Future of Punjabi in Canada
Surrey, Vancouver, Aug 03, 2012
What is the future of Punjabi language in Canada and the world? This is a question often asked by some well wishers of Punjabi in this country and around the globe. There is no doubt that one of the richest languages in the world has achieved a prominent place at the international level. Out of some 6,900 languages recognized by the United Nations, Punjabi ranks amongst the top dozen or so languages. It is spoken by close to 150 million people spread out in 160 countries. According to 2006 Statistics Canada figures, 367,505 residents of Canada identified Punjabi as their mother tongue. This placed Punjabi as the sixth most spoken language in this country. In Metro Vancouver and possibly in Greater Toronto Area, it is the third most spoken language. In cities like Surrey, Abbotsford and Brampton this is the second most spoken language.
Since 2006, the number of Punjabi speakers has grown considerably in Canada. Thus, it is likely that as the results of 2011 Census are released, Punjabi will likely jump from sixth to fourth place in this country. This doesn’t mean that there is going to be smooth sailing for Punjabi. Like many other languages, it is also facing a number of challenges.
Recent changes to Canada’s immigration rules are bound to have a negative impact on Punjabi. During the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, most of the immigrants from India were from the Punjab. However, various immigration programs and categories have shifted the emphasis from Punjab to other provinces and countries. This has eventually resulted in reduced number of Punjabi speakers coming to Canada. Freezing the parents and grandparent’s category has further cut down the number of Punjabi speakers entering Canada. This will likely result in less demand for services in Punjabi. Above all, one thing that seems to be lacking amongst some Punjabis is a sense of pride in their mother tongue. This is more so in the younger generation.
According to World Watch Institute, a private organization that monitors global trends, a language needs at least 100,000 speakers to pass it on from generation to generation. It goes on to state that by the end of this century, half to 90% of the world’s languages will become extinct. One of the reasons for such startling prediction is that nearly half of the 6,900 languages spoken worldwide have less than 2,500 speakers. A few years ago, a report by UNESCO predicted that Punjabi would also become extinct in the next fifty years. Fortunately, these reports of the death of Punjabi are grossly exaggerated. Its future looks bright both at the international level and in Canada.
At the international level, Punjabis, through their hard work and resilience have become a very powerful community politically, culturally and financially. With their progress, their mother tongue has also progressed and will continue to grow for generations to come. In addition to some positive measures being taken in the Punjab to promote Punjabi, the growing number of Punjabis in some other countries like Australia is bound to keep this language alive and well. Punjabi has also become the favourite language in England. In Malaysia there are more than 130,000 Punjabis. Similarly, countries like Singapore and the United Sates have very large and thriving Punjabi communities Even in the Middle East there are some schools teaching Punjabi
So far as Canada is concerned, despite some of the challenges facing it as mentioned above, its future looks great. At this time, there are around 800,000 Punjabi speakers in Canada. These are substantial numbers to sustain this language for a long time. A recent study found that in Canada amongst a number of groups, Punjabis have the highest language retention. It found that some 33% of third generation Punjabi children have mastered the language. These figures are very encouraging. Nevertheless, we shouldn’t take anything for granted.
Organizations like Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA Canada) have been working very hard for more than 18 years in promoting Punjabi. PLEA Canada’s efforts are not confined only to getting Punjabi classes under way in BC’s public schools, colleges and universities. It is also promoting it in both the Punjabi and the mainstream community. Consequently, there is Punjabi signage in a lot of BC’s hospitals, city halls, school districts, banks, credit unions and public places like the Vancouver International Airport. Similarly, in cities like Toronto, Missisauga, Brampton, Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton a lot is being done for Punjabi. Also, a large numbers of Gurdwaras, Khalsa schools, academies and the Punjabi media are doing a commendable job in promoting Punjabi. As a matter of fact, there is a large number of mini Punjabs all around the globe now. These developments and efforts are very encouraging and bode well for this wonderful language. This points towards a very bright future for Punjabi not only in Canada but also around the globe.
(Balwant Sanghera is a retired School Psychologist and Community Activist)