The Dawn: June 17, 2007

Fate of unwritten languages

Shafqat Tanvir Mirza 

PREFACES by Shaukat Mughal, compiled by Mukhtar Shah; pp 112; price Rs100 (PB); Jhoke publishers, Multan.

Prof Shaukat Mughal is considered to be an authority on Seraiki, earlier mentioned as Multani or Lahnda by E.O’Brein, Andrew Jukes and Sir George Grierson. Shaukat Mughal has translated O’Brein’s ‘Glossary of Multani Language’ (1881) into Seraiki under the changed title of ‘Seraiki Lughat, Dr. Andrew Jukes ‘Dictionary of Jatki’ or ‘Derawali Language’ (1900) and George Grierson’s ‘Lahnda’ also renamed as ‘Seraiki’.

Shaukat wrote these prefaces to his translations of the books by these British scholars. These books are in turn based on the findings of scholars who served on the eastern bank of Sutlej before 1849 while the Sikhs ruled on the other bank.

The early British scholars had reached some conclusions on the basis of research done on dialects spoken in Ludhiana and some parts of the Doaba. Obviously it was not a comprehensive linguistic study of the Punjabi dialects since it left out dialects spoken on the banks of other rivers, Ravi, Chenab, Jhelum and the Indus. It was a partial and incomplete, rather deceiving, study.

After the annexation of the Punjab in 1849, the British civil servants and missionaries stationed in different parts of the province worked on the local dialects, but they ignored the dialect in which the whole classical Punjabi literature had been produced. They wrote separate theses on the regional differences under titles such as ‘Shahpuri Punjabi’, ‘Central Punjabi’, ‘Punjabi as spoken in northern parts’, ‘Multani Glossary’, ‘Dictionary of Jatki’ and ‘Western Punjabi Language’. The word Punjabi takes centrestage in all these dictionaries and books of grammar.

Dr. Andrew Jukes in his Jatki Dictionary writes: “There seems to be three well-defined dialects.

1. Southern Punjabi: including Multani, Derawal, Bahawalpuri spoken from Sindh to the Dera Ismail Khan district.

2. The Salt Range Dialect: Called in Bhai Maya Singh’s dictionary: Pothohari — spoken in Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Shahpur, Gujrat and Salt Range.

3. The Hazara Dialect: Each district seems to have its local name for the language, which has dialectical differences of pronunciation, meaning or idiom varying more or less every few miles, or even in different quarters of the same city. This is more or less the case with every unwritten language.” With reference to Dr. H. Martin Clark, who corrected the proofs of Bhai Maya Singh’s dictionary, Jukes says: “The western Punjabi or Jatki language is quite a different language from that spoken in the eastern Punjab.” Perhaps these views were formed on the basis of the partial findings of the British scholars before the annexation. In the foreword to Kaifi Jampuri’s ‘Seraiki Sha’iri’, Dr. Mahr Abdul Haq declared that Punjabi was not the language of Pakistan areas. There is confusion, but, as Jukes said, “this was more or less the case with every unwritten language”.

The so-called great linguist and compiler of the ‘Linguistic Survey of India’, Dr. Grierson, must have been very confused himself to have said: “Lahnda (in Mughal’s view Seraiki) is the language of western Punjab. To its east it has Punjabi, spoken in the central and eastern Punjab, and it merges so gradually into that form of speech that it is impossible to fix any clear dividing line between the two.” One can again accuse the British scholars of analysing and drawing conclusions only from the spoken forms of different dialects without taking into account the Punjabi literature and folk poetry from Baba Farid to Shah Husain and from Husain to Sultan Bahu, Bulleh Shah, Waris Shah and Mian Muhammad Bukhsh. Jukes admits that “each district seems to have its own local name for the language, which has dialectical difference of pronunciation, meaning or idioms varying more or less every few miles, or even in different quarters of the same city.” There are some other half truths in the prefaces. Dr Mughal says: “Multani is the oldest name of Seraiki. It was named Multani due to the language of Multan province. A few centuries earlier Abul Fazl (Akbar’s period) included Multani as a language among the largest spoken languages.” Abul Fazl also wrote that the language spoken in Lahore was Multani i.e., Seraiki. Shah Husain was the great kafiwriter in Lahnda or Multani of that era. Now what linguistic status should we give to Shah Husain, Bulleh Shah and Waris Shah, Hashem Shah, who are all from the central Punjab?

Prof Mughal’s research is certainly praiseworthy. It is an addition not only to Seraiki but also to the ‘central Punjabi’ which is being alienated — or Seraiki is being alienated from its real and rich roots. Prof. Abid Ameeq from Multan has been repeatedly warning the speakers of all the dialects of Punjab not to create artificial gulf between this wellknit dialectical diversity.

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L EKH RACHNA collected, edited, compiled and pub lished by Punjab Lok Sujag; pp 150; Price Rs50 (pb); published from 10-Allama Iqbal Street, Rata Khana Road, Deepalpur.

The Punjab Lok Sujag arranges mother-tongue mela annually. In 2006, Gogera, which figured very prominently in the 1857 war of independence, was the venue. An essay competition between schoolchildren is a permanent feature of the mela. The areas selected for the contestants in 2006 consisted of seven districts: Kasur, Okara, Khanewal, Bahawalnagar, Pakpattan, Sahiwal and Faisalabad.

The management committee received 713 entries from these districts from among which the winning essays have been edited and published in this tastefullyproduced book.

In most of the essays, the young students regret that they are not being taught in their mothertongue and, thus, deprived of the treasurers of Punjabi literature and folk traditions. They feel embarrassed when someone asserts that Punjabi is an underdeveloped form of Urdu, thereby meaning that Punjabis are inferior to those who are taught in other languages. They also feel they are being alienated from their own people.

Encouragingly, more than 25 per cent entries are from girl students. The names of all the participants have been published along with addresses of their schools. Punjab Lok Sujag deserves praise for arranging this competition and compiling them in a book. One hopes the book will be circulated widely.

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