Language discrimination refers to the unfair treatment of an individual based solely upon the characteristics of their speech; such as, accent, size of vocabulary, and syntax. It can also involve a person’s ability or inability to use one language instead of another.
It has been several years since the subcontinent achieved independence, yet we see the impact of the colonised period prevalent in our day to day affairs. The influence of colonisation on a society’s culture, norms, laws, and institutions is inevitable, yet it tends to decrease with time.
One of the major effects of colonialism is on a psychological level, and that is manifested in our various preferences and habits, one of them being our language of preference. It is a common occurrence that post-colonial societies continue to be influenced by colonial traditions, one of them being the colonised tongue.
In Pakistan, English continues to be the lingua franca of the elite, similar to the status of French in several African nations. Those who are not articulate in English are often the target of derogatory words, bullying and are looked down upon in society. Whereas, speaking in English is considered to be a symbol of power, affluence, and in certain cases, intelligence. This behavior is a reflection of our colonised mind-sets that places English on a higher pedestal than any other language. It is the same mentality which results in preferring to speak in an American or British accent rather than one’s own.
I believe that as far as the effectiveness of learning is concerned, it is in the best interest of any child that primary education be imparted in the mother tongue. Children learn at a faster pace if they start learning various subjects in their mother tongue instead of learning a completely new language first, and the fact is that, only the tiniest fraction of Pakistanis speaks English at home. But even if English is decreed compulsory from the cradle onwards, there is insufficient language teaching capacity to make this work. Moreover Pakistan’s different languages encode distinct cultures with beautiful prose, poetry, and fiction in each. To lose this history would be tragic.
I believe that as far as the effectiveness of learning is concerned, it is in the best interest of any child that primary education be imparted in the mother tongue. Children learn at a faster pace if they start learning various subjects in their mother tongue instead of learning a completely new language first.
However, in Pakistan it is common for children to be labeled illiterate and uncivilized, if they speak in Punjabi. This is why parents try their best to refrain from speaking in Punjabi with their kids. And frankly, one cannot blame the parents since the harsh reality is that when a three-year-old is enrolled in school and begins to speak in Punjabi with the other students and teachers; they label the child as ‘illiterate’.
Most Pakistanis have been brought up speaking our national language Urdu and English. Instead of conversing in Urdu, many of us lapse into English during everyday conversation. Even people who do not speak English very well try their best to sneak in a sentence or two, considering it pertinent for their acceptance in the ‘cooler’ crowd.
No nation becomes stronger by having the ‘correct’ official language. Instead it gains strength when it addresses the real needs of its people. Likewise, education cannot be improved by flipping from English to Urdu or vice versa. Change can happen only when education is seen as a means for opening minds rather than an instrument of ideological control.