آپ جناب (You, sir)

An individual’s cultural and social identity is heavily impacted by the languages they speak. Language is the means of communication that upholds communities. The group of people you can communicate with is who you will identify with. A language is a survival tool. Language facilitates communal relationships through understanding. The people you form connections with are the people you can speak with. These relationships are based solely on the method of communication: a mutual language. In “How to Tame a Wild Tongue,” Gloria Anzaldúa writes, “Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language.” (Anzaldua 74). Anzaldua can identify with multiple communities because she speaks an abundance of languages. Speaking English gives her the power to connect with other English speakers and identify as an American. As a Chicano Spanish speaker, she identifies as a Chicana. When Anzaldua says “I am my language” she means that both literary and figuratively. Literally, the languages she speaks helps her fit in and grow her identity. Figuratively, she takes immense pride in her main language, Chicano Spanish. Chicano Spanish is the result of the absorption of English into Spanish. Precisely like Anzaldua herself, a Mexicana growing up in the United States. The blending of the two cultures and languages defines Anzaldua. She’s both Mexican and American. A mixtureMy linguistic identity is as complex as Anzaldua. I was born and raised in the United States. However, my parents are proud Pakistani immigrants. Adamant of keeping Pakistani culture and language alive in their childrenWhen asked what my first language is, I am dumbfounded. I don’t have a “first” language because I did not learn one language before the other. I was taught three languages simultaneously. In school I would learn English, at home I picked up Punjabi and Urdu. An assorted blend of Farsi, Hindi, and Arabic; my father often called Urdu aman ke zuban, the language of peace. Being multilingual, my father often joked that getting into an argument in Urdu is the worst because the language is full of manners. 

If everyone tried to tame Urdu in America, people tamed Punjabi equally as much in Pakistan. In the US English is the proper language. IPakistan, Urdu is the “proper” language. People have developed a prejudice against Punjabi as a “rural” and “outdated” language. Yet, I love speaking Punjabi and find that out of all the languages I speak it is the most expressiveThis is because Punjabi is “A language which…[I] can connect… [my] identity to, one capable of communicating the realities and values true to [myself]” (Anzaldua 74). Language is about identity. When you can communicate with people you begin to form communal bonds with themMy identity is built by the languages I speak. As an Urdu speaker, I associate myself as a Pakistani. As a Punjabi speaker, I associate myself as a Pakistani Punjabi. As an American English speaker, I identify as a Pakistani Punjabi American. The diverse languages I speak help me connect with different people. This helps me understand my identity.  

However, the concept of language is not definitive. Languages are flexible and depend on the speaker and the audience. A younger speaker will have a colloquial vocabulary. Whereas, elders speak with more formality. One such example is the usage of formal pronouns as a sign of respect. For instance, in Spanish, the pronoun “usted” is used to address someone older in age or of a higher social rank. Similarly, in Urdu, the pronoun “ap is used. I learned Urdu from my parents and due to their desire of raising respectful children, my mother would always tell us that “respect will be reciprocated”. So, always use formal pronouns. My mother always addressed my sister and me with Ap” as well. Adults loved this, always complimenting us with our manners. But that wasn’t the language Urdu speakers our age spoke. Amongst each other children used the informal pronoun tum. Using the formal pronoun made me stand out amongst the children. To become a Pakistani child, I had to speak their language. I had to speak informal Urdu. I had to become their language. However, that meant I had to cross the moral threshold my parent had set up. I had to destroy the adaab in the language. Was I going to destroy the grace of its adaab to play a game of hide and seekNo, I was not. I am my language, and I will not change for temporary acceptance.  

3 thoughts on “آپ جناب (You, sir)

  1. “Adamant of keeping Pakistani culture and language alive in their children. When asked what my first language is, I am dumbfounded. I don’t have a “first” language because I did not learn one language before the other. I was taught three languages simultaneously. In school I would learn English, at home I picked up Punjabi and Urdu. An assorted blend of Farsi, Hindi, and Arabic; my father often called Urdu aman ke zuban, the language of peace. Being multilingual, my father often joked that getting into an argument in Urdu is the worst because the language is full of manners. ”

    Very in line with the reading on translingualism for today! Lol at your dad’s comments on manners. There are definitely some languages that are more “full of manners” than others haha.

    Thank you for sharing your language background with Urdu, Punjabi, and English and the challenges of negotiating how you spoke in complex settings. The more languages you have the more boundaries are hard to navigate it seems. Enjoyed reading!

  2. I have similar multilingual experiences. I grew up in China, where I was taught the official mandarin. However, half the time at home I would speak the dialect that was native to my city, when I moved to the U.S., I was taught mainstream English. I definitely agree with your statement that language is almost like the foundation of a community. Whenever I meet someone in the U.S. who speaks the same dialect as I did, I think it immediately makes the conversation more informal. It is like the person is not a stranger anymore, more like a distant relative.

  3. Wow, I fine it fascinating how you learnt three languages at once, I can’t imagine how challenging that is. I also enjoyed reading how you compared proper English to Urdu. After reading this I have a whole new level of respect for you being multilingual and multicultural.

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