By Rauf Parekh
Just like human beings, societies, too, have distinctive traits. Ours is a society that is peculiar in many ways, but one characteristic is very prominent: we have a poetic, romantic and emotional disposition. We love to live in the past, which was, so we believe, great in every way. We are influenced by rhetoric and we fall for tall claims — oblivious to logic and practicality of ideas — especially if rhetoric is blared out at a public rally.
As a result of emotional and romantic perceptions, we love poetry and emotional narratives, but scientific knowledge and logical learning scare us. A testimony to the statement is the fact that every year in Urdu scores of poetry collections are published but rarely, if ever, any book on serious and scientific study of language appears. In our society, linguistics is like forbidden fruit. Very few original works on linguistics are published in any Pakistani language. That is the reason why a research-based book on any Pakistani language feels like a waft of fresh air. Recently, I received two books in Urdu. One is on the Saraiki language and the other is on the Wakhi language and both the books analyse these languages from sociolinguistic point of view. It was something to celebrate.
Saraiki zarb-ul-amsaal aur Saraiki vasaib (Saraiki proverbs and Saraiki culture) is published by Multan’s Saraiki Adabi Board. Sub-titled Aik tehqeeqi-o-tanqeedi jaiza (a research and critical survey), the book is an MPhil dissertation penned by Naseem Akhter, an assistant professor at Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan. We are not going to entangle ourselves in the debate as to Saraiki is a distinct, separate language or the southern dialect of Punjabi. What we must appreciate is the fact that the book is the result of exhaustive research and the researcher has been very conscientious about what she says. For instance, many scholars cannot tell idiom from proverb and it is very common to list idioms side by side with proverbs in books on grammar or idioms and proverbs. A few years ago, a well-reputed publisher published a book on Dilli ki khavateen ki kahavaten aur muhavre and I was dismayed to see that the writer and the editors, as well as the scholar who wrote the preface, failed to differentiate between idioms and proverbs and both the sections of the book, marked as kahavaten and muhavre, included both idioms and proverbs. But it is pleasing to see that Naseem Akhter has a very keen sense of what a proverb actually is. She precisely knows how an idiom differs from a proverb. She has not only traced the history of the Saraiki language and literature, citing examples of proverbs from Saraiki literature, but has also defined proverb and idiom with examples from different Pakistani languages, including Saraiki. Since the book presents the linguistic analyses and a selection of Saraiki proverbs, it seems that the author’s claim to be the first to have carried out such research work holds water.
The book analyses the Saraiki proverbs against the backdrop of Saraiki’s cultural and social values. The Saraiki Adabi Board has published over 100 books and, as its secretary general Dr Tahir Taunsvi has mentioned in his introduction, these books have been waiting for the readers and buyers.
The other book captures the essence of the culture, literature and the language of the Wakhi people. Sada-i-baam-i-dunya: Wakhi zaban, adab-o-muashrat par aik nazar (the voice of the roof of the world: a glance at the Wakhi language, literature and culture) is the book published by the Idara-i-Farogh-i-Qaumi Zaban (formerly Muqtadira Qaumi Zaban), Islamabad. Dr Nadeem Shafiq Malik, the author, informs us that Wakhi is a language spoken chiefly in the valley of Wakhan in Northern Pakistan, North-Eastern Afghanistan and some parts of Tajikistan and China. The Wakhi people call themselves Xik. The Wakhi language is also known as Wakhani, Wakhigi and Gojali. According to him, the Wakhi language is a sub-branch of southern group of Pamir languages in the Iranian group of Indo-European family of languages. He says there are about 65,000 native speakers of this language.
Dr Nadeem Shafiq Malik belongs to that rare group of our civil servants who are more of a scholar than a civil servant. He is known as a scholar of history, Iqbal studies, women studies and the Pakistan movement. He has also carried out research on Pakistani languages and the book is in fact his MPhil dissertation. It includes phonological and phonetic study of the Wakhi language and covers the geographical, historical, literary, religious and the cultural background of the Wakhi people and their language. The end-notes and references show how well-read Dr Nadeem Shafiq Malik is and how diverse and profound his research sources are.
These two books definitely add to our knowledge about these two languages and this is something the researcher is expected to do: the creation of knowledge.
Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2014