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Official language status sought for Punjabi in Canada

Source: PTI
February 26, 2008 19:30 IST
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The Indo-Canadian community has urged the Canadian government to grant official language status to Punjabi, whose popularity is growing by 'leaps and bounds' in the country.

The call was made by the community as the Punjabi Language Educators' Association of British Columbia celebrated 110 years of the Punjabi language education in Canada on Sunday.

PLEA president Balwant Sanghera said the Punjabi community has decided to vigorously seek the recognition of Punjabi as an official language of Canada.

"A number of political parties support us and assured that they would take up the issue with the federal government," Sanghera said.

"Punjabi's popularity is growing by leaps and bounds in Canada. From Parliament to State Assemblies and other places, the use of Punjabi is spreading. You can see signs at the city halls, hospitals, banks, credit unions in Punjabi; they read, 'We speak Punjabi'. So it is really encouraging," he said.

More and more schools, colleges, universities and other bodies are offering courses in Punjabi, he said and added that public schools in Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey, Abbotsford and Toronto are offering Punjabi language classes.

"It is a matter of great pride for the promoters and speakers of Punjabi that it is amongst one of the ten most spoken languages out of a total of 6,000 all around the globe. More than 150 million Punjabi speakers are spread out in 150 countries around the world. Mini Punjabs in countries like Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia and Singapore are testaments to the popularity and resilience of this language," he said.

At the PLEA conference in Surrey on Sunday in which over 200 people participated, speakers discussed the history of Punjabi in Canada and the current opportunities the language affords.

"There are close to 1,000 students taking Punjabi classes all the way from Grades 5 to 12. That is a really big plus for us," Sanghera said. "We are working at two levels as a community - one level is at the gurudwara and we are working at the public school and post-secondary level".

University of British Columbia has the oldest post-secondary programme, but Kwantlen University College and the University College of the Fraser Valley are also now offering Punjabi language courses to students.

"There are thousands of jobs in which knowledge of Punjabi is needed," Sanghera said, adding some of the students are from non-Punjabi backgrounds and are learning it because of the added advantages of being bilingual.

"That's why we are encouraging the kids and the parents to look at the economic opportunities. Punjabi is the third most common language in Vancouver behind English and Chinese. In both Surrey and Abbotsford, it is number two," he said.

Sadhu Binning, a renowned Punjabi author and professor at the University of British Columbia, said the Punjabi literary community in Canada is thriving, with about 400 books published over the last three decades.

"What is interesting with Punjabi literature is that the majority of the people that are living in Canada and writing either poetry or fiction, about 95 per cent of the time they are writing about their experience in Canada," he said.

"So the literature they are creating is Canadian literature. But because Punjabi is not recognised as a Canadian language, they treat you as not being recognised and I think Canada could become very rich simply by saying this literature belongs to Canada," he said.

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