‘Invasion’ of foreign words into conversation has experts worried
Afghanistan has two official languages, Dari and Pashto, and several unofficial languages that are spoken by the majority in an area, such as Uzbeki, Turkmani, Pachaie, Nuristani, Baluchi and Pamiri.
The constitution allows for the media to print or broadcast in any of the accepted languages, and states that the government should take steps to protect and nurture those languages. English is not one of them.
However, in Kabul, English words such as "general store", "guest house", "chicken soup" and others pepper the advertising boards of businesses. Many English words are also slipping into every day conversation, such as "soap", "fashion", "interview", even though all these words have a Dari or Pashto translation.
Shah Barat, whose grocery store in Kabul is called FIFA General Store, said the name was chosen some years ago by his friends.
He said he had no idea what FIFA meant, but knew it was famous so decided to go with that. FIFA is football’s world governing body.
He said his aim was not to attract foreigners, and so had written the name of the store in Dari.
The Spinney’s Super Market in Sher Pur, however, caters almost exclusively to foreigners, and so its sign is written in English.
Javid Ahmad, a worker at the store, said the owner had travelled overseas and thought the sign should be written in English as it would show that the country is international.
“Dubai is an Arabic-speaking country but most of their billboards are written in English.”
Mohamamd Saleem, a hairdresser in Taimani, has a board announcing his English Hair Fashion Style shop, although it is written in both Dari and English. He said most barbers use English, and were copying each other.
“Hairdressers think that if they choose English names, they look chic and will appeal more to youth.”
Public views differ about such banners and boards.
Shir Shah, a student at Parmakhtag Institute in Kabul, said English signs can be helpful for people who come from abroad.
However, Ahmad Ramish, a shopkeeper in the fourth Macro Ryan area whose sign is written in Dari, said he did not see the point of using English.
“If we have nice Dari equivalent words, why we should use foreign terms?”
English is also becoming common in conversation.
An employee of a foreign non-governmental organisation, who wished to remain anonymous, said he used English words, such as “management”, “message” and “proposal”. At first, he said, it was just a way to learn English, but now it had become a habit.
The NGO worker said he was worried that using English all the time could harm the Afghan language. He said he was making an effort to break his bad habit.
Ahmad Saboor, a social science student at Kabul University, also uses some English words such as “interview” and “busy”, even though he does not speak fluent English.
“As everything is in progress and changing in our life, our conversation should reflect that and change and progress as well. Using English words during our day-to-day conversations is a sign of progress because it is an international language.”
However, language experts are worried about the effect on local languages.
Mohammad Hussain Yamin, a language and literature professor at Kabul University, described the use of English words as a “betrayal” of the native language.
He warned that the purity of the language would be corrupted, and has called for a working group to be set up to find new Dari/Pashto words if needed.
The media should also play a role by making people aware of the importance of preserving and strengthening the country's languages, and in broadcasting/printing in those languages.
Habibullah Rafi, an academic and author, has also raised concern over the “foreign invasion”.
“If no attention is paid to this, a day will come when we only have prepositions and suffixes in our languages. All other words will be foreign,” Rafi said.
He also called for a council of scholars and academics to address the problem.
Sayed Makhdum Rahin, the minister for information and culture, described the creep of foreign words into conversation as an “infection” and blamed the prevalence of NGOs and foreigners working for them.
“The use of the English word of guest house instead of the Afghan word in a nation which has used this word for hundreds of years is an embarrassment.”
Five years ago, the problem was not so prevalent, but even then a letter was sent to organisations to remove all foreign words from their banners and signs.
Rahila Kohistani, head of the culture department at the Kabul municipality, said that according to regulations, advertising bill boards should be in the native languages of the country.
However, their efforts to stop the practice had failed because many businesses using English words were owned or linked to influential people.
As an example, she explained that when they approached the Parawila hotel to ask it to change its name, the hotel refused, saying it would only do so if the five-star Kabul Serena hotel was also forced to change its name.
Abdul Fatah Omary, who runs the hotel, said Parwila is a German word.
“In the beginning, no one complained about the name, but once the hotel became popular, a delegation came from the ministry of information and culture and municipality to ask us to change the name.”
He said the owner was from Logar province and now lives in Germany and has refused to change the name unless other hotels using English or foreign words do so.
Omary said it would cost a lot to change the name of the hotel.
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