1947 Partition between India and Pakistan: The Effect of Cultural Trauma on Language Attitude and Use

Maryam Shaukat* & Miriam Baigorri, CCC-SLP, PhD

From 1858 to 1947, the British Empire brutally ruled over what was then known as Hindustan. The summer of 1947 however brought severe change to this region; Sir Cyril Radcliffe was tasked by imperial Britain to draw a border separating or partitioning Hindustan (Carter, 2015). Within a matter of weeks, people were slaughtered, uncountable number of people were raped and countless others fled to the newly formed countries of Pakistan and India (Chhabra,2015). The displacement of millions of people led towards Urdu now being associated with an Islamic State, Pakistan, and conversely, Hindi became associated with a Hindu state, India (Rahman, 2008). Although much debate surrounds Urdu and Hindi linguistically, they are considered a digraphia in which varieties of the same language are written in different scripts (Ahmed, 2011). Nonetheless, though the two share similarities, Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language that has evolved from contacts with Arabic and Persian conquests written in the Nastaliq script whereas Hindi is based on Sanskrit, known also as the Devanagari script (Laal, 1920). For the purpose of this study, the focus will be on speakers who are knowledgeable in Urdu because the birthplace of Urdu was Delhi, now situated in India while the largest speakers of Urdu are now found in Pakistan(Rahman, 2008). The second language that will be studied is Punjabi, which similarly to Urdu is an Indo-Aryan language that is currently spoken today and is divided amongst borders in the South Asian subcontinent (Abbas et al.,2016). According to the census of 1998, approximately forty-four percent of speakers’ mother tongue was Punjabi, yet Urdu –only having a population of about seven percent mother tongue– was declared a national language of Pakistan (Rahman, 2008). While imperial Britain officially recognized Urdu as the national language, it failed to recognize Punjabi as a language in the Punjab region (Abbas et al.,2020). Much research has explored the aftermath of the British partition of the subcontinent, however, there has been limited or no research upon the effects of partition upon language and its perception by families who experienced said trauma. People who endured the partition faced unimaginable horror and trauma which subsequently shaped their identity, including: how their language use was altered. Families of those who were impacted by the partition hold different views on Punjabi and Urdu. The purpose of this study was to measure and gain insights into the effect of the 1947 partition on language perception and views of Urdu and/or Punjabi in children of U.S. immigrants descended from partition survivors. The region has remained largely ignored and is an untapped field of study for linguists to study and focus on and advance the field of history and sociolinguistics. This novel research will allow linguists and other researchers from various fields to understand specifically how Urdu and Punjabi are transmitted and passed on, along with ways to change any negative perceptions and prevent language loss. More broadly, this research can also further the study of how severe cultural trauma can linger and be seen in a cultural memory–language–and its effects on said society. Considering the broad population and expected population boom of India as the most populous country in the world, it behooves us as researchers to have knowledge on some of the world’s soon to be widely most spoken languages. The present study addressed the following research questions:

  • To what extent has the 1947 partition shaped language perception and attitude of Urdu and/or Punjab in Pakistanis living in the United States who are descendents of partition survivors?
  • Has the partition impacted the maintenance/loss of Urdu and/or Punjabi?
  • What are the perceptions associated with Urdu and Punjabi?
  • How has perception and attitude views impacted language use?
  • How have variables like family,friends, community, proficiency,etc contributed to the maintenance/loss of Urdu and Punjabi?