Punjabis forgetting Punjabi, rich words of language now extinct

JALANDHAR – ’Mar rahi hai meri bhasha shabd shabd, vak vak’ (my language is dying, word by word, sentence by sentence), this is how doyen of Punjabi literature Surjit Patar describes the current situation of his mother tongue.

On the occasion of International Mother Language Day on February 21, Hindustan Times takes a look into the status of the Punjabi language in current day scenario.

There are many words that were used in older times, but stand almost extinct today. The words in Punjabi like ‘tarkalan’ (evening), ‘deeva-batti vela’ (evening time), ‘khou pio vela’ (time of having meal), ‘taap’ (fever), ‘jhagga’ (one’s attire), have been lost as present generation is indifferent towards their meanings.

“The language which is one of the widely spoken languages in the world, used in more than 100 countries, is not respected in its own state,” says Surjit Patar.

Patar, who has written umpteen numbers of poems and is a recipient of Padma Shri, shares an anecdote where one of his acquaintances in Australia asked her daughter that she will get to learn Punjabi language once she is in Punjab, as everyone speaks Punjabi there. When they came here and a few months passed, the daughter asked her mother whether they were in Punjab or not, because most of the people here don’t speak Punjabi anymore.

“Such is the situation here that Punjabis are not speaking their own language. They feel embarrassed and prefer Hindi or English,” says Patar.

Patar, who has done his PhD in Punjabi literature says, “Irony is people outside the country miss the language and want their children to learn it, but we shy away from speaking it here.”


In 2008, the Punjab government had enacted the Punjabi Language Act to ensure the mandatory teaching of Punjabi from Class 1 onwards in all schools of the state. But many institutes and schools in the city can be seen discouraging the Punjabispeaking students and asking them to speak in English. The students are charged fine if they speak in Punjabi, it is learnt.

“If the schools start issuing fines to the students speaking Punjabi, it’s an insult to the language,” says Patar.


The language department of Punjab is also lying torpid. Some of the districts like Jalandhar and Kapurthala among others do not even have district language officers and the works department is supposed to undertake, like organising activities related to Punjabi language in schools, are not being done.

When Hindustan Times tried to contact Gursharan Kaur, director of language department, Punjab, she refused to talk.


In the end, Patar says, “We should not believe that this is an end. There is still some hope left.”

“Isnu bachaange gayak, lekhak, vidyak sansthan. Sabde maran de baad hi maregi bhasha” (singers, writers and educational institutes will save Punjabi. The language will perish only after everyone dies), said Patar before signing off.

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