In an atlas of the world’s languages, English has perhaps the biggest share of the lot, with approximately 1,132 million speakers around the globe. Some of us may very well attribute this to the language’s successful colonial past, while others might give due credit to the Americanization of the world through the carriers of English that are: WWII, American economic hegemony, American military power, and of course, Hollywood. But it is truly at the confluence of the two that English stands as a lingua franca today.
English is now the language of the Internet, computing, and basically anything you can name. And it is not just at the consumer’s end that you will find English, it all begins with English.
Pakistani federal and provincial governments, judiciary, civil and military bureaucracies, the fields of science, industry, information, and technology, and even the educational structure, are all the colour of English. English, then, is not just an official language, but a power, status, luck, and success magnet. It is your visa to a 5-star life.
Urdu remains the national language, still very much prevalent, married to the interminable vows of national unity – nothing more, nothing less. Neglected, however, are the regional languages: Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Balochi, and Saraiki; reduced to regional communication, and incapacitated by an invisible defect that prevents them from staring in the educational spheres, especially higher education. Tech, then, is a no-go zone for all non-English languages alike.
In an article by Dawn titled ‘President Alvi calls for learning English’, President Arif Alvi is reported to have mentioned how scientific knowledge and terms are usually available in the language of developed countries; “therefore, it was important to learn those languages” While due mention was made to research being done in other languages, the acquiescing to English language’s unparalleled dominance is nonetheless testimonial to how consent rather than coercion has Pakistani’s jumping on the bandwagon whereby the dominion of English and the perceived incapacity of our languages is their ultimate and incontestable truth.
While English is irrefutably the language of the technologies gluing the world into a global village, this phenomenological truth for some countries is not a perpetual reality, and their efforts to preserve and promote their language persists.
INDIA. While the presence of 22 major languages with 13 writing scripts in India cements the need for and prevalence of English as a lingua franca, their media and cinema are nonetheless primarily in their own languages, and successful too. The world-round fame of Bollywood and Malayalam movies is hopeful to the upholding of the Indian media’s linguistic identity.
CHINA. Without a doubt, Mandarin is the language with the most native speakers in the world. Within the country, English is noticeably being upstaged, whereby the language has been removed from Metro station placards and maps in small (Taiyuan, Shenyang) and big cities (Beijing) alike. In 2021, the education authorities in Shanghai prohibited the conduct of final English language tests at the local elementary schools.
SOUTH KOREA. English in South Korea is mainly restricted to intercultural communication whereby Al Jazeera in 2018 reported Seoul to have banned English language teaching for grades 1 and 2 so that the language may not hinder the student’s Korean language skills as feared by the Korean government.
JAPAN. The goal of English learning in Japan has been only on preparation for university entrance exams in English, and not language acquisition, as less than 10% in the country have proficiency in the language. In a 2011 study, Ryuko Kubota, a professor of language literacy and education at the University of British Columbia, found that English proficiency did not help Japanese workers advance in their careers.
Music like Luis Fonsi’s ‘Despacito’ symbolizes a seismic shift in the global taste for non-English music.
Even Pakistani music has been making waves across the world, the much-loved Punjabi and Urdu song ‘Pasoori’ by Coke Studio and Arooj Aftab’s Grammy-winning Urdu song ‘Mohabbat’ are milestones that can very well be harbingers for Urdu language’s success across borders. Maula Jatt as a Pakistani movie in Punjabi is another prime example doing phenomenally well worldwide for non-English storytelling.
The reason why such advances are hopeful is the present day all-encompassing success of K-Pop music and Korean Dramas. The industry does not find the need to produce content in any language other than its own, and it is regardless revered and enjoyed around the globe. Similar is the case for Anime, which is produced in Japanese for the Japanese audience and non-Japanese speakers may dub the content to access the entertainment it provides.
The way forward might be one of three roads.
Without complete disregard for one of the two realities, i.e., the dominance of English and the neglect of our languages, the best way forward would be to take English as a language for intercultural communication and not acquiesce to its ideological domination in the social, economic, political, and technological spheres.
Teaching of the language should be strategically revisited and systematically reconstructed so as to produce bilingual or multilingual speakers with critical thinking who are able to sense the hegemonic inspirations and alter the discourse.
The way forward must be an original Pakistani way forward. Whatever that may be.
Student of Mass Communication at NUST Islamabad, Trainee at Jazz (Digital Pakistan Fellow)
An aspiring poet and writer, I created my first poem at the age of three, and have always been driven by the power of words that makes them mean much more than the sum of their parts.
I enjoy both creative and technical writing, and my areas of interest include lifestyle, ethics and emotional intelligence, mental health, and analyzing social issues and current affairs, to name a few.
You can find me at email@example.com