The Trilingual Child

I was born and raised in Pakistan, (a multilingual country). My parents spoke both Urdu and Punjabi around me, but I was taught Urdu. Punjabi and Urdu are different languages but belongs to the same general family. Punjabi has a slight similarity with Urdu. Most of the Urdu speaking people can understand the written Punjabi with certain difficulty. Punjabi and Urdu are also an Indo-Aryan language. Coming in different dialects in Punjabi, Majhi dialect was one the most-used dialect in my village and even in my family. The other dialects include Pothowari, Multani, Dhani, Malwi, Hindko, and etc.

Dakhni dialect was one the most used dialect in Urdu. My parents taught me Dakhni dialect because it was more considered as a decent dialect. I grew up in an environment where my parents used Punjabi as their way of communication with the people. I started to mix Punjabi and Urdu. At that time upper class used Urdu as their language and middle class used Punjabi as their way of communication. There are numerous amount of dialects in Punjabi since it is the main language of the largest province in Punjab. As I grew up I got a better understanding of Punjabi and Urdu but on the other hand some of the dialects I still found difficult.

One day in Pakistan I had a chance to visit my uncle’s village in Peshawar where Pothwari dialect is used. It was situated away from the noise of the city. It was a peaceful and quiet place consisting of unpaved paths and streets. The village was surrounded in a hedge of green neem trees and bamboos. Most of the houses in the village were built from mud but some were made from bricks. There were green trees and flowery bushes everywhere. It was the season of “Amrood” (Guavas).

I decided to visit some parts of the village. I was walking down the street and saw a big farm on my left side. There were huge trees of guavas. The farm was very attractive and there was a tube well similar to the one we had in our farm. I decided to take a closer look at the farm. I saw a farmer, who was using the tube well for irrigation purpose. A tube well is a type of water well which is about 100 feet deep and 10-18 inches wide. It has stainless steel pipe, which goes in the well and with the help of electric motor, it brings water from it and then water is collected in a small reservoir. He was making the way for the water to flow towards the plants and trees.

I went up to him to get some information about guavas. I told him in my weird Punjabi that I am the nephew of Zahid Malik. He said “Kay Peya Kare-Nanh Band?” (what are you doing here kid?). I could not understand what he was asking, I thought maybe he is asking me to switch off the tube well, because the word “Band” means switch off in “Majhi” dialect.

So I went in to the cabin which was right next to the tube well and I switched off the tube well using a knife switch which was used to control the flow of electricity in a circuit. I heard deep, loud and aggressive sound from outside. His face turned into purple as he was getting furious. I felt ashamed for what I had done. It was only because of the different dialect. I was wondering what would he think about me. I quickly went up to him and apologized.   

Dialects can create some confusions like in “American Tongues” this documentary shows how everyone speaks English, but every single person has a different dialect because of the different region. Dialects can change the meaning of a word/sentence depending on where you live in United States. For example in the south people would say “I am fixing to take my shower.” and in the north people would say “I am about to take my shower.” similar is the case with Punjabi dialects where the word “Band” means kid in “Pothowari” dialect and in “Majhi” dialect it means “switch off”. It changes the meaning of a sentence.

When I went to school, English was introduced to me because the British education system was introduced after a few years of independence. From then people started shifting from the local Urdu education to the British education system. Soon people started to realized the growing importance of English and then made English as a mandatory language to be taught every school. It was a whole new different experience for many people. Since I was already in a process of learning, English was introduced to me.

Every single country has its own mother language, It is not just a way of communication but also a part of its culture. Pakistani people started to face a new dilemma which had an impact on both mother language and culture. After shifting to English, new generations are not proud to speak their own language. By adopting English they didn’t just adopt English but also western culture, customs and traditions. They moved toward the process of forgetting their own culture/language. One famous columnist and writer Orya Maqbool Jan said “You can learn in someone else’s language, but you cannot be creative in someone’s language.” this is the backbone of what I am trying to say. It has a deep impact on me, when I speak with my Pakistani friends they are not able to speak only Urdu, but rather a mixture of Urdu and English which is awkward sometimes. I think once you learn new language you are automatically stepping forward to adopt new culture. People should be proud of their language and accept the fact that people’s language is one of the leading components that makes them who they are.

English is obviously a foreign language to some or most, but it has its significance in the international world. When I moved to USA it was a whole new experience for me. I think there is big difference between speaking a language full time and part time because in part time you don’t get any chance to build your speaking skills. When I came here, I realized the importance of both English and Urdu. I respect both English and Urdu, that’s why I chose Urdu to converse with fellow Pakistanis and English with others. I was never ashamed of my mother language.


"Is This the Death of the Urdu Language?" The Express Tribune Blog RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Nov. 2013. <>.

Comments (1)