Speaking like a state: Nationalism, language, and the case of Pakistan

Author: 
Ayres, Alyssa
Year: 
2004

     This dissertation examines the conflicted and puzzling history of language and nationalism in Pakistan, through three historical narratives. The first concerns the cultural politics of a state project to propagate a national language, the story of the centrality accorded the Urdu language by national policymakers in Pakistan to create a culture, a history, and an identity that could be "truly national." Pakistan's story illustrates the cultural logic of nation-building, and its often severe limitations.
     The case of Punjab represents one limit on the historical process of becoming national. Over the past decades a quiet language movement has emerged in the very region which has long functioned as the ethnic and political hegemon. The "Punjabiyat" language movement, however, appears to operate with an aesthetic logic quite distinct from instrumental rationales typically offered to explain such movements. In the absence of clear material, let alone secessionist, interests to explain this, the case suggests that aesthetics, a literary tradition, and historical exemplars are not epiphenomena, not mere symbols manipulated to achieve other ends, but rather valued for their own merits and with often entirely counterintuitive political consequences.
     The final narrative looks comparatively at the role language plays in nationalism-indeed, in the most literal articulation of the nation. Our most powerful theories of nationalism assume the centrality of language, and literacy, to communicative practices that form national consciousness. The experiences of India, Indonesia, and Pakistan--the three largest states to emerge from colonial rule--invite us to question that assumption by the clear evidence they provide that the idea of the national language flowed from an idea of national consciousness rather than the reverse. This narrative suggests that the relative success of some national language projects can be explained by language ideological factors that present the national language in a supplemental, rather than supplanting role.
     Thus the final chapter reexamines the paradox resulting from theories that emphasize industrialization, literacy, and print-capitalism as constitutive factors for the creation of national consciousness. In the three major postcolonial cases examined here, large illiterate and multilingual populations have been no less national despite lacking these constitutive factors.

Advisor(s): 
Pollock, Sheldon, Alam, Muzaffar, Suny, Ronald Grigor, Ganguly, Sumit