Languages have a profound impact on our identity, communication, education, social integration and development, yet they are increasingly under threat. The International Mother Language Day is observed on February 21 every year to promote diversity and highlight the importance of preserving languages.
The importance of learning and teaching in the mother tongue cannot be emphasised enough. Urdu was declared as the national language of Pakistan after independence. The nation has immense cultural diversity and over 74 languages are spoken here. For over seven decades, ethnic languages have been neglected in favour of Urdu and new generations are been distanced from their mother tongue.
Pakistan has a wide range of ethnic languages such as Punjabi, Sindhi, Seraiki, Balochi, Brohi, Pushto, and Hindko. These languages are not given due importance and successive governments have not made sufficient efforts to promote them. The research material in Urdu is obsolete forcing up to adopt the colonial language English. This has created a rather confused sense of identity for all of us.
There are 6000 languages spoken in the world and around forty percent of them are endangered. Only a few hundred are been taught or placed in public domain while even fewer are available in the digital world. These are part of our heritage and efforts to promote mother tongues will create more awareness of the cultural and linguistic traditions and inspire understanding and dialogue. It will preserve memories and history by providing knowledge in a sustainable way.
The UN estimates that a language disappears every two weeks taking with it an entire heritage. Globally forty percent of the population does not have access to an education in a language they speak or understand. There had been a gradual understanding of the importance of teaching in the mother tongue but no tangible results are seen.
Those nations have developed which gave importance to their mother tongue and were proud of their culture and traditions. It is unfortunate that we have squabbled over our past and our languages have been on a decline. It is observed that the younger generations have not only negated our ethnic languages but are now increasingly embarrassed to converse in Urdu.
The government needs to play a decisive role in ensuring that our languages are given their importance. Minor and ethnic languages should be taught in schools and included as national languages in our constitution. Parents should speak with their children in their mother tongue and ensure that they are passed on. We can only progress when we give importance to our culture and language.