The English Language as Spoken in Pakistan

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In the country of Pakistan, English is a co-official language with Urdu. Linguist Tom McArthur reports that English is used as a second language "by a national minority of c.3 million in a population of c.133 million."

The slang term Pinglish is sometimes used as an informal (and often unflattering) synonym for Pakistani English.

Examples and Observations

"English in Pakistan--Pakistani English--shares the broad characteristics of South Asian English in general and is similar to that spoken in contiguous regions of northern India. As in many former British colonies, English first enjoyed the status of an official language alongside Urdu after independence in 1947...
"The grammatical features . . . [of] Indian English are largely shared by Pakistani English. Interference stemming from background languages is common and switching between these languages and English occurs frequently on all levels of society.
"Vocabulary. As might be expected, loans from the various indigenous languages of Pakistan are to be found in local forms of English, e.g. atta 'flour,' ziarat 'religious place.'...
"There are also word formations consisting of hybrids and blends with inflectional elements from English and stems from regional languages, e.g. goondaism 'hooliganism,' 'thuggish behaviour,' biradarism 'favouring one's clan.'
"Still further word-formation processes are attested in Pakistani English with outcomes which are not necessarily known outside this country. Back-formation: to scrute from scrutiny; blends: telemoot from television and moot 'meeting'; conversion: to aircraft, to arson, to change sheet; compounds: to airdash 'depart quickly by air,' to head-carry."


"Linguists generally describe the three or four subvarieties [of Pakistani English] in terms of proximity to the British Standard: the samples most distant from it--and any other variety--are often regarded as 'genuinely' Pakistani. American English, which has gradually infiltrated the spoken and written idiom, is discounted in most studies."

The Importance of English in Pakistan

"English is . . . an important medium in a number of key educational institutions, is the main language of technology and international business, has a major presence in the media, and is a key means of communication among a national elite. The constitution and the laws of the land are codified in English."

English and Urdu in Pakistan

"In some ways, I have a lover’s quarrel with the English language. I live with it and I cherish this relationship. But there is often this feeling that in preserving this bond, I have betrayed my first love and my childhood’s passion--Urdu. And it is not possible to be equally faithful to both of them. . . .
"A bit subversive it may be deemed but my contention [is] that English is . . . a barrier to our progress because it reinforces class division and undermines the main purpose of education as an equaliser. In fact, the domination of English in our society may also have contributed to the growth of religious militancy in the country. Whether English should be our official language, in spite of its value as a means of communication with the rest of the world, is surely a major issue . . ..
"At the heart of all this discussion, of course, is education in all its dimensions. The rulers, supposedly, are very serious about it. Their challenge is to realise the slogan of ‘education for all.’ But, as the ‘policy dialogue’ would suggest, it should not just be education for all but quality education for all so that we can truly be liberated. Where do English and Urdu belong in this venture?"

Code-Switching: English and Urdu

"[T]he use of English words in Urdu--code-switching for linguists--is not an indication of not knowing the two languages. If anything, it may be an indication of knowing both languages. First, one switches code for many reasons, not just lack of control of languages. Indeed, code-switching has always been going on whenever two or more languages have come in contact. . .
"People who do research on code-switching point out that people do it to emphasize certain aspects of identity; to show informality; to show easy command of several languages and to impress and dominate others. Depending on the situation, one can be humble, friendly, arrogant or snobbish through the way one mixes languages. Of course, it is also true that one may know so little English that one cannot manage to sustain a conversation in it and has to fall back upon Urdu. That might well be the case but that is not the only reason for code-switching. And if someone does not know English and falls back upon Urdu, then he or she knows Urdu best. It is still untrue to argue that this person does not know any language. Not knowing literary Urdu is one thing; not knowing the spoken language quite another."

Pronunciation in Pinglish

"[S]oftware designer Adil Najam . . . took time to define Pinglish, which according to him, emerges when English words are mixed with words of a Pakistani language--usually, but not solely, Urdu.
"Pinglish is not just getting the construction of the sentences wrong, but also about pronunciation.
"'Many Pakistanis often have trouble when two consonants appear together without a vowel in between. The word "school" is often mispronounced as either "sakool" or "iskool," depending on whether your native tongue is Punjabi or Urdu,' pointed out blogger Riaz Haq.
"Commonplace words such as 'automatic' is 'aatucmatuc' in Pinglish, while 'genuine' is 'geniean' and 'current' is 'krunt.' Some words also take a plural form such as 'roadien' for roads, 'exceptionein' for exception and 'classein' for classes."


  • The Oxford Guide to World English, 2002
  • Raymond Hickey, "South Asian Englishes." Legacies of Colonial English: Studies in Transported Dialects, ed. by Raymond Hickey. Cambridge University Press, 2004
  • Alamgir Hashmi, "Language [Pakistan]." Encyclopedia of Post-Colonial Literatures in English, 2nd ed., edited by Eugene Benson and L.W. Conolly. Routledge, 2005
  • Tom McArthur, The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford University Press, 2002
  • Ghazi Salahuddin, "Between Two Languages." The International News, March 30, 2014
  • Dr. Tariq Rahman, "Mixing Languages." The Express Tribune, March 30, 2014
  • "Get Set for Pakistani English or ‘Pinglish.'" The Indian Express, July 15, 2008
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "The English Language as Spoken in Pakistan." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 28). The English Language as Spoken in Pakistan. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "The English Language as Spoken in Pakistan." ThoughtCo. (accessed April 2, 2023).