ISLAMABAD: First language or the mother tongue always plays a vital role in shaping identity and world views of native speakers other than protecting their local values, cultural and literary heritage, indigenous knowledge and folk wisdom.
The rapid changes during the last few decades have posed serious challenges to the survival of many languages spoken all over the world including Pakistan.
Across the globe, more than 6,000 different languages are spoken, out of which, according to the Foundation for Endangered Languages, around 500 to 1,000 languages are spoken by a handful people only.
Thus every year, the world loses around 25 mother tongues.
It means that about 250 languages are lost every decade.
No one can deny the vital role of the mother tongue as it is the sole transmitter of the culture, tradition and distinctive human characteristics.
The rich language heritage is a cultural asset and lack of its conservation would make the young generation foreigners to their mother tongues, local values and indigenous culture.
According to the available data on Ethnologue, a total of 74 languages are spoken in Pakistan.
This rich language heritage provides the country a reliable source of cultural strength, diversity and social capital. However, amongst them, more than 20 languages are spoken by very few people ranging from a few hundreds to a few thousands.
These languages are being faced with extreme danger of extinction. Initially, it used to be the forces of colonization that were looking down upon the local languages, now it is the power of globalization and modernity that has endangered the mother tongues of the local populace.
Dean Faculty of Social Sciences, Air University, Dr Wasima Shehzad while talking to APP has shared four steps to deal with the endangered Pakistani languages: Identification, Documentation, Preservation and Promotion.
She said, “The languages which are extremely in danger should be enlisted first while their characteristics including sounds, syntax, semantics and grammar etc should be documented.” The speakers of the endangered language(s) should be encouraged to speak those, she added.
Dr Muhammad Kamal Khan, Assistant Professor, Department of English, Allama Iqbal University (AIOU) Islamabad said, “Language carries a rich treasure of knowledge and unique cultural construction of the world.”
He said according to the Barcelona accord, it was helpful for the psychological health of the children to teach them in their mother tongues at the initial stages. Likewise, local language authorities should be established for promotion of regional languages, he added.
Learning a new language is not bad but learning it at the cost of the mother tongue is not a wise approach.
Looking at the situation, the renowned Pakistani linguist, Dr Tariq Rahman like many other researchers has also raised the most pertinent question over the dying languages: “whether we are collaborating willfully or unknowingly in ‘killing’ our indigenous languages.
Dr Wasima Shehzad said that recently expert stakeholders from diverse backgrounds after holding long deliberations on “Language Policy Dialogue” have developed consensus that the initial years’ education should be transferred to children in their mother tongues.
The findings of the research dialogue were also shared with the government and higher education departments for implementation, she added.
Dr. Abdul Wajid, Assistant Professor, Department of Pakistani Languages, AIOU said that a comprehensive language policy was needed for conservation of the endangered languages of the country.
He said that expert linguists have suggested setting up language academies in different parts of the country for the conservation of endangered languages of the area.
“There was no bigger loss to indigenous culture than the loss of its languages”, he added.
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