Monday, June 25, 2012

"Inability to read or write in your mother tongue was a prerequisite for upward mobility"

If Mohammed Hanif's account of growing up in Pakistan below doesn't ring any bells, then congratulations: you're from one of the minority of countries worldwide with relatively low levels of diglossia. If you're Arab, you know exactly what he's talking about: substitute Darja/3ammiyya for Punjabi, Fusha for Urdu, and French/English as appropriate for English.

"When I was growing up in Pakistan, the complete inability to read or write in your mother tongue was a prerequisite for upward mobility... In my rural version of the state education system, the first thing they did was to try and save me from my mother tongue. Everyone spoke Punjabi in my household and like every five-year-old I had a vocabulary. I could name a goat, a donkey, a chicken. But since the medium of instruction in my school was Urdu, I had to learn alien names for familiar things. I must have spent the next 10 years learning in a language that I would be considered pretentious for speaking in my own street. By the time I finished high school, I realised that there was no college physics in Urdu, forget mathematics, and if you were destined to study aviation, you might have had to wait for centuries while someone drew up navigation maps in Urdu. So I began to learn English and by the time I drifted into writing I had no idea what my own language was. I was more like, “How much are you paying?”"

You might also think it's odd that there's no college maths in Urdu, given that there is such a thing in, for instance, Polish, a language with about a third as many speakers...


Elisabeth said...

Azul, bonjour,
Juste un petit commentaire pour te saluer, et vous dire combien j’apprécie votre blog. Si vous avez un petit moment, vous pouvez me passer votre e-mail? J'aimerais beaucoup vous posez quelques questions sur vos études svp. Je suis québécoise (non arabe), et j'ai vécu en Égypte quelques années, et j'aimerais bien poursuivre mes études en linguistique, mais je ne sais pas trop ou commencer. JazakAllahu khayran.

-Élisabeth "Khadijah"

محمد إدريس said...

I don’t think the analogy holds here. For a start, the differences between colloquial varieties of Arabic and Fusha are not so great as to consider them two languages. Otherwise, speakers of Darjas/3ammiyyas would find it just as hard to acquire Fusha as speakers of other languages do. This is simply not the case. A speaker of any Darja/3ammiyya can pretty much master Fusha with enough exposure to it, which means that Darjas/3ammiyyas and Fusha are varieties of the same language. In contrast, speakers of other languages cannot master Fusha as Darja/3ammiyya speakers can. In short, Darjas/3ammiyyas and Fusha may be different, but they belong to the same entity.

On the other hand, even though there is some degree of mutual intelligibility between Punjabi and Urdu, they are two different languages. And unlike Darjas/3ammiyyas, Punjabi has its own standard variety with at least two scripts that are used quite widely.

Third, the presence of Arabic in higher education in Arab countries is much stronger than that of Urdu in Pakistani universities. It is true that medicine, for example, is taught in English and French in most Arab countries except Syria and a few universities here and there, but disciplines like physics and mathematics are taught in Arabic in many Arab countries.

So, we can’t really compare Pakistan to the Arab world.

Lameen Souag الأمين سواق said...

Elisabeth: je serais heureux de répondre à vos questions. Mon email est lameen arrobase

Muhammad Idris: In India, Punjabi has a standard variety with its own script, but in Pakistan, Punjabi is very rarely written, and when it is it uses Arabic script. Punjabi literacy in Pakistan is about as marginal as 3ammiyyah literacy in, say, Egypt. Punjabi and Urdu are fairly mutually intelligible with practice; I'm not convinced that the differences between them are greater than between (some) 3ammiyyas and Classical.

Certainly Arabic in Syria, or even Saudi Arabia, is much more used in higher education than Urdu is in Pakistan. In that regard the comparison applies better to North Africa or some of the smaller Gulf states.

Detect Dialect said...

Is is time to give the Arabic dialects (Ammiyya) the attention (and respect) they deserve. This is why we developed a dialect-specific search tool for Arabic on Twitter. It enables users to search in Egyptian, Gulf, Iraqi, Maghrebi and Levantine Arabic, instead of the general "Arabic" search option. Check out
Twitter: @Detect_Dialect