How does a language serve as a vehicle of intellectual discourse?

I thought these comments printed under the byline Harris Khalique quite interesting. Such comments are directed toward every language and my commentary follows. I e-mailed the author of Urdu Is Not Going Anywhere to ask what language is the language of intellectual discourse; English, I am sure. This newspaper is printed in Pakistan; its url is
“It was a bit of a relief in these testing times to see the love of poetry bringing together under one roof people with adversarial political views who were praising or booing in one voice the verses they collectively liked or disliked. Such shared public spaces across class, ethnicity, sectarian and party divides must be restored and encouraged.” It is just this shared public space we are lacking in the U.S. Can art provide this?
“One interesting thing is that while Urdu news, drama and music channels continue to marginalise English language broadcasting, they pose little threat to the electronic media in other Pakistani languages. The more the public at large involves itself in political, cultural and social conversation, the more space is created for other Pakistani national languages.” Nice to hear. In radio, broadcasting in a foreign language for even a minute or two was considered verboten b/c anyone tuning in would immediately dial away from that station. Spanish-language stations and channels are thriving; how about those of other languages? I should mention that Urdu is the official language of Pakistan despite the fact that it was imported from India at the Partition in 1947, testifying to the power of the ‘mujahir’, mentioned in this excerpt from Wikipedia:
”On the other hand, most of those migrants who arrived in Sindh were primarily of Urdu-speaking background (termed the Muhajir people) and came from the northern and central urban centres of India,” Their urban background indicates greater education and economic status, I would guess.
“For someone like me who appreciates that a language whose speakers grossly outnumber its so-called native speakers developing, agreeing to and making people adhere to a standard register, a uniform accent and pronunciation will not be possible. Therefore, the more Urdu is left on its own, in terms of people using it as they need and as they please, with the ‘Urduites’ stopping their lament about its downfall and not worrying about its imposition by the state as a national language in the true spirit, it will continue to evolve gaining strength from its sister languages and local dialects within Pakistan.” This guy has a very enlightened attitude. Modern media can help form some sort of standard in these matters, but tolerance is essential when a language is a lingua franca used by non-native speakers. Urdu is full of laments about the state of the language. Khalique is recommending relaxing a bit about it and letting a consensus gel over time.
“The other conclusion and a different meaning of the expression that Urdu is not going anywhere as in not progressing and developing is also true. Urdu is no more the language of intellectual discourse in Pakistan. When I shared this with some senior Urdu writers, they got truly upset. Nevertheless, I maintain that since there is no new knowledge that is generated in Urdu from philosophy and mathematics to sociology and economics it is not among the greatest intellectual languages of the world today.” Despite Urdu’s large numbers and illustrious literature Obama is a fan of Urdu poetry it is not among the great intellectual languages of the world today, but neither is Norwegian or Greek, both languages with a fairly long past and represented in literature by Nobel laureates 3 Norwegian, 2 Greek. Both languages struggled with diglossia Nynorsk and Bokmaal for Norwegian (school districts still have to decide which dialect to use) and Katharevousa alongside Demotiki in Greece. Their early birth stages were beset by national angst and oppression the Norwegians by Danish domination and Greece by the weight of its glorious past in ancient times. The Norwegians used linguistic science of the 19th century to decide the form their languages were to take and the Greeks looked to folk song lyrics for the genius of the language. So my question is: what does it take to make a language a vehicle for intellectual discourse, esp if it is already a vehicle for public discourse?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *