Alhaj Muhammad Khan

Fate of small languages

A.M. Khan

This was not only about the medium of communication but more about the identity it holds in Chitral, Gilgit-Baltistan and a pocket in Swat valley where the first language of the people is Khowar. Like it, other linguistic communities also want their languages to be recognized in a way as major languages in Pakistan do in the national database.

For this very reason, a lawyer from Chitral, before 6th Population and Housing Census 2017, had moved to Peshawar high court with a plea for the inclusion of Khowar from ‘others’ category to the list which include Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Baluchi, Kashmiri, Saraiki, Hindko and Brahvi language. In fact it takes a long way of advocacy and struggle to include a language in Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) census form, resultantly in its database, where its speakers are counted through a systematic way of data tabulation. Anyone or a linguistic community values the scope of a language (mother tongue) in its life and the culture communicated through it is valued.

Pakistan is a country of rich linguistic diversity where, according to Ethnologue, 74 languages are spoken. Only nine of them have separate columns in census form. Like Pakistan, in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Chitral is also a linguistically diverse area where more than a dozen languages/tongues are spoken by linguistic communities inhabiting in different valleys and sub-valleys. Among them, Yadgha, Kalasha and Kirghiz remain to be endangered languages in Chitral.

The major languages in Pakistan are promoted, preserved and the population of a linguistic community is recorded in population and housing census—set to start in November this year, so it becomes enviable.

The fate of small languages, overshadowed by major languages in Pakistan, as they continue to be not included in census form, remain to be at the mercy of that linguistic community, language activists and the organizations working for the promotion and preservation, and recording the population of them. It is revealing to know that 35percent children in the world lack access to education in their first language—as it’s critical to early flourishing growth. The language of instruction in their classrooms is not the language they use at home. The speakers of languages other than Khowar in Chitral do fall within the purview of those children in the world.

The small linguistic communities have a right to preserve and promote their languages, and their population to be recorded in a country where they live. And they do deserve the right to information of its population in national database.

Apart from population census, PBS tabulates statistics of Child Labour survey Graph, Agriculture Census, Agriculture Statistics, Business Register, Demographic and Research, Energy and Mining Statistics, External Trade Statistics, Industry, Labour Force Statistics, National Accounts, PSLSM, Population Welfare Statistics, Price Statistics, Decision Support system for Inflation, Survey on Covid-19, Social Statistics, Field Services, Data Processing Centre and Time series data. In national-wide census, it also tabulates district-wise results or tables wherein out of 40 columns, No.11 is to record population by ‘mother tongue, sex, and rural/urban’ settings.

The inclusive and better way to contend in any forum, for any language recognition, is to add local languages spoken in Chitral, including Khowar, to be replaced with the major languages of Pakistan (Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, Baluchi, Kashmiri, Saraiki, Hindko and Brahvi) written also in district-wise table. It would help record the population of all languages spoken in Chitral, and data readily available for linguistic communities, activists, organizations and researchers for initiatives of language preservation and promotion.

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