This book "asserts that the origin and spread of languages must be examined primarily through the time-tested techniques of linguistic analysis, rather than those of evolutionary biology" and "defends traditional practices in historical linguistics while remaining open to new techniques, including computational methods" and "will appeal to readers interested in world history and world geography."
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 audience.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
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.