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CPEC and language policy

CPEC and language policy

To establish the best possible power relations, including issues of status and role of languages; the CPEC language policy needs to be carefully planned

Sabiha Mansoor

APRIL 1, 2018

The successful implementation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) International Agreement and its major aim to benefit the unemployed and marginalised youth; would depend largely on the type of language policy that it adopts. This would determine whether it is an ‘elitist’ policy that is exclusive, and only caters to members of ‘major’ language communities in Pakistan and China; or a ‘cultivation’ policy that is inclusive and enables speakers of all language communities, including ‘minority’ or local languages to participate in developmental projects. This type of language policy in international trade agreements, is based on the principal of democracy, and allows all participants to have an equal opportunity to access various types of jobs and new business ventures generated at all levels in various sectors at different stages of development.

CPEC projects are expected to extend through various regions in Pakistan from Gilgit to Gwadar as well as in China. The CPEC will help China and Pakistan in connecting to markets in Europe, Asia, and other countries in the region. It is expected that the agreement will create around 700,000 direct jobs if the planned projects are implemented effectively by 2030. This unique opportunity for economic development of Pakistan, and opportunities for employment to the large population of unemployed youth; has raised the hope of all stakeholders that comprise policy makers, research scholars and the young citizens of Pakistan.

CPEC Project requires resources both in terms of physical infrastructure; as well as Human Resource Development (HRD) envisaged along with their timeline. The political, economic, and social implications of this partnership at various phases of the CPEC International Agreement, also needs consideration. The government of Pakistan has already set up an Institutional Framework for CPEC in this regard.

This Framework apart from major committees on physical infrastructure mainly OBOR, Industrial plants to create energy and business centres; comprises two main sub-committees on social development that focus on people to people exchanges through media and cultural programs; and transfer of knowledge through academic training. A number of initiatives are being undertaken through hosting numerous cultural events, and setting up of exchange programs with China for knowledge transfer necessary for economic advancement.

Pakistan is a multilingual state and the target population is very diverse and large; it may be virtually next to impossible to teach such a large number of people Mandarin

In addition, various initiatives are being undertaken by universities and colleges to teach Mandarin. However, unplanned attempts to teach Mandarin being made by Pakistan may result in a loss of revenue and energy; keeping in view the fact that Pakistan is a multilingual state and the target population is very diverse and large; it may be virtually next to impossible to train such a large number of language learners to learn Mandarin.

In order to achieve a critical awareness, power relations, including issues of status and role of languages; the CPEC language policy needs to be carefully planned. Apart from studies on the academic and knowledge transfer, as well as cultural awareness programs, through exchange visits; and cultural events; there is currently no official published study on CPEC language policy that is available. It is highly recommended that the government should start planning a language policy with the help of research studies by university scholars who have expertise in the field. This is vital as the absence of a ‘de-jure’ language policy would lead to a ‘de-facto’ language policy, which may be haphazard; when misunderstandings may arise at different levels due to breakdown of communication during meetings and negotiations; leading to wastage of time, energy and funds.

As per experts in language policy for international agreements, this would require a language policy terms of the selection of link languages, corpus planning, and acquisition planning as well as an analysis of ‘the present language situation’, that would include language background of speakers in different domains in partner countries, and the status and role of different languages in multilingual countries such as China and Pakistan; conducting a ‘language needs assessment’ in the socio-economic and cultural context of stakeholders, such as owners or employers at -the higher levels, managers and supervisors at mid-levels, and skilled and unskilled workers at lower levels, involved with the developmental projects; to study the personal and social ‘identity’ and of all stakeholders and local communities alongside OBOR or Silk Route; to assess if they have high or low ethno linguistic vitality; and finally to study the attitudes and motivation of stakeholders to learn the link languages, and use it with collaborative partners.

The planning of a language policy for international agreements is necessary for successful implementation of CPEC. In addition, this may be a unique opportunity to develop Urdu — the national language of Pakistan — as an international language, especially with OBOR passing through where Urdu/ Hindi is the national language; as well as in providing state support to our marginalized local languages; especially for millions of our illiterate population of which the majority are women; especially in in the rural domains where ‘mutual intelligibility,’ with Urdu could be low.

If this is not done, there is a possibility of endangering our Pakistani languages; and above all, the hazardous outcomes that benefits of CPEC may go the urban educated elites and not the ordinary citizens; thus maintaining the status quo.

The writer is a former US Editor at Oxford Analytica and a special adviser in the UK government


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