For whom the bell tolls ! | By Dr Ayesha Ashraf 

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For whom the bell tolls ! 


NO man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

John Donne, an English poet and scholar, got tremendous fame for writing these above quoted lines, published in his prose work named Devotions upon Emergent Occasions in 1624.

His assertion that ‘every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’ is a call to remain united to feel a sense of belonging to the whole of the human race, and should feel a sense of loss at every death.

Donne opines that the death of any human being takes something away from mankind and the funeral bell that tolls for another person’s death also tolls for us someday sooner or later.

It marks the death of a part of us, and it comes as a reminder that we ourselves will die one day.

If we analyze Donne’s meditations with respect to the loss of mother languages, we find that the death of any language not only takes a part of other languages but it also points towards the gradual and forthcoming death of other languages.

Tariq Rehman, a famous Pakistani linguist, academic and researcher, states in his essay “Mother Language Education”; “When the last speaker of a language dies, a world view, a culture, an identity, a repository of collective knowledge and literature dies.

This by itself is a great loss and there is great concern in the world that the languages of the world are vanishing at a very fast rate”.

A mother tongue, also known as native language, is valuable in framing the thinking, emotions and identities of its speakers.

Therefore, its learning and understanding is of crucial importance for a child’s physical, mental and emotional development.

Likewise, being fluent in the mother tongue has countless advantages for the child as it polishes his cognitive skills, familiarizes him with his culture, and also teaches him to respect not only his own but all the other native languages.

It develops in him a passion to learn other languages, and to read about them and spread the word about their importance.

A child’s first interaction with his/her mother language starts even before he/she is born because the mother keeps on communicating with her child who grows in her body.

21st February is celebrated each year across the globe as an International Mother Language Day.

Similarly, in Pakistan, Mother Language Day was also celebrated this year at different platforms like conferences, discussions and seminars.

Besides Urdu and English (spoken as national and official languages respectively), there are several regional languages in Pakistan like Punjabi, Saraiki, Pothohari Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Gojri, Kashmiri, Hindko, Brahui, Shina, Balti, Khowar, Dhatki, Haryanvi, Marwari, Wakhi and Burushaski.

Unfortunately, in Pakistan, many children are not getting enough exposure to their native languages in school, and the deprivation gets worsened when they are taught in a language they cannot fully internalize or comprehend.

Here I would agree with Nelson Mandela, an exemplary leader and charismatic politician, as he states, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart”.

But, unfortunately, due to the sheer negligence on the part of all concerned stakeholders, these beautiful regional languages are marching towards their death.

Tariq Rehman comments, “Pakistan has 74 languages, and the important point is that except for Sindhi and Pashto (but that too up to class-5 in some areas) none of these languages are medium of instruction in the state sector or the expensive, elitist private schools, colleges and universities”.

The overwhelming debate whether students to be taught in their mother tongue or in any international language analyses pros or cons of this proposed practice.

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has advocated the practice of mother tongue instruction but the implementation is not strong throughout the world.

The inclusion of mother tongue as a medium of instruction has always been a debatable issue that started in Indo-Pak subcontinent even before the creation of Pakistan.

Till date, the native languages of Pakistan are ignored in the formal system of education in Pakistan but some individuals, private organizations and language activists are running schools where the medium of instruction is the home language of the student.

However, at present, to expand learning and education, the state’s language policy needs to consider the significant role of mother-tongue.

It is the right time to start effort to preserve linguistic as well as cultural diversity without promoting any rivalry or competence, and this approach will associate curricular knowledge with linguistic/cultural knowledge to create a state of togetherness in Pakistan.

—The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of English, University of Jhang.