Will Punjabi language arise from the flames Like a Phoenix?

By:Rupinderpal Singh Dhillon

SikhSpectrum.com Quarterly :Issue No.30, November 2007

It is being noticed that English has overtaken the Punjabi language and so have Hindi and Urdu. There is a strong chance that the language will perish within 50 years in its homeland. What makes this scenario more sad is the knowledge that Punjabis themselves are to be blamed for it. It was hoped that as the second most spoken language in the UK and the sixth in Canada, something positive would come of it, but this does not seem to be the case.

I wrote Neela Noor primarily as a novel in Punjabi for the second and third generation born in the UK, so they would have something to relate to. The grand idea was that they would learn Gurumukhi and create their own literature. It seems that this was a fallacy on my part. Although the book has enjoyed some degree of success, yet it is insignificant. Only today I spoke about it to Amarjit Chandan, who was bemused by my naivety. He suggested I should forget my novice novel since only a miracle can get Punjabis to read even the most grammatically well written Punjabi literature. Jaggi Kussa felt that if Punjabis had the same reading culture as the Europeans, no Punjabi writer would starve, and some would even become millionaires.

Although Sikhs want their children to retain love for Sikhism, it is whittling due to the lack of investment in spreading Punjabi education. The new generation only knows bhangra and are losing all but the external aspects of their culture and religion fast. It is easier to write our experiences in English but it only enriches English. Our lack of enthusiasm seems to be the final nail in the coffin of Punjabi. It would not be so bad, if it was not already happening in Punjab where economic necessity has begun to kill the language. Would an Englishman ever do that to his own language? Or would a Frenchman treat his language the way Punjabis do? Never. Despite English sweeping the world the French stick to defending their mother tongue.

Islam does not require Punjabi, so it affects it less, but those Muslims of Punjabi origin are losing the battle at a quicker rate than the Indian Sikhs. Ishtiaq Ahmed has suggested that Punjabi identity could be restored by writing in the internationally used Latin alphabet. But surely this alphabet has some weaknesses?

In this age of Internet some would argue that Sikhism does not need Punjabi and English can guide Sikh children. But surely this misses the point? When the Bible was translated from its original Hebrew it lost so much of its meaning.

One hopes that those studying Punjabi in the West will take up the challenge and preserve what they can of the language. If young children in the West fail to, some day, use Gurumukhi to write their own stories and experiences then it is pointless teaching them “oorhaa aarhaa” and the extended Punjabi alphabet. One might as well use Latin. Punjabi is the thirteenth most spoken language in the world, yet the only major language with a weak literature and useless readership. Is money the be all and end all for Punjabis?

Parent's Fault

I Write In English, But Never Really Happy
I Write In Punjabi, Considered Really Crappy.
My Heart Pines For A Language Lost,
Can Speak, Not Write, Is The Cost.

With Good Intentions Wrote A Book
Had Recipe, But No Ingredients To Cook.
I Don't Want To See Ma Boli Die,
Sahit Severed, A Generation Is To Cry.

Our Voice Will Have To Fit The New Tongue,
The Old Words Can Only Be Sung.
Let Those Born There Preserve,
What We Can We Will Reserve.

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