• Tools and Resources
  • Customer Services
  • African Literatures
  • Asian Literatures
  • British and Irish Literatures
  • Latin American and Caribbean Literatures
  • North American Literatures
  • Oceanic Literatures
  • Slavic and Eastern European Literatures
  • West Asian Literatures, including Middle East
  • Western European Literatures
  • Ancient Literatures (before 500)
  • Middle Ages and Renaissance (500-1600)
  • Enlightenment and Early Modern (1600-1800)
  • 19th Century (1800-1900)
  • 20th and 21st Century (1900-present)
  • Children’s Literature
  • Cultural Studies
  • Film, TV, and Media
  • Literary Theory
  • Non-Fiction and Life Writing
  • Print Culture and Digital Humanities
  • Theater and Drama
  • Share This Facebook LinkedIn Twitter

Article contents

Pakistani-english writing.

  • Muneeza Shamsie Muneeza Shamsie Independent Scholar
  • https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190201098.013.69
  • Published online: 24 May 2017

Surveying Pakistani-English drama, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry from the inception of Pakistan in 1947 to 2015 reveals how Pakistani-English writing developed and changed over the years, from a small marginalized genre in the early years of Pakistan to the dynamic, growing body of work in the 21st century. Bringing together writing by Pakistan-resident writers as well as those in the diaspora demonstrates both contrasts and links among them. Early writers such as Shahid Suhrawardy and Ahmed Ali and the role of Taufiq Rafat in the birth of a new contemporary poetry in Pakistan are included alongside a discussion of the extensive writings of Zulfikar Ghose, an early diaspora writer. This article covers the critical writings of Alamgir Hashmi, Tariq Rahman, and Muneeza Shamsie in defining and developing a new canon. The internationalism of Tariq Ali and the new multi-cultural British identity asserted by the writing of Hanif Kureishi—and indeed Kureishi’s links to his Pakistan-resident family—poet Maki Kureishi and the journalist Omar Kureishi are pointed out. The extensive English-language non-fiction written in Pakistan ranging from autobiographies, collected editorials, and newspaper columns to writings on art and literature are also given space, as are the creative memoirs of Sara Suleri and others, the plays of Ayub Khan Din and Ayad Akhtar, the poetry of Moniza Alvi and Imtiaz Dharker, and a wide range of fiction writers from Aamer Hussein and Daniyal Mueenuddin to Nadeem Aslam, Mohsin Hamid, and Kamila Shamsie as well as newer voices such as Roopa Farooki, H. M. Naqvi, Fatima Bhutto, and Maha Khan Phillips.

  • Pakistani-English writing since 1947
  • non-fiction
  • creative memoir

In the early 21st century , English-language writing by authors of Pakistani origin 1 has received considerable attention, although it has been a part of Pakistan’s literary life since the creation of an independent Pakistan in 1947 . Of course its origins are rooted in the colonial encounter. At the approach of Independence, the founding fathers of India and Pakistan all used English to great advantage as a link language with the British Raj to press their demands. In Pakistan, this is very evident in the collected speeches of Mohammed Ali Jinnah ( 1876–1948 ) and that of many other leaders compiled over the years. The independence movement was supported by a nationalist press, which included English-language newspapers such as Dawn and the Pakistan Times , established in 1941 and 1946 , respectively. At Partition, Pakistan “inherited” a handful of established English-language novelists and poets. The most prominent of these were Shahid Suhrawardy ( 1890–1965 ) and Ahmed Ali ( 1910–1994 ).

Suhrawardy’s two poetry collections, Faded Leaves ( 1910 ) and Essays in Verse ( 1937 ), reveal his development “from a pre-modern poet to a modern one.” 2 Faded Leaves has links to the earliest Indian-English poetry, which drew on Orientalist translations of Indian literature and related 19th-century British poetry. These Orientalist influences permeated Indian-English writing for generations. Suhrawardy’s next collection, Essays in Verse ( 1937 ), made such a complete break from all other Indian English writing of the time that he makes no mention of India as a location. Instead, Suhrawardy shows himself to be “a master of such poetic devices as meter and rhyme especially in his later poems,” revealing the modernist influence of T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound. 3 He is regarded as the first modern English-language poet of undivided India. He co-translated 9th-century Chinese poetry and Russian prose and also wrote a pioneering critical work on art, theater and literature.

The bilingual Ahmed Ali is considered “the Muslim fourth to the Indian big three of the 1930’s”—Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao—who pioneered a modern, nationalistic, South Asian Indian English fiction, which coincided with the Independence movement. 4 Ahmed Ali first made a substantial contribution to Urdu literature as one of the four Marxist “English-educated” Indians who co-authored Angarey in 1932 . 5 These stories drew on Western literary traditions to attack India’s social, sexual, and religious hypocriscy. They broke many taboos, leading to the left-wing Progressive Writers Movement, which transformed subcontinental literature. Ali chose English as a creative vehicle for his first novel, Twilight in Delhi ( 1940 ), to challenge the imperial narratives of English literature. The novel, which revolves around the traditional household of the aristocratic Mir Nihal in Delhi, juxtaposes the 1911 Coronation Durbar of George V with memories of Mughal Delhi and the 1857 Uprising. Ali also experimented with language to try to capture the true expression of the subcontinental experience in the English language by incorporating Urdu words and translations of Urdu couplets, and he introduced the imagery of Urdu poetry in somewhat stylized sentences such as “the stars paled, twinkled awhile, then hid their shy faces.” 6 As Farooqi says, “Ali’s work signifies language in a different spectrum .” 7 His work prefigures the more successful linguistic strategies of post-independence writers.

Other well-known writers of the time include Atiya Begum ( 1877–1867 ), author of The Music of India ( 1914 ) and Iqbal ( 1948 ), which includes letters written to her in English by the Urdu poet Sir Muhammed Iqbal ( 1877–1938 ); the extensive writings of her husband Samuel Fyzee Rahamin ( 1880–1964 ) include two plays— Daughter of Ind ( 1937 ) was performed in London during George VI’s Coronation celebrations. Malik Sir Firoz Khan Noon ( 1893–1970 ) is the only future prime minister of a South Asian nation state (Pakistan) to have written a novel, Scented Dust ( 1942 ), a somewhat didactic work explaining his country to foreigners.

In pre-Partition India there were ongoing arguments, fueled by growing nationalism, over the use of English as a creative medium by Indians. 8 However, the contact with English literature had also influenced “vernacular” literatures, profoundly—of which Angarey is but one example. 9 The fact that several “English educated Indians” had switched from writing in English to their mother tongue and gave its literature a new dimension led to the perception that “the vernaculars … [were] the repository of interiority and imagination and English as a rational and functional tool for polemics and persuasion.” 10 Mukherjee points out this argument does not take into account “how English seeped into the intimate and personal domains” of these English-educated “vernacular” writers, who often wrote and spoke in English. 11 This includes a legion of Urdu writers ranging from Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz ( 1911–1985 ) to Abdullah Hussein ( 1931–2015 ).

Early Post-Independence Writing

In the early years of Pakistan, a huge debate raged over the “validity” of using English as a creative vehicle once the erstwhile colonials had left. The paradox was that English remained the language of government and elite schools (both inherited from the colonial system) and a lively English-language press flourished. Inevitably perhaps, the earliest post-independence Pakistani-English books, which can be loosely categorized as fine writing, are compilations of articles written in the press. These include Black Moods by Omar Kureishi ( 1955 ), Sand, Cacti and People by Anwer Mooraj ( 1960 ), and A Mug’s Game by Khalid Hasan ( 1968 ), the first of the collected columns of each of these journalists.

In 1957 , Mumtaz Shahnawaz’s novel The Heart Divided ( 1957 ) about Partition was published posthumously. Hers is the first post-independence Pakistani-English novel; Shahnawaz , ( 1912–1948 ) a writer and political activist, died in an airplane crash, leaving behind a first draft, which her family finally published, unedited. Despite polemical dialogues and extensive socio-political passages poorly integrated into the text, the novel has historical importance: its portrayal of freedom struggle has rare immediacy and “can be taken as a document of its time,” including details that have been forgotten in the national narratives of both India and Pakistan, though the novel stops short of the Partition riots. 12 In 1958 the first woman Pakistani-English columnist Zaib-Un-Nissa Hamidullah ( 1921–2000 ) published her only work of fiction, The Young Wife and Other Stories , which includes some notable stories.

Continuing Struggles

The first decade of Pakistan’s independence was a period of great difficulties for the newly created country, which struggled with the task of nation-building a fragile state apparatus and insecure borders. Added to that, the country was divided into two wings, East and West Pakistan, separated by 1,000 miles of hostile India, with a larger population in East Pakistan and the power vested in West Pakistan. All this contributed to the increasing power of the military-bureaucratic elite and its attempt to control free speech and to regard literature as tool for “nation-building.” 13 The country lurched from one political crisis to another. In 1958 martial law was declared. A strict censorship was imposed. In this oppressive climate, English-language creative writing in Pakistan, with its tiny audience and a handful of practitioners, continued to seek a voice, albeit without a direct political engagement with current events including anti-government riots and the 1965 war with India. In marked contrast, other Pakistani literatures, including those in Urdu and Bengali, which reached a vast audience, played a major role in fomenting political dissent, particularly East Pakistan’s demand that Bengali should be made a national language alongside Urdu and English. 14

In 1960 , Ali adopted a “mannered” oriental voice in his only poetry collection, The Purple Gold Mountain ( 1960 ), which combined the classical traditions of Chinese and Urdu poetry to create metaphorical poems that tell of despotic Chinese emperors and tyrants with clear parallels to martial law in Pakistan: thus he subverted and evaded censorship. 15 Later Ali lampooned military dictators and diplomats in a somewhat awkward magic realist satire, Rats and Diplomats ( 1985 ). In the 1960s he turned his attention to his unfinished pre-Partition novel in Ocean of the Night ( 1964 ), set against the backdrop of the independence movement. Despite the vivid imagery, this tale of lawyers, feudal lords, and courtesans collapses into a melodrama of Victorian theater and Indian film and “English-Indo-Muslim prose” that Ali used to advantage in Twilight in Delhi and reinforces Ocean as work belonging to an earlier time. 16 Instead, in the post-Partition era Ali’s best work remains his pioneering, critically acclaimed translation of classical Urdu poetry, although the posthumous publication in 2012 of Ali’s co-translation of modern 20th-century Chinese poetry, written during his sojourn in China in 1947–48 , revealed an early work of considerable skill. 17

In the 1960s, several other works were important milestones in Pakistani-English literature. Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah followed her essay collections, Letters to Neena ( 1951 ) and Behind The Veil ( 1953 ), with her autobiography From Purdah to Parliament ( 1963 ), which employs a chatty, modern colloquial English and links her struggle for empowerment with that of Pakistan: she leads up to her election to Pakistan’s first constituent assembly. Malik Sir Firoz Khan Noon’s From Memory ( 1966 ), though overweighed by details of governance, includes many insights into pre- and post-Partition politics until the declaration of martial law. Both these books are among the earliest post-Partition Pakistani-English autobiographies with a literary quality. 18 The expatriate Zulfikar Ghose’s Confessions of a Native Alien ( 1965 ) gave a completely new direction to the genre: migrant writing. He explores issues of identity and belonging in his account of his family’s migration from his native Sialkot to Bombay in 1942 and to London in 1951 .

Pakistani-English language drama has developed almost entirely in the diaspora, but in 1965 Taufiq Rafat’s (unpublished) verse play The Foothold was performed in Lahore to great acclaim. Significantly, Sayeed Ahmad ( 1931–2005 ), the only prolific Pakistani-English playwright of the time, belonged to East Pakistan, where the majority language was Bengali, which had a much stronger theatrical tradition than Urdu. He wrote three plays— The Thing ( 1962 ), The Milepost ( 1965 , and Survival ( 1967 —influenced by the Theatre of the Absurd. This was very new in Pakistan and also enabled him to employ symbolism and the abstract to comment on the human condition (and therefore Pakistani life) but avoid censorship. These plays were first performed in his native Dhaka, then directed and published by Yunus Said in Karachi and also translated and performed in Bengali and Urdu; two were translated into Punjabi. These inter-provincial exchanges suggested the possibility of a multi-lingual co-existence in a country beset by conflicts of language and ethnicity, but these productions soon came to an end, following changing political realities

In 1968 , populist anti-government demonstrations spread across East and West Pakistan. In 1969 , the military government of Ayub Khan was overthrown. The elections held in 1970 under his military successors revealed a country divided along ethnic lines, with the Awami League in East Pakistan as the overall electoral victor. In 1971 , the military embarked on a brutal military action to thwart the election results. This culminated in a war with India and the secession of East Pakistan, which became an independent Bangladesh, where Sayeed Ahmed had a very distinguished career as a writer and civil servant but was largely forgotten in Pakistan.

A new Pakistan came into being consisting of the erstwhile West Pakistan. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who held the majority vote formed a government. He was faced with many political challenges and soon imposed strict censorship. 19 Comparatively little appeared in any Pakistani literature about the trauma of 1971 and the loss of half a country—it passed into public amnesia. 20 In Pakistani-English literature, the only immediate literary response was a short story by Tariq Rahman and two poems by Kaleem Omar ( 1937–2009 ).

A New Contemporary Poetry: The Quest for a “Pakistani Idiom”

The first contemporary Pakistani-English poetry emerged as body of work in the 1960s and 1970s largely due to the impetus and interest generated by three anthologies published by Oxford University Press: First Voices , edited by Shahid Hosain ( 1965 ), Pieces of Eight , edited by Yunus Said ( 1971 ), and Wordfall , edited by Kaleem Omar ( 1975 ). The first of these included Ahmed Ali and Shahid Suhrawardy as senior contributors. Both gave the book a certain stature, which generated a renewed interest in their work and further contextualized the new poets, including two future major writers: Taufiq Rafat ( 1927–1998 ) and the ex-patriat Zulfikar Ghose.

Rafat played a particularly important role in forging a new poetry in Pakistan. He spearheaded a discourse on “a Pakistan idiom”—a poetry that reflected an experience of Pakistan and its culture, one, he said, that was not created by interjecting Urdu words and which he described as “the total us: our heritage, our environment, our myths, our climate, our art, our music.” 21 This discourse created poetry very different from that of Suhrawardy and Ali (and the large number of self-published writers emulating 19th-century British poets). Rafat also developed the narrative poem in Pakistani-English literature. He conducted informal poetry workshops and became mentor, guide, and critic to a younger generation of poets. The late 1960s and most of the 1970s is regarded as the great heyday for Pakistani-English poetry, with public events that included broadcasts on Radio Pakistan and reviews in British and American academic journals. In 1965 , Kaleem Omar edited Wordfall: Three Pakistani Poets ( 1975 ), the most accomplished of the Oxford University Press anthologies, which was also reprinted in Britain and consisted of work by Rafat and Omar ( 1937–2009 ) together with a new poet Maki Kureishi ( 1927–1995 ), the first Pakistani-English woman poet to rank among the best. Kureishi believed, however, that it was important for Pakistani-English poets to express their cultural duality, not suppress it in search of an idiom. Two other leading poets, Adrian A. Husain (winner of the 1968 Guinness Prize for Poetry) and Salman Tarik Kureshi, subscribed to this view too. This in turn led to considerable debate between these two schools of thought. 22

In Peshawar, Daud Kamal ( 1935–1987 ) created his own distinct voice in English with his three poetry volumes from 1973 to 1985 , compiled in a posthumous collection, Before the Carnations Wither ( 1995 ). Kamal had not been engaged in Rafat’s discourse on idiom nor represented in the three Oxford anthologies. Instead, he created brief spare poems, with strong visual images (much of his work celebrated Pakistan’s landscapes and its antiquity) that were influenced by his translations of the Urdu poetry of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Mirza Asadullah Khan Ghalib ( 1797–1869 ).

Poetry: An Era of Isolation

In 1977 , General Ziaul Haq overthrew the elected prime minister, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, instituting martial law, and in 1979 Bhutto was executed. Zia allied himself with right-wing clerics and encouraged extremism and sectarianism. He introduced brutal punishments and discriminatory laws in the name of faith, which attacked in particular the most vulnerable—women and minorities. He banned music and dance. He also tried to marginalize English in Pakistan, but this met with considerable resistance. English was now regarded as the language of trade and the new electronic media, but Pakistani-English poetry, which had a small audience, found itself isolated. The new, changed climate of fanaticism and bigotry, in the guise of a new nationalism, coincided with a crisis in the local publishing industry. Although Pakistani-English poetry was highly praised in Western academic journals, these poets were not able to attract international publishers or audiences. Younger poets, such as Henna Faisal Imam, Athar Tahir, and Waqas Khwaja, played a pivotal role in the small in-house literary groups and publications that kept poetry alive. New poets continued to emerge, including Ejaz Rahim, GF Riaz, Raja Changez Sultan, and Shahryar Rashed ( 1948–1998 ).

As an act of subversion, Rafat expanded his oeuvre to translate classical Punjabi poetry into modern English in Bulleh Shah : A Selectio n ( 1982 ) and Qadir Yar’s Puran Bhagat ( 1983 ); both asserted an indigenous, centuries-old, inclusive multi-cultural tradition as a foil to Zia’s zealotry. Rafat’s first collection, Arrival of the Monsoon: Collected Poems 1947–1978 ( 1986 ), soon followed; the poems “Circumcision” and “Wedding in the Flood” are among those considered Rafat “classics.” His continuing development as a poet emerged in the posthumously published Half Moon 1979–1983 ( 2009 ) and an earlier collection Taufiq Rafat: A Selection ( 1997 ). The latter was one of several poetry volumes by leading Pakistani-English poets published by Oxford University Press to celebrate Pakistan’s Golden Jubilee. These publications included the selected poems of Alamgir Hashmi and Daud Kamal and a new poet, Shuja Nawaz. This series was described by Carlo Coppola “as a veritable embarrassment of riches”; it included the first poetry volumes ever of three widely anthologized “established” poets: The Far Thing by Maki Kureishi, Desert Album by Adrian A. Husain, and Landscapes of the Mind by Salman Tarik Kureishi. 23

Oxford’s Golden Jubilee books included An Anthology , edited by Maya Jamil, which focused on newer poets, while A Dragonfly In the Sun: An Anthology of Pakistani Writing in English edited by me, was a retrospective of fiction, poetry, and drama that brought together forty-four published writers in Pakistan and the diaspora—and revealed the extent to which Pakistani-English literature had diversified, developed, and grown. It extended to writers well known to Pakistani and Western audiences alike, such as the Pakistan-resident Bapsi Sidhwa and several diaspora writers ranging from Tariq Ali, Zulfikar Ghose, Sara Suleri, and Adam Zameenzad to the British-born Hanif Kureishi. Thus, “Pakistani” defined anyone who claimed that identity: the discourse generated led to me to compile another anthology Leaving Home: Towards a New Millennium: English Prose by Pakistani Writers ( 2001 ), on different forms of migration.

By this time, the debate over the use of English as a creative vehicle by Pakistanis had been put to rest. Zia ul Haq’s resolve to abolish English in Pakistan had not materialized. He died in 1988 . Meanwhile, in the diaspora, the presence of increasingly assertive migrant communities in the West saw growing international interest in South Asian–English fiction. The Indian-born Salman Rushdie’s experiments with language to capture the “subcontinental sound” within English prose in Midnight’s Children ( 1982 ) provided new linguistic strategies for countless others, including Pakistanis Bapsi Sidhwa and Adam Zameenzad in Ice-Candy Man ( 1988 ) and Cyrus Cyrus ( 1991 ), respectively. In 1989 , a major international conference on Englishes in South Asia was held in Islamabad, which included extensive discussions on “Pakistani English” and Pakistani-English literature. This was followed by conferences and seminars in Pakistan’s academia, although Pakistani-English literature was not introduced into the English curriculum of Pakistani universities until the 21st century .

Early Diaspora Writing

All the while, the career of Zulfikar Ghose had followed a different trajectory from his Pakistan-resident contemporaries. Ghose belonged to a new breed of post–World War II writers from Britain’s one-time colonies that included V. S. Naipaul and Sam Sevlon. He was also closely associated with London’s new poetry circle, The Group. His first poetry collections, The Loss of India ( 1964 ) and Jets from Orange ( 1967 ), reclaimed images of the subcontinent, but many of his poems were also an attempt to negotiate his new diaspora identity—a theme that runs through his memoir, Confessions of a Native Alien . In 1969 , Ghose migrated from Britain to the United States. He co-authored Penguin Modern Poets 23: Gavin Ewart, Zulfikar Ghose, BS Johnson ( 1972 ) and published The Violent West ( 1972 ), a meditation on America, including an intertextual engagement with American poetry and lore as well as a continuing preoccupation with themes of migration, dislocation, and quest. A Memory of Asia ( 1984 ) includes several multi-textured poems that blur illusion and reality—a theme that runs through his later fiction too. His selected poems and some new work appeared in 1991 and 1993 .

Ghose’s fiction includes two story collections: A Statement Against Corpses ( 1965 ), co-authored with B. S. Johnson, and Veronica and the Gongora Passion ( 1998 ). However, Ghose’s novel The Murder of Aziz Khan ( 1967 ) is the first significant novel in Pakistani-English literature to employ contemporary idiomatic English (unlike Ahmed Ali’s linguistic experimentations incorporating Urdu). The book remains his only full-length work set entirely in Pakistan. Written in London, beyond the long arm of martial law and the censor, the novel employs a linear narrative to tell of the unequal tussle between a new breed of rapacious industrialists and a proud Punjab farmer and provides a biting critique of Pakistan’s new primitive capitalism in the 1950s and glaring social inequalities. Ghose reworked many of its themes on “a much more ambitious scale” in The Incredible Brazilian , a trilogy set in the homeland of his wife, Helena de la Fontaine. 24 The trilogy was strongly influenced by Thomas Berger’s novel Little Big Man ( 1964 ) and similarly employs the picaresque mode. Ghose’s unreliable narrator, Gregorio Piexoto da Silva, is 400 years old and bears witness to Brazil’s history through various reincarnations. The trilogy begins with The Incredible Brazilian , which describes Gregorio’s misadventures as the son of early Portuguese settlers in Bahia in the 18th century . The Beautiful Empire portrays the half-English Gregorio during Brazil’s 19th-century rubber boom and links the histories of Brazil and the British Empire. A Different World finds Gregorio in a confused, derailed 20th-century society (similar to Pakistan) overtaken by vested foreign interests, competing political ideologies, martial law, and urban warfare. The trilogy is embedded with metaphorical, mystical subtexts, embodying a search for enlightenment and self, a concept Ghose makes explicit in his eleventh novel The Triple Mirror of the Self ( 1991 ), which unites the many continents in which Ghose has lived from the Americas to Asia. Ghose’s many other novels include the stream-of-consciousness Crumps Terms ( 1975 ), set in post-war Europe; a work of metafiction, and Hulme’s Investigation into the Bogart Script ( 1981 ), which comments on American art, literature, and film. Ghose engages extensively with Shakespearean themes and classical mythology in A New History of Torments ( 1982 ), Don Bueno ( 1983 ), and Figures of Enchantment ( 1986 ). Ghose has also written several works of literary criticism; Vanessa Guignery edited the invaluable BS Johnson-Zulfikar Ghose Correspondence ( 2015 ). These works provide valuable insights into Ghose’s ideas on literature and, thus, his writing.

The Lahore-born Alamgir Hashmi, who has taught at universities in the United States and Switzerland, combines elements of diaspora writing with that of Pakistan-resident poets. His third poetry collection, America Is a Punjabi Word ( 1979 ), received particular praise for his witty thirty-part title poem, a comment on exile and migration, featuring an imaginary camel traversing the United States. Hashmi continued to use cross-cultural images, memory, and absence with increasing skill in his subsequent collections, including My Second in Kentucky ( 1981 ), This Time in Lahore ( 1983 ), Inland and Other Poems ( 1988 ), and Sun and Moon ( 1992 ). Selected poems are included in The Ramazan Libation ( 2003 ). Hashmi also played an important role as a critic. He redefined the Pakistani-English canon to include diaspora writing that was not “culture specific” to Pakistan, such as Ghose’s Brazilian trilogy. He was possibly the first to place Pakistani-English literature within the context of wider Muslim world—beyond South Asia and the Commonwealth—which asserted a strong humanist ethos, contrary to that of the Zia regime, but this increasingly popular categorization in the post-9/11 era overlooks the immensely valuable contribution of non-Muslim Pakistanis such as Bapsi Sidhwa. However, the anthologies Hashmi edited in the United States—“Pakistani Literature,” a special issue of The New Quarterly , and later The Worlds of the Muslim Imagination ( 1986 )—provided a much-needed platform for Pakistan-resident poets in the Zia era. Hashmi returned to Pakistan in the late 1980s and became a part of the new discourses on Pakistani-English literature that developed during the elected governments of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif.

In 1990 , Tariq Rahman published his pioneering critical study A History of Pakistani Literature in English , which included poetry, fiction, drama, and non-fiction in Pakistan and the diaspora, but he was the first to move the focus from poetry to fiction. He emphasized three novelists: Ahmed Ali, Zulfikar Ghose, and Bapsi Sidhwa.

A New International Fiction in Pakistan and the Diaspora

In 1980 in Lahore, Bapsi Sidhwa emerged as a pioneering new voice with the British publication of The Crow Eaters ; hers was the first novel by a Pakistan-resident writer to receive international recognition since Ahmed Ali. The book was also the first major English novel by a subcontinental writer of Parsee origin; its ribaldry was rare for South Asian–English fiction. The novel, set in colonial Lahore, lampooned the Raj but revolved around the incorrigible Faredoon “Freddy” Junglewalla and his Parsee family, in particular his attempts to murder Jerbanoo, his appalling mother-in-law; it revealed Sidhwa’s eye for comedy. Her success as a woman, a member of a minority community, and as an English-language writer during Zia’s regime was a strong assertion of plurality and gender equality that he wished to destroy. In The Bride ( 1982 ), Sidhwa, a committed feminist, offers a biting attack on patriarchy and age-old honor codes through the story of an urban, Lahore-bred girl, the daughter of a migrant laborer, who is married into her father’s remote Kohistan tribe. In 1988 , Sidhwa published Ice Candy Man (U.S. title Cracking India ), her most important work and the first Pakistani-English novel to center on the Partition riots. Her narrator, Lenny, an endearing Parsee child,with a leg paralyzed by polio, employs the multi-lingual cadences of subcontinental English and brings to her account a rare combination of humor, innocence, and veracity that provides equal space to the communal violence on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border. In The Crow Eaters Sidhwa had judiciously employed dialogues in an inaccurate English to increase the comedy. In Ice-Candy-Man her use of a narrative voice employing the multi-lingual cadences of subcontinental English heightens “Lenny’s naivete and limited understanding that makes the unfolding of this narrative so powerful and painful.” 25 In 1998 the book was made into a film, Earth , by Deepa Mehta. In 2006 Sidhwa adapted Mehta’s screenplay Water , about a Hindu child-widow, into a novel of that name. By then, Sidhwa had migrated to the United States, and her fourth novel, The American Brat ( 1994 ), juxtaposes the misadventures of a young Lahore-born Parsee girl in the United States with the brutalization of Pakistan during the Zia’s regime.

The 1980s saw a gradual expansion of migration literature by writers of Pakistani origin. In Britain, Adam Zameenzad followed a pattern similar to Ghose: an early novel set in Pakistan, followed by others set in different countries. The innocent and the dispossessed are central to his fiction, as is the blending of the real world with the supernatural. The Thirteenth House ( 1987 ) links the lives of the dead narrator and that of poor clerk in Karachi; My Friend Matt and Henna The Whore ( 1988 ) tells of three children struggling to survive in famine stricken Africa; in Love, Bones and Water , a rich neglected boy, Peter, in a nameless South American country is befriended by shantytown dwellers, all with metaphorical biblical names. The concept of redemption through suffering also permeates Cyrus Cyrus ( 1991 ), a bawdy, gargantuan book that follows the misadventures of its hapless dark-skinned, disfigured, and impoverished narrator across India, East Pakistan/Bangladesh, the United States, and Britain. The imagery of Hollywood, race, and gender run through Gorgeous White Female ( 1995 ), the first Pakistani-English novel to deal with transgender issues. Tariq Mehmood’s somewhat polemical Hand on the Sun ( 1982 ) provides insights into second-generation working-class British Pakistanis confronted by racist threats, which Mehmood developed further in a more nuanced While There Is Light ( 2003 ).

In Pakistan there had been a continuous production of fiction, particularly short fiction, over the decades, but Tariq Rahman was the first Pakistan-resident author to concentrate on the short story form. 26 He published four collections between 1989 and 2002 . In London, the Karachi-born Aamer Hussein’s Mirror to the Sun ( 1991 ) was the first of several collections establishing him as leading writer of Pakistani-English short fiction. He has studiously avoided the use of the popular hybrid “bazaar English” to capture the subcontinental sound; instead he uses nuance and reference, often rooted in his knowledge of Urdu and other literatures, including Anglo-American classics. This Other Salt ( 1999 ) includes an experimental sequence, “Four Texts for an Autobiography,” which contrasts the expatriate narrator’s visit to the fractured, strife-riven Karachi of the 1990s, with memories of the more peaceful city of his childhood in the 1950s. Autobiographical imagery and negotiations with memory and migration are often woven into Aamer Hussein’s work, including Turquoise ( 2002 ), Cactus Town ( 2003 ), Insomnia ( 2007 ), and his only novel The Cloud Messenger ( 2011 ), which includes intertextual engagements with the classical Sanskrit writer Kalidasa and the 18th-century Sindhi poet Shah Abdul Latif. He writes with great insight about women’s lives too. His novella Another Gulmohar Tree tells of the adjustment and adaptation to Pakistan and also the self-empowerment of Lydia Javashili, a British woman of Georgian descent, who marries a talented Urdu writer in Karachi. Recently, the bilingual Aamer Hussein embarked on a new project: writing Urdu short stories, including “The Swan’s Wife,” which was translated into English in his 2014 collection of that name.

Interestingly, at the turn of the 21st century , the distinguished Urdu writer in Britain, Abdullah Hussein, wrote an Urdu short story “Wapsi ka Safar” about exploited illegal immigrants in Britain. He then developed it into an English novel Émigré Journeys ( 2000 ), which alternates between two narratives: that of the bright, British-educated daughter, Parvin, and that of her father, Amir, who thinks she is possessed. By this time, a number of new fiction writers had begun to emerge in the United States, including Talat Abbasi, Tahira Naqvi, Javed Qazi, and Moazzam Sheikh, and in Canada, including Nazneen Sadiq (she now writes as Nazneen Sheikh) and Julian Samuel: of these, Naqvi, Qazi, and Moazzam Sheikh were well-known translators of Urdu fiction as well.

The Creative Memoir

Sara Suleri’s multi-layered creative memoir Meatless Days is the first in Pakistani-English literature and consists of distinct chapters, each defined according to metaphor. Her rich, visual prose commemorates the lives of her mother and sister, who were both killed in hit-and-run accidents in Lahore within a year of each other. Her reclamation of her carefree family life in Lahore also represents that of liberal Pakistan, which was irrevocably changed during General Zia’s regime. The death of the past coincides with deaths in her family. Suleri also contemplates her Welsh-born mother’s adaptation to Pakistan and her own migration to the United States. Suleri continues with her exploration of intertwined East/West narratives in her critical study of colonial and postcolonial writing, The Rhetoric of English India ( 1999 ). Her second creative memoir, Boys Will Be Boys ; A Daughter’s Elegy ( 2003 ), is written under her married name, Sara Suleri Goodyear and centers around her late father, the journalist Z. A. Suleri. It contemplates politics, language, and bilingualism: each chapter is defined by well-known Urdu quotes. Moore-Gilbert suggests links between Suleri’s compression of language and image with that of miniature painting and the Urdu ghazal . 27 In 2009 Suleri Goodyear co-translated with Azra Raza the classical Urdu poetry of Ghalib.

In Pakistani-English literature the creative memoir remains rare. Zeeba Sadiq ( 1962–2010 ) reclaims her magical Karachi childhood in 38 Bahadurabad ( 1996 ) through a series of interlocking sketches in the third and first person. The plot is framed by the discovery by 9-year-old Zeebande Sadiq, soon after her beloved father dies, that he had another family—an English wife and two sons—he had abandoned in England. Send in the Idiots: or How We Came to Understand the World by Kamran Nazeer ( 2006 ), a British civil servant, is unique because the author was diagnosed with autism as small child. His book is a journey of discovery that leads him to his ex-classmates from his pioneering Special School in New York: through their experiences and challenges his develops insights into his own, as well as the nature of autism. Rafia Zakaria’s The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan ( 2015 ) knits together the story of Zakaria’s family with that of Pakistan and of Karachi to tell of the suffering of her paternal aunt, Amina, who finds herself trapped in a bigamous marriage after her husband takes a second, younger wife.

Britain: Politics, Fiction, and Drama

Pakistan and the United States have been uneasy allies since the early Cold War days, but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and Pakistan’s engagement during Zia’s regime with the U.S.-backed Afghan mujahidin placed Pakistan in the center of modern conflicts. The rise of religious extremism, the influx of drugs and arms into Pakistan and related violence, the birth of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, the wars in Iraq, the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, and the 7/7 bombing of London all became a part of the Pakistani-English novel and, in a new global world, took the narrative into the diaspora.

Tariq Ali, the son of Marxist parents, imbibed politics from childhood and became a fiery student leader at Government College, Lahore. In 1963 , to avert his imminent arrest by martial law authorities in Pakistan, his parents sent him to Oxford. He arrived at a time of great unrest among a new postwar generation. He led student debates and student marches and became a key figure in the left-wing, internationalist student revolution that swept across Britain, the United States, and Europe in the 1960s. He recorded those heady years in Street Fighting Years: An Autobiography of the Sixties ( 1987 ), which expressed a universalism and social and political vision central to Ali’s work. His extensive non-fiction includes his writings on literary subjects, as in Protocols of the Elders of Sodom and Other Essays ( 2009 ). His political books range from works on Pakistan, the Soviet Union, the collapse of communism in Europe, and the Balkan War to the American engagement in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Middle East.

In the early 1970s Ali, a bitter opponent of the 1971 military action in Bangladesh, gave up his aspirations to active politics in Pakistan, and by the 1980s he had given up politics in Britain as well. He became a full-time writer and broadcaster in Britain. In 1989 , amid the furor over Rushdie’s Satanic Verses , Ali co-authored with Howard Brenton a teleplay, Iranian Nights , a metaphorical work on the nature of censorship, art, and storytelling, featuring three characters: Omar Khayyam, The Caliph, and Scheherazade. Ali’s plays are often written very rapidly (as was his first novel) in response to political events. Moscow Gold ( 1990 ), co-authored with Howard Brenton, revolves around the Soviet leader Gorbachev; Brenton and Ali lampoon Tony Blair and New Labour in Ugly Rumours ( 1998 ); and with Andy de La Tour, they provide a biting critique of the Balkan War in Collateral Damage ( 1999 ). Ali looks at apartheid and related violence in South Africa in Necklaces ( 1992 ); he combines wit, anger, and polemics in an intertextual engagement with both Cervantes and Bertolt Brecht in The Further Adventures of Don Quixote ( 2013 ) to comment on today’s unequal world. In 2007 Ali published two teleplays which were never performed, the first due to lack of funds, the second because of legal issues. The Leopard and the Fox deals with the overthrow, trial, and execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto by General Ziaul Haq; A Banker for All Seasons: Banks of Crooks and Cheats , follows a young British journalist investigating the collapse of the international third word Bank of Credit and Commerce International, created by the Pakistani banker Agha Hasan Abedi.

In 1990 , Ali turned to fiction with his fall of communism trilogy, two volumes of which have been published: Redemption ( 1990 ) and The Fear of Mirrors ( 1998 ). His Islam Quintet novels began as a direct response to the ignorance displayed by Western commentators about Muslim culture during the First Gulf War. 28 Ali challenges the concepts of the “clash of civilizations” between Islam and Christianity. All of his books are rich in historical detail, and his “solution for finding a disinterested formula for historical representation is not necessarily to strive toward genuine objectivity but instead to multiply the perspectives.” 29 Shadows of A Pomegranate Tree ( 1992 ) was published on the 500th anniversary of the fall of Granada in 1492 and describes the expulsion of the Moors from Spain. The Book of Saladin ( 1998 ) looks at the Crusades through a fictitious memoir dictated by Salah-Al-Din (Saladin) to his Jewish scribe Ibn Yakub. The Stone Woman ( 2003 ) describes the decaying Ottoman Empire in the late 19th century and Turkey’s painful transition to modernity. A Sultan in Palerm o ( 2005 ) tells of 12th-century Sicily and the syncretic Euro-Arab culture of the erstwhile Muslim sultans, which continued under the Norman King Roger (Sultan al-Rujari) of Sicily, but it was steadily and brutally eroded after his death. In the Quintet Ali’s critique of poor governance, social injustice, and religious bigotry (Christian or Muslim) creates a narrative that manages “to look backwards and forwards at the same time” and is underpinned by The Night of the Golden Butterfly ( 2010 ). 30 It refers to Pakistan as The Fatherland and leads up to a biting comment on military rule, religious extremism, and American strategic interests.

Throughout South Asia, English is regarded as the language of the ruling elite and the professional classes, but with changing patterns of migration to the Anglophone world, English also gave voice to a diaspora minority, regardless of income, education, and class. Hanif Kureishi, the son of a Pakistani father and an English mother, is different from all the writers discussed so far because he is British born. He pioneered a new literature that explored the fissures in British society at a time of great racial tension in Britain. He challenged the stereotype of Britain as a white, mono-cultural nation, and his work influenced numerous second-generation writers in Britain. Bart Moore Gilbert asserts Kureishi’s British identity and says his work “belongs to a tradition of enquiry ‘into the state of the nation’ and the meaning of ‘Englishness’ which dates back to the nineteenth century .” 31 At the same time it is important to remember that Kureishi’s extensive work reveals a continuing need to negotiate his subcontinental inheritance and colonial history.

In 1983 , at age 28, Kureishi first visited Pakistan, which he described in his memoir essay “The Rainbow Sign” ( 1986 ). Later, in My Ear at His Heart : Reading My Father ( 2004 ), he would explore family history to redefine his British identity and that of his sons through the unpublished autobiographical novels of his father, Rafiushan Kureishi, and the published memoirs of his Pakistani uncle, Omar Kureishi ( 1927–2003 ). Hanif Kureishi’s extensive essay collections include autobiographical writings.

Kureishi emerged as a playwright in the late 1970s and consolidated his reputation with Outskirts ( 1981 ), Borderline ( 1981 ), and Birds of A Passage ( 1983 ), which dealt with racial politics and provided the seeds for his celebrated screenplay, My Beautiful Laundrette ( 1986 ). The film revolves around the relationship between Omar and Johnny: they had grown up together, but Johnny joined a violent group of racist thugs. The story is remarkable for its treatment of race, gender, and sexuality and a freewheeling, profit-obsessed society and its portrayal of the nexus between unemployment, social disparity, and racist violence. Kureishi’s subsequent screenplays include Sammy and Rosie Get Laid ( 1998 ) and London Kills Me ( 1991 ). In 1997 , he developed his short story “My Son, the Fanatic” into a feature film that portrays the conflict between easygoing taxi driver in London of Pakistani origin and his angry, rebellious son Farid, a second-generation Briton, who turns to radicalized Islam. Kureishi’s extensive writings for stage, television, and film include the screenplay Venus ( 2007 ), a witty and poignant portrayal of desire and old age revolving around Maurice a famous, aging, once-good-looking actor, and Jessie, a troubled young woman.

Kureishi’s first novel, The Buddha of Suburbia , provides an intertextual engagement with many literary texts including Rudyard Kipling, E. M. Forster, and Paul Scott and follows the career and confusions of the British-born Karim Amir. While his father panders to British notions of the Oriental mystic, Karim regards himself as an Englishman despite the attempts of various segments of British society to disabuse him of this notion. Kureishi is the co-author with John Savage of The Faber Book of Pop ( 1995 ), and references to pop music permeate his novels, including Black Album ( 1995 ), which is one of the earliest works to describe the radicalization of British Muslims. Kureishi’s work seldom offers a simple answer between right and wrong. In Intimacy ( 1998 ), he portrays the complex emotions of a successful British Pakistani writer, Jay, who has decided to leave Susan his wife and children and the security of their affluent life for a young unconventional woman who embodies freedom. Something to Tell You ( 2008 ) revisits themes of racial politics and multiculturalism but leads up to London’s 7/7 bombing, recreating the past and present through Jamal, a successful London psychiatrist, haunted by a terrible secret. The novel slips in an intertextual engagement with the poetry of Maki Kureishi—Hanif’s aunt. Kureishi has written two other novels, Gabriel’s Gift ( 2001 ) and The Last Word ( 2014 ), and he is known for his skilled short fiction, such as Love in a Blue Time , ( 1997 ), Midnight All Day ( 2000 ), The Body and Other Stories ( 2012 ), and The Last Word ( 2014 ).

In the 1980s and 1990s, a strong alternative theater thrived in Britain and provided an important platform for British-Asian women writers. In 1987 , Rukhsana Ahmad co-founded The Asian Women Writers Collective, and in 1991 , she co-founded the Kali Theatre Company, in London, to support British-Asian women writers. Her novel The Hope Chest ( 1995 ) and her story collection The Gatekeeper’s Wife ( 2014 ) revolve around women’s lives and their struggle against patriarchal mores, British or Pakistani. Ahmad has also written extensively for the radio. Her many stage plays include “Song for a Sanctuary,” about battered wives, which appeared in Six Plays of by Black and Asian Women ( 1993 ). Ahmad’s Annie Besant: Mistaken ( 2007 ) marked the 60th anniversary of Independence and is a historical play of considerable complexity consisting of twenty scenes, united by the voice of a Storyteller, which explore Annie Besant’s relationship with India, her role in Indian politics and The Theosophical Society, and her belief that the young Krishnamurti was the future Messiah. Farhana Sheikh’s novel The Red Box ( 1991 ) portrays the exploitation of British-Asian women workers in the garment industry. She went on to become a playwright and co-authored with Adrian Jackson a historical stage play, Mincemeat ( 2010 ), which unravels the mystery of a nameless dead man employed in a World War II military deception, “Operation Mincemeat.”

At the Turn of the Century: Poetry

In the diaspora, English-language fiction, plays, and screenplays received great critical praise in the 1980s and 1990s, but much of this work was not widely known in Pakistan, where the focus remained Pakistan-English poetry. New collections by Pakistan-resident poets included Waqas Ahmad Khwaja’s Miriam’s Lament ( 1991 ). The six-part title poem incorporates cadences from the Bible (King James version) to provide a matriarchal reinterpretation of Exodus . Themes of migration and the quest for The Promised Land also appear in another sequence, “Mayflower ‘88’,” set in America. Khwaja, who now lives in the United States (and writes as Waqas Khwaja), would use this leitmotif to greater advantage in No One Waits for the Train ( 2007 ), the first full-length collection about Partition in Pakistani-English poetry to do so. Khwaja’s multi-layered poems use words to great effect: the very use of “train” in the title conjures up images of Partition’s genocide as well as the passage of time, long journeys, and spiritual quests: all of these merge in this remarkable collection.

M. Athar Tahir ’ s first collection, Just Beyond The Physical ( 1991 ), draws metaphors from observations of daily life and reveals Tahir’s interest in comparative religions and the mystical experience. He includes poems written in haiku, the Japanese poetic form he develops further in his elegant collection The Last Tea ( 2015 ), consisting of three sections including “Haiku Aviary” and “Japan Journal”; the former consists of metaphorical verse on different birds, the latter comments on Japan’s landscapes, monuments, and culture. The title poem tells of Sen no Rikyu ( 1522–1591 ), the man who refined the Japanese tea ceremony to an art but fell victim court intrigue. Tahir’s poetry collections include A Certain Season ( 2000 ), Body Loom ( 2006 ), and The Gift of Possession ( 2012 ).

In Britain two Pakistani-British poets, Imtiaz Dharker and Moniza Alvi, soon developed into mainstream British poets. The Lahore-born Dharker’s poetry reflects the experience of Britain where she grew up, visits to Pakistan, and her stay in India during her first marriage and the awareness that she “didn’t belong in one place.” 32 Her first collection, Purdah ( 1988 ), addresses women’s sexuality and has strong resonances with Pakistan’s Urdu feminist poetry, as does I Speak for the Devil ( 2001 ), which continues to comment on patriarchal fears and myths. Dharker’s poems challenge the rhetoric of difference and violence, whether in India, Pakistan, or Britain, and she writes extensively on adaptation, change, and cultural commingling. Postcards from God ( 1997 ) protests against politicized religion and the crimes committed in the name of faith. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 in the United States and 7/7 in London are portrayed or suggested in several poems in The Terrorist at My Table ( 2006 ). She looks at collective memory and matriarchal lore in Leaving Fingerprints ( 2009 ), but Over the Moon ( 2014 ) is a particular unusual work, a rare silent conversation with Simon Powell, her late husband; this poetic interplay of absence and memory, rich in metaphor and nuance, brings Powell to life as an ever-present, living spirit.

The Lahore-born Moniza Alvi, the daughter of an English mother and Pakistani father, grew up in Hertfordshire. To her, Pakistan was a distant, imaginary land she celebrates in “Presents from My Aunts in Pakistan,” which gives its title to a central sequence in The Country At My Shoulder ( 1993 ). Alvi’s subsequent trip to Pakistan and India (her first ever) and the combination of excitement and distance permeates A Bowl of Warm Air ( 1996 ). Hybridity and fantasy run through Alvi’s work, including Carrying My Wife ( 2000 ), in which she plays husband to an imaginary wife. Souls ( 2002 ) extends the concept of duality to “the body and the soul, the person and the soul.” 33 Alvi makes a strong protest against war and conflict and divisive post-9/11 rhetoric in How the Stone Found Its Voice ( 2005 ), which includes twelve “creation” poems that engage with Kipling’s Just So Stories and the fables of François Rabelais. Alvi’s work often explores buried subtexts in fairytales, legends, and myths. Europa ( 2008 ) provides a skilled matriarchal reconstruction, “Europa and the Bull,” of that ancient Greek/Roman legend. In the same year Alvi published Split Worlds: Poetry 1990–2005 . Her lyrical work assumes a new direction in the spectacular At the Time of Partition ( 2013 ), which unites the story of her family and that of the subcontinent to create a devastating narrative: the migration of Alvi’s widowed grandmother and her small children from Ludhiana to Lahore, during which her handicapped son disappeared. There were also notable collections by Mahmood Jamal, Tariq Latif, and John Siddique.

By the turn of the century, the easing of travel restriction in Pakistan and access to electronic media eroded the distinctions between diaspora and Pakistan-resident writing. Hima Raza ( 1975–2003 ) revealed a rare talent and forged new directions in Pakistani-English poetry during her short lifetime. Memory Stains ( 2001 ) employed experimental poetry; Left Hand Speak ( 2002 ) introduced a completely new aspect to Pakistani-English literature with two bilingual poems written in both English and Urdu, each language in its own script, Roman and Arabic. Ilona Yusuf, who is also an artist, creates very visual poems in Picture This ( 2001 ), which also addresses growing violence and lawlessness in Pakistan; other poems celebrate the inheritance of her Polish mother. Kyla Pasha’s High Noon and The Body ( 2007 ) provides an intertextual engagement with American films and makes a feminist comment on the patriarchal cultures of America and Pakistan, the countries to which her mother and father belong, respectively.

In the United States, Shadab Zeest Hashmi’s Baker of Tarifa ( 2009 ) celebrates the cultural commingling of the Euro-Arab culture of al-Andalus and also looks at its lingering cultural and linguistic resonances. In Kohl and Chalk , Hashmi writes of Pakistan and its landscapes but continues to engage with history; she includes ghazals in English, composed in couplets following the traditional Urdu form. Anis Shivani’s cerebral collection, My Tranquil War and Other Poems ( 2012 ) comments on past and present and the ideas, words, and images that have shaped our world, ranging from political speeches to the art of celebrated writers, poets, painters, and filmmakers.


A great deal of Pakistani-English fiction, poetry, and drama has developed in the diaspora, but there has been a very rich and extensive and body of non-fiction work by Pakistani-resident writers despite the impediments of censorship imposed by various governments. In 1986 , Zamir Niazi ( 1932–2004 ) published The Press in Chains , a meticulous record of press censorship in Pakistan. He followed it up with The Press Under Siege ( 1992 ), The Web of Censorship ( 1995 ), and the posthumously published Fettered Freedom ( 2006 ).

Some of the best non-fiction in Pakistan has been written by Pakistani journalists or columnists. This includes the collected editorials of Mazhar Ali Khan ( 1918–1993 ), I. H. Burney ( 1926–1993 ), and Razia Bhatti ( 1944–1966 ) and the political analyses of Babar Ayaz, Eqbal Ahmad, Khaled Ahmed, Maleeha Lodhi, and Ahmed Rashid. The English writings of the British-born Alys Faiz ( 1913–2003 ) and her husband, the Urdu poet and English-language journalist and editor Faiz Ahmed Faiz include their collected columns and their letters, Dear Heart—to Faiz in Prison 1951–1955 by Alys Faiz ( 1982 ) and the posthumously published Letters from Jail—Two Loves by Faiz Ahmad Faiz ( 2011 ). Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Sibte Hasan ( 1912–1986 ), both Communists and members of The Progressive Writers Association, were jailed in 1951 and exonerated in 1955 in The Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case as alleged sympathizers of a planned left-wing military coup. Sibte Hassan’s The Battle of Ideas for Pakistan ( 1986 ) examines the changing influences in Pakistan from liberal egalitarian ideas to religious extremism.

Pakistan’s English-language press played an important role in support of the highly politicized women’s movement in the 1980s led by the Women’s Action Forum against Zia’s discriminatory laws. This movement in turn involved a growing number of women writers, editors, and columnists. In the 1990’s Moni Mohsin’s popular column “The Diary of A Social Butterfly” employed a hybrid and inventive English, peppered with Urdu and Punjabi, to portray a fictitious Lahore socialite in which real events and public figures are all subsumed into her self-involved preoccupations. The column was the first in Pakistani-English literature to be developed into a novel, The Diary of a Social Butterfly ( 2007 ), which was followed by two more “Butterfly” novels. Moni Mohsin’s columns appeared in the weekly Friday Times and alternated with the satirical columns by her sister, Jugnu Mohsin, which employed a first-person parody of the voice of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and cricketer Imran Khan; the latter is now a book Howzzat?! by Im The Dim ( 2014 ).

By the 1990s, Salman Rashid had emerged as Pakistan’s first travel writer, and his extensive writings, which combine history, geography, adventure, and discovery, include his collected columns as well as writings on specific locations. The collected columns of actor Zia Mohyeddin include lively, informative writings on theater, literature, and film, in both English and Urdu and in Britain and Pakistan. Shahrukh Hussain’s extensive writings provide rich reconstructions of matriarchal lore in books ranging from The Virago Book of Witches ( 1994 ) to Temptresses: The Virago Book of Evil Women ( 2000 ).

In Pakistan, autobiographic writing includes numerous works by bureaucrats, military men, politicians, entrepreneurs, and others, that have socio-historical, not literary, importance. The tragedies that have beset the Bhutto family run through Daughter of the East by Benazir Bhutto ( 1982 ) and Songs of Blood and Sword by Fatima Bhutto ( 2010 ), but the “Borgia like” struggle between Benazir ( 1953–2007 ) and her brother Mir Murtaza Bhutto ( 1954–1996 )—Fatima’s father— gives the books vastly different perspectives. 34 Fatima also brings to her writing her skills as a poet, journalist, and novelist.

My Feudal Lord by Tehmina Durrani ( 1991 ) was the first Pakistani-English autobiography to discuss the intensely personal—her experience as a battered wife during her marriage to politician Ghulam Mustafa Khar. Often criticized as racy and salacious, it remains a work of considerable courage that challenges the social hypocrisy and silence surrounding the subject in Pakistan. In 2004 , The Memoir of a Rebel Princess by Abida Sultaan ( 1913–2004 ) defied gender roles by any standards. Brought up as the future Heir Apparent of Bhopal, she learned jurisprudence, politics, and many languages; rode, hunted, played cricket, flew airplanes, and enjoyed stunt driving; remained committed to personal and national freedom; and migrated to the newly independent Pakistan.

The columnist Omar Kureishi’s memoirs, Once Upon a Time ( 2000 ), As Time Goes By ( 2002 ), Home to Pakistan ( 2003 ), and Ebb and Flow ( 2006 ), tell of pre-Partition Bombay, going to college in California, and his career in Pakistan as a journalist, broadcaster, and cricket commentator but reveal little of his private life. In marked contrast, My Ear at His Heart by Hanif Kureishi, his nephew, engages with Omar’s memoirs to reveal family history and Hanif’s personal, emotional journey. Recent years have also seen the development of diaspora autobiographical writings including those by Moazzam Begg, Yasmin Hai, Sarfraz Manzoor, and Ali Eteraz.

Fiction: A New Generation Writes Geopolitics

In the last decade of the 20th century , the military remained an important political player during the democratically elected governments of Benazir Bhutto and her rival Nawaz Sharif. The powers held by the civilian President were such however, that both Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif were dismissed twice – taking it in turns to be re-elected into office. In October 1998 , General Pervez Musharraf assumed power, and in 2001 , following the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States, Musharraf reversed Pakistan’s pro-Taliban policy and became an ally in the “war on terror,” but by 2007 he had lost control over the apparatus of state. The exiled Benazir Bhutto returned to Pakistan to compete in the forthcoming elections, but was assassinated in December 2007 . Her party was elected, however, headed by her controversial widower, Asif Ali Zardari, and became the first in Pakistan’s history to complete a five-year term.

By this time, Pakistani-English literature had become a vibrant, politically engaged and diverse body of work, celebrated for its new young writers and actively sought by international publishing houses including those in neighboring India. The new Anglophone audiences that this brought, along with literary prizes and the interaction with diaspora and other Anglophone writers, liberated the Pakistani-English writer from the blanket censorship of earlier times, as did the fact that access to the electronic media made it more difficult to control information.

Geopolitics, racial politics, and egalitarian politics are all themes embedded in the work of a new generation of talented young Pakistani-English fiction writers, many of whom had lived in or been educated in Pakistan and the West. Nadeem Aslam’s poetic novel Season of the Rainbirds ( 1993 ) describes the growth of bigotry and violence during the Zia regime in a small Punjab and the nexus between a new breed of politicized cleric and the local strongman, culminating in mob violence against a Christian girl. The complicity of the community in acts of violence runs through Maps for Lost Lovers ( 2004 ), which tells of an honor killing in an all-Asian working-class community in Britain. The murdered couple, Jugnu and Chanda, are recreated through the memories of Jugnu’s atheist brother Shamas and his deeply religious wife Kaukab, a woman who cannot cope with alien England. Aslam employs a rich prose, replete with metaphors and intertextual references to Pakistan’s rich heritage, including its literature, music, and art, which became foil to violence and fanatical religious beliefs entwined with superstitions. In The Wasted Vigil , set in Afghanistan after thirty years of war and destruction, people with interlinked lives but different nationalities—Russian, American, and Afghan—converge on a villa owned by an English doctor and his late Afghan wife. The novel provides an intertextual engagement with Michael Ondaatje’s novels to provide a discourse on civilization and history, war and violence, and the interconnectedness of nations. The Blind Man’s Garden ( 2013 ) looks at the spillover in Pakistan of post-9/11 geopolitics and moves from rural Punjab to Pakistan’s border area against the backdrop of growing religious extremism, the American bombing of Afghanistan, and the hunt for al-Qaeda.

Kamila Shamsie’s In the City by the Sea ( 1998 ) portrays the conflict between military rule and democracy in a fictitious town similar to Karachi and is filtered through an 11-year-old narrator, Hasan. The novel revealed the use of wordplay and the extensive engagement with literary texts that permeate Shamsie’s fiction. Bruce King maintains her novels reveal “how history affects several generations of a family.” 35 Shobhana Bhattacharji writes that they “examine the impact of politics on individuals.” 36 Salt and Saffron ( 2001 ) draws parallels between a city, Karachi, divided by class and a family divided by Partition and addresses the elision of the matriarchal narratives in traditional interpretations of history. Kartography connects the ethnic violence in Karachi during the 1990s and the conflict of 1971 that led to separation of East Pakistan through the relationship between the narrator Raheen and her best friend, Karim, the son of a Bengali mother. Shamsie’s novels are permeated by a feminist consciousness. Broken Verses capture both the heroic women’s movement against Zia in the 1980s and the increasing brutalization of Karachi through the narrator’s memories of her mother, a women’s rights activist, and the unsolved murder of her mother’s lover, a national Urdu poet. Shamsie expands her canvas with Burnt Shadows , a tale of migration, adaptation, war, and violence across the globe from World War II to the present. Revolving around the friendship between two families, the Weiss Burtons and the Ashraf Kanakas, it takes the Japanese-born Hiroko Kanaka from Nagasaki in 1945 to colonial India and post-independence Pakistan to post-9/11 New York. A God in Every Stone connects history, archaeology, colonialism, and the independence movement through the lives of an English woman archaeologist, a Pathan soldier wounded in World War I, and his younger brother, a bright young schoolboy.

Mohsin Hamid is another strongly political novelist. His debut Moth Smoke ( 2000 ) is framed by a historical Mughal fratricide—that of Dara Shikoh by his younger brother, the Emperor Aurangzeb. This becomes a metaphor for India and Pakistan’s fratricidal nuclear race and the bitter rivalry between the rich corrupt Ozzie (Aurangzeb) and his best friend, the orphaned Daru (Dara). Hamid cleverly uses several narrators to reconstruct the story of the incarcerated Daru. The Reluctant Fundamentalist ( 2007 ) employs a single narrative, a tight sophisticated monologue in which the Princeton-educated narrator Changez chats to an American stranger in a Lahore teashop: it is never quite clear whether he is to be believed or not and “that is the point of the form. Its one-sidedness actually performs that archetypical novelistic trick taking us inside the head of the character but, in so doing, refusing the normalizing consolation of a dialogue.” 37 How To Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia ( 2013 ) parodies the modern self-help book and is addressed to “You”; this becomes the vehicle to recreate the rags-to-riches story of an upwardly mobile man in a nameless country (similar to Pakistan).

The Story of Noble Rot ( 2001 ) by Uzma Aslam Khan tells of child labor, social inequality, and exploitation. In Aslam Khan’s novels Pakistan’s landscapes and natural life “contain[s] secrets that can redeem humans or reveal their base, petty and constricted natures.” 38 Trespassing ( 2003 ) links Karachi’s violence of the 1990s with global politics through Danish, a doctor’s son, Dia, the daughter of woman silk farmer, and Salaamat, a displaced fisherman. Geometry of God revolves around the discovery of a rare fossil near Islamabad. In the religious extremism of the 1980s, the elderly scholar Zahoor is tried for teaching the theory of evolution. Soon each of the three narrators—Amal, Pakistan’s first woman paleontologist; Mehwish, her blind sister; and Noman, a young mathematician belonging to an officially sponsored group of religious fanatics—is caught up in events beyond their control. The impact of political violence on the lives of ordinary citizens also runs through Thinner Than Skin ( 2013 ), set in spectacular mountainous Hunza, Gilgit, and Kaghan, where a group of Pakistani tourists and their personal conflicts intrude into the timeless world of a nomad family, as does the police hunt for a notorious terrorist. 39

Fiction in the New Millennium

At the beginning of the 21st century , new writers emerged in rapid succession, including Feryal Ali Gauhar, Saad Ashraf, and two talented Pakistani Australians—Wayne Ashton and Azhar Abidi. The Pakistani-English novel continued to diversify. Musharraf Ali Farooqi made his debut with a rambunctious magic realist satire Passion in The Time of Termites ( 2000 ) but chose to employ brevity, a tight prose, and a quiet wit in his next two novels. The Story of a Widow captures a woman’s simmering emotions, desires, and turmoil as she moves away from traditional restrictions of widowhood. In Clay and Dust ( 2012 ), tradition and age-old customs provide the certainties that two friends, a wrestler and a courtesan, can no longer find in the nameless, brash, newly independent, newly modern South Asian country in which they live. He is also an acclaimed translator of Urdu poetry and prose. The Scottish-born Suhayl Saadi’s story collection The Burning Mirror included short fiction combining the inflexions of Scottish, English, Urdu, and Punjabi. He developed this to great effect in his novel Psychoraag ( 2004 ), in which Zaf the narrator hosts an all-night, multicultural program on Radio Chaandni in Scotland. The novel is rich in references to mythology, as is Saadi’s second novel, Joseph’s Box ( 2011 ).

Sorayya Khan’s Noor is the first novel in Pakistani-English literature that centers on the 1971 conflict and portrays the carnage in East Pakistan. The gradual unraveling of memories is impelled by the uncanny drawing of the teenage Noor in peaceful Islamabad during the 1990s where her mother Sajida has been brought up by her foster father Ali. The portrait of amnesia and traumas suffered by Sajida, a Bengali orphan, and Ali, a West Pakistani soldier in East Pakistan in 1971 , parallels that of Pakistan. 5 Queen’s Road tells of another division—Partition—through the story of Dina Lal a Hindu, who decides to stay on in his Lahore home but rents half of it to Amir Khan, a Muslim migrant from India. The interconnectedness of nations and of people and the multiple identities that her protagonists carry, is a theme which runs through Khan’s work. In City of Spies ( 2015 ), a Bildungsroman set in 1979 , the 11-year-old narrator Aaliya, daughter of a Pakistani father and Dutch mother, having grown up in Holland, tries to negotiate a space for herself in Islamabad and is befriended by Lizzie, an American girl, with a mysterious family life.

The growing number of novels about the 1971 war includes work by Durdana Soomro and Ghazala Hameed, Shahbano Bilgrami, Shahryar Fazli, Aquila Ismail and Moni Mohsin’s first novel, The End of Innocence ( 2006 ). Roopa Farooki, author of six novels, is the daughter of a Bangladeshi mother and Pakistani father. In her first and fourth novels, Bitter Sweet ( 2007 ) and Half Life ( 2010 ), India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are inextricably linked despite the bitter divisions of 1947 and 1971 . Her fifth novel, The Flying Man ( 2012 ), traverses the entire globe through the story of the versatile Lahore-born Maquil—writer, conman, and inveterate gambler.

Mohammed Hanif’s debut A Case of Exploding Mangoes ( 2008 ) is the first full-length work of political satire in Pakistani-English fiction and revolves around the last ten days of General Ziaul Haq, who was killed in a mysterious airplane explosion. The novel revolves around that unsolved mystery and asks who killed Zia. The narrative is an example of where “fiction becomes the only means to fill in the gaps of a genuine historical event” and gives everyone motive, including the fictitious Ali Shigri, a Pakistan Air Force Cadet. 40 Hanif’s Our Lady of Alice Bhatti ( 2011 ) is a very different work, a black comedy centered on Pakistan’s Christian minority and the hospital wards of violent Karachi.

Daniyal Mueenuddin’s collection Other Rooms Other Wonders ( 2009 ) gave a new dimensions to the Pakistani-English short story, with a series of rich, powerful, and multi-layered, interconnected Chekovian tales, which vividly capture rural Punjab to portray its power structures including feudal lords, their dependents, and the lives and struggles of ordinary people. In 2011 the octogenarian Jamil Ahmed ( 1931–2014 ) broke new ground with The Wandering Falcon , a collection of interlinked stories that provides a rare portrait of tribal life in Baluchistan and Pakistan’s western border areas and the conflict between age-old customs and traditions with the demands of the modern state prior to the 1980s. There have been notable collections by the Pakistani Americans Imad Rahman and Anis Shivani. The latter has also published a novel, Karachi Raj ( 2015 ), in which the dreams and aspirations of the burgeoning city of Karachi are intertwined with that of its inhabitants, ranging from university professors and socialites to slum-dwellers. Notable novelists included Roshni Rustomji, Shandana Minhas, and Ali Sethi.

H. M. Naqvi’s witty novel Home Boy , set in post-9/11 New York, tells of three young Pakistani men who imagine themselves to be New Yorkers, only to be set upon by thugs and arrested and interrogated by the police as possible terrorists. There are many post-9/11 novels by Pakistani Americans, including those by Shaila Abdullah, Ayad Akhtar, Maniza Naqvi, and Nafisa Haji.

Fatima Bhutto’s Shadows of the Crescent Moon ( 2013 ) takes the tale of modern geopolitics to a small town, Mir Ali in Waziristan, overtaken by military men, spies, religious extremists, and sectarianism. Maha Khan Philips’s Beautiful from This Angle ( 2010 ) lampoons the collusion of mendacious glitzy Pakistani socialites with a mendacious Western media and its stereotyped portrayal of Pakistan and terrorists and Muslim extremists. Bina Shah’s A Season for Martyrs ( 2014 ) spans the last three months of Benazir Bhutto’s life and weaves in the rich and complex history of Sindh and the Sindhi poetry of Shah Abdul Latif. Soniah Kamal’s Isolated Incident ( 2015 ) looks at Indo-Pakistan conflict over Kashmir and the mental breakdown of a Kashmiri girl, Zari Zoon.

Promising fiction writers continue to emerge with great rapidity, including Irshad Abdul Kadir, Rosie Dastgir, Ali Eteraz, Shazaf Fatima, Shahrukh Hussain, Kanza Javed, Sophia Khan, and Murtaza Razvi ( 1964–2012 ). There are a growing number of works representing different genres, such as the popular fiction of Tehmina Durrani, the romantic fiction of Nadya A.R. and Qaisra Shahraz, and the thrillers of Saad Shafqat and Omar Shahid Hamid.

Drama in the New Millennium

Pakistani-English drama is confined almost entirely to the diaspora, where it has developed rapidly in recent years. In Britain, Ayub Khan-Din emerged as a major playwright with his play East Is East ( 1997 )—later a film—in which the Muslim/Pakistani identity and customs that the overbearing Pakistan-born George imposes on his English wife and four sons leads to great conflict. Last Dance at Dum Dum ( 1999 ) looks at group of Anglo-Indians in Calcutta who find themselves increasingly marginalized in a post-independence India, particularly with the rise of the right-wing Hindutva movement. Notes on Falling Leaves ( 2004 ) is a spare, haunting work that describes the interaction between a son and his mother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. Rafta Rafta ( 2009 ) is an adaptation into a modern British Asian ambience of Bill Naughton’s play All In Good Time ( 1965 ) set in all-white northern British working society in 1960s. Khan-Din has also adapted E. B. Braithwaite’s 1959 autobiography To Sir With Love ( 2013 ).

In the United States, the development of Pakistani-American drama is directly related to 9/11 and its aftermath. Akbar S. Ahmed’s work Akbar Ahmed: Two Plays ( 2009 ) begins with Noor . In a fictitious Muslim city in a constant state of siege. Noor, a young woman, is abducted by unknown uniformed men while her three brothers try to rescue her. The conflict between a tolerant inclusive Islam and that of religious extremists runs through both plays: The Trial of Dara Shikoh revolves around the debate between Dara Shikoh, an intellectual and a mystic, and his fanatical brother Emperor Aurangzeb. Wajahat Ali’s Domestic Crusaders ( 2010 ) portrays the problems in the aftermath of 9/11 of a professional Muslim family of Pakistani origin living in the suburbs. Ayad Akhtar’s much-praised Disgraced ( 2013 ) is set in New York, where a corporate lawyer, Amir Kapoor, finds that his Muslim identity is regarded as alien to a multi-cultural American identity. The play revolves around a dinner party given by Amir and his artist wife Ella for his black American colleague Jory and her boyfriend, the Jewish-American curator Isaac. Akhtar’s new play Invisible Hands ( 2016 ) has received great praise.

Maniza Naqvi’s Leftist and the Leader ( 2008 ), consisting of an imaginary dialogue between Benazir Bhutto and Tariq Ali, has had readings in Pakistan (no other Pakistani-American or Pakistani-British play has been performed there) where the only Pakistan-resident, published playwright today appears to be Usman Ali,

In 2014 , the establishment of a new Centre for Pakistani Writing in English at Kinnaird College, Lahore, is indicative of the growth of the genre since 1947 and will influence its critical discourses and its continuing development in the future.

Review of the Literature

In the 1960s and 1970s nationalistic definitions of Pakistani-English literature were linked to the discourse on idiom and the need to validate the inclusion of English-language writing as a Pakistani literature. Alamgir Hashmi was the first Pakistani critic to discuss a universalism in Pakistani-English literature beyond nationalistic paradigms. 41 Rahman developed this further in A History of Pakistani Literature in English ( 1990 ), which focused on literary criteria, not patriotism, and traced many rare and forgotten books in different genres. My book Hybrid Tapestries: The Development of Pakistani Literature in English ( 2017 ), expands this to look at the rich, multi-cultural traditions that have forged this growing, increasingly accomplished, and varied body of work from pre-independence influences to the new voices in the new millennium.

Since Pakistan is located on the cusp of India and the Islamic world, it shares the history and the literary traditions of both. 42 As such, Pakistani-English literature has been invariably discussed in the context of South Asian English writing, as it is in English Language Poetry by South Asians by Mitali Pati Wong and Syed Khwaja Moinul Hassan ( 2013 ). However, in the post-9/11 era, the stereotyped images in the West of the impassable divide between “Islam” and “the West” has led to an increasing number of critical studies. 43 Many of these aim to “participate and intervene in critical debates surrounding representations of Muslims and representations by Muslims.” 44 This includes Culture, Diaspora and Modernity in Muslim Writing , edited by Rehana Ahmed, Peter Morey, and Amina Yaqin ( 2012 ), Imagining Muslims in South Asia and the Diaspora: Secularism, Religion, Representations , edited by Claire Chambers and Caroline Herbert ( 2014 ), and Rehana Ahmed’s Writing British Muslims: Religion, Class, Multiculturalism ( 2015 ). These writings place Pakistani-English literature, such as the novels of Aslam, Aslam Khan, Hamid, and Shamsie, and the short fiction of Aamer Hussein and Mueenuddin within the context of Anglophone-Muslim writing from different lands.

Cara Cilano looks at different political realities in National Identities in Pakistan: The 1971 War in Contemporary Pakistani Fiction ( 2010 ). Cilano looks for answers to Pakistani officialdom’s silence over the 1971 conflict through her exploration of Pakistani fiction, including translations. The thought-provoking Partition’s Post-amnesias: 1947, 1971 and Modern South Asia by Ananya Jahanara Kabir ( 2013 ) looks at national identities in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and discovers different narratives in cultural production: music, art, archaeology, and literature. Cilano continues with her invaluable work in Contemporary Pakistani Fiction in English: Idea, Nation, State ( 2013 ). Cilano examines a wide range of post-independence Pakistani-English fiction and its portrayal of Islamic history, national identity, the division of 1947 and the 1971 war, as well as urban and rural conflicts and those of ethnicity and faith. In Post-9/11 Espionage Fiction in the US and Pakistan: Spies and “Terrorists,” Cilano explores Pakistani-English fiction’s response to popular American spy fiction. Aroosa Kanwal’s Rethinking Identities in Contemporary Pakistani Fiction: Beyond 9/11 takes a critical look at the way Pakistani-English writers negotiate Western perceptions of jihadism and extremism. David Waterman’s Where Worlds Collide: Pakistani Fiction in the New Millennium provides a nuanced analysis of seven Pakistani-English novels, focusing on broader links between concept, perception, and identity rather than socio-political groupings.

There is a small but growing number of critical studies on major writers, including Structures of Negation: The Writings of Zulfikar Ghose by Chelva Kanaganayakam ( 1993 ); Zulfikar Ghose: The Lost Son of the Punjab by Mansour Abbasi ( 2015 ); The Novels of Bapsi Sidhwa ( 1996 ), edited by R. K. Dhawan and N. Kapadia; Hanif Kureishi by Bart Moore-Gilbert ( 2001 ); and Two Sided Canvas: Perspectives on Ahmed Ali by Mehr Afshan Farooqi ( 2013 ). More studies are needed on the growing oeuvre of younger writers. There is also a paucity of critical studies focusing on Pakistani-English poetry, short fiction, drama, and life writing—particularly the memoirs and essays of Pakistan residents; furthermore, the focus on the political post-9/11 Muslim Pakistani-English novel has meant that very many other accomplished writers have been ignored.

There are, however, several important literary histories that provide insight into Pakistani-English writing in a wider Anglophone context, such as The Internationalization of English Literature by Bruce King ( 2004 ); Black and Asian Theatre by Colin Chambers ( 2009 ), and Through Muslim Eyes: Literary Representations 1780–1988 by Claire Chambers, which looks at fiction, memoirs and travelogues. Recent years have also seen special issues on Pakistan in academic journals such as The Atlanta Review, The Journal of Postcolonial Writing , The Journal of Postcolonial and Commonwealth Studies , and Vallum ; meanwhile, since 1965 , The Journal of Commonwealth Literature has maintained a continuous record of Pakistani-English literature in its annual bibliography issue. Other books of literary criticism on different aspects of Anglophone literary production by writers of Pakistani origin include works by Fawzia Afzal-Khan, Dohra Ahmad, Ambreen Hai, and Anis Shivani.

Further Reading

  • Chambers, Claire . British Muslim Fictions: Interviews with Contemporary Writers . London: Palgrave, 2011.
  • Cilano, Cara . Contemporary Pakistani Fiction in English: Idea, Nation, State . New York: Routledge, 2013.
  • Kanwal, Aroosa . Rethinking Identities in Contemporary Pakistani Fiction : Beyond 9/11 . New York: Routledge, 2015.
  • King, Bruce . The Oxford Literary History . Vol. 13. 1948–2000: The Internationalization of English Literature . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
  • Morey, Peter , and Amina Yaqin . Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representations After 9/11 . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011.
  • Rahman, Tariq . A History of Pakistani Literature in English 1947–1988 . Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2015.
  • Shamsie, Muneeza . Hybrid Tapestries: The Development of Pakistani Literature in English . Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2017.
  • Shamsie, Muneeza , guest ed. “Beyond Geography: Literature, Violence and Politics in Pakistan.” The Journal of Postcolonial Writing 47.2 (2011).
  • Shamsie, Muneeza , guest ed. “Al-Andalus.” The Journal of Postcolonial Writing 52.2 (2016).
  • Waterman, David . Where Worlds Collide: Pakistani Fiction in the New Millenium . Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2015.

1. This article is based on Muneeza Shamsie , Hybrid Tapestries: The Development of Pakistani Literature in English (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2017), in which the section on Kamila Shamsie is written by Dr. Shobhana Bhattacharji.

2. Kaiser Haq , “A Biographical and Critical Introduction,” in The Collected Poems of Shahid Suhrawardy , ed. Kaiser Haq (Dhaka: University Press, 2012), 48.

3. Tariq Rahman , A History of Pakistani Literature in English (Lahore: Vanguard, 1991), 151.

4. Bruce King , “From Twilight to Midnight: Muslim novels of India and Pakistan,” in Worlds of the Muslim Imagination , ed. Alamgir Hashmi (Islamabad: Gulmohar, 1986), 244.

5. Variously translated as “Red Hot Coals” or “Burning Coals” or “Embers.”

6. Ahmed Ali , Twilight in Delhi (Karachi: Oxford University Press 1984), 16.

7. Mehr Afshan Farooqi , The Two-Sided Canvas: Perspectives on Ahmed Ali (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2013), 28.

8. Tariq Rahman. A History of Pakistani Literature in English , 2–10, draws interesting parallels between debates on the use of English as a creative language in South Asia and in Africa and the Caribbean and their emphasis on nationalistic rather than literary content of this literature. He also details pre-Partition debates on whether “Indianness could be expressed in a foreign language.”

9. See Frances Pritchett , Nets of Awareness: Urdu Poetry and Its Criics (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1997); and Shaista Suhrawardy Ikramullah , A Critical Survey of the Development of the Urdu Novel and Short Story (London: Longman Green, 1945).

10. Meenakshi Mukherjee , The Perishable Empire: Essays in Indian Writing in English (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002), 9.

11. Mukherjee, Perishable Empire , 9.

12. Humaira Saeed , “Affecting Phantasm: The Genesis of Pakistan in The Heart Divided ,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 50 (2014): 544–545.

13. Zamir Niazi , The Press in Chains (Karachi: Royal Book Company, 1986) provides a meticulous record of censorship in Pakistan.

14. See Tariq Rahman , Language Ideology and Power ; Language and Learning Among the Muslims of Pakistan and North India (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2002), which explores the role, status, and politics of different languages in Pakistan.

15. Kevin Ireland , “Reviews,” Journal of Commonwealth Literature 5 (1970): 115.

16. Rahman, History , 51.

17. Mehr Afshan Farooqi, Two-Sided , 29.

18. Tariq Rahman, History , 200.

19. Ayesha Jalal , The State of Martial Law: The Origins of Pakistan’s Political Economy of Defence (Karachi: Vanguard, 1991), 313

20. See Cara Cilano , National Identities in Pakistan: The 1971 War in Pakistani Fiction (London: Routledge, 2010).

21. Taufiq Rafat , “Towards a Pakistani Idiom,” Venture 6 (1969): 66.

22. See Alamgir Hashmi , “Poetry, Pakistani Idiom in English and the Grouipies,” World Literature Today 64.2 (Spring 1990): 268.

23. Carlo Coppola , “Some Recent English Language Poetry from Pakistan,” in Post-Independence Voices in South Asian Writing , eds. Alamgir Hashmi , Malashri Lal , and Victor Ramraj (Islamabad: Alhamra, 2001), 220.

24. Chelva Kanaganayakam , Structures of Negation: The Writings of Zulfikar Ghose (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 1993), 114.

25. Catherine Lynette Innes , The Cambridge Introduction to Postcolonial literatures in English (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 153.

26. See Muneeza Shamsie , “The Short Story in Pakistan: A Survey,” Archiv 247.1 (2010): 135–148.

27. Bart Moore-Gilbert , Postcolonial Life—Writing:Culture, Politics and Self Representation (New York: Routledge, 2009), 101.

28. See Cara Cilano , “Highlighting the Skeptical Strain: An Interview with Tariq Ali,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 52.2 (2016): 189.

29. David Waterman , “Power Politics, Hobbesian Fear, and the Duty of Self Preservation: Tariq Ali’s Shadows of a Pomegranate Tree ,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 52.2 (2016): 157.

30. Cara Cilano , Contemporary Pakistani Literature in English: Idea, Nation, State (New York: Routledge, 2013), 91.

31. Bart Moore Gilbert , Hanif Kureishi (Manchester, U.K.: Manchester University Press, 2001), 3

32. Neil Astley , Bloodaxe Poetry Collections 1: Elizabeth Alexander, Moniza Alvi, Imtiaz Dharker, Jackie Kay (Tarset, U.K.: Bloodaxe, 2006), 53.

33. Muneeza Shamsie , “Exploring Dualities: An Interview with Moniza Alvi,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 47.2 (2011): 196.

34. William Dalrymple , “Songs of Blood and Sword,” The Financial Times , May 15, 2010. Retrieved from https://www.ft.com/content/b00579f6-5ecc-11df-af86-00144feab49a .

35. Bruce King , “Kamila Shamsie’s Novels of History, Exile and Desire,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 47.2 (2011): 148.

36. Shobhana Bhattacharji , “Kamila Shamsie,” in Hybrid Tapestries: The Development of Pakistani Literature in English , Muneeza Shamsie , 384–395 (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2017).

37. Peter Morey , “‘The Rules of the Game Have Changed’: Mohsin Hamid’s Reluctant Fundamentalist and Post 9/11 Fiction,” The Journal of Postcolonial Writing 47.2 (2011): 139.

38. Ananya Jahanara Kabir , “Deep Topographies in the Fiction of Uzma Aslam Khan,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 47.2 (2011): 179.

39. The growing number of Pakistani-English women writers led to my anthology And the World Changed: Contemporary Stories by Pakistani Women (2005), and the introduction to its U.S. edition traced the links between women’s writing and issues of literacy, education, and reform in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

40. David Waterman , Where Worlds Collide: Pakistani Fiction in the New Millenium (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2015), 158.

41. See Alamgir Hashmi , Commonwealth Literature: An Essay Towards the Redefinition of Popular/Counter Culture (Islamabad: Vision Press, 1983), 64.

42. The root languages of Urdu are Arabic, Persian, and Sanskrit; see Tariq Rahman , From Hindi to Urdu: A Social and Political History (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2012); and Rahman, Language, Ideology and Power (2002).

43. Amina Yaqin and Peter Morey , Framing Muslims: Stereotyping and Representations After 9/11 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), 3.

44. Claire Chambers and Caroline Herbert , Imagining Muslims in South Asia and the Diaspora: Secularism, Religion, Representations (New York: Routledge, 2015), 3.

Printed from Oxford Research Encyclopedias, Literature. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a single article for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 04 June 2024

  • Cookie Policy
  • Privacy Policy
  • Legal Notice
  • Accessibility
  • [|]

Character limit 500 /500

Academia.edu no longer supports Internet Explorer.

To browse Academia.edu and the wider internet faster and more securely, please take a few seconds to  upgrade your browser .

Enter the email address you signed up with and we'll email you a reset link.

  • We're Hiring!
  • Help Center

paper cover thumbnail

English Language in Pakistan: Expansion and Resulting Implications

Profile image of SYEDA SUMMIKA ZAIDI

2017, Journal of Education & Social Sciences

Related Papers

Dr. Tariq Rahman

This chapter traces out the development of English in Pakistan with reference to its use in education, media and society in general. One of the functions of English in Pakistan is to serve as a class-marker since it carries social capital. It is still used in the official domains of power such as higher administration, judiciary, military and education. Thus it is acquired at great expense by the lower middle and middle classes. However, it also serves as a tool for upward social moblization.

history of english language in pakistan essay

The Future of English as a Global Language

Faraz Ali Bughio

This paper highlights the importance and status of English in Pakistan and argues that English is used as a gatekeeper to prevent the access of common man to the elite club of power and prosperity. This paper discusses the central role English plays in language politics in Pakistan; the place of English contrasting with Urdu (the national language) and regional languages is also discussed. Furthermore, this paper briefly discusses the parallel system of education in Pakistan. Finally, it is suggested that quality education in English can provide better economic opportunities to the people of Pakistan.

Ahmar Mahboob

Research on humanities and social sciences

syeda bukhari

This paper is a part of a Ph.D. dissertation which presents an overview of the history of English in Pakistan. In today’s global world, English has established its status as a language of power and prestige, and Pakistan is no exception. Consequently, it is valuable to highlight some historical features that make English important in Pakistani society. Pakistan shares its early history of the contact of the English language with India. In this context, there is a need to get an understanding of its historical and social roots. Therefore, this paper discusses the advent and spread of English in the Indo-Pak subcontinent. Keywords: English language, Pakistan, British rule.

Zahida Mansoor

In this thesis, I will be investigating educational policies with a focus on English as a medium of instruction. The medium of instruction in Pakistan varies with respect to each province and the s ...

Liaqat Iqbal

The paper revisits the diachronic evolution of the belief, practices, and attitudes of Urdu and Pashto speakers towards English and ascertains the drivers and effects of such changes. The changes are explored at two levels, micro and macro. The macro-level perspective concerns the 'use' interface while the microlevel concerns the 'code'. The study hinges on the theory of contact linguistics' approaches such as language shift, hybridization and domain conquest. In the wake of this study, the scholars revisit the value of 'Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scales' (GIDS) in the assessment of language prospects of survival. The study finds that Pashto and Urdu both underwent substantial changes as a result of contact with the English language. The study also proposes revisiting definitions of some popular terms used in the evaluation of language policy and planning as the proposal to use more discrete terms that can be easily understood and applied by the ...

Global Social Sciences Review

Aamna Zafar

The paper explores Pakistani graduate EFL learners' attitudes towards the increasing significance of the English language at national and global levels in the contemporary world. The analysis adopts a qualitative style, using twenty interviews to gain painstaking insights into the learners' linguistic attitudes. The research scrutinizes the socio, contextual and cultural factors that impact Pakistani learners' perceptions of English. The study reveals that while Pakistani learners appear uncertain about English in addition to its culture, they have adopted the educational and social functions of the language. The outcomes indicate the linguistic imperialism and symbolic capital of English, as individuals contemplate it as essential for socioeconomic advancement in Pakistan. The study's results can help academicians and officials assess the potential impacts of English on the roles of local languages, particularly in Pakistan's education system.

Pakistan journal of language


Unum Verum Bonum

dave montero

Noga Ayali-Darshan

IOP Conference Series: Materials Science and Engineering


Annamaria Elia


Giuliana Vitiello


François Petitet


Amos Mugweru

Janus Sosiaalipolitiikan ja sosiaalityön tutkimuksen aikakauslehti

Marjo Kuronen

Chemical Science

Peter Adriaensens

Zywnosc Nauka Technologia Jakosc/Food Science Technology Quality

Marek Šnirc

Journal of Management Studies

Sarah Moore

Revista de la Facultad de Odontología

Veronica Lucia Ventrera

Ethiopian Journal of Water Science

Alemeshet Kebede , Samuel Dagalo Hatiye

Health Policy

Job van Exel


John Skinner


International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

Tanja Laukkala

Critical Policy Studies

Helen Sullivan

Earth and Planetary Science Letters

Paul Breeze

Frontiers in Neurology

sookjaroen tangwongchai


  •   We're Hiring!
  •   Help Center
  • Find new research papers in:
  • Health Sciences
  • Earth Sciences
  • Cognitive Science
  • Mathematics
  • Computer Science
  • Academia ©2024

The English Language as Spoken in Pakistan

  • An Introduction to Punctuation
  • Ph.D., Rhetoric and English, University of Georgia
  • M.A., Modern English and American Literature, University of Leicester
  • B.A., English, State University of New York

In the country of Pakistan, English is a co-official language with Urdu. Linguist Tom McArthur reports that English is used as a second language "by a national minority of c .3 million in a population of c .133 million."

The slang term Pinglish is sometimes used as an informal (and often unflattering) synonym for Pakistani English .

Examples and Observations

"English in Pakistan-- Pakistani English --shares the broad characteristics of South Asian English in general and is similar to that spoken in contiguous regions of northern India. As in many former British colonies, English first enjoyed the status of an official language alongside Urdu after independence in 1947... "The grammatical features . . . [of] Indian English are largely shared by Pakistani English. Interference stemming from background languages is common and switching between these languages and English occurs frequently on all levels of society. "Vocabulary. As might be expected, loans from the various indigenous languages of Pakistan are to be found in local forms of English, e.g. atta 'flour,' ziarat 'religious place.'... "There are also word formations consisting of hybrids and blends with inflectional elements from English and stems from regional languages, e.g. goondaism 'hooliganism,' 'thuggish behaviour,' biradarism 'favouring one's clan.' "Still further word-formation processes are attested in Pakistani English with outcomes which are not necessarily known outside this country. Back-formation : to scrute from scrutiny ; blends: telemoot from television and moot 'meeting'; conversion : to aircraft, to arson, to change sheet ; compounds : to airdash 'depart quickly by air,' to head-carry ."


"Linguists generally describe the three or four subvarieties [of Pakistani English] in terms of proximity to the British Standard: the samples most distant from it--and any other variety--are often regarded as 'genuinely' Pakistani. American English, which has gradually infiltrated the spoken and written idiom, is discounted in most studies."

The Importance of English in Pakistan

"English is . . . an important medium in a number of key educational institutions, is the main language of technology and international business, has a major presence in the media, and is a key means of communication among a national elite. The constitution and the laws of the land are codified in English."

English and Urdu in Pakistan

"In some ways, I have a lover’s quarrel with the English language. I live with it and I cherish this relationship. But there is often this feeling that in preserving this bond, I have betrayed my first love and my childhood’s passion--Urdu. And it is not possible to be equally faithful to both of them. . . . "A bit subversive it may be deemed but my contention [is] that English is . . . a barrier to our progress because it reinforces class division and undermines the main purpose of education as an equaliser. In fact, the domination of English in our society may also have contributed to the growth of religious militancy in the country. Whether English should be our official language, in spite of its value as a means of communication with the rest of the world, is surely a major issue . . .. "At the heart of all this discussion, of course, is education in all its dimensions. The rulers, supposedly, are very serious about it. Their challenge is to realise the slogan of ‘education for all.’ But, as the ‘policy dialogue’ would suggest, it should not just be education for all but quality education for all so that we can truly be liberated. Where do English and Urdu belong in this venture?"

Code-Switching: English and Urdu

"[T]he use of English words in Urdu-- code-switching for linguists--is not an indication of not knowing the two languages. If anything, it may be an indication of knowing both languages. First, one switches code for many reasons, not just lack of control of languages. Indeed, code-switching has always been going on whenever two or more languages have come in contact. . . "People who do research on code-switching point out that people do it to emphasize certain aspects of identity; to show informality; to show easy command of several languages and to impress and dominate others. Depending on the situation, one can be humble, friendly, arrogant or snobbish through the way one mixes languages. Of course, it is also true that one may know so little English that one cannot manage to sustain a conversation in it and has to fall back upon Urdu. That might well be the case but that is not the only reason for code-switching. And if someone does not know English and falls back upon Urdu, then he or she knows Urdu best. It is still untrue to argue that this person does not know any language. Not knowing literary Urdu is one thing; not knowing the spoken language quite another."

Pronunciation in Pinglish

"[S]oftware designer Adil Najam . . . took time to define Pinglish , which according to him, emerges when English words are mixed with words of a Pakistani language--usually, but not solely, Urdu. "Pinglish is not just getting the construction of the sentences wrong, but also about pronunciation. "'Many Pakistanis often have trouble when two consonants appear together without a vowel in between. The word "school" is often mispronounced as either "sakool" or "iskool," depending on whether your native tongue is Punjabi or Urdu,' pointed out blogger Riaz Haq. "Commonplace words such as 'automatic' is 'aatucmatuc' in Pinglish, while 'genuine' is 'geniean' and 'current' is 'krunt.' Some words also take a plural form such as 'roadien' for roads, 'exceptionein' for exception and 'classein' for classes."

  • The Oxford Guide to World English , 2002
  • Raymond Hickey, "South Asian Englishes." Legacies of Colonial English: Studies in Transported Dialects , ed. by Raymond Hickey. Cambridge University Press, 2004
  • Alamgir Hashmi, "Language [Pakistan]." Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English , 2nd ed., edited by Eugene Benson and L.W. Conolly. Routledge, 2005
  • Tom McArthur, The Oxford Guide to World English . Oxford University Press, 2002
  • Ghazi Salahuddin, "Between Two Languages." The International News , March 30, 2014
  • Dr. Tariq Rahman, "Mixing Languages." The Express Tribune , March 30, 2014
  • "Get Set for Pakistani English or ‘Pinglish.'" The Indian Express , July 15, 2008
  • English as a Global Language
  • Pakistan | Facts and History
  • New Englishes: Adapting the Language to Meet New Needs
  • Learn the Function of Code Switching as a Linguistic Term
  • English as a Foreign Language (EFL)
  • What Is World English?
  • Key Events in the History of the English Language
  • What Countries Have English as an Official Language?
  • English as a Lingua Franca (ELF)
  • How Do You Rate as an Expert of the English Language?
  • West African Pidgin English (WAPE)
  • Nigerian English
  • 5 Countries Where Spanish Is Spoken but Not Official
  • Standard English (SE)
  • What Is Linguistic Anthropology?
  • English Language: History, Definition, and Examples



The ambivalent role of Urdu and English in multilingual Pakistan: a Bourdieusian study

  • Original Paper
  • Published: 22 March 2022
  • Volume 22 , pages 25–48, ( 2023 )

Cite this article

history of english language in pakistan essay

  • Hina Ashraf   ORCID: orcid.org/0000-0003-4753-1493 1  

10k Accesses

3 Citations

5 Altmetric

Explore all metrics

A Correction to this article was published on 02 January 2023

This article has been updated

Pakistan, one of the eight countries comprising South Asia, has more than 212.2 million people, making it the world’s fifth most populous country after China, India, USA, and Indonesia. It has also the world’s second-largest Muslim population. Eberhard et al. (Ethnologue: languages of the world, SIL International, 2020) report 77 languages used by people in Pakistan, although the only two official languages are Urdu and English. After its Independence from the British colonial rule in 1947, it took much deliberation for the country to make a shift from its monolingual Urdu orientation to a multilingual language policy in education in 2009. This entailed a shift from the dominant Urdu language policy for the masses (and English exclusively reserved for elite institutions), to a gradual and promising change that responded to the increasing social demand for English and for including regional languages in the curriculum. Yet English and Urdu dominate the present policy and exclude regional non-dominant languages in education that themselves are dynamic and unstable, and restructured continually due to the de facto multilingual and plurilingual repertoire of the country. Using Bourdieu’s (Outline of a theory of practice Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1977a, The economics of linguistic exchanges. Soc Sci Inform 16:645–668, 1977b, The genesis of the concepts of habitus and field. Sociocriticism 2:11–24 1985, Language and symbolic power Polity Press, Cambridge, 1991) conceptualization of habitus, this study analyzes letters to the editor published between 2002–2009 and 2018–2020 in a leading English daily of Pakistan. The analysis unveils the linguistic dispositions that are discussed in the letters and their restructuring through market forces, demonstrating a continuity between the language policy discourse and public aspirations. The findings also indicate the ambivalences towards Urdu and English in relation to nationalistic ideologies, modernity and identity.

Similar content being viewed by others

history of english language in pakistan essay

English Language Education in the Philippines: Policies, Problems, and Prospects

The challenge of implementing mother tongue education in linguistically diverse contexts: the case of the philippines.

history of english language in pakistan essay

From decolonisation to authoritarianism: the co-option of the decolonial agenda in higher education by right-wing nationalist elites in Russia and India

Avoid common mistakes on your manuscript.


In the multilingual global South, though the dominant languages enjoy a certain hierarchy, the symbolic value of the regional languages remains in constant flux across different domains. This is certainly the case of Pakistan. People in Pakistani society in general are linguistically diverse, and while one language represents their ethnolinguistic identity, others are incorporated in everyday living for business transactions, official matters, religious practices, entertainment, and education, indicating that no one language is sufficient for meeting all the communicative requirements across various social situations. In education, for example, both English and Urdu are important. Parents grant more capital to English for its access to employment, a modern identity, information channels, and the global economy, but for their children Urdu cultivates and nurtures local, cultural, and societal bonds, and for girls it even symbolizes familial values (Ashraf, 2008 ). With 77 living languages, of which only these two (i.e., Urdu and English) are dominant, Pakistan’s language policy has often been presented with ideological conflicts, the most salient of which was the Urdu and Bengali conflict concluding in the separation of East Pakistan from West in 1971 as a sovereign state—now Bangladesh. In order to theorize these multilingual identities, one needs to be conscious of the unique South Asian linguistic practices, where, in the words of Canagarajah, ( 2004 ) “the self is composed of multiple subjectivities that are derived by heterogeneous codes, registers and discourses found in the society, with unequal status and power deriving from differential positioning in socioeconomic terms” (2004, p. 117). There is a conflict and tension within and between these subjectivities, and “in order to attain coherence and empowerment, the subject has to negotiate these competing identities and subject positions in relation to the changing discursive and material contexts” (p. 117). These processes often result in appropriation of top-down institutional policies. Moreover, the need of different languages for gains in different social domains gives rise to a multilinguals’ paradoxical view of nationhood, the assets they may be able to access in Pakistani society (e.g., education, social connections), and the value of multilingualism in education. The present study sets out to examine these tensions and paradoxes as they are captured in published responses to language policy formation in Pakistan in the genre of letter to the editor.

Viewed from the perspective of French sociologist Bourdieu ( 1977a , b , 1985 , 1991 ), people are influenced by a sense of value in determining the rules for their choices within the contexts and constraints of different social spaces or fields . Bourdieu called these dispositions habitus , which he defines as the “subjective but not individual system of internalized structures, schemes of perception, conception and action” ( 1977a , p. 86). The Bourdieusian proviso that habitus is “subjective but not individual” signals a definitional tension between group and agent, macro and micro forces. Sociologist Loïc Wacquant, one of Bourdieu’s contemporary interpreters in the U.S., illuminates this tension by defining habitus as “deposited in persons in the form of lasting dispositions, or trained capacities and structured propensities to think, feel and act in determinant ways, which then guide them” (Wacquant, 2005 , p. 316). Of these internalized systems and deposited lasting dispositions, the linguistic habitus is a subset, acquired in determining the more valued language(s) in a socially defined context or, as Bourdieu calls it, market. The linguistic market defines the social conditions of acceptability, often reflected in accents and discursive resources employed by agents. The dominant language establishes the norm against which the prices of the other modes of expression, and the values of the various competences, are defined (Bourdieu, 1977b ). Accordingly, standardized or legitimized national language(s) lend authority to certain languages that lower the value or market share of other languages, resulting in individuals developing their “linguistic sense of placement” (Salö, 2015 ), and aligning their linguistic practices accordingly. Agents’ development of this linguistic sense of placement, however, is considerably complex in multilingual settings. Bourdieu’s theorization was grounded in his experiences in France and Algeria. Other scholars working in the Global South have debated the applicability of Bourdieu’s theory in these other contexts, which are characterized, as Pakistan is, by much higher linguistic diversity than Bourdieu could have envisioned (see Moraru, 2016 ; Stroud, 2002 ; and Swigart, 2001 ). Among several theoretical extensions of habitus proposed in this discussion, scholars like Benson ( 2013 , 2014 ) have felt the need to use the term multilingual habitus to capture the reality that agents’ linguistic utterances are regularly borrowed from more than one language. Other scholars like Lamb ( 2015 ) prefer the near-synonymous term plurilingual habitus so as to emphasize even more fluid shifts whereby agents borrow from different languages in their repertoire without seemingly drawing clear-cut boundaries between languages (see also Canagarajah, 2009 ). It is helpful for the goals of the present research to consider a multilingual or plurilingual habitus, as it helps envision agents in multilingual markets as adopting different systems of dispositions in their socialization to compete against inequity or for access—a process enhanced with the forces of globalization and digitalization.

In this study, I combine the perspectives of individual multilingual sensibilities and responses to heterogenous market forces to understand the metadiscourses of habitus as encapsulated in letters to the editor published in Dawn , a widely disseminated national newspaper, over the course of the 2000s. This was a critical period in Pakistan’s political history (Ashraf, 2014 ) as well as significant for being the time when Pakistan transitioned to its first multilingual education policy, promulgated in 2009. In past language policy scholarship, letters to the editor have been analyzed for the window they afford into language ideologies (e.g., Hiss, 2013 ). But letters to the editor, I argue, are also revealing of the habitus of those who have produced them: They not only can become data that help to understand how public voices enact the policy discourse, but they also encapsulate metadiscourses of habitus that an analyst can unpack. Therefore, in the present study I hope to show how these enactments of the policy discourse in Pakistani letters to the editor heighten our understanding of the mechanisms through which linguistic habitus functions in relation to language policy. I specifically address three research questions in my analysis: What are the certainties and ambivalences that (re)structure the linguistic habitus of multilingual Pakistani speakers as related to the heterogeneity of the market? What conceptualizations of the standardized national language, Urdu, are endorsed by people in Pakistan? How is education related to the values and forces of the various markets?

Given that habitus is multidimensional and constructed socio-historically, I first present Pakistan’s historical background. This section is followed by an overview of the theoretical orientations on the agency of habitus in multilingual settings. I then present the methodology. The analysis unveils the evolving process through which the writers of Dawn ’s letters to the editor act, think, and make sense of the language policy and practices in relation to market values ascribed to languages. I end with a discussion of the findings and their implications.

Pakistan’s historical background

Forming the southern part of the Silk Road, what now is modern Pakistan has always been a site of connecting the East and the West through transmigration, intercultural contacts and semiotic systems that can be traced back to 500 BCE. From the Indus Valley Civilization of the Bronze Age to the present, the linguistic diversity of this region, with fluid shifts in codes, suggests linguistic dispositions influenced by the market values of different languages. For example, in 500 BCE, Sanskrit, very much like Latin in medieval Europe, was the typical literary and religious language, Prakrit and Pali were essentially the vernaculars and the spoken languages, and Old Iranian influenced Persian, Afghan, Kurdish and Ossetic languages (Lamberg-Karlovsky, 2002 ). In addition to the regional languages, foreign invasions inspired plurilingual practices. For example, Greek edicts, inscriptions, and coins bearing Greek scripts with Indo-Aryan language influences were in use even before Alexander’s advent in 327 BC till as late as the eighth century AD (Khalid et al., 2011 ). Similarly, scripts in Arwi (i.e., Tamil written in the Arabic script) were used in South India and Sri Lanka, reflecting a practice of mixing scripts and languages that continued from the eighth to nineteenth century (Alim, 1993 ). During the Mughal era that coincides with the Renaissance in Europe (1526–1540 and 1556–1857), literacy practices flourished in several local languages. Persian was an influential and official language, Arabic was the lingua franca, while amongst themselves the emperors used Turk (Rahman, 2002 ). This multilingual society dramatically shifted to a monolingual view with the British colonial movement, in just 90 years (1857–1947), creating a hierarchy of languages with English at the top, and introducing later nation-state single language policies which unleashed local reactionary movements and generated chauvinistic, exclusivist ideologies and communal tensions that went against local pluralism (Ashraf, 2018 ; Canagarajah & Ashraf, 2013 ). The onset of the British colonial movement also marked a shift from inclusion, acceptance, and tolerance to exclusion, less acceptance, and less tolerance of multilingualism.

After Independence from Britain in 1947, Pakistan designated Urdu its national language, and the inherited colonial English as official. This went against the grain of local multilingualism but promoted the birth of Pakistan in the nation-state era. The challenges for this two-language policy were not small, however, and they continue to be present to this date. For one, despite its lingua franca status across Pakistan and North India, Urdu is the mother tongue of only about 8% of the total population (Pakistan, 2001). Second, Urdu does not have the same linguistic capital as English (Ashraf, 2008 ; Shamim & Rashid, 2019 ), but dominates English in some fields where it is ritualized, and where it confers unequal values to other languages. Every so often, its users are referred to as desi , i.e., an Urdu word with the pejorative meaning of “the local, lesser developed people,” perhaps a quality similar to what would be characterized as peasant or backward in western English contexts. In the long run, Urdu has been the medium of education in Pakistani elementary and secondary schools since Independence, but it has not replaced English in professional, higher or STEM education. Recently, the National Education Policy ( 2009 ) and the latest National Education Policy Framework ( 2018 ) have proposed a multilingual policy, starting from mother tongue (i.e., L1) as medium of instruction in early grades, and moving to Urdu and English (i.e., L2) at lower or higher secondary levels. This multilingual compartmentalized progression from early grades to higher secondary levels presents a system of regulation which shapes people’s linguistic sensibilities concerning normativity, acceptability, and appropriateness (see also Hanks, 2005 ).

Theoretical framework

Viewing habitus in multilingual practices and education.

Bourdieu’s ( 1977a , 1977b , 1985 , 1991 ) theory of habitus and its relatedness to field and market offer a tool to reconcile external social structures and subjective experiences. Hanks ( 2005 ) and Joseph ( 2020 ) chronicle how influential in his development of the theory was Aristotelian hexis , which combines intention and judgement, Merleau-Ponty’s corporeal habitus and chair , visible in the familiarity and immediacy of dispositions or embodiment, and Panofsky’s habits of mind , which involves the cultural production of what is taken as habitual action or practice, and which is sedimented in an individual’s subjectivity through social interaction. Bourdieu assumes that agents have an individual history which is shaped by education of their social milieu and by their collective history. As such, Bourdieusian theory and the construct of habitus with its two related notions of field and market are useful for the present purposes to investigate top-down and bottom-up language policy dynamics. His conceptualization of habitus functions with a generative principle of deliberate choices within the parameters of a social field forming the rules of the marketplace that render value and an instinctive, corporeal cognition to certain acts. As already mentioned, Bourdieu’s habitus refers to agents’ individual subjectivities and dispositions that are in fact not entirely individual but internalized and shared among members of a group or class when certain features of their habitus overlap ( 1977a ; also Wacquant, 2005 ). He defines field as a social space in which agents take different positions that are determined by the historical process of occupancy, symbolic boundaries of constraints, the trajectories of the agents, and the habitus that is shaped by engagement (Hanks, 2005 ). Accordingly, the economic, educational, and artistic fields each have their own discursive features, rules, and laws, often overlapping in homologous fields. It follows that the linguistic marketplace regulates the value of a language in different fields. A study of habitus thus is an investigation into the processes in which the ingrained, and often unconscious aspects of sociolinguistic behavior and the agency of individuals respond to language policymaking, for example in a complexly multilingual setting such as in Pakistan.

Recent studies have examined how habitus manifests in the relationships and commitments between languages, individuals, and communities, collaboratively subverting monolingual ideals (Lamb, 2015 ), or constructing heterogeneous, alternative, or illegitimate linguistic practices (Moraru, 2020 ). Scholars also draw attention to the functional multilingualism of social agents and their habitus in various contexts of interaction (Moore & Gajo, 2009 ; Salö, 2020 ). For example, Moore and Gajo ( 2009 ) place analytical weight on multilingual agents, who find themselves at various points along a situational continuum; various positionings on this continuum induce alternative choices and social adjustments, particular language modes e.g., the choice of one language or the possibility of code-switching, and endorsing different identities as a speaker e.g., a monolingual, a bilingual or a learner identity, all within the same conversation. Agents’ multilingual sensibility and habitus allow them to negotiate different hierarchies of valuation, and these hierarchies contribute to the creation of social capital i.e., accrued or virtual resources that influence the development of durable networking and social mobility (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992 ), and to the (re)production of identity. Discussing Eastern societies and especially Arabic language and identity, Suleiman ( 2014 ) cautions against a reductive view of national identity, and for the recognition of implicit ethnolinguistic and religious bonds that exist in pluralism. He includes both the symbolic and instrumental roles of languages in the formation of national identity, viewing the former as a construct of group boundary and the latter in its communicative function. The Bourdieusian theory of habitus also offers a profitable vantage point into the study of dynamic language policy in the sociohistorical context of South Asia and Pakistan, where different languages either gain or are granted legitimacy and symbolic capital, e.g., in establishing national identity, cultural capital, or medium of education. Such an investigation into the restructuring of the linguistic and cultural habitus in multilingual settings can illuminate the social phenomena in which the symbolic and instrumental roles of language in a repertoire of identities (Joseph, 2012 ) constantly shift, negotiate, and renegotiate new social identities in the presence of conflicting nationalisms and polarization.

Bourdieu ( 1977b ) regarded the education system as a crucial object of struggle for its authority to legitimize certain language(s) or varieties. Ethnographers of education studying non-Western multilingual contexts extend the conceptualization of habitus to study multilingual contexts, and individuals who embody either monolingual or multilingual dispositions according to the rules of the market (e.g., Benson, 2013 ; Gogolin, 2002 ; L’nyavskiy-Ekelund & Siiner, 2017 ). In her studies about multilingual schooling in Africa and Asia, international and comparative education scholar Carolyn Benson notes that viewing language from the perspective of bounded entities, preserves the dominance of certain languages and “prevents educators from understanding the linguistic, cognitive and cultural resources that learners bring with them to the classroom” ( 2013 , p. 15). In linguistically diverse contexts like Africa, Benson ( 2013 ) reminds us that the very presence of functional multilingualism authenticates an unquestioned linguistic habitus in a place unique to a given market, but pervaded by assumptions of a unifying language. She draws attention to the unrealistic and imperfect ideologies of (a) single or dominant language(s) as the solution, for being “contrary to the nature of multilingual societies” (Milligan et al., 2020 , p. 119). She urges stakeholders at the policy stage to engage in careful and systemic planning at curriculum levels, so as to avoid creating a system that represents a tunnel vision of the education system or neglecting other curricular content in favor of just one language (Benson, 2014 ). In South Asian countries, as Khubchandani’s ( 2008 ) encyclopedic essay informs us, the gap between ideal language and language in function is often quite wide because the educational institutions usually adopt a minimalist approach “with vague commitments and qualifying clauses which are, in turn, a result of negotiating with contradictory agendas of market forces, serving the interests of the elite, and succumbing to the demands of ethnic pressures” (p. 377). Given that an investigation into habitus in itself responds to the social formation of speakers, their dispositions to include language(s) in certain ways, and the embodiment of values granted to the language(s) in different markets, the distinction between monolingual and multilingual dispositions is all the more useful in South Asian and hence Pakistan’s language policy context, where more than one language have had varying degrees of linguistic capital in homologous fields sociohistorically leading to social reproduction of inequality.

Letters to the editor in language policy research

Language policy debates have found an outlet in the letters to the editors’ section in newspapers as some previous studies indicate (e.g., Fitzsimmons-Doolan, 2009 ; Georgiou, 2011 ). Yang’s ( 2017 ) longitudinal analysis of a Korean newspaper corpus sought to understand the discourses of national identity and struggle of language choice between Korean and Japanese. This researcher showed that newspapers serve as public institutions to disseminate facts, but also as a discursive venue to interpret facts. In the United States, Fitzsimmons-Doolan ( 2009 ) analyzed a newspaper corpus in order to evaluate the pluralist narrative in language policies that promoted multilingualism in relation to immigrant discourses in Arizona at the time. As a genre, letters to the editor offer opinions by non-professional writers (Young, 2013 ), and they are published only after attaining the editorial approval for their arguments (Nip, 2006 ). Nevertheless, they also offer a deliberative form of democracy (Wahl-Jorgensen, 2001 ) in its resistant narrative (Ashraf, 2014 ). In this context, worth mentioning is Georgiou’s ( 2011 ) study of newspaper texts from letters, editorials, cartoons, opinion texts, and news texts, all responding to the policy of standardization and transliteration to Cypriot Greek in Cyprus. In her analysis, the policy signified top-down discourse going against the grain of the changing sociolinguistic realities of the society, and she found the responses represented refusal to endorse standardization. Georgiou’s study advocates for consideration of lay ideas in policy decisions to avoid undesired outcomes. Hiss ( 2013 ) analyzed Norwegian letters to the editor and short opinions to examine how language ideologies about Sámi and Norwegian were publicly debated through newspaper texts. Hiss’s corpus analysis reveals how writers of the letters anchored their evaluations and stances on language ideologies, essentially expressing judgements of other people’s behaviors.

As this literature suggests, letters to the editor are valuable data not only to understand responses to top-down language policy but also because they can expose “a nation’s ideals” (Hart, 2018 , p. 24), thus making multiyear investigations of how discourses are structured and beliefs performed in them worthwhile. In the present study, I treat the genre as gleaning data that help to understand public voices’ metadiscourses of linguistic habitus. The Pakistani letters to the editor I analyze heighten our understanding of the mechanisms through which linguistic habitus functions in relation to language policy.

The present data consist of 64 letters to the editor on the topic of the state of education in Pakistan, published in Dawn , the oldest and largest English-language daily newspaper in Pakistan. Of them, 61 were published between 2002 and 2009. They come from a corpus of 1881 Dawn letters created by Ashraf ( 2014 ). First, a stratified random sampling strategy was applied, whereby all letters to the editor published on the 8th to 15th of the months of April, May, and June from 2002 to 2009 were collected. Next, the topic identification (i.e., deciding which letters discussed themes relevant to the present study) was done via automated corpus analyses followed by manual analyses. Table 1 lists the results of the searches, which took place as follows. In the first stage of automated analyses, the corpus analysis tool SEM-TAG in Wmatrix assigned semantic tags to words after the Parts of Speech (POS) tagging, giving a general-sense field of words from a lexicon of single words and list of multi-word combinations (Rayson, 2008 ). The semantic tag of Education in general included words like education, teachers, students, schools, teaching, universities , etc. The subset of letters that addressed the medium of education and language(s) in function was identified automatically too. After the initial tagging, the automated analyses identified 78 letters. The next step of manual analyses involved reading each letter and excluding the ones which made only a passing reference to education or the language-in-education. This final step left a total of 61 letters, classified manually after inspecting automated semantic tags into three main themes: education and language, culture and language, and civic sense and language. Together the 61 letters contained discussions on medium of instruction, problem with the system, standard of education, teachers, comparison with regional languages, comparison with foreign countries or languages or education systems, culture, civic responsibility and solutions suggested. It is possible that the public opinion expressed by writers of letters to the editor on a given topic in this newspaper have changed since 2009. Therefore, I replicated the same exact methods and collected all letters in the Dawn published on the 8th to 15th of the months of April, May, and June from 2018 to 2020. Most letters (63) from this second dataset belonging to the domain of general education commented on school fees structure and online schooling after the COVID-19 pandemic, and thus were excluded from further analysis. Three letters between 2018 and 2020 were on the topic of the state of education and language in Pakistan and were retained. (They did not, however, show any changes over time and instead converged on the themes uncovered for the main corpus.) This yielded 64 letters in total for analysis in the present study.

In terms of genre, Pakistani letters to the editor have distinct patterns in content and length. They heavily rely on rhetorical questions, emotive language, and evaluative stance (Ashraf, 2014 ). With respect to discourses on education, an initial reading exhibited themes conveyed in linear, bi-directional, or even cyclical patterns employing linguistic features (e.g., modals, adjectives), or discourse styles (e.g., epistemic claims, stance, and indexicality). This subset of 64 letters revealed discourses on language attitudes and common values hinting linguistic dispositions as homogeneous, dynamic, or multilingual. For purpose of uncovering the mechanisms in which these sociolinguistic discourses are produced, this study combines a fine-grained analysis of linguistic and discourse features in interrelationship with the surrounding semiotic structure in the letters. This dual approach is well suited to understand the metadiscourses of theory and practice in the conceptualization of national language and language of education and how the restructuring habitus works in relation to the values and forces that endow them linguistic capital.

Before presenting the analyses and findings, it must be pointed out here that this study has its own limitations and merits. The data source is limited in certain ways. Firstly, the fact that the letters, as all letters to the editor, were edited before published bears on the trustworthiness of their representing the voice of the people. Secondly, the newspaper caters to an English-speaking sector in Pakistani society, despite its equally emphatic promotion of Urdu education and language. Nevertheless, within these constraints, the ensuing analysis is of a conversation between the actors in the center comprising of an English-speaking literate section of the population, who engage in dialogue on language and education, with the bureaucracy and the larger public. Although this English-speaking population is not a homogenous group and is comprised of different linguistic and ethnic groups, it represents Pakistan’s diverse and literate population, who are directly influenced by the languages, and the education policies.

Analysis and findings

The following analysis functions at two levels: (a) it scrutinizes the unequal values ascribed to languages in the letters to the editor (henceforth LEs), and (b) it elucidates the evolving process through which the writers act, think, and make sense of contextualized practices in relation to different market forces in the multilingual ecology of Pakistan. Longer excerpts are numbered, and unnumbered additional excerpted LE language is offered as well, always italicized, to substantiate interpretations. In both cases, I have included the titles of the letter and the date of publication italicized in parenthesis. As can be seen in Table 1 , some letter titles repeat, which were assigned a number by the newspaper Dawn and copied as they appeared in the newspaper. In few cases, I assigned a number to letters with similar title in the corpus in chronological order. The variation in themes and years offers a view into the “polymorphic spaces of unequal values and shifting boundaries” (Moore & Gajo, 2009 , p. 140) in relation to national identity, education, and cultural identities.

Urdu as the national language

National identity is a construct often fashioned out of historical interpretations (Suleiman, 2014 ). In the LEs, internalized rules for the one nation-one state ideology prevail in the market for Urdu. Excerpts 1 through 3 below illustrate this theme.

Urdu has risen out of the work, needs, ties, joys, affections, and tastes of many generations of people spanning centuries and nobody should try to change this reality” (Languages creating a new reality/18-Jun-07)

It is no joke to replace the language of another origin with the language of another land. It only serves the all-powerful vested interests. Things are not the way they have been claimed… Urdu is the federal language of Pakistan. It can play a meaningful role by linking all of us—Sindhis, Punjabis, Baloch and Pathans—in a harmonious blend, keeping intact our cultures and languages. In this way, it becomes the symbol of our national identity, but one should refrain from allotting it the role of dictatorship. We had been victim of that psyche of monolingual imperialism in the recent past, in 1971. (Urdu as Punjab’s mother-tongue i/18-May-04)

We should all strive to make Pakistan a place where all languages can attain equal status, can flourish and grow without the danger of extinction. We hope the day arrives soon when these languages will become the source of earning and status for their respective communities (Urdu as Punjab’s mother-tongue ii/20-May-04)

National identity emerges as a market force that gains strength through Urdu and ‘nationalistic Islam.’ It is ritualized in the historical context of Independence in the fields of both nationhood and education, and at times celebrated in its comparison to Hindi (also in Re: Medium of instruction/20-Apr-03 ). Urdu and Hindi, identified as ‘Khari Boli’ or ‘Hindustani’ till the late nineteenth century, “are mutually understandable in spoken form but are written in very dissimilar style” ( Urdu and Hindi: Different yet similar/14-Apr-07 ). They were standardized as two separate languages representing the Muslim and Hindu majority populations in a struggle for Independence under the British colonial rulers.

Urdu is the sole legitimate language for national identity, as the excerpts above illustrate, but outside the field of nationhood, it exists in harmony with other languages in the multilingual ecology, e.g., Punjabi, Sindhi, or Persian— even Hindi if it is not linked to the past (also in Urdu and Hindi: Different yet similar/14-Apr-07, Language question in education/19-Apr-07, Language question in education?17-May-07) . The use of the perfect tense in relation to national identity in these letters intensifies the tension and contrast, unlike the use of modals in other letters that are open to diversity and homogeneity as way forward. In Examples 4 and 5 below, a marked shift from homogeneity to diversity is called for by the writers, and symbolic capital is structured in subjective judgements and appeals to logical reasoning through expressions like good for Pakistan and something that would lead to uniformity . They build a theme of common values in diversity, taking positions through epistemic claims by referring to actually occurring events, past incidents, and binary opposition (Ashraf, 2014 ).

Pakistan’s future is better served not by homogeneity but by diversity and unity. In future, the Punjabis should be able to speak Punjabi along with Urdu and English, while the Sindhi children should be capable of reading and writing in their own language while using Urdu and English at different levels. This linguistic and mental diversity will do more good for Pakistan than any simple prescriptions that lead to uniformity. (Re: Medium of instruction/20-Apr-03)

What is the Punjab score after 135 years of Urdu teaching? Before the partition the vernacular final examination required one of three languages: Punjabi, Urdu or Hindi, which was also the medium for other subjects (Language question in education i/19-Apr-07).

The social value of a language or languages is in their relationship to all the other linguistic products in the market, and this determines their distinctive value (Bourdieu, 1977b , p. 654). To Bourdieu the effect of any new experience is integrated into the experiences already shaping the habitus in the form of classifying and generating schemes (ibid. p. 661). In this sense, Urdu is viewed by many of the LE writers in relativistic differences with other languages in education, shedding light on how one language may gain both meaning and value through the complex emergence of historical, social, and economic conditions, and yet that same one language in synergy with those conditions may grant that place to another language in a different market thereby viewing languages in a continuum. The writers’ work of positioning the self and others through strategies of alignment, dissociation and confrontation constructs ideological language boundaries as Hiss ( 2013 ) demonstrates in the case of Sámi and Norwegian in Tromsø. In contrast, in the case of Pakistan a look at the process of restructuring habitus that evolved through actions, thought-process, and perceptions of the sociohistorical and economic development over years unveils how LEs deconstruct notions of national unity for diversity. Consequently, the analysis unfolds the shifts in the linguistic capital that Urdu affords the writers, by being embodied in social journeys that are a reflection of the lived trajectories of individuals and societies advancing from the one-nation, one-state ideology to a more emancipated view. Though in the promotion of homogeneity and uniformity, LEs also tap into the untold narrative of the marginalized languages in the national discourse.

The unequal linguistic capital afforded by English vs. Urdu

The unequal linguistic capital accumulation of both English and Urdu in Pakistani education (Haidar, 2019 ; Shamim & Rashid, 2019 ) is delineated in positive and problematic accounts in the LEs. In excerpt 6, the author engages in the public debate through an emotional personal experience.

I had the opportunity to teach physics to a matriculation class in an English-medium school for a few months. To my astonishment, the students were learning every topic, including pure technical and science topics, by rote. … as English was medium of instruction from class 1, the students were not able to develop writing ability and, as a result, took recourse to learning by rote. And both teachers and parents encourage this mode of learning to enable the students to get good marks. (Medium of instruction/17-Apr-03)

The use of emotive words and the personal stance in 6 plays a role in dismantling the popularity of English medium schools but also throws light on the complex interrelationship of both English and Urdu in “learning.” The absence of knowledge itself and an ambivalence towards introducing English from class one is evoked in students’ inability to develop writing skills. This is also a microcosm of practice guided by a set of beliefs and assumptions that undergird success in the field by identifying the stakes at play, as actors engage in a language game in which ends are pursued with certain discursive resources according to established guidelines (Bourdieu, 1985 ). In the LEs, the (re)production of social inequality is strikingly noticeable in the linguistic capital of English, which outweighs that of Urdu. The mechanisms of redressing inequality assume the introduction of English in education should happen at an early age i.e., preferably before the age of 10 , from primary school and up ( The Language Barrier/19-Jun-04 & Teaching in Mother Tongue ii/17-May-07 ) as established in scientific research, lingua franca of the whole world status, a shared legacy of the subcontinent, and used in India as an asset ( The Language Barrier/19-Jun-04 ). On the other hand, the value of Urdu is largely inscribed in expressions of affinity e.g., mother tongue , a federal, national and regional language (Sindhi Translation/19-May-03; Re: Medium of Instruction/20-Apr-03) , leading to better understanding and discouraging rote learning (Our educational standards/20-Jun-03 & Medium of Instruction i/17-Apr-03) . Urdu is also situated in certain boundaries of time and space, where it is taught in government-run schools (Teaching in Mother Tongue i/18-Apr-04) , and was a medium of education before Independence (Language Question in Education i/19-Apr-07) . Some letters discursively express attitudes and sets of beliefs through implicit binaries. For example, in negative contexts of controversy over the medium of education, as an apt choice with which no sane person would disagree, centered in scientific research, and which would lead to better education. Modals like will, need to, should, must be, and have to are emotively supported in clauses that point to the consequences of the other language in schools, are also illustrative of the values that are at stake in LEs, as in excerpts 7 and 8.

If needed, the medium of instruction should be Urdu so that the students can understand better what they are being taught. (Our educational standard/20-Jun-03)

On the controversy about English and Urdu as medium of instruction, no sane person will disagree with having the mother tongue as the medium of instruction (East vs. West/17-Jun-03)

The linguistic and discourse features in the Dawn ’s LEs further shed light on the sets of beliefs and assumptions that underpin the social worlds of the agents. In 7 and 8 readers are invited to share the authors’ stance through attributive adjectives, e.g., over the fees structure as unjust demands of the so-called prestigious English medium schools (Education made too costly/19-Jun-02) , and over the quality of textbooks or teaching of English in these schools (The textbook muddle/14-May-03, Expensive education/20-May-03) . In other instances, predicative adjectives are employed in strategies of persuasion to position English in contexts of development, employment, internationalism, and globalization located around every street corner (Correction!/18-May-02) going to which students take pride in ( East vs. West/17-Jun-03 ), and which are considered the best (East vs. West/17-Jun-03) .

With the unequal linguistic capital endowed to both the dominant languages, agents with the most symbolic power impose their practices as more valuable by making the laws operate to their advantage, thereby rendering them illegitimate in other markets (Bourdieu, 1991 ). We also see that in the market of education, non-dominant languages are largely excluded, which as Benson ( 2013 ) notes serves “to impose monolingualism on multilingual societies, disregarding the cognitive and linguistic experiences and development of learners who speak NDLs [i.e., non-dominant languages]” (p. 288). This heterogeneity of the linguistic marketplace of Pakistan in the LEs uncovers the most generally hidden deep structures of the social worlds, the mechanisms of the production of inequality, and the transformation of local and global identities (Bourdieu, 1989 ).

Linguistic habitus and the socioeconomics of education

Economic capital plays a large role in the individual’s capacity to enter the labor market, but in the LEs national ideologies are also subverted in this market. The description of schools is often framed in the binaries of rich and poor, where the socioeconomic perspective contributes to the flux in the linguistic identities. This is heightened in powerful assertions casting one group as advanced and the other as desi or ‘backward.’ Capital functions in relation to a field (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992 ), and agents’ dispositions are modified in relation to the field (Salö, 2019 ), which LE excerpts 9 through 11 exemplify. Here the writers reconstruct Urdu’s relatively high symbolic value in the field of nationhood to that of a disadvantaged social class, that is not functionally literate and is unable to access private English medium schools. Below the LE depictions of a disadvantaged, functionally illiterate social class are polarized and reflect an explicit, strongly-worded ideology of social and economic stratification.

This system is class-based—one for the well-off people who send their children to high-level English-medium schools and one for the toiling masses whose children go to poorly-organized and poorly-equipped desi schools, where they get no idea how much science has progressed. (Promoting education in Pakistan/18-Apr-03)

A person with an income of Rs10,000 per month and with four school-going children would have to beg, borrow or resort to unfair means to meet the unjust demands of the so-called prestigious English medium schools. (Education made too costly/19-Jun-02)

The public schools are in a pathetic state and it is quite sad to see their dilapidated condition. (Educating people/5-May-07)

The disadvantaged social class theme is also built in linear and bi-directional fashion in many other letters, such as Expensive education/20-May-03; Teaching in mother tongue i/18-Apr-04; A bad experience/16-Apr-02; The language barrier/19-Jun-04, Language question in education/19-Apr-07, Language question in education/17-May-07; Education going nowhere/19-Jun-07, etc . For Urdu-medium students, English-medium schooling implies a foreign or (non)national identity. Consequently, local identities are viewed in these LEs as an undesirable feature of non-progressive Urdu-medium public schools. In a continuity between the so-called prestigious English medium school philosophy and the bourgeoise requirement of the school, exclusion of nondominant languages and cultural values is perceived as desirable in LE (see also Lamb, 2015 ). This sense of relational thinking is activated in the class-based discussion of inclusion and exclusion through different linguistic and discourse strategies. For example, the use of epistemic claims lends a sense of credibility to this narrative of English that divides people in two groups, one that speaks English, and one that doesn’t and that throughout all these years has remained an elite language ( Teaching in Mother Tongue i/18-Apr-04 ); English is a foreign language not understood by 60% uneducated population who cannot be taught in English, as they can’t even speak the national language ( Medium of Instruction ii/18-Apr-03 ). It is claimed that less than 2% [ Pakistanis ] speak English ( Teaching in Mother Tongue i/18-Apr-04 ), while the rural population does not understand a word in English ( PTV’s language/18-Apr-02 ), and many are not able to spell their name in English ( Education going nowhere/19-Jun-07 ). One needs to be conscious of the fact that despite the fees and issues related to the quality of education, the growth of school enrolment in private English medium has increased in both rural and urban areas in Pakistan. It would be incorrect, therefore, to assume that in socioeconomic disadvantage these writers lean towards seeing Urdu as more valuable. Instead, the occurrence of the medium of education debate in these letters as perpetuating socioeconomic asymmetries demands a reading that is a bid for inclusion by what is suggested in a letter: bridging the gap between the rulers and the ruled ( The Language Barrier/19-Jun-04; also Language Question in Education ii/17-May-07 ).

The socioeconomic classification also emerged in LEs through commentaries on the relevance of Civil Superior Services (CSS). This is a Pakistani test for bureaucratic jobs that examines the candidates’ English writing skill through an essay ranging between 4000 and 5000 words. These LE writers see the CSS as based on wrong premises, unfairly being a test of their writing speed and wrongly judging the students’ writing skills in presenting relevant, solid and logical developments of ideas in excellent English (CSS Exam 2007/15-Apr-07; CSS Papers / 13-Jun-19) instead of decision-making and leadership qualities (CSS reforms/19-May-02). Excerpt 12 illustrates this negative appraisal of the CSS.

About 95 per cent of students fail either in the English essay or English precis and composition paper. In the latter paper, many candidates fail by just one or two marks. (CSS Papers/13-Jun-19)

Irrespective of the skills demanded in CSS candidacy, excellent literacy practices in English carve membership in this select national policy-making group. The value of English literacy as an elite marker limits the role of Urdu language in the bureaucracy, and also positions it distantly from the larger public for whom policy is designed. By defining what is included and what is excluded, and what is silenced and marginalized, in the CSS candidacy, this theme in the LEs offers a classic example of the kind of elitist education systems that Bourdieu’s theorization of inequality and power centers on. This resonates with the linguistic capital of Urdu, a language that gains value in the constructs of nationhood and national identity but loses in the complex space of education, where LE writers identify Urdu without English with marginalization and socioeconomic disadvantage.

It must be noted that there is consistency in the official policy discourse (e.g., Policy Framework, 2018 , p. 3; Policy, 2009 , p. 27).) and the LE public discourse here. Presenting the vision for the future, the National Education Policy document explains the gap between the Urdu and English schooling: “the rich send their children to private run English medium schools which offer foreign curricula and examination systems; the public schools enrol those who are too poor to do so” (2009, p. 16). Similarly, in parents’ belief that English education will help their children’s prospects, there is harmony in both official and public discourses, as writers argue that Urdu be adopted as medium of instruction and English to be taught as a compulsory subject to improve the quality of education ( Medium of instruction/17-Apr-03) ; and that English should serve as medium of instruction, regional languages as compulsory language subjects, to promote harmony and diversity and match it with international standards (Medium of instruction i/18-Apr-03). This lack of a unified linguistic market reverberates with findings on parents’ choices for both the languages English and Urdu in schooling, as they juggle between the two dominant languages and worldviews (Ashraf, 2008 ).

Hybrid cultural identities in the linguistic habitus of multilingual and plurilingual Pakistan

Bourdieu ( 1998 ) marks the field with constant, permanent relationships of inequality as struggles for either its transformation or preservation. As mentioned in the Introduction, scholars wishing to work with Bourdieu’s insights in the Global South have debated the applicability of his theory in these new contexts (e.g., Moraru, 2016 ; Stroud, 2002 ; Swigart, 2001 ). Can we extend his theorization from his experiences in France and Algeria to high linguistic diversity contexts? Can we rely on notions of multilingual (Benson, 2013 , 2014 ) or plurilingual (Lamb, 2015 ) habitus as are put forth by some scholars working in the vast global South to which most of the world languages belong? I approach this with caution in this analysis section, as I view agents in multilingual markets adopting different systems of dispositions in their socialization to compete against inequity or for access—a process enhanced with the forces of globalization and digitalization, which are more heterogenous and multilingual than France was.

In the LE corpus, outside of education few letters argue for making available the non-dominant and regional languages in signage that signals danger or fosters preservation of culture ( Keenjhar Lake Tragedy/16-Jun-03, Manners of the Well-Bred/16-May-02, East vs. West/17-Jun-03 ). This gives a notion of a rather unified linguistic market. In education, however, in the mind of LE writers the desirability of legitimate or standardized languages precludes the diverse linguistic and cultural resources brought to the school by multilingual students. The LE corpus unveils comments on this aspect of linguistic sensibilities too (e.g., One Language/18-May-07; Ptv’s Languages/18-Apr-02 ), as shown in 13 and 14.

[P]lease speak in one language throughout … do not utter one sentence or word in English and the other sentence or word in Urdu when addressing an event. By mixing the languages we are confusing people and showing our ignorance. (One language/18-May-07)

I had the occasion to watch a programme on psychology on a Pakistan Television … A psychologist was being interviewed by a lady who was putting all her questions to him in English while the replies were being given entirely in Urdu. I could not decide if the programme was in English or in Urdu. (PTV’s language/18-Apr-02)

Some writers regret using English words more frequently whereas Urdu equivalents are available ( Literature and vulgarity/16-Jun-03; East vs. West/17-Jun-03 ), lament the loss of local identities in favour of the West, and show dismay or disapproval over children losing the rich local literature in favor of globalized English as in 15 and 16

[A] social problem in which he lamented the westernization of our society… [T]he new generation greets with a “Hi” instead of “Assalam Alaikum”, […] it takes pride in going to the English-medium schools (East vs. West/17-Jun-03)

The young generation without having read the books like Dastan-i-Amir Hamza and others like it does not even know what great reading pleasure they are missing as compared to the stories from the West which they likely take, as superior to ours, a sad trend set in their minds, of late. (Amir Hamza in the land of Qaf/19-Apr-08)

Assumptions about what is acceptable and appropriate use of language are garnered in recommendations, e.g., to support translations of local literature to maintain ties (see also Suleiman, 2014 ). Such practices on the one hand, create spaces for subversion of the monolingual hegemony and, on the other, they also authenticate agents evaluating their choices with expanded competence or metalinguistic awareness of what needs to be adapted for a given chance of profit. Linking language and social discourses, Bourdieu ( 1977b ) regarded variations of patterns as constitutes of a congruent system of differentiations ascribed to socially distinct modes of acquisition. A metalinguistic evaluation allows multilingual speakers to use two or more languages acquired separately or together without equal or entire fluency in them, for different purposes, in different fields of life, with different people. In doing so, these writers enact monolingual hegemonic ideologies, but also demonstrate that the reality of multilingual practices is profoundly embedded in Pakistani society, however regrettable these voices may find it. It is no wonder then that there has been no widespread acceptance of a state-level attempt in recent years by the ILM Initiative ( 2015 ) to create a modern Urdish curriculum recommending use of English terminology and Urdu explanation for students grappling with the linguistic and cognitive difficulty levels of students.

Summary of findings

As shown in the analyses presented, in LEs people restructure their linguistic habitus to the rules and laws of price formation according to the symbolic and instrumental functions of language. This is demonstrated in ambivalent associations with English that offset locality, and the opposite associations with Urdu as the heritage of the past that did not include English in nationhood and nation-building. Moreover, this cultural conflict is problematized in socioeconomic gaps because huge sections of the population who desire English are either deprived or not affected at all by this international lingua franca. LEs identify perhaps the major dilemma that challenges not just Pakistan but many developing economies, including South Asian economies: erasure of the role of nondominant and regional languages from education as part of a contested investment of governments in promoting English-oriented language policies, guided or misguided by the laudable goal to address issues of poverty and illness.

These findings from the analysis of letters in relation to nationalistic ideologies, the linguistic capital in education, plurilingual practices, and their impact on people’s aspirations characterize the linguistic habitus that is restructured, (re)evaluated and (re)sanctioned by the power dynamics in multiple markets in Pakistan’s society. These processes have transformed from the nation-state era to the globalized world where, as Benson and Elorza ( 2015 ) claim, the lingua franca is more multilingual than ever, as is the need to reassess our “unquestioned assumptions pervading language policy” (Benson, 2013 , p. 290). The complex language and educational choices found in the letters are not exclusive of Pakistan. Scholars have shown that other countries face similar dilemmas for English education and prospects of growth for multilingual people, including Anchimbe ( 2013 ) for Cameroon, Chen ( 2010 ) for Taiwan, Heugh ( 2013 ) for South Africa, Namanya ( 2017 ) for Philippines, and Opoku-Amankwa ( 2009 ) for Ghana. Milligan et al. ( 2020 ) note that often in policy discussions there is a tendency to support English as means of promoting equity to focus on institutional access. This is true of the National Education Policy ( 2009 ) and the latest Education Policy Framework ( 2018 ) in Pakistan, both of which suggest implementation of an action plan to uplift English language teaching. Though the LE writers in the present study raised such questions, one needs to be mindful that even if English is made accessible to students enrolled in the government schools, there are no assurances of equity, or of the quality of education, or that the English language skills of students will improve.

Language policy is often viewed as a matter of supporting target language proficiency in whatever languages are chosen as advantageous for a society (Gorter & Cenoz, 2016 ; Tollefson, 2008 ). This approach, however, risks feeding into discourses of deficit, where individuals and communities are paternalistically viewed as in need of linguistic remediation. The present study has taken an ontological shift away from issues of proficiency and deficit and onto a recognition of de facto multilingual and plurilingual repertoire as characterizing a society such as Pakistan. Instead, it has investigated public voices enacting the policy discourse, thereby centering language policy on metadiscourses that reveal the habitus in non-normative spaces of those who have produced the letters. The metadiscourses of habitus illuminate how writers vacillate between a desire to instill nationalistic ideologies and a wish to emancipate in pursuit of global trends, to use different codes for gains, all the while as they participate in the cultural production of nationalistic ideologies. These metadiscourses identify the educational issues related to the linguistic habitus as embedded in people’s conceptualization of education, unearthing the ambivalences in their affinity to dominant languages as English and Urdu in Pakistan, and the tensions between notions of local and national identities and modernity. Though LE themselves are not practice, they offer logic for the practice. The ontological shift taken recognizes that dominant and non-dominant languages are enmeshed into a de facto multilingual and plurilingual repertoire in the society, and that practices are inherent, robust, and organic. As such this view of policymaking extends beyond the policy document itself, and lends agency to the various actors enabling and interpreting the policy (Liddicoat, 2020 ), or appropriating it in practice (Canagarajah & Ashraf, 2013 ). With LEs, the discourse on language policy thus extends beyond discourse on language and society, and includes reactions to it (Georgiou, 2011 ). In this sense, this study offers new ways of looking into language policy scholarship, and into the ways people conceptualize their linguistic habitus in relation to the market value of education as a means that increases their social capital.

Instead of top-down policies, a multilingual model works best in communities with “shared spaces,” where many language groups accommodate others in the same geographic space (Khubchandani, 1997 ). Having more leverage than monolingual speakers, the multilingual users—as in Pakistan—have the choice of foregrounding their identities with either the national, regional, or dominant languages, drawing from their multilingual sensibility (Kramsch, 2013 ). Their linguistic habitus structures around the framework of market opportunities and constraints, as Bourdieu ( 1991 ) identified. Yet, their multilingual competencies and habitus are skewed in discourses of dominant language ideologies reinforced by official language education policies. The LE corpus enables the narrative of this ambivalent linguistic habitus to be explicated in the discourses of multilingualism, multilingual identities, and the medium of education. It draws attention to the complex construction of multilingual people and the role of education in it. The dilemma in most postcolonial settings is that the monolingual ideologies are more powerful, and multilingualism goes against the grain for those who seek to get ahead. By patronizing a multilingual disposition across the board at all educational levels, this study is a hopeful invitation to future policy initiatives that make space for the non-dominant languages of the majority people by including, recognizing, and appreciating them in different markets for participation within and across diverse democracies.

Change history

02 january 2023.

A Correction to this paper has been published: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-022-09642-3

Alim, T. S. (1993). Arabic, Arwi and Persian in Sarandip and Tamil Nada: A Study of the contributions of Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu to Arabic, Arwi, Persian and Urdu languages, literature and education. Madras: Imamul Arus Trust for the Ministry for Muslim Religious and Cultural Affairs, Colombo Sri Lanka

Anchimbe, E. (2013). Language policy and identity construction. The dynamics of Cameroonian multilingualism . John Benjamins.

Book   Google Scholar  

Ashraf, H. (2018). Translingual practices and monoglot policy aspirations: A case study of Pakistan’s plurilingual classrooms. Current Issues in Language Planning , 19 (1), 1-21. https://doi.org/10.1080/14664208.2017.1281035 .

Ashraf, H. (2014). Letters to the editor: A resistant genre of unrepresented voices. Discourse & Communication, 8 (1), 3–21. https://doi.org/10.1177/1750481313503225 .

Ashraf, H. (2008). The language of schooling and social capital in Pakistan. National University of Modern Languages Research Magazine, 1 , 73–89.

Benson, C. (2014). Adopting a multilingual habitus: What North and South can learn from each other about the essential role of non-dominant eanguages in Education. In V. Z. Durk Gorter (Ed.), Minority languages and multilingual education: Bridging the local and the global (pp. 11–28). Springer.

Chapter   Google Scholar  

Benson, C. (2013). Towards adopting a multilingual habitus in educational development. In C. Benson & K. Kosonen (Eds.), Language issues in comparative education: Inclusive teaching and learning in non-dominant languages and cultures (pp. 283–299). Sense Publishers.

Benson, C., & Elorza, I. (2015). Multilingual Education for All: Empowering non-dominant languages and cultures through multilingual curriculum development. In D. Wyse, L. Hayward, & J. Pandya (Eds.), Multilingualism: SAGE handbook of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment (pp. 557–574). Sage.

Google Scholar  

Bourdieu, P. (1998). Practical reason: On the theory of action . Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1991). Language and symbolic power . Polity Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). The Logic of Practice . Stanford University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1989). Social space and symbolic power. Sociological Theory, 7 , 14–25. https://doi.org/10.2307/202060

Bourdieu, P. (1985). The genesis of the concepts of habitus and field. Sociocriticism, 2 , 11–24.

Bourdieu, P. (1977a). Outline of a theory of practice . Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, P. (1977b). The economics of linguistic exchanges. Social Science Information, 16 (6), 645–668.

Article   Google Scholar  

Bourdieu, P., & Wacquant, L. (1992). An invitation to reflexive sociology . University of Chicago Press.

Canagarajah, S. (2009). The plurilingual tradition and the English language in South Asia. AILA Review, 22 (1), 5–22.

Canagarajah, A. S. (2004). Multilingual writers and the struggle for voice: Assessing some approaches. In A. Blackledge, & A. Pavelenko (Eds.), Negotiation of identities in multilinguals Contexts (pp. 266–289). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Canagarajah, S., & Ashraf, H. (2013). Multilingualism and education in South Asia: Resolving policy/practice dilemmas. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 33 , 258–285.

Chen, S. (2010). (2010). Multilingualism in Taiwan. International Journal of the Sociology of Language, 205 , 79–104.

Eberhard, D. M., Simons, G. F., Fennig, C. D. (Eds.). (2020). Ethnologue: Languages of the world (23rd edn.). SIL International.

Fitzsimmons-Doolan, S. (2009). Is public discourse about language policy really public discourse about immigration? A corpus-based study. Language Policy, 8 , 377–402.

Georgiou, V. (2011). Intended and unintended effects of language planning: Insights from an orthography debate in Cyprus. Language Policy, 10 , 159–182.

Gogolin, I. (2002). Linguistic and cultural diversity in Europe: A challenge for educational research and practice. European Educational Research Journal, 1 (1), 123–138.

Gorter, D., & Cenoz, J. (2016). Language education policy and multilingual assessment. Language and Education, 31 (3), 231–248.

Haidar, S. (2019). Access to English in Pakistan: Inculcating prestige and leadership through instruction in elite schools. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, 22 (7), 833–848.

Hanks, W. (2005). Pierre Bourdieu and the practices of language. Annual Review of Anthropology, 34 (1), 67–83.

Hart, R. P. (2018). Civic hope: How ordinary Americans keep democracy alive . Cambridge University Press.

Heugh, K. (2013). Multilingual education policy in south africa constrained by theoretical and historical disconnections. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 33 , 215–237.

Hiss, F. (2013). Tromsø as a “Sámi town”?: Language ideologies, attitudes, and debates surrounding bilingual language policies. Language Policy, 12 , 177–196.

ILM Initiative (2015). ILM Pakistan Initiative launched. (August 15, 2015). Dawn . https://www.dawn.com/news/1200602 .

Joseph, J. E. (2020). The agency of habitus: Bourdieu and language at the conjunction of Marxism, phenomenology and structuralism. Language & Communication, 71 , 108–122.

Joseph, J. E. (2012). Cultural identity. In C. A. Chapelle (Ed.), The encyclopedia of applied linguistics. Random House.

Khalid, A., Anwer, S., & Siddiqui, S. (2011). A short history of the coins of the subcontinent. Retrieved from PhysLab LUMS: https://physlab.lums.edu.pk/images/1/11/Historycoins1.pdf .

Khubchandani, L. (2008). Language policy and education in the Indian subcontinent. In N. H. May & S. Hornberger (Eds.), Encyclopedia of language and education (pp. 369–381). Springer.

Khubchandani, L. (1997). Revisualizing boundaries: A plurilingual ethos . Sage.

Kramsch, C. (2013). Oxford applied linguistics: The multilingual subject . Oxford.

Lamb, T. (2015). Towards a plurilingual habitus: Engendering interlinguality in urban spaces. International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, 10 (2), 151–165.

Lamberg-Karlovsky, C. (2002). Archaeology and language: The Indo-Iranians. Current Anthropology, 41 , 63–88.

Liddicoat, A. J. (2020). 17 Language policy and planning for language maintenance: The macro and meso levels. In A. C. Schalley & S. A. Eisenchlas (Eds.), Handbook of home language maintenance and development (pp. 337–356). De Gruyter Mouton.

NyavskiySiiner, S. M. (2017). Fostering social inclusion through multilingual habitus in estonia: a case study of the open school of Kalamaja and the Sakala private school. Social Inclusion, 5 (4), 98–107.

Milligan, L. O., Desai, Z., & Benson, C. (2020). A critical exploration of how language-of-instruction choices affect educational equity. In A. Wulff (Ed.), Grading goal four: Tensions, threats, and opportunities in the sustainable development goal on quality education (pp. 117–134). Brill/Sense.

Moore, D., & Gajo, L. (2009). Introduction: French voices on plurilingualism and pluriculturalism: Theory, significance, and perspectives. International Journal of Multilingualism, 6 , 137–153.

Moraru, M. (2016).  Bourdieu, multilingualism, and immigration: Understanding how second-generation multilingual immigrants reproduce linguistic practices with non-autochthonous minority languages in Cardiff, Wales  (Doctoral dissertation, Cardiff University).

Moraru, M. (2020). Toward a Bourdieusian theory of multilingualism. Critical Inquiry in Language Studies, 17 (2), 79–100.

Namanya, S. (2017). The effects of mother tongue-based multilingual education on the English literacy of children in Silang. Philippines International Forum, 20 (2), 160–177.

Nip, J. Y. M. (2006). Exploring the second phase of public journalism. Journalism Studies, 7 (2), 212–236.

Opoku-Amankwa, K. (2009). English-only language-in-education policy in multilingual classrooms in Ghana. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 22 (2), 121–135.

Pakistan. (2018). National education policy framework 2018 . Ministry of Federal Education & Professional Training, Islamabad, Government of Pakistan.

Pakistan. (2009). National education policy (NEP). Ministry of Federal Education & Professional Training, Islamabad, Government of Pakistan.

Rahman, T. (2002). Language, ideology and power: Language learning among the Muslims of Pakistan and North India . Oxford University Press.

Rayson, P. (2008). From key words to key semantic domains. International Journal of Corpus Linguistics, 13 (4), 519–549.

Salö, L. (2020). The spatial logic of linguistic practice: Bourdieusian inroads into language and internationalization in academe. Language in Society, 4 , 1–23.

Salö, L. (2019). Thinking about language with Bourdieu: Pointers for social theory in the language sciences. Sociolinguistic Studies, 12 (3/4), 523–543.

Salö, L. (2015). The linguistic sense of placement: Habitus and the entextualization of translingual practices in Swedish academia. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 19 (4), 511–534.

Shamim, F., & Rashid, U. (2019). The English/Urdu-medium divide in Pakistan: Consequences for learner identity and future life chances. Journal of Education and Educational Development, 6 (1), 43–61.

Stroud, C. (2002). Framing Bourdieu socioculturally: Alternative forms of linguistic legitimacy in postcolonial Mozambique. Multilingua, 21 , 247–273.

Suleiman, Y. (2014). The Arabic language and national identity: A study in ideology . Edinburgh University Press.

Swigart, L. (2001). The limits of legitimacy: Language ideology and shift in contemporary Senegal. Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, 10 (1), 90–130.

Tollefson, J. W. (2008). Language planning in education. In J. W. Tollefson (Ed.), Encyclopedia of language and education (pp. 3–14). Springer.

Wacquant, L. (2005). Habitus. In J. Becket & Z. Milan (Eds.), International encyclopedia of economic sociology (pp. 315–319). Routledge.

Wahl-Jorgensen, K. (2001). Letters to the editor as a forum for public deliberation: Modes of publicity and democratic debate. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 18 (3), 303–320.

Yang, J. (2017). A historical analysis of language policy and language ideology in the early twentieth Asia: A case of Joseon , 1910–1945. Language Policy, 16 , 59–78.

Young, N. (2013). Working the fringes: The role of letters to the editor in advancing non-standard media narratives about climate change. Public Understanding of Science, 22 (4), 443–459.

Download references

Author information

Authors and affiliations.

Department of Linguistics, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA

Hina Ashraf

You can also search for this author in PubMed   Google Scholar

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Hina Ashraf .

Additional information

Publisher's note.

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

The original online version of this article was revised: In the original publication of the article, in the Method section, line 4, reference citation Ashraf (2014) incorrecty published as Author (2014).

Rights and permissions

Springer Nature or its licensor (e.g. a society or other partner) holds exclusive rights to this article under a publishing agreement with the author(s) or other rightsholder(s); author self-archiving of the accepted manuscript version of this article is solely governed by the terms of such publishing agreement and applicable law.

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Ashraf, H. The ambivalent role of Urdu and English in multilingual Pakistan: a Bourdieusian study. Lang Policy 22 , 25–48 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-022-09623-6

Download citation

Received : 19 April 2021

Accepted : 01 February 2022

Published : 22 March 2022

Issue Date : March 2023

DOI : https://doi.org/10.1007/s10993-022-09623-6

Share this article

Anyone you share the following link with will be able to read this content:

Sorry, a shareable link is not currently available for this article.

Provided by the Springer Nature SharedIt content-sharing initiative

  • Multilingual education policy
  • Letters to the editor
  • Find a journal
  • Publish with us
  • Track your research

Pakistan: Culture and History Exploratory Essay

  • To find inspiration for your paper and overcome writer’s block
  • As a source of information (ensure proper referencing)
  • As a template for you assignment

Pakistan, officially the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, is a large culturally diverse country located at the crossroads of the strategically significant expanses of South Asia, Central Asia and Western Asia, and borders Afghanistan and Iran in the western corridor, India in the eastern corridor, and China in the far northeast (Page et al 6). This brief attempts to examine the country’s history and culture.

Although Urdu is the official national language and lingua franca of Pakistan, Punjabi is the principal indigenous language in the country by virtue of the fact that it is spoken by an estimated 60 million individuals (Page et al 18). There exist marked differences between how the Urdu language is written using Arabic and Hindi characters.

Although the language uses the right-to-left alphabet modified from the Persian alphabet, it is important to point out that some characters do not exist in Hindi, implying that people using the Hindi characters have to employ some consonants from Arabic for use in words borrowed from Arabic/Persian only.

For instance, the ‘Z’ sound is not available in Hindi, necessitating speakers to use ‘J’ instead. Equally, some characters do not exist in Arabic or Persian, and are therefore borrowed from Hindi. The rules for gender in most of the characters which have been borrowed from the Hindi language do not change between Urdu and Hindi; however the rules for gender shifts in most of the words borrowed from the Arabic language.

Moving on to the issue of tribes, the major ethnic groups in Pakistan include “…Punjabis (44.68% of the population), Pashtuns (15.42%), Sindhis (14.1%), Seraikis (8.38%), Muhajirs (7.57%), Balochis (3.57%) and others (6.08%)” (Page et al 18).

While the Punjabis are an indo-Aryan tribal grouping of North Indian origin, the Pashtuns belong to the Eastern Iranian peoples, and the Sindhis are native to the Sindh province of Pakistan.

The Seraikis have no central place of origin, but the Muhajirs are immigrants who preferred to stay in Pakistan and changed their residence after the partition of British India to Pakistan. The Balochis are native to Balochistan – the largest province of Pakistan by land mass.

In discussing the main characteristics of Pakistani culture, it is imperative to mention that every great nation enjoys its own distinct culture, and Pakistan is no different in large part due to its distinctive culture that is grounded on Islamic values and traditions, as well as a rich historical background.

Pakistani culture draws its value propositions, belief systems and traditions from Islam, by virtue of the fact that it is actually a component of the contemporary Islamic civilization.

It is of essence to note that Pakistani culture is a striking combination of Punjabi, Sindhi, Pathan, Baluchi, Barohi, Seraiki and Kashmiri cultures, and that the society follows a patriarch system where each nuclear/extended family is headed by the senior most male member, who is responsible for the upkeep of the family.

Pakistani culture is not only characterized by a rich variety of colorful dress codes, but also a great tradition of fairs and festivals, including the Horse and Cattle shows of Lahore, the Polo festival of Gilgit, as well as the annual urs of Hazrat Daata Ganj Bakhsh.

Lastly, it is important to note that not only are Pakistani people great lovers of sports and games, such as hockey, cricket, soccer and squash, but they also enjoy great distinction in production of handicrafts at an international level (Civil Service of Pakistan para. 1-9).

Works Cited

Civil Service of Pakistan. Characteristics of Pakistani Culture and Important Traditions and Customs . 2012. Web.

Page, Shirley, Kim Sappe, Crystal Johnson, Carol Morgan and Barbara Dezmon 2009. Pakistan: Heritage Resource Packet . Web.

  • "Bombay Talkies": The Celebration of Hindi Film Industry
  • Hindi Commercial Cinema: Bollywood Movies
  • Ethnicity Studies: Hindi Culture and Issues in the US
  • Civil Service Examinations in Late Imperial China
  • The Chinese Qing Dynasty
  • Japanese Soldiers in the World War II
  • Diplomatic and Military Fronts: 1948 Arab-Israeli Conflict
  • Contending Visions of the Middle East Term
  • Chicago (A-D)
  • Chicago (N-B)

IvyPanda. (2019, June 18). Pakistan: Culture and History. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pakistan-culture-history/

"Pakistan: Culture and History." IvyPanda , 18 June 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/pakistan-culture-history/.

IvyPanda . (2019) 'Pakistan: Culture and History'. 18 June.

IvyPanda . 2019. "Pakistan: Culture and History." June 18, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pakistan-culture-history/.

1. IvyPanda . "Pakistan: Culture and History." June 18, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pakistan-culture-history/.


IvyPanda . "Pakistan: Culture and History." June 18, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/pakistan-culture-history/.

Home — Essay Samples — Geography & Travel — Pakistan — The history of Pakistan


The History of Pakistan

  • Categories: Pakistan

About this sample


Words: 664 |

Published: Feb 12, 2019

Words: 664 | Page: 1 | 4 min read

Image of Dr. Oliver Johnson

Cite this Essay

Let us write you an essay from scratch

  • 450+ experts on 30 subjects ready to help
  • Custom essay delivered in as few as 3 hours

Get high-quality help


Verified writer

  • Expert in: Geography & Travel


+ 120 experts online

By clicking “Check Writers’ Offers”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy . We’ll occasionally send you promo and account related email

No need to pay just yet!

Related Essays

3 pages / 1543 words

5 pages / 2324 words

7 pages / 2972 words

1 pages / 350 words

Remember! This is just a sample.

You can get your custom paper by one of our expert writers.

121 writers online

The History of Pakistan Essay

Still can’t find what you need?

Browse our vast selection of original essay samples, each expertly formatted and styled

Related Essays on Pakistan

Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, often referred to as the "Father of the Nation" in Pakistan, was a visionary leader whose leadership and political ideologies played a pivotal role in the creation of Pakistan. This essay [...]

Pakistan, a nation characterized by its rich cultural heritage and diverse landscapes, is grappling with a growing concern – the environmental challenges plaguing its big cities. As these urban centers continue to swell with [...]

Women empowerment is empowering the women to take their own decisions for their personal dependent. Empowering women is to make them independent in all aspects from mind, thought, rights, decisions, etc by leaving all the social [...]

An ordinary girl with special hopes and dreams, Malala stood out from the others in her Pashtun tribe. She was born on July 12,1997 in the Swat Valley, (just northwest Pakistan). Living in Pakistan, Malala was at the top of [...]

Suppose being a foreign journalist to whom this land and its happenings are absolutely alien. "A tragedy occurs and flames a public outcry. The rulers, the ministers condole; media mourns; students protest. Tears are shed. Over [...]

Digital technologies are ‘‘products or services that are either personified in information and communication technologies or enabled by them’’. They exist as digital tools and infrastructure, digital platforms, or artifacts with [...]

Related Topics

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and Privacy statement . We will occasionally send you account related emails.

Where do you want us to send this sample?

By clicking “Continue”, you agree to our terms of service and privacy policy.

Be careful. This essay is not unique

This essay was donated by a student and is likely to have been used and submitted before

Download this Sample

Free samples may contain mistakes and not unique parts

Sorry, we could not paraphrase this essay. Our professional writers can rewrite it and get you a unique paper.

Please check your inbox.

We can write you a custom essay that will follow your exact instructions and meet the deadlines. Let's fix your grades together!

Get Your Personalized Essay in 3 Hours or Less!

We use cookies to personalyze your web-site experience. By continuing we’ll assume you board with our cookie policy .

  • Instructions Followed To The Letter
  • Deadlines Met At Every Stage
  • Unique And Plagiarism Free

history of english language in pakistan essay


Democracy of Pakistan (English Essay With Outlines in 1200 Words)

English Essay on Democracy of Pakistan For College Students Democracy of Pakistan has suffered through several setbacks and challenges, but recent developments in the country have sparked a sense of optimism for change in the future.

Pakistan is a vibrant and resilient country. Democracy, despite its many flaws, has brought a lot of changes to the society and it is the only option for Pakistan. There are many positive changes being brought by democracy but one of the most significant problems is the lack of political awareness.

Pakistan is one of the largest Muslim countries in the world, but has recently faced serious internal issues and political instability. This essay explores the history of democracy in Pakistan and the challenges it faces.

Democracy of Pakistan (English Essay With Outlines in 1200 Words)

Table of Contents

What is Democracy?

Democracy is the political system in which the people have the power to choose their own leaders.

Types of Democracy

Democracy is a system of government in which the people are sovereign, that is to say they have the power to rule. It is usually assumed that all modern democracies are liberal democracies. This is true in the sense that most democracies claim to be liberal and many are in fact liberal in their practice. However, there are a number of different types of democracy. Some of these are more liberal than others, and some are more authoritarian than others.

Pros & Cons of Democracy

There are many pros and cons to democracy. On the positive side, it allows for a high degree of public participation in government, which can lead to better policy decisions. Additionally, democracies often have low levels of corruption, because elected officials are held accountable by their constituents.

However, democracies also have their fair share of problems. For example, they can be more volatile and prone to political instability than other types of governments. And while they may offer citizens a greater level of freedom and civil rights than some other systems, they can also be less efficient in delivering these benefits.

Democracy Vs Dictatorship

Democracy is a system of government where citizens have the power to make decisions about their own lives. This system is based on the principle that all people have the right to participate in the political process and have their voices heard.

Dictatorship is a system of government in which one person or group has total control over all aspects of society. This system is based on the principle that one person or group can be trusted to protect the interests of the population and make wise decisions for them.

Democracy of Pakistan

The current form of democracy in Pakistan is a parliamentary democracy. The Parliament is bicameral and consists of the Senate and the National Assembly. The Senate is made up of 100 members, who are elected for six-year terms.

The Prime Minister is the head of government and is appointed by the National Assembly. The Cabinet is the executive branch of the government and is responsible for the day-to-day running of the country. The judiciary is independent and consists of the Supreme Court, High Courts, and District Courts.  The head of the executive branch is the President.

According to the theory, democracy in Pakistan consists of three layers of government: federal, provincial and local. The central layer is represented by the federal government, while the provincial governments are the regional counterparts. The local governments are the last layer, and represent the community or the people.

Challenges For Democracy in Pakistan

Democracy of Pakistan in facing following challenges;

1. How can the government protect the rights of its citizens and ensure that they are able to express their views freely?

2. How can the government ensure that all eligible citizens can participate in the political process and have their voices heard?

The government can try to ensure that all eligible citizens can participate in the political process by providing information about the relevant candidates and the voting process. Additionally, the government can try to create a conducive environment in which citizens can freely express their views.

History of Democracy of Pakistan

Pakistan is one of the most diverse countries in the world, with a population that spans all social and economic strata. The country’s complex history has led to a variety of political systems and ideologies. Democracy has been an official policy of the government since 1973, but prior to that, various forms of government had operated in Pakistan. The first democratic system was established during the British Raj, when elected representatives from each province convened a legislative assembly to draft a constitution. However, this assembly was dissolved by the British authorities just four years after its establishment. The second attempt at establishing democracy took place following independence in 1947. However, due to disagreements between Prime Ministers and Presidents, democracy was not fully established until 1973. Since then, successive governments have enacted various constitutional amendments to expand the rights of citizens and form a more democratic system. Pakistan has a long and tumultuous history of democracy. The first democratic elections in the country were held in 1979. However, the country has had a number of periods of military rule, which have been followed by periods of democracy.

Future of Democracy in Pakistan

Pakistani democracy is in a state of flux. The country has been through multiple transitions, including from military dictatorship to parliamentary democracy and then to an elected civilian government in 2008. However, the country faces several challenges that could undermine its future as a democracy.

The most pressing issue facing Pakistani democracy is the lack of trust in institutions. According to a 2018 poll by the Pew Research Center, only 22 percent of Pakistanis say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the government to do what is right, down from 53 percent in 2006. This dwindling trust is likely due to years of instability and corruption – both within institutions and among politicians – which has led to disillusionment among citizens. To make matters worse, this lack of faith has created an environment where extremist groups can thrive.

Despite these challenges, Pakistani democracy is still in relatively good shape overall. The current government – which was elected in 2018 after years of political instability and corruption – is considered to be relatively stable, and there have been no major crises or violence linked to the democratic process so far. In addition, the country’s judiciary is considered to be independent and effective, which helps to ensure that the rule of law is upheld.

Key Features of Democracy of Pakistan

1. The Constitution of Pakistan was adopted in 1956.

2. Pakistan is a federal parliamentary republic.

3. The Head of State is the President, who is elected by the Parliament for a five-year term.

4. The Supreme Court is the highest judicial body in Pakistan.

5. There are three branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial.

Final Thoughts on Democracy in Pakistan

In short although Pakistan is a democratic country, still democracy is in cradle here in Pakistan. Now a days there is a controlled democracy in Pakistan. Deep state is very strong in Pakistan. Concept of hybrid democracy, basic democracy, and non parties democracy were introduced in Pakistan. Creation of Pakistan was a result of democratic process, but as a nation we could never defend democracy of Pakistan . There is need of strengthening the democracy in Pakistan.

My Aim in Life


I am a professional content writer and have experience of 10 years. I also launched first ever English monthly magazine of human rights in Pakistan. Majority of content on this website is written by me.


  1. (PDF) The English language in Pakistan: a brief overview of its history

    history of english language in pakistan essay

  2. (PDF) English in Pakistan: Language Policy, Features and Present-day use

    history of english language in pakistan essay

  3. English essay

    history of english language in pakistan essay

  4. History of English Language in Pakistan by Laraib Suhail

    history of english language in pakistan essay

  5. (PDF) The Status and Teaching of English in Pakistan The Status and

    history of english language in pakistan essay

  6. My Country Essay in English / My Country Pakistan Essay

    history of english language in pakistan essay


  1. What’s Wrong with the Teaching of History in Pakistan?

  2. A Short History of the English Language

  3. Unit 1- The Land of Pakistan from Cambridge O' level Pakistan Studies (New Edition) Part 1

  4. Povijest (Engleski jezik) (hr-en)

  5. How English became a global language?|| Himank Thakur ||

  6. Dialogues


  1. English in Pakistan: Past, Present and Future

    In short, English is the most important elite language, the language of power, in Pakistan. This chapter presents a diachronic (historical) analysis of the roles and functions of English that shape up modern Pakistan. It looks into the ways in which people of different generations have used English and what the future holds for English in Pakistan.

  2. 1

    Abstract. This chapter traces the history of the privileged role of English in the domains of power in Pakistan. English entered these domains and became a marker of the elite culture in South Asia. Its presence in the education sector, which is the supplier of people skilled in English to all other domains, is given special attention.

  3. The English language in Pakistan: a brief overview of its history and

    This study tries to present a local variety of English that is used in Pakistan and is known as Pakistani English or 'Pinglish'. It is recognized an official language in Pakistan. The paper briefly highlights its history; sources of its emergence, its various altered forms, underlying socio-cultural and religious effects that have an influence. It is to analyze the indigenized peculiarities by ...

  4. Pakistani-English Writing

    In the early 21st century, English-language writing by authors of Pakistani origin 1 has received considerable attention, although it has been a part of Pakistan's literary life since the creation of an independent Pakistan in 1947. Of course its origins are rooted in the colonial encounter. At the approach of Independence, the founding fathers of India and Pakistan all used English to great ...

  5. English Language in Pakistan: Expansion and Resulting Implications

    With respect to English, Pakistan is a second language context which implies that the language is institutionalized and enjoying the privileged status of being the official language.

  6. English in Pakistan: Past, Present and Future

    In the universities, think tanks, NGOs and newspapers English is the main language of employment. In short, English is the most important elite language, the language of power, in Pakistan.

  7. Pakistani English

    This chapter provides an overview of English in Pakistan and Pakistani English through discussion of the multilingual context, the history of the language within the country, the status, functions, and features of English, literature in English, and current debates concerning the relationship between English and the other languages of Pakistan.

  8. English in Pakistan: Past, Present and Future

    In short, English is the most important elite language, the language of power, in Pakistan. This chapter presents a diachronic (historical) analysis of the roles and functions of English that shape up modern Pakistan. It looks into the ways in which people of different generations have used English and what the future holds for English in Pakistan.

  9. The English language in Pakistan

    The present volume brings together essays by leading scholars on historical, sociological, pedagogical and linguistic perspectives of the English language in Pakistan.

  10. (PDF) English Language in Pakistan: Expansion and Resulting

    This paper discusses the central role English plays in language politics in Pakistan; the place of English contrasting with Urdu (the national language) and regional languages is also discussed. Furthermore, this paper briefly discusses the parallel system of education in Pakistan.

  11. The English Language as Spoken in Pakistan

    Here's information about speech or writing in English that shows the influence of the languages and culture of Pakistan.

  12. English in Pakistani public education: Past, present, and future

    Abstract and Figures. The article reviews the past, present, and future position of English in the Pakistani language-in-education policy for the Pakistani government schools. The article first ...

  13. [PDF] English Language in Pakistan: Expansion and Resulting

    With respect to English, Pakistan is a second language context which implies that the language is institutionalized and enjoying the privileged status of being the official language. This thematic paper is an attempt to review the arrival and augmentation of English language in Pakistan both before and after its creation.

  14. PDF History of English Language (ENG501)

    History of English Language (ENG 501) VU of speakers continued to use and write in the language, and by the middle of the nineteenth century, a revival was in process.

  15. Pakistani English

    Pakistani English (also known as Paklish or Pinglish [2] [3]) is the group of English language varieties spoken and written in Pakistan. [4] It was first so recognised and designated in the 1970s and 1980s. [5] Pakistani English (PE), similar and related to British English, is slightly different from other dialects of English in respect to vocabulary, syntax, accent, spellings of some words ...

  16. The ambivalent role of Urdu and English in multilingual Pakistan: a

    This entailed a shift from the dominant Urdu language policy for the masses (and English exclusively reserved for elite institutions), to a gradual and promising change that responded to the increasing social demand for English and for including regional languages in the curriculum.

  17. (PDF) English as the language of development in Pakistan: Issues

    Universities in Pakistan are also faced with the challenge of achieving internationally. recognised academic ex cellence and status, mainly through the medium of English, while at the same time ...

  18. The Fall of Urdu and the Triumph of English in Pakistan: A Political

    In this paper, we investigate both how the use of language in higher education in Pakistan has evolved and why the medium of instruction remains a contested terrain. We focus on the struggle between advocates for the use of Urdu and the use of English. By examining the repeated failed attempts by high political authorities to replace English with Urdu, we demonstrate the usefulness of Avner ...

  19. Duality and diversity in Pakistani English literature

    Today Pakistan is at the centre of geopolitical conflict and has been overtaken by increasing violence and religious extremism. At the same time, it has witnessed a great flourishing of new cultural expressions in music, art and literature. This is particularly evident in the increasing number of English‐language writers of Pakistani origin to receive critical acclaim in recent years.

  20. Pakistan: Culture & History

    This brief attempts to examine the country's history and culture. We will write a custom essay on your topic. Although Urdu is the official national language and lingua franca of Pakistan, Punjabi is the principal indigenous language in the country by virtue of the fact that it is spoken by an estimated 60 million individuals (Page et al 18).

  21. The history of Pakistan: [Essay Example], 664 words

    It was led by the philosopher and poet Mohammad Iqbal and Mohammad Ali Jinnah. Pakistan was created, as an Islamic state, out of the partition of the UK's Indian Empire, at independence in August 1947. It originally consisted of two parts, West Pakistan (now Pakistan) and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh), separated by 1,600 km of Indian territory.

  22. The Status and Teaching of English in Pakistan The ...

    There are more than 60 languages spoken in Pakistan. Urdu is the official and the national language of Pakistan whereas English is co-official language of Pakistan. The present paper highlights ...

  23. Democracy of Pakistan (English Essay With Outlines in 1200 Words)

    Democracy of Pakistan (English Essay With Outlines in 1200 Words) Democracy of Pakistan has suffered through several setbacks and challenges, but recent developments in the country have sparked a sense of optimism for change in the future. Pakistan is a vibrant and resilient country. Democracy, despite its many flaws, has brought a lot of ...