CLAUDIA CIVININI writes
Pakistan is switching to Urdu as its official language. The country’s population speaks at least than ten languages. Its current official language is English, which is used not only as a medium of instruction but also as the lingua franca of the elite and in government ministries.
The constitution was written and passed in English in 1973, containing an article which specifies that the government had to plan specific arrangements to make Urdu the official language within fifteen years. Article 251 states that ‘the national language of Pakistan is Urdu, and arrangements shall be made for its being used for official and other purposes, and that the English language may be used for official purposes until arrangements are made for its replacement by Urdu’.
The article has clearly not been enforced yet, but it seems that the time has now come. On 6 July Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif signed an executive order to make it mandatory for government officials to make speeches in Urdu, both in Pakistan and abroad.
The announcement has not been welcomed by the Pakistani elite, who speak English more than Urdu and fear that many people won’t be able to communicate well in Urdu as they have been educated in English. Also, despite Urdu being the national language, many people do not speak it as a first language. According to the CIA World Factbook, Urdu is spoken only by 8 per cent of the population, and the most widely spoken language is Punjabi (48 per cent).
Pakistan’s minister of planning Ahsan Iqbal told Time magazine that the switch would create ‘greater participation to people who don’t know English, hence making the government more inclusive’, and that the nation wouldn’t be entirely abandoning English as all official business will be bilingual and English will still be taught in schools.
Some Pakistani provinces have switched from Urdu to English as a medium of instruction – and back, in some cases – in recent years. Officials in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province announced in 2013 that all government schools in the province would switch from Urdu to English over a period of five years. The Punjab province reverted to Urdu-medium up to Grade 3 after having switched to English-medium from Grade 1 in 2009.
Meanwhile in Britain, Urdu was the second most popular community language in the 2014 GCSE exams. According to a study of GCSE trends conducted by the Centre for Education and Employment at Buckingham University, the numbers of students taking community languages at GCSE have soared by 362 per cent in the past two decades. It is speculated that some schools are using these subject as an easy way to achieve top results.
At the end of July the Skills Funding Agency, part of the UK government department responsible for adult education in England, quietly announced that £45 million of funding for ‘Esol Plus Mandated Learning’ – Esol for unemployed adults looking for work – would end.
The announcement came within a day of prime minister David Cameron announcing a package of measures to tackle the ‘radicalisation’ of British nationals who join jihadi groups,
LEA CORBIN writes
Two teachers at an English-medium international school in Indonesia have had their convictions for child sex offences overturned. Indonesian teaching assistant Ferdinand Tijong and Canadian teacher Neil Bantleman were released from high-security Cipinang Prison in the capital, Jakarta, on 14 August, after the Jakarta High Court overruled a previous verdict.
In August the Thai Ministry of Labour published an English-language version of its list of jobs restricted for foreigners. Its heading was a commanding: ‘Career aliens do not’, and its content so cryptic that website ThaiVisa.com speculated it had been compiled for actual aliens.
According to the list, foreigners couldn’t hope to do any ‘indoor cloth or paper job’, ‘hawk the product’ or ‘work gold and silver otters’. And the bewildered foreigner could not find refuge in religion or politics, as ‘job Buddha’ and ‘the proletariat’ were also prohibited. ‘Party animals of the forest’ aren’t allowed either.
Thankfully the page was soon taken down – and replaced with one that made much more sense. For example, gold or silver otters were just ‘gold ornaments, silverware or pink gold making’.
Mistranslations seem to abound in Asia. In 2012 the Malay Ministry of Defence’s dress code did not allow ‘clothes that poke eye’ (revealing).
But big mistakes are still made closer to home. Former Italian prime minister once called his spokesperson his ‘megaphone’.