Thursday, 22 December 2011

Is Punjabi going the Hindustani way?

Summario in Interlingua

Panjabi es le lingua del populo del region Panjab que es dividite inter India e Pakistan. Plus que 100 million personas parla le lingua ma le situation currente del linguage non es ben. Il ha duo graphias e parlatores de duo Panjabes non comprende le graphias de le un le altere. Anque il ha un problema de excessive persianisation o sanskritisation. Si le curso non cambia le lingua serea devenir duo separate linguas, como occurreva al hindustani ante 100 annos (hindi e urdu). Ancora religion joca un importante parte. Malgrado le facto que plus que un medio de parlatores es islamic, le lingua es frequentemente ligate a sikhes.

Resumo en Esperanto

La panĝaba estas la lingvo de l'lonĝantoj de l'regiono Panĝabio,  kiu dividiĝas inter Barato kaj Pakistano. Pli ol 100 miliono personoj parolas la lingvon sed la nuntempa situacio de l'lingvo ne estas bona. Ekzistas du skribsistemoj kaj parolantoj de du Panĝaboj ne komprenas la skribsistemojn de l'unu la alian. Ankaŭ estas problemo de uzi neogolismojn el aŭ la persa aŭ la sanskrita. Se la tendenco ne ŝanĝas, la lingvo devenos du apartaj lingvoj, kiel okazis al la hindustana antaŭ 100 jaroj (la hinda kaj la urdua). Ankaŭ religio ludas gravan rolon. Malgraŭ la fakto ke pli ol duono da parolantoj estas islamanoj, oni ofte rilatas la lingvon al siĥoj.


A hundred years ago Hindustani was the lingua franca in South Asia. Then surfaced religious tensions and the language was spilt into two. Now depending on which side of the border you are Hindustani is now Hindi or Urdu. A hundred years later, history seems to be repeating itself with Punjabi.

Of the 100 million or more Punjabi speakers, more than 70% live in Pakistan and for most of the remaining India is their home. A Punjabi from Eastern Punjab (India) is more likely to communicate well with a fellow Punjabi from Western Punjab (Pakistan) if he/she has lived most of his life in his/her village and has very little formal education than a "cultured" Punjabi. 

Here a "cultured" Punjabi is generally understood in the cities as someone who doesn't know his language well and talks in Hindi/Urdu or English much of the time. It is these people who have the most difficulty in talking with fellow Punjabis from the across the border in Punjabi.

This is an interesting phenomenon. Because in contrast to European languages, where much of the learned vocabulary is more or less similar even though the colloquial speech may have nothing in common with each other, we fight over the issue of learned vocabulary even though the colloquial speech is virtually indistinguishable.

This is as much true of Punjabi (Western and Eastern) and it is of Hindustani (Hindi and Urdu). Unfortunately I don't speak other Indian languages to comment on what is their situation.

In case of Punjabi the list of issues facing the language is long, but chief among them, from linguistic point of view, are:

1. Use of two Different Scripts

The use of two different scripts to write Punjabi isn't unique to the language and the solution isn't to discard one script in favour of another or adopt a Latin characters based script as I had suggested in an earlier post. We can learn from the Serbians and teach people both scripts on the both sides of the border. If the Japanese can handle three different scripts simultaneously we shouldn't have much of a problem especially when the task of learning Shahmukhi (37 letters) and Gurumukhi (41 letters) is nothing compared to the astronomical amount of effort required to learn Kanji (>2,000 characters).

2. The Issue of Excessive Persianisation or Sanskritisation

When I was a child I used to write a 'student' sṭudenṭ in Punjabi. Now nowadays vidyārthī (Sanskrit/Hindi influence) is more popular on this side of the border and if I'm not wrong the Pakistani Punjabis use tālib-e-ilm (Persian/Urdu influence). I find vidyārthī ugly and tālib-e-ilm is an unnecessary inconvenience. We have borrowed words from English in the past and have successfully indigenised them. No one considers botal (bottle) and haspatāl (hosptial) as foreign. The upshot is when it comes to learned vocabulary we can either get the Western scientific vocabulary adapted or can create new words from existing roots. There is no harm is borrowing from Sanskrit or Persian but the process should be natural.

3. Linking the Language with Religion

Up until the 1930s all Punjabis spoke their tongue. Then a man called Master Tara Singh started promoting Punjabi as the language of Sikhs. This exacerbated the already heightened religious sentiments. As a results Hindus increasingly started identifying themselves with Hindi and Muslims with Urdu. It's just like Bosnians insisting their language is not Serbian. How this tendency can be overcome, I have no idea. But the language will certainly get an impetus if we stopped viewing Punjabi as the language of Sikhs. We must understand they haven't got a copyright!

If the fate of Hindustani befalls Punjabi will depend on factors - politics and religion - that aren't mentioned here. But one thing is for sure: accept the laissez faire and we will have two mutually incomprehensible Punjabies in the coming decades.