Panel 1 Discussion

On March 29, the Center for South Asian Studies (CSAS) at the University of Michigan hosted its 14th annual Pakistan Conference. Speakers came from all over the world, including the United States, Britain, India, and Pakistan. 

The conference, “Undoing Linguistic Hegemony,” focused on language use in Pakistan. While engaging primarily with Pakistan, it aimed to open dialogues celebrating linguistic diversity across South Asia and its diasporas. With an eye toward native linguistic diversity that has challenged colonial-nationalist notions of monolingualism, the conference sought to detangle the relationships between national, regional, and local languages. Historically, studies on languages in Pakistan have highlighted the statewide recognition of Urdu, contesting regionalism established by Punjabi, pre-British Raj Persian, and, recently, the social status of English in the globalized world. Significantly less attention has been drawn to Pakistan's linguistic pluralism. 

“As a linguistic anthropologist, I’m especially excited this year as we focus on language,” said CSAS director and U-M anthropology professor Matt Hull in his opening remarks.  

The conference consisted of three panels: Literature and Scripts, Language and Media, Poetry Recitation, and Diaspora. 

The day’s first talk was given by graphic designer and web developer Abeera Kamran. Kamran analyzed the ideologically charged relationship between Urdu and Lahori Nastaʿlīq. She argued that despite the state support of Urdu, it remains an insecure language, given the difficulty of writing and reading Nastaʿlīq online. 

“I usually present at graphic design conferences,” said Kamran. “It’s such an honor to be here among all of you linguists, historians, and educators.” 

In addition to Kamran, the first panel also included a talk by Zain Mian from UPenn. The second panel featured Brian Bond from UC Berkeley and Gwendolyn Kirk from Indiana University. Virinder Kalra from the University of Warwick (Britain) discussed his work on the British South Asian vernacular in the third panel. 

List of speakers and program

Poet Abdul Bhatt

In addition to the panels, the conference also hosted an entertaining and interactive poetry recitation with Abdul Bhat - a practicing Urdu poet and a doctoral candidate in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pennsylvania. 

The conference concluded with a response from Elena Bashir, a renowned linguist and Urdu professor at the University of Chicago. Her research is based on fieldwork on the languages of Pakistan, particularly the northern and western regions. 

Drawing upon the groundwork initially established by Tariq Rahman, this conference aimed to serve as a gateway to enrich and complicate the relationships between languages and the state, social movements, literature, devotion, and performance. It focused on unpacking the language hegemonies associated with Pakistan using multidisciplinary, multitemporal frameworks to explain these relationships. 

For more information on this year’s conference, please visit the CSAS website