Women’s representations and the mediatization of Urdu in Pakistan: a single national language?

Author: Valeria Lauricella (South Asia Institute, University of Heidelberg)
Speaker: Valeria Lauricella
Topic: Ethnography of communication
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


In his speech at the Dhaka University in 1948 the father of the Pakistani nation, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (1989: 183) called for Urdu as a unique “State Language of Pakistan” that could serve as a bridge between the peoples of different provinces. Despite the numerous efforts implemented by state policies as well as by non-governmental institutions to establish a national Pakistani Urdu through the history of the country (H. Khalique, 2007; T. Rahman, 1999), the linguistic legacies of English – the language of the past colonisers – have shown their different degrees of influence on several administrative and social fields.

Observing contemporary forms of communication constituting ‘Pakistan’s Media Landscape’ (C. Schmidt, 2013) the paper asks: what is the actual national language of the country today? In order to understand the developments that revitalise Urdu across different forms of communication and digital technologies, the current study focuses on a singular theme of crucial interest for gender studies: what are the linguistics and terminological popular cultures of Urdu employed to represent Pakistani women through different national media?

The ethnographic analysis starts with a few examples of online journalism showing peculiarities and common characteristics of the linguistic variety shared by daily newspapers like Jang News, Express News and Nawa-i-Waqt in their news related to ‘Pakistani professional women’ (Haeri, 2002).

Another case of interest for defining the status of the contemporary national language regards the well-known TV series ‘Zindagi Gulzar Hai’ which portrays the everyday life and speech of women belonging to different social classes in Karachi: mirroring actual local realities on the national broadcast Hum TV, the programme unifies linguistic varieties and aesthetics on the screens of wide audiences across the country.
In last analysis, the significant role played by social media in the constitution of diverse forms of Urdu highlights examples from the Facebook pages of ‘All Pakistan Drama Page’ and of the ‘Jamaat-i-Islami Women’s Wing’. Despite the common gendered attribute examined across various media, perspectives from a Critical Discourse Analysis identify determinant relations between ‘language and power’ (Fairclough, 1989) as well as implications of the social contexts and discourses (Van Dijk, 2009) at play within the complex linguistic reality of the Pakistani media.

Considering the resulting representations of national women on Urdu media today, the paper demonstrates wether today Pakistani people are really ‘speaking like a State’ (A. Ayres, 2009).

Keywords: national language, Pakistan, media, women, contemporary Urdu