Gaelic language movement and Punjabi language movement in Punjab

aik Rozan writer
Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

The Gaelic language movement of Scotland and the Punjabi language movement in the Pakistani Punjab

Prof. Dr Ishtiaq Ahmed

During my recent trip to Scotland I became aware of a movement in Scotland for the revival of their native language, Gaelic. Gaelic was also the mother tongue of the Welsh and Irish but after those regions were annexed by England and they became part of the United Kingdom, English was promoted in them through both the school system as well as prohibition on Gaelic as the official language.

At the beginning of the 18th century Gaelic was widely spoken in the villages and the Scottish Highlands, but it virtually disappeared by the beginning of the 20th century. It is now spoken as the mother-tongue by some 50,000 people mostly living in the outlying islands in the north around Scotland.

However, a cultural revival in favour of Gaelic has been gaining ground and with the rise of Scottish nationalism, which aims at independence more and more interest in Gaelic is being given though up until now it is only the movement of intellectuals, but Radio stations now have regular programmes in Gaelic.

All this was very interesting for me since our native language Punjabi is only a spoken language, but not the state language because a Punjabi state never existed as an independent entity except during the time of Maharaja Ranjit Singh who also chose Persian as the state language.

In our case, Punjabi remains the spoken language of the very vast majority, but all educated Pakistani Punjabis write in Urdu. In East Punjab, Punjabi is the official language but it is so heavily Sanskritized that it no longer sounds like authentic Punjabi at all.

Also, in our case the problem of scripts, Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi (a novel word) and to a smaller extent Devanagari further divides the Punjabis on the language question.

Somehow the language question is linked to state power and a strong sense of nationalism, but Punjabis have been prone to religious and sectarian groupings rather than as a national group.

I thought of sharing these impressions of mine from my recent journey through several parts of Scotland.

Quite honestly, I see no future for a Punjabi revival in Pakistan. It will remain a language of the people, but will probably weaken over time with more and more Pakistani Punjabis becoming literate in Urdu.