Govt speeds up measures to implement Urdu as official language

1684087713 Govt speeds up measures to implement Urdu as official language
The picture shows a girl reading Urdu from a blackboard. — AFP/File
The picture shows a girl reading Urdu from a blackboard. — AFP/File

The government of Pakistan is taking several initiatives to implement Urdu as the official language in all government departments under Article 251 of the Constitution. The Ministry of Planning, Development and Special recently approved the revised PC-I of the project, “Establishment of National Language Processing Laboratory (NLP-Lab),” worth more than Rs75 million.

The Ministry of National Heritage and Culture Division is the sponsoring agency, while the National Language Promotion Department (NLPD) will execute the project. Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal has been a driving force behind these efforts, with a focus on shifting from manual to digital processes. He stated that the government was taking all possible steps to promote the Urdu language.

The core objective of the project, as per Dr Rashid Hameed, Director-General NLPD, is to elevate Urdu to the status of languages with extensive digital data resources and equip it with modern technology applications. The NLP-Lab also includes the development of several applications like machine translation (MT), speech recognition (SR), and optical character recognition (OCR) that would make language learning more accessible, facilitate cross-border communication and commerce, enable people to access online content, promote cross-cultural understanding, and help preserve language resources. Dr Hameed believes that only languages that adapt to the latest technology can survive in today’s world.

The MT module uses computer algorithms to automatically translate text from English to Urdu. The speech recognition module will enable digital devices to recognise and transcribe human speech into Urdu text. This technology will help digitise Urdu audio resources, such as parliamentary speeches and meeting minutes, and increase accessibility and inclusivity for those with hearing and speech impairments. The OCR module will convert printed text into editable digital text, making the text searchable and accessible, and could make Urdu text accessible to visually impaired people in the form of audiobooks.

This step is significant in the country’s history, according to Advocate Kokab Iqbal, who filed a landmark case before the apex court in 2003. In 2015, the Supreme Court ordered the government to enforce Urdu as an official language, emphasizing the need for promoting the Urdu language across government offices. Since assuming power in April 2022, the incumbent government has taken several steps toward implementing digital transformation in the country.