LINGUIST List 13.2993

Mon Nov 18 2002

Review: Socioling/Educational ling: Rahman (2002)

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  1. ´┐Żlisabeth Le, Rahman (2002) Language, Ideology and Power

Message 1: Rahman (2002) Language, Ideology and Power

Date: Thu, 07 Nov 2002 09:41:42 -0700
From: ´┐Żlisabeth Le <>
Subject: Rahman (2002) Language, Ideology and Power

Rahman, Tariq (2002) Language, Ideology and Power: Language-learning among
the Muslims of Pakistan and North India. Oxford University Press, xix+689pp,
hardback ISBN 0-19-579644-6.

´┐Żlisabeth Le, University of Alberta

[This book has not yet been announced on the LINGUIST list. --Eds.]

As a linguist working in the framework of Critical Discourse Analysis, I
was naturally interested in Rahman' book, "Language, Ideology and Power",
when it was announced on the list of books for review in the Linguist List.
It is only after having received it that I discovered its sub-title,
"Language-learning among the Muslims of Pakistan and North India". While
reading the book, I realized how lucky I had been not to have known it
before. Indeed, not being a specialist of this part of the world, I might
not have asked to review this book, and I would have missed a most
interesting and important work.

Rahman's "Language, Ideology and Power" deals with the history of language
learning and teaching among Pakistani and Indian Muslims, and how this is
related to ideology, world views and power. This thick book (689 p.) is
divided into 16 chapters; it includes numerous appendices (75 p.), a long
bibliography (51 p.), and an index (14 p.).

The introductory first chapter presents the multilingual situation in
Pakistan and North India. North India is defined as the Hindi-Urdu and
Punjabi-speaking states of pre-partition India. In Pakistan, about 57
languages are spoken; the major ones according to a census of 1981 are:
Punjabi (48.17%), Pashto (13.14%), Sindhi (11.77%), Siraiki (9.83%), Urdu
(7.60%), Balochi (3.02%), Hindko (2.43%) and Brahvi (1.21%). Although in
Pakistan, children are supposed to be taught in their mother tongue at the
primary level, most children are taught through Urdu, and thus, the
literacy level in Punjabi and Pashto is low. Urdu is the most widely
diffused second language and it is the language of literacy; English is the
language of the elite. The question of language teaching among Muslims in
Pakistan and North India is tightly connected to the issues that led to the
Partition (i.e. creation of Pakistan), and that continue to affect
relations between India and Pakistan today.

The theoretical framework is presented in the second chapter. Rahman
distinguishes between four categories for the function of language
learning/teaching. Rational or pragmatic language-learning is to empower
oneself by acquiring the potential to receive employment, therefore to
enter the domain of power. Resistance language-teaching, or the teaching of
one's own ethnic language, is to resist the domination of a language of
power. Ideological language-teaching is to transmit ideas and values in
order to influence perceptions of reality. Finally, extra-rational
language-learning is purely for personal, emotional reasons; it is the only
category that is not related to power.

Each of the following 12 chapters deals with the situation of specific
languages taught in Pakistan and North India. The first is ARABIC (chapter
3). Both in Pakistan and North India, its learning is useful for gaining
employment in the Arab world. As a religious symbol in Pakistan, its
teaching helps unite around Islam and decrease ethnic nationalisms. PERSIAN
(chapter 4), which used to be the language of prestige because of the
Islamic culture it is associated to, started to see its rank decline with
the arrival of the British. It has now become non-important both in terms
of prestige and of utilitarian value. In the 19th century, ENGLISH IN INDIA
(chapter 5) started to replace Persian as the language of elitist
discourse, and thus disempowered Indian Muslims even more. To regain some
of that power, the Muslim elite learned English. This resulted in English
becoming a class-marker, and made it even more difficult for the
lower-middle and working classes to enter the domains of power. As a symbol
of Muslim identity, URDU IN BRITISH INDIA (chapter 6) serves to unite
Muslims whatever their ethnic origins, and distinguishes them from Hindus.
In Pakistan, it is a tool in the hands of the mostly Punjabi ruling elite
over the other ethnic groups, but in North India, it helps preserve the
identity of a dominated group, the Muslims, in the Hindi-Urdu heartland
that is dominated by Hindus. IN THIS HINDI-URDU HEARTLAND (chapter 7), URDU
is considered as a ghettoizing language because employment is in Hindi, and
thus the demand for Urdu remains limited. URDU IN PAKISTAN (chapter 8)
serves to counter ethnic nationalism on the one hand, but on the other it
gives rise to ethnic resistance because its position leads to the
disappearance of ethnic languages. Because of the association of the
religious right with Urdu, the dominant position of the language
strengthens this right. And as the disillusioned poor and powerless masses
have joined the ranks of ethnic nationalism and religious revivalism, Urdu
has become a symbol of the dispossessed in a state where the Westernized
elite has adopted English. ENGLISH IN PAKISTAN (chapter 9) gives privileged
access to the most lucrative and powerful jobs. It is taught as a foreign
language, but also in English-medium schools. However, because of the
manner it is taught, only students in elitist private schools where English
is the medium of instruction become fluent in it. Thus, by educating its
children in these schools, the elite gets to keep its power, and by
separating them from the indigenous cultures, it invites contempt towards
these cultures. On the other hand, the English language brings with itself
liberal values such as democracy, human and women's rights, and tolerance.

SINDHI (chapter 10) is the language of the lower salaried class in Sindh
where cities are dominated by Urdu-speaking Mohajirs. Non-Sindhis in Sindh
resist learning Sindhi because it is a symbol of Sindhi ethnic identity,
and because they don't need it to get jobs (knowledge of Urdu and English
is sufficient). PASHTO (chapter 11) is associated with Pashtun identity,
and thus its teaching is a political imperative for Pashtun ethnic
political parties. However, as it is not used in the domains of power, it
is not learned by great numbers of students, although it is the medium of
instruction at lower level in non-elitist schools in Pashto-speaking areas.
It is also the language of some popular reading material. After the Afghan
wars, it has developed a closer connection with revivalist Islam. PUNJABI
(chapter 12) has never been a language of power: Persian was the Court
language of the Sikhs, and it has been replaced by Urdu, which is also the
symbol of Muslim identity. This is why, in India, Punjabi Muslims support
Urdu and not Punjabi. In Pakistan, some Punjabi intellectuals are in favor
of Punjabi for reasons of ethnic identity, while others prefer Urdu in
order to prevent a rise of ethnicity that would break up the country.
Punjabi is learned at the elitist level by language activists and at the
popular level by ordinary people who read popular texts for pleasure.
BALOCHI, BRAHVI AND MINOR LANGUAGES (chapter 13) are only unofficially used
as auxiliary languages of facilitation in schools. Although language
activists point out that the marginalization or disappearance of these
languages would threaten the power base of the corresponding ethnic groups,
parents do not want to overburden their children with languages that are
not used in the domains of power. Finally, FOREIGN LANGUAGES (Arabic,
Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Turkish, etc. -
chapter 14) are not popular in Pakistan. When they are learned, it is
mostly for reasons of business, educational, and military purposes, thus
ultimately, for questions of national interest and power.

Chapter 15 looks at language teaching from a different perspective, that of
the worldview that is presented through language teaching. Chapbooks, i.e.
popular literature mostly about traditional themes (religious or not),
educate and entertain the common people, but are not used in schools. They
present a worldview in which one is governed by fate and nothing can be
changed. In this sense, they reinforce systems of beliefs that directly or
indirectly support the existing distribution of power. During British rule,
Arabic and Persian texts, that supported the arbitrariness of feudal
despotism and male domination, were partly replaced, and a colonial
Victorian worldview was presented. In the name of morality, it brought an
attitude of contempt for all Muslim classical literature. In India, a new
literature appeared and with it, a new worldview is available to Muslims.
In Pakistan, texts that endorse the state's objectives of Pakistani
nationalism (primarily directed against India) and support for the military
are privileged. However, madrassas, i.e. Islamic schools which attract
students who feel rejected by the state system mostly because of their
poverty, continue the teaching of the old texts to resist Westernization.
This and the fact that the main method of learning is memorization (and not
analysis) make madrassas students support the traditional power structure.

The conclusion (chapter 16) highlights the dilemma that is caused by the
teaching of English. On the one hand, it strengthens the Westernized elite
in its dominant position over large segments of the population, but on the
other, it is also the language through which liberal and humanist values
are brought to Pakistan. To solve this problem, the author proposes that
schooling be given in the six major mother tongues of Pakistanis (Punjabi,
Pashto, Sindhi, Balochi, Brahvi, and Urdu), and that these languages be the
languages of power in newly created linguistic provinces. They should also
be all recognized as national languages. As for English, it should be
taught to all children at state expense to give them access to a
liberal-democratic worldview and to allow them international mobility.
These changes in favor of the population (as opposed to the elite) would
change the nature of Pakistani society, but to be effective, they would
need to be accompanied by practical measures such as schools within walking
distance, sufficient wages for parents, etc.

Rahman's "Language, Ideology and Power" presents all the qualities and
limitations of critical analysis. Through the careful and detailed
investigation and analysis of language teaching and learning, the author
addresses the crucial social and political problem that is presented by the
strong inequalities in Pakistani and North Indian societies, and he makes
propositions to redress this situation. However, as for all other studies
of such type, some will criticize the emphasis on power, and say that the
author was intent from the beginning to find power issues in anything he
was looking at, while other factors might have provided better
explanations. In any case, this study presents the socio-political
situation in the region from a new and enlightening perspective.
Considering the importance of this part of the world in today's
international politics, Rahman's study is undoubtedly of great interest not
only for those working in the field of Pakistani language and culture, but
for all with a desire to understand what is happening in the world.

On the negative side, the book would certainly have gained from a more
careful editing (however, one must take into consideration the fact that
working conditions at Oxford University Press in Karachi might differ from
those in the West). Furthermore, readers who are not familiar with Pakistan
and North India would have greatly benefited from at least two additional
appendices, a map and a chronology, as many references are rightly made
throughout the book to numerous places and historical events. In other
words, the book could have been made more readable to a larger circle of
readers. The extra pages these appendices would have necessitated could
have easily been compensated by a more condensed style, and by the deletion
of unnecessary repetitions and details that are of interest to only very
few specialists. It is too bad that a work that so clearly underlines the
links between language planning and politics, and that is of such relevance
for the understanding of this part of the world could see its readership
limited because of a apparent misjudgment in the definition of its target

Elisabeth Le is Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics in the
Department of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies at the University of
Alberta (Canada). She works in the framework of Critical Discourse Analysis
on the representation of international relations in French, American, and
Russian media discourse.
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