Islamabad -- Tariq Rahman is an academic scholar, writer and a well-cited linguist in Pakistan. Holding degrees in literature and linguistics, he has authored many books including A History of Pakistani Literature in English, Language and Politics in Pakistan, An Introduction to Linguistics, Language, Ideology and Power. He is the recipient of several national and international awards recognising his research and vast scholarship. His most recent book is From Hindi to Urdu: A Social and Political History published in 2011. Tariq Rahman is currently the dean of the School of Education at the Beaconhouse National University in Lahore.
Q1) Ylife has an interesting trajectory; you joined the army, left it, studied literature and then eventually switched to linguistics? What prompted you to change yfields?
When I joined the army I was very young and didn't know anything about politics. I wasn't interested in it either. When military action took place in Bangladesh, I was about to be passed out as an officer and heard senior colleagues from East Pakistan describing the atrocities on ground. The stories of mass murders, systematic rapes, and burning of villages, traumatized me. For them, it was suppression of those who betrayed the state whereas for me it was the suppression of East Pakistanis by military action rather than votes. I decided that I couldn't obey orders to fight a war, which my conscience declares wrong. That is when I resigned from the army even though I had prospects of rising to higher ranks. I wanted to study further. Eventually, I did an MA in English, and then another two in political science, all three as private candidates.
Q2) Do you think linguistics is more important to understand than literature?
I think both are equally important. After leaving the army, I wanted to do a degree that could combine literature with social sciences. With social sciences, I felt you could write about the changing attitudes of war. Social science is important in terms of bringing attitudinal changes. Now, the British council scholarship at that time (1979) was only offered for literature. In 1980, I applied to a number of universities but my preference was University of Sheffield, which offered British history and literature. By undertaking this degree, I could write about the military. When I finished my MA in literature, in 1982, my class fellows had applied for PhD programs. With encouragement from my wife, I too decided to apply for a PhD. I then got a doctorate degree in 1985, which focused on E M Forster's aspects of an English language novel. I came back to Pakistan and in a year's time, my interest changed to the history of English language and then to linguistics. Then I applied for another Masters because I wanted to write a book called 'language and politics'. For this, I went to Glasgow because Scottish universities were teaching linguistics.
My studies brought me to the nature of conflict in Pakistan, class of worldview and ideologies and, in general, things which are precious to me in a country, we all live in.
Q3) What is the current state of linguistics education in Pakistan?
It has improved since the time I came. There are a number of Masters and MPhil classes in various universities but no institute teaches linguistics at Bachelor's level. That is unfortunate because students come for an MPhil degree without any real grounding of how the language works. I founded the linguistics department at Quaid-e-Azam University, which offers MA in the subject but then again, without any previous knowledge of language, students can't take much from this degree. So while neighboring countries like India, Sri Lanka and Nepal, offer linguistic courses at Bachelor's level, the field remains unfamiliar and unexplored in Pakistan.
Q4) How do you think languages such as Urdu and English are being used as tools of power at the cost of local languages?
There are domains of power such as democracy, judiciary, media and business houses. Whichever is the language of these will give people jobs. English is primary language since British times followed by Urdu. To flourish in the job market, it is important to know these languages. This is true for India too. India has a 3-language policy on paper but jobs are still only in English and Hindi. This is a sub-continental reality, which is more pronounced in Pakistan.
There are a total of 72 regional languages in Pakistan, but their importance is being increasingly marginalized. Punjabi, despite having 60 million speakers, is not taught in schools whereas Pashto is taught only till class 5 in Balochistan. Sindhi is taught till higher grades but only in rural Sindh. languages are the beauty of Pakistan and it is tragic that there have been no measures to safeguard them.
Q5) Although many people don't approve of 'Urdish', the use of Urdu and English together in utterances and written sentences, giving the logic that one should use only one language at a time, you argue in favof such usage. Why?
Purists have always been against change. Whenever two languages come together, there has always been, what we call, code-switching. That is the technical term for such usage. It has also been called high literature at some point. The common saying these days is that 'Kids don't know any language. Neither Urdu nor English'. This is complete nonsense because there are, in my opinion, many reasons to switch during the conversation. If one wants to express intimacy or convey particular thoughts or ideas which one feels can only be conveyed effectively in a certain language, they switch. It is simply false to say that bilingual or multilingual speakers don't have command over any one language. In ordinary conversations, speakers of more than one language will always alternate between them to facilitate the conversation.