How to Kill a Culture

Perform a small experiment. Count the average number of words of English you speak in one sentence of what we arguably call Urdu.

During a family vacation in France, we went to a local cafe in Champ Elysee, Paris. We called the waiter and tried placing an order, but it was difficult because the man, seemingly, couldn’t comprehend a single word of English. After an agonizing struggle, we managed to get our message delivered. Fifteen minutes later when we paid the bill and got up to leave, the waiter called, “Learn some French!” Our only regret was that we had already given him a generous tip.

And it’s not just France. All around the world, people take great pride in speaking their language. For some of them (as is painfully clear from the example I presented), that pride soars to a point of arrogance.

In Pakistan (and India) however, this is not the case. We are rapidly replacing Urdu (or Hindi) with English. In fact, the more words of English one can stuff into his sentence, the more modern he/she is considered.

Which brings me to my question: Why is it that we are participating in the active adulteration of our own mother tongue? Are we culturally confused or simply ashamed of our heritage?

A language is more than a mode of communication. It’s an identity. When I land at Narita Airport, Tokyo, I can immediately tell that I’ve arrived in Japan because all the signs are in Japanese and people around me are talking in fluent Japanese. When a foreigner arrives at the Benazir Bhutto airport, all he/she can find are people so colourless that they’ve come down to borrowing identities from outsider, too lazy to build one of their own.

I’s time that we, Pakistanis, realize that there’s a difference between “modernization” and “westernization”. We have people who strongly adhere to dumb, vile traditions that were started centuries ago…but only because we are able to articulate four words of English together, we believe that they’ve become maadran!

Is that how things are supposed to be?

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    • Sara Q
    • August 26th, 2010

    Maybe it’s just that people who are privileged enough to be well educated in this country end up having very little in common with the majority i.e. ‘masses’. The colonial hangover notwithstanding, I think it’s this small minority who strive to be more like the West because they can’t relate to their countrymen. English becomes part of this, perhaps.

    Those who have the funds to study English and travel to Europe frequently (I’m aware of the generalization, of course) don’t feel much pride in their origin. I personally know people who are thrilled to be mistaken for another nationality while holidaying. Hell, I’ll be honest and admit I’ve never been unhappy at being mistaken for a Lebanese or a Spanish person myself.

    And when you function at home, driving to work or hanging out somewhere, you consciously draw a line between you and people like you, and the rest. You only interact with them for a ‘kaam ki baat’, and I’ve seen mant Pakistanis relating more to bloody Bollywood than anything genuinely local. Doesn’t surprise me, then, this fixation with English. I do it too. I take pride in my proficiency, where I couldn’t care less about the sad, stilted state of my Urdu.

    • asdf
    • September 16th, 2011

    I have wondered about this question as well. For me the answer was that many philosophical ideas (such as the basis of this website), scientific theories, self-help products, ideas which destroyed superstition and caused mini enlightenmentment were ALL available in english. It made sense to learn a language which gave me access to all this wonderful stuff, which was NOT accessible in hindi.

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