotted lines of important official documents without und­er­standing what he is agreeing to do.”

Prof Dr Mohammad Ahmed Qadri, Prof Dr Shadab Isani, Prof Raees Alvi and head of the Urdu Department Prof Dr Tanzeem ul Firdaus also spoke.

Originally published in Dawn, May 5th, 2017


Thoroughthinker May 05, 2017 12:07pm
Politics and illogical hold by a political party has made the national language just a partial provincial language. There is an urgent need to correct and restore its due place.
Waqar May 05, 2017 12:41pm
After English "Urdu" is understood around the World. Even in Mecca & Madina, all signage contains Arabic/English/Urdu.
Pavan May 05, 2017 12:46pm
Urdu is official language in telangana state along with telugu
Khan May 05, 2017 01:25pm
I from Charsadda, KPK. And, according to my own observation, more than half of Pathans over 50 years of ages simply don't understand or speak Urdu. Mr. Arif is exaggerating here! Yes, it is the language of communication for Indo-Pak areas, has spread to the Gulf States because of South Asian labours there. But, to give Urdu the status of the national language of Pakistan and treat Sindhi, Balochi, Pashto, Punjabi and Seraiki etc as regional languages is a cardinal sin no one should commit. I have no problem with Urdu replacing English at Pakistan's higher education system, judiciary, and ministries. But, Urdu is the mother tongue of less than 1% Pakistanis. Keep this fact in mind while allocating resources to this language.
shafiq chughtai May 05, 2017 01:50pm
He is right.I am the elite mentioned by him and I firmly believe thqt the system is unfair for common people with out access to english education system.Turkey China Korea Japan Germany France they use there language even for PHDs ...i think this should be taken seriously and enforced via mobile computerv operating and education system.
asif khan May 05, 2017 01:50pm
i bet the prof. would have used atleast a dozen or so words imported from other languges while he would be speaking.. the matter of fact is urdu is evolving language our ligustic department if any shoud keep updating the list.
Ziauddin Shaikh May 05, 2017 01:58pm
'Everyone understands Urdu in Pakistan' Just another wishful thinker, a 'frog in the well' called Pakistan who does not know 80% of that country!!
ABL May 05, 2017 02:16pm
I am a Pakistani working in Africa. Modern learning methods for kids suggest that learning more languages makes you smarter. I am not against Iftikhar Arif Sb suggestion to make Urdu as official national language, but please consider the whole of Pakistan. Please read the history behind the independence of Bangladesh even way before 1971. It all started in the name of Bangla language. OK, lets learn from existing other countries. Look at South Africa. Look at some Central Asian countries. they all have access and command on multiple languages. Recently, I was in Kigali, Rwanda. The lady serving at petrol pump was fluent in English, French, Swahili and her own mother tongue (from her rural village). No educationist denies the fact, that English language is the way to go forward. Nothing against English or Urdu. Just promote more languages.
Arshad, Canada May 05, 2017 02:19pm
@Khan , Khan Sahib, When you say that Urdu is the Mother Tongue of less than One % of Pakistanis, you are mixing up Mother Tongue with the most widely spoken language of Pakistan. Just turn on your Tv or radio and check out which langue is being spoken? Go to Movies, what do you see even in India most movies are in Hindi, with mostly Urdu words, and almost 90 % of the Lyrics in Hindi Film songs are in Urdu. When you are outside of Pakistan,( or even outside of KPK), mostly likely you will converse in Urdu with Pakistanis or Indians. I love our other languages of Pakistan and I do listen to Songs in many Pakistan languages but the fact remain that Urdu is alive and well due to our Media in Pakistan and India
Shahid May 05, 2017 03:13pm
Thes 'scholars' deny ground reality of local ' mother' languages of people of Pakistan. Only mother tongue deserves to be official language and for early schooling in any region. There is no honest base to impose any language other than adopting the birth language of a people. Urdu is not mother language of over 90% of population of Pakistan. Children comprehend completely everything in their environment in their mother tongue ONLY. Teaching in any non-mother tongue is forced teaching imposed on young children since they cannot and will not comprehend genuinely in any unnatural language b/c of the natural wiring of their neural networks. That is a scientific fact these 'scholars' set aside, unfortunately, without realizing and declaring it. Linguistic exploitation must stop for the sake of human rights of young children by imposing any language other than their own mother language. After maturing somewhat, they can handle any and all languages they prefer. Let us be truly responsible.
M. Emad May 05, 2017 03:25pm
Pakistan's major regional languages should be made the National Language.
i2i May 05, 2017 03:28pm
I visited Charsadda area of Parang during 2010 floods. i was surprised to note that locals were unable to understand or communicate in Urdu. We had to rely on our Pashtoon drivers to help communicate with the locals. In many areas of rural Punjab people still can not speak Urdu but understand it and will communicate in their local dialect of Punjabi.
Justice for All May 05, 2017 03:31pm
@Khan .. rather your charsadda might be less than 1% of Pakistan .. rest of Pakistan knows very well urdu.. come out from ethnic mindset.
sajjad kamran May 05, 2017 03:33pm
There is vast difference between understanding Urdu and using Urdu in studies and official work. Unfortunately we are not trying to understand that.
Sauf Zulfiqar May 05, 2017 03:36pm
Nowadays, even Gujrati speaking Hindus of Karachi, speak fluent Urdu.
IMTIAZ ALI KHAN May 05, 2017 04:13pm
Being a Sindhi it's my duty to protect all languages and also my own. So it's not a good idea to have one language as your national language Pakistan is very diverse, we must give equal chance to all the languages and not edge one over the other. Urdu is also a beautiful just like any language, great poetic sweet language kind of like our own Sindhi. Cha aiwan sahee ahyan? :) (Am I right ) :)
Logicaldude May 05, 2017 04:18pm
@Khan We pay so little attention to use of accurate terminology, Pakistan has nearly 76 languages and dialects, all are our languages and equally respectable and lovable. The question is what is going to be the OFFICIAL LANGUAGE (Not national Language) of public bodies? Such as government and institutions. As long as they choose a language, any language, preferably a language majority of their public is able to understand.
TZaman May 05, 2017 04:26pm
Urdu is not the native language of the territory of Pakistan. Simple as that. Lot of rural people simply do not understand Urdu. And there's nothing wrong in it. Let them speak their mother tongue. Do not force false unity, which cannot exist in multiethnic country like Pakistan. Urdu has its utility, and it has shows it utility the world over. Please don't shove Urdu through our throat who doesn't want it.
Muhammad Saim Raffat May 05, 2017 04:34pm
@Khan Urdu is the mother tongue of 8 percent of Pakistanis and the fifth largest in the country in terms of mother tongue . More then balochi, hindko, gilgiti, Brahui, etc. But I agree that other languages should be promoted
analyses May 05, 2017 05:13pm
People are confusing 'mother tongue' with the most commonly spoken and understood language. There are a lot of mother tongues in Pakistan - so picking one out of them and make it official language won't do justice to all others. English is just spoken and understood by less than 20% of the population. Same goes for all other languages in Pakistan. While Urdu is spoken and Understood by more than 90% of the population. No other language would be understood or spoken by even 50% of the total population of the country (Punjabi may be close to 50% though). So Mr. Iftikhar Arif's statement is correct - except for a small minority.
javed May 05, 2017 05:46pm
As for Urdu being understood by 'everyone', that would have been the case after 70 years even if it was Russian instead of Urdu.
Masroor May 05, 2017 06:03pm
I can vouch for Iftikhar Arif sahib's statement; I have friends who do relief work, they have traveled to every nook and cranny of the country; he observed that even people in remote areas can communicate in Urdu thanks to technological tools: Radio, TV, cell phones etc!
Saqib Chaudhri May 05, 2017 06:06pm
@TZaman No one is shoving Urdu down...Urdu has evolved as a medium of communication which everyone understands...that is a fact!
FAwzia May 05, 2017 06:33pm
Statistics show that only 8% of the population would call Urdu their mother tongue. It was certainly not my mother's nor my father's mother tongue. English which, whether we like it or not, is the language of the world must be accepted as a connection or bridge to the rest of humanity. Punjabi (44%), Pashto (15%), Sindhi (12%), Saraiki (11%) Urdu (8%), Balochi (3.6%)
Shoukat Mohammad May 05, 2017 07:27pm
You are so right but they have worked hard to promote their national language and more over all the latest and science advancement has been translated in those languages, whereas none has been done to URDU
Sameer May 05, 2017 09:08pm
Fair opinions May 05, 2017 09:32pm
My comments space always get short whenever I write about Urdu,it's really soothing to hear Ifthikar Arif after long time. I felt somebody spelling out my words and that IA. Urdu is spreading like clouds,here in USA there are more than 100 Urdu Newspapers & magazines,just count the published materials in big cities in each US state.India,Pakistan,BD,Myanmar,Afghanistan,Sri Lanka,Nepal,Bhuttan,in Middle East,Urdu is spoken & understood. There are numerous poets of Urdu from Punjab,Sindh,Balochistan,and KPK, and this is a tangible proof that all Pakistani loves Urdu alongwith their native languages.Urdu is not in competition with any language, its field is so enormous and vast,that everybody wishes to learn Urdu. Almost all the top universities around the world have Urdu teaching & learning facilities,even in Russia and China as well. Urdu has international acclaimation, and worth. After English ,Urdu is the fastest growing and spoken language today. All politicians in Pak speaks Urdu .
Bashir May 05, 2017 10:09pm
Urdu is indeed the language that binds Pakistanis together. English is the international language and we are being left behind because we are not good at it. One possible solution is to designate Urdu as our national language and English as the official language. Both Urdu and English must be compulsory from class I. Trying to convert modern sciences, law and finance into Urdu is not a good use of our time and effort. Urdu should be taught as a language, and students encouraged to master the depth of the language through reading poetry and prose. English will help us to communicate with the rest of the world and improve our knowledge.
SHAHID LATIF May 06, 2017 01:41am
Urdu definitely is understood more than any other language in the country. if a Urdu speaking child has difficulty in answering questions in English, it will be a right thing to allow him to answer it in Urdu. In the same token, a Sindhi, Baluchi or Pathan should be allowed to answer in their mother tongue.
Jabar May 06, 2017 05:32am
@FAwzia The problem with statistics is that it does not add up to facts!
Abbas Syed May 06, 2017 08:59am
How strange no one at the conference to represent Sindhi, Punjabi, Pushtu, Baluchi and Sariaki, the indegenous langauges of Pakistan, to be the national languages of Pakistan. To the people from villages and small towns, Urdu is as alien as English.
BAXAR May 06, 2017 10:36am
@Shoukat Mohammad " the latest and science advancement has been translated in those languages, whereas none has been done to URDU" That is no because of the inability of Urdu, but that of the translators. The rulers do not want common people to get access to education. This is an elitist mindset afraid of common people taking their place. The easiest way to restrict the access, is by imposing English. Whenever the subject is brought forward, the case of Pashto, Sindhi, Punjabi is pushed against Urdu being mother tongue of 8% (ethnic bias), which otherwise are not promoted as language of education. This is only a gimmick to keep English as a tool of dominance.
gogo May 06, 2017 12:57pm
Urdu does not give jobs, English does.
gogo May 06, 2017 12:58pm
@Waqar Urdu is nt spoken in the west apart from Pakisatnis.
Berni May 06, 2017 03:01pm
Once world's greatest works of literature and philosophy become comprehensible by Urdu-knowing majority in Pakistan, the nation will sky-rocket to progress. Especially social progress. We'll come out of our Dark Ages!
BAXAR May 06, 2017 03:27pm
@gogo "Urdu does not give jobs, English does." We are talking about jobs for all. English does not give jobs to all, because English is not and can't be given to all. Just name a non anglo saxon country that has provided English education (and jobs) to all.
BAXAR May 06, 2017 03:29pm
@Abbas Syed "Urdu is as alien as English." Then why not start from the closest one?
BAXAR May 06, 2017 04:03pm
@FAwzia "Statistics show that only 8% of the population would call Urdu their mother tongue. " In 40s and 50s, no one in Israel had Hebrew as mother tongue. It is the language language of education, administration, communication, judiciary. Where does our English educated elite stand compared to Israelis?
stl May 06, 2017 04:33pm
SO Pakistan need foreign language for unification. languages like punjabi or sindhi doesn't have any traditional value?v
Jamil Soomro, NEW YORK CITY May 06, 2017 05:23pm
@stl Very strange comment. Sindhi Language has strong traditional value for me because it is my Language and the Language of the Province of Sindh. Same is for the Punjabi and Seraiki Languages of Punjab. You are saying this because these are not your Languages?
stl May 07, 2017 12:27am
@Jamil Soomro, NEW YORK CITY What i am trying to communicate was , why we need foreign languages like urdu & english? MAJORITY of pakistan knows punjabi & sindhi,so its easy to promote as communication language