Factors affecting language in Pakistan

//Factors affecting language in Pakistan

Factors affecting language in Pakistan

Introduction: Factors affecting language in Pakistan

Pakistan is one of the populous countries in the world that are renowned to have diverse cultures and languages. The national language in Pakistan is Urdu while English is used as the official language. Urdu is also the language used as education language in most of the provinces despite the existence of other minority languages, whose speakers are discriminated against and which are considered as a sign of poverty and stigma. There have been strategies for enhancing intercultural communication and this has been enhanced by the efforts to encourage people to learn about languages in other provinces while the media has been used to enhance friendship among people who speak a different language and those from different cultures. The paper will analyze factors that affect language policy in Pakistan, how it is applied and recommendation of promoting cultural and language diversity. There are many factors affecting language in Pakistan.


According to Rahman (2003), Pakistan is a cultural diverse multilingual nation with six major and over 59 minor languages. Further, approximately 98% of all languages spoken in Pakistan are Indo Iranian branch. Most of the languages in the country have Perso-Arabic script, with a large part of the vocabulary obtained from Arabic, Turkish and Persia. However, Rahman (2003) asserts that despite the existence of many languages, Urdu and English are the languages that associated with power, corporate sector, government, education, and media. The author further holds that state policies have favored English and Urdu at the expense of other languages, leading to ethnic identity crisis to communities and speakers of languages other than the Urdu. This has also impacted on English and Urdu becoming a symbol of power, sophistication, and elite.

Torwali (2013) argues that enforcing the use of one language, Urdu as security and education policy language to attain an imagined national cohesion is a futile feat as it creates hegemony of one language at the expense of other languages that is tied to different cultures, which ultimately leads to unending identity crisis and chaos in a culturally diverse society.

Factors considered when planning language policies in culturally diverse country

One of the factors that are considered as vital in forming language policies is how the language or languages seeks to support affect group identity. In the view of how social developments are implemented such as education, language has become a vital aspect of any contemporary society. At the moment, it is estimated that there are there are more than 6170 living languages, most of which are exclusive dialects within 187 or more sovereign states, indicating that the need to take into account respect for group identity as manifested in the use of language is vital in enhancing cultural diversity and promoting social cohesion in nations. In this case, adopting a language policy that promotes multiculturalism and respect for diverse languages is one way of promoting peace and harmony in nations rather than use one dominant language that may be contravening the tenets of some group identity leading to conflicts and identity crisis (Ayres, 2013).

Another important factor that influences the planning of language policy is the socio-political relations. The language policy of a sovereign state can determine the level in which economic development can be achieved and which political unity is attained. If a language policy is effective and harmonious, it stimulates the release of collective energy that can be channeled to other profitable avenues. However, if it is divisive, authoritarian and dysfunction, it can culminate into alienation, increased pressure for regional separatism and eventual disintegration or civil war (Mansoor, 2005).

Multilingual characters of most nations and societies call for communication choices at all levels from individuals, ethnic societies, and states. Choice also implies tension and conflict where the choice of one person may mean denial of opportunity to the other, which is usually more expounded by the competitive nature of contact language. The situation is further made complex by other factors that include colonialism and international immigration that has led to the introduction of several intrusive languages such as English, which have been widely used in communication, pose a major challenge to the survival of the indigenous languages. In this case, states have been compelled to balance between the existing of foreign but global languages and the indigenous language to fully accommodate multicultural environment (Ammar et al., 2015).

Current language policy in Pakistan

Generally, Pakistan is a multilingual country, with the national language being Urdu, which is the mother tongue of a mere 7.57%, although the language is prominent in urban areas. English remains the official language in Pakistan, a feature it has been retained since when the British colonized the country (Ayres, 2013). The concept of power is central to policy in Pakistan, both during its formation and consequence. Power is defined as the quality that allows the users of a language to attain immense gratification compared to the users of other languages. The types of gratification brought about by language may be tangible goods or intangibles such as self-esteem, ego, and pleasure. Generally, the issue of power has played a crucial role in nationalizing the Urdu language where its mastery enables people to get employed and power which enable them to manipulate other languages. Williams (2008) asserts that a powerful language makes it easier for speakers to obtain a high level of gratification compared to others as in the case in Pakistan where children with a strong background of Urdu language have immense opportunities to education opportunities more than other language speakers.

There have been several statements that describe language policy in Pakistan, but there are several statements stated in the 1973 constitution. The constitution holds that Urdu is the national language in Pakistan and hence, requisite arrangements should be made for it to be applied for official or any other purposes within a period of 15 years upon its commencement date. The English language may be used as an official language until arrangements have been made to replace it with Urdu. With no prejudice to the status of Urdu as a national language, the provincial administration may come up with laws that will facilitate the use, promotion and teaching of the provincial language as an augmentation to the national language (Ammar et al., 2015).

Although the use of Urdu as a national language as a symbol of integration has had notable success in enhancing communication in a language and cultural diverse Pakistan, it has faced two major challenges. The first is that it has made the Urdu language a platform for resistance by ethnic groups. The resistance has been imperative in facilitating the groups to strengthen their language through acquisition planning as in the case of teaching the language and through corpus planning in terms of grammar and dictionaries. The second consequence is that it has stifled additive multilingualism as stipulated by UNESCO and other prominent educationists and linguistics. As Urdu spread through urbanization, media, and schooling, there is increased pressure on other Pakistan languages to retreat, thereby threatening cultural and linguistic diversity in Pakistan (Mansoor, 2005).


Basing on the analysis of language policy in Pakistan where Urdu has been favored at the expense of other languages in Pakistan threatening the language and cultural diversity, one of the recommended strategies that can be used is preserving the endangered languages and ethnography for minor indigenous language. In this case, historians, linguists, teachers and activists should come together and develop a system to save endangered species by training people in those languages, developing curriculum for the languages so as to be taught in schools as mother tongue while training the communities so that they can transfer them to upcoming generations (Ammar et al., 2015). There should be an incentive that encourages provinces to learn about other languages through additive bilingualism while promoting cultural tolerance and understanding, which is vital in enhancing multilingual learning (Ayres, 2013).


Pakistan is a renowned multicultural country that has six major languages and numerous small languages. However, English and Urdu have been favored as the language for the domain of power such as education, government, media and corporate sector. The policies developed by the state have favored these languages, thereby condemning the users of other languages to the culture of shame and lower status. In this case, additive multilingualism has been proposed as a major issue of revitalizing indigenous languages in Pakistan.











Ammar, A., Ali, N., Fawad, A., & Qasim, K. (2015). Language policy and medium of instruction issue in Pakistan. Acta linguistica asiatica, 5 (1), 111-123.

Ayres, A. (2013). Speaking Like a State: Language and Nationalism in Pakistan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Mansoor, S. (2005). Language planning in higher education: A case study of Pakistan. Karachi: Oxford University Press.

Rahman, T. (2003). Language policy, Multilingualism and language Vitality in Pakistan. Retrieved from http://www-01.sil.org/asia/idc/parallel_papers/tariq_rahman.pdf.

Torwali, Z. (2013).Pakistan’s Gradual decadence of cultural and linguistic diversity is overshadowed by terrorism, poor governance, and dirty politics. Pakistan’s linguistic diversity. Retrieved from http://www.Sharnoffsglobalviews.com/Pakistan-language-026/.

Tsui, A. & Tollefson, J. (2007). Language Policy, culture and identity in Asian context. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Williams, C.H. (2008). Language Policy and Planning Issues in Multicultural Societies. In: Linguistic Minorities in Democratic Context. Language and Globalization. London: Palgrave Macmillan.




By | 2017-11-15T22:37:09+00:00 November 15th, 2017|Categories: Uncategorized|0 Comments