Prof. Thomas Regan
Lingua Franca of Bangladesh and Pakistan and the Role of English Language in developing countries
A lingua franca is any language widely used beyond the population of its native speakers. Bangla (Bengali) is the most widely-spoken language in Bangladesh – it resembles the status of official language and the Lingua franca of the nation. On the other hand, Urdu is the national and official language and the Lingua franca of the Pakistanis. Since English is considered a global language, both Bangladesh and Pakistan promotes this language. It is the prime time for the non-English speaking developing countries to think seriously about the benefit of promoting this language. Is it just for the development? If it is, what has English language to do with development?
Bangla is written in its own script, derived from that of Sanskrit. Bangladesh is considered to be a monolingual country in which more than 98% of the population is speakers of Bangla language. However, there are more than ten languages in such a small country like Bangladesh. Urdu, Monipuri, Chakma, Santali, Garo, Rakhain, Tipra are just some of the other languages present in Bangladesh. To communicate with the speakers of other languages we either need to know their language or communicate in a Lingua Franca that is comprehensible to both of us.
Bangla vocabulary shows many influences. These include a strong Islamic influence seen in the greetings of "Salaam aleykum" (Peace be unto you) and "Khoda hafez" (God Bless you) and nouns from the Arab world such as "dokan" (shop), "tarikh"(date), "kolom"(pen) and "bonduk" (gun). In West Bengal the Hindu influence is greater with the use of the Hindu greeting "Namashkar".
English has also had an influence on Bangla. Many words of English origin such as "tebil" (table), "tiffin" (archaic in modern day English meaning snack box) entered Bangla. In more recent time the ever rising global nature of English has lead to words such as "television", "telephone", "video" and "radio" being adopted by Bangla. However, unlike India, there has never been the need for English as a lingua franca and thus Bangla is the state language of Bangladesh.
According to our constitution, English can not be termed as the official language of Bangladesh since it has no status in our constitution. About the language of the country the Bangladeshi constitution clearly states: “The state language of the Republic is Bangla”. But English is allowed in our parliament and many government events. When there is a government event in which some foreigners attend then in many cases the speaker use English language. Many important government documents are written both in Bangla and English. The parliament proceedings are kept into these two languages. When a government body organizes a fair then often the souvenir is published in English.
Bangladesh is the only country in the world whose people sacrificed their lives for the language. Now the historical movement of 1952 is acknowledged internationally as the International Mother Language day. It is true that our people are emotional about their language, Bangla. During the language movement the people of Bangladesh were afraid if Urdu was established as the state language of Pakistan then all the government activities will be carried out in Urdu and our people will suffer. As a result of the language movement, the Pakistani Regime kept on carrying out government activities in English language. After Bangladesh became independent the government of Bangladesh decided to replace English with Bangla in administrative works. However, it has to be mentioned that all the International communication of Bangladesh government is carried out through English.
Bangladesh, being a new country and having its origin in the glorious 1952 language movement, is comparatively new in this English language promotion race. However, due to the recent craze of so-called concepts like development and globalization, Bangladesh is not that far behind either. The Bangladesh government has become more serious in promoting the English language in recent times with the aim of coping better with the rest of the world. However, the point here is before jumping into any decision regarding the extent to which English language is needed for that particular nation and what can be done to safeguard the country’s own interest.
The official languages of Pakistan are Urdu and English. Urdu is the national language and lingua franca of Pakistan. As mentioned by Nasir Islam in his article Islam and national Identity: The case of Pakistan and Bangladesh, “Urdu is widely used, both formally and informally, for personal letters as well as public literature, in the literary sphere and in the popular media”. It is a required subject of study in all primary and secondary school. Even though less than 8% of Pakistanis speak it as their first language, Urdu is Pakistan’s national language and has been promoted as a token of national unity and is spoken fluently as a second language by all literate Pakistanis. Urdu is written in a modified form of the Arabic alphabet and its basically Indic vocabulary has been enriched by borrowings from Arabic, Persian, Turkish, English and other Indian languages. Mainly, Urdu has drawn inspiration from Persian literature and now an enormous stock of words.
According to the Census, Pakistanis identified the following languages as their mother tongues: Punjabi 44%, Pashto 15%, Sindhi 14%, Seraiki 11%, Urdu 8%, Balochi 4%, others 4%. English is the country’s other official language, widely used within the government, by the civil service and the officer ranks of the military. Pakistan’s Constitution and laws are written in both English and Urdu. Many schools, and nearly all colleges and universities, use English as the medium of instruction. More than 80 percent of people in Pakistan have a basic understanding of English, as a result of the colonial rule of the United Kingdom.
Like Pakistan other countries such as: Singapore, Malaysia, India and Sri Lanka, are far ahead in the promotion of English language education since English is considered as an “institutionalized additional language”. As stated by Syeda Rumnaz Imam in her article English as a global language and the question of nation-building education in Bangladesh,
In Bangladesh a state provided Bangla medium education threatens to signify not only lower cultural status but global incompetence. Yet the growing global power of English invokes an older restriction, not Pakistan but the colonial masters. Given the foundation of national identity in the Bangla language, this makes the nation vulnerable as a political project” (474).
Under certain conditions the promotion of educational English and of educational Bangla might compliment each other. But such a happy condition is by no means guaranteed. What makes the case of Bangladesh distinctive is that on the one hand the Bangla language is very central to its biographical identity as the nation; while on the other hand, the non-linguistic conditions that enable nation-building are relatively weak.
The paradox here is the popular demand for English in the developing world, where English is widely seen as a tool of economic and social advancement. As stated by Syeda Rumnaz Imam in her article English as a global language and the question of nation-building education in Bangladesh,
The global role of the English language and English-speaking cultures derives not from an inherent superiority, nor from the natural outcome of market forces on a level playing field, nor from a spontaneous movement towards global unity. Rather it derives from the past and present hegemony of the USA and the UK in economics, politics and in the cultural sphere (479).
Nevertheless, “when English language skills become more widely diffused in developing countries, the effects are two-sided. Nationally the country becomes more globally connected- but is also rendered more globally vulnerable” mentioned by Syeda Rumnaz Imam. Individually, the acquisition of English allows members of the social elite to maintain their position within the country and perhaps to gain more freedom of action offshore – but by no means will everyone who acquires English join the local and global elite. Many people in Bangladesh believe that with access to English they will gain secure high profile jobs and perhaps a luxury life abroad. At the end of discussion, I believe there has to be a balance between first and second language acquisition. The diffusion of English not only opens up developing country markets but opens more opportunity to succeed. But English should be acquired not as a global or foreign culture that replaces the national culture, but within the educational context of national culture.
Imam, Syeda Rumnaz. English as a global language and the question of nation- building education in Bangladesh. Comparative education.Vol. 41, No. 4, November 2005, pp. 471-486.
Islam, Nasir. Islam and National Identity: The Case of Pakistan and Bangladesh. International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 13, No. 1. Feb., 1981, pp. 55-72. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici
Oldenburg, Philip. “A Place Insufficiently Imagined”: Language, Belief, and the Pakistan Crisis of 1971. The Journal of Asian Studies. August. 1985. 711-733. Academic Search Premier. Jstore. LaGuardia Community College. Lib., Long Island City, NY. 30 October. 2007 .