Are we losing our Punjabi language?

My parents have always emphasized the importance of speaking Punjabi in our home. Their reasoning was that we would have the opportunity to learn English in our schools, but may never get the time to learn Punjabi again. My father was so passionate about creating an opportunity for children being raised in the West to be taught Punjabi, that he opened the first Punjabi School at the Gurdwara we attended in our town. I was grateful to my parents for sending me to the school, because it allowed me to communicate with my grandparents, and other elders who didnt speak English, and maintain my relationships with them.

Often the older generation is heard saying our language, and thus an aspect of our heritage, is being lost on the present generation. There are many young people who attend Gurdwara but have no idea what is being said. We have Gutkas with English translations. Weve become quite tech-savvy in our Gurdwara now too, where we have projectors displaying the English translations of Shabads. We watch Punjabi movies with english subtitles. In India, even Punjabis are speaking Hindi now.

Is it the responsibility of parents to teach their children or send them to Punjabi school to learn? Or is it an individuals responsibility? Some people take the initiative to learn Punjabi on their own, either through courses available at University, or from the growing number of online courses.

How can we preserve the Punjabi language?


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180 Responses to “Are we losing our Punjabi language?”

  1. Sewa says:

    Guys, ashamed as I am to say this, Sikhs may be linked with Punjabi, but here in the west the last two posts might as well be in Chinese…Surely the future is English, or Punjabi in English letters?

  2. Sewa says:

    This website is in English..we all communicate in English..why not forget Punjabi, and focus on using English to save Sikhism? Afterall can we frankly say anyone under 40 in the west understand Punjabi, let alone read and write it??

    Go elsewhere Roop, this place is for Sikhs, not liberals

  3. Sewa says:

    This website is in English..we all communicate in English..why not forget Punjabi, and focus on using English to save Sikhism? Afterall can we frankly say anyone under 40 in the west understand Punjabi, let alone read and write it??

    Go elsewhere Roop, this place is for Sikhs, not liberals

  4. bhai says:

    I said I would not post elsewhere but what is the rationale for advocating the end of people using Punjabi? Gurubani translated into English is not equivalent, meanings are lost. Using only English will result in sikhs being liberals in the classic sense. The philosophic developments in English include the liberal tradition. The language used to read and write philosophy will influence the philosophic traditionswe use. There is much to employ in that tradition, but to use English only would result in the loss of the full range of the philosophhy of which Gurubani is s part of

  5. bhai says:

    My guess is you would not mind if Sikhs became liberals, in the sense of sikhs finding their philosophical home in the western (for lack of a better term) philosophical tradition. Do you think the loss of the full use of the philosophic tradition in which Gurubani sits would be significant as a loss?

  6. bhai says:

    I said I would not post elsewhere but what is the rationale for advocating the end of people using Punjabi? Gurubani translated into English is not equivalent, meanings are lost. Using only English will result in sikhs being liberals in the classic sense. The philosophic developments in English include the liberal tradition. The language used to read and write philosophy will influence the philosophic traditionswe use. There is much to employ in that tradition, but to use English only would result in the loss of the full range of the philosophhy of which Gurubani is s part of

  7. bhai says:

    My guess is you would not mind if Sikhs became liberals, in the sense of sikhs finding their philosophical home in the western (for lack of a better term) philosophical tradition. Do you think the loss of the full use of the philosophic tradition in which Gurubani sits would be significant as a loss?

  8. Sewa says:

    all I know is hardly any of even understand punjabi..my father who is from there admits he does not understand waht the parthi says when reading the Guru Granth Sahib…a good translation will capture all…Roop is unrealistic if he thinks we will all learn a language we don't use…what is your view on that Bhai Ji?..don't get me wrong, but how many of us use Punjabi, other than a language to swear in or speak to our elders?

  9. Sewa says:

    all I know is hardly any of even understand punjabi..my father who is from there admits he does not understand waht the parthi says when reading the Guru Granth Sahib…a good translation will capture all…Roop is unrealistic if he thinks we will all learn a language we don't use…what is your view on that Bhai Ji?..don't get me wrong, but how many of us use Punjabi, other than a language to swear in or speak to our elders?

  10. bhai says:

    A lot of people know at least some Punjabi and a lot of people want and are learning, and a lot of new parents are teaching their kids, even if their own skills are spotty. St a time when most parents are scrambling to expose their kids to multiple languages moving away from Punjabi is exactly the opposite of where most people are. Learning a workable knowledge of gurumukhi is a matter of months for someone familiar with Punjabi. The amount of knowledge that would be lost without a continued familiarity with Punjabi Is significant.

  11. iSingh says:

    @ Sewa et al

    "Go elsewhere Roop, this place is for Sikhs, not liberals"

    And I thought being Sikh meant to be liberal / progressive… looks like our after moulding "the state of being Sikh" into western dogma of religion, we are now incorporating rights and the lefts of it. Or maybe I am using the wrong dictionary.

    I have noticed that after a while all Sikhism affiliated blogs turn focus to the impending Sikh apocalypse. Can someone please point me to a forum which carries discussion about economic opportunities, education, literature, problems of cultural adjustment instead of my Sikhi is better than your Sikhi. Maybe something which is more around Punjabi ethnicity, I think.

    "why not forget Punjabi, and focus on using English to save Sikhism?"

    Great thought and I think you are right in your assessment that Punjabi language in is going down the drain – not only in west, but even in Punjab. And to my mind the spiritual crutch of Sikh"ism" is going the same route.

    As regards to saving Sikhism – unfortunately as a non-missionary religion there is no auto-preservation mechanism built in unlike Islam, Christianity etc. I think my kids and their grand kids will feel proud of their Sikh identity if it answers all their questions about spiritual philosophy, and makes them feel proud of their heritage, which comes with – rich language, economically and politically strong Punjab, role models. Given an option, what second language would career conscious American parents suggest to their kids – Spanish? Japanese or Mandarin? Why? Similarly, there is competition of spiritual mind space out there – especially in west with so many options.

    "Afterall can we frankly say anyone under 40 in the west understand Punjabi, let alone read and write it??"
    But they would have if a Punjabi work would have won a booker prize, or if a Punjabi movie had won Oscars for best foreign language film or if a paper written in Punjabi would have predicted the financial meltdown or if a software mogul would have made a speech in Punjabi or if Punjab was the fastest growing market in the world, or a mecca of technology or education, or a blog about "challenge ourselves to address the myriad of issues we face as individuals and as a community through a progressive lens, and reserve the right to rant, muse, and humor" was in Punjabi. They will not want to learn Punjabi if the script is only used ad nauseum for 1984, [email protected], maryada palan discourses etc.

    "Gurdwaras are now using lap tops to show the meaning of Gurbani in English"
    Gurdwaras will respond to the needs of their clientele. Using the same route, they will start delivering daily hukamnama on twitter soon.

    "admits he does not understand what the parthi says when reading the Guru Granth Sahib"
    Knowledge of Punjabi is not sufficient to understand Gurbani or Sikh philosophy. The people I know who try to understand the texts learn Farsi, Arabic, Sanskrit and some mix of braj and khari boli to make sense of what all was composed.

    @ bhai "Using only English will result in sikhs being liberals in the classic sense."
    Made my day 😀

  12. bhai says:

    A lot of people know at least some Punjabi and a lot of people want and are learning, and a lot of new parents are teaching their kids, even if their own skills are spotty. St a time when most parents are scrambling to expose their kids to multiple languages moving away from Punjabi is exactly the opposite of where most people are. Learning a workable knowledge of gurumukhi is a matter of months for someone familiar with Punjabi. The amount of knowledge that would be lost without a continued familiarity with Punjabi Is significant.

  13. iSingh says:

    @ Sewa et al

    "Go elsewhere Roop, this place is for Sikhs, not liberals"

    And I thought being Sikh meant to be liberal / progressive… looks like our after moulding "the state of being Sikh" into western dogma of religion, we are now incorporating rights and the lefts of it. Or maybe I am using the wrong dictionary.

    I have noticed that after a while all Sikhism affiliated blogs turn focus to the impending Sikh apocalypse. Can someone please point me to a forum which carries discussion about economic opportunities, education, literature, problems of cultural adjustment instead of my Sikhi is better than your Sikhi. Maybe something which is more around Punjabi ethnicity, I think.

    "why not forget Punjabi, and focus on using English to save Sikhism?"

    Great thought and I think you are right in your assessment that Punjabi language in is going down the drain – not only in west, but even in Punjab. And to my mind the spiritual crutch of Sikh"ism" is going the same route.

    As regards to saving Sikhism – unfortunately as a non-missionary religion there is no auto-preservation mechanism built in unlike Islam, Christianity etc. I think my kids and their grand kids will feel proud of their Sikh identity if it answers all their questions about spiritual philosophy, and makes them feel proud of their heritage, which comes with – rich language, economically and politically strong Punjab, role models. Given an option, what second language would career conscious American parents suggest to their kids – Spanish? Japanese or Mandarin? Why? Similarly, there is competition of spiritual mind space out there – especially in west with so many options.

    "Afterall can we frankly say anyone under 40 in the west understand Punjabi, let alone read and write it??"
    But they would have if a Punjabi work would have won a booker prize, or if a Punjabi movie had won Oscars for best foreign language film or if a paper written in Punjabi would have predicted the financial meltdown or if a software mogul would have made a speech in Punjabi or if Punjab was the fastest growing market in the world, or a mecca of technology or education, or a blog about "challenge ourselves to address the myriad of issues we face as individuals and as a community through a progressive lens, and reserve the right to rant, muse, and humor" was in Punjabi. They will not want to learn Punjabi if the script is only used ad nauseum for 1984, [email protected], maryada palan discourses etc.

    "Gurdwaras are now using lap tops to show the meaning of Gurbani in English"
    Gurdwaras will respond to the needs of their clientele. Using the same route, they will start delivering daily hukamnama on twitter soon.

    "admits he does not understand what the parthi says when reading the Guru Granth Sahib"
    Knowledge of Punjabi is not sufficient to understand Gurbani or Sikh philosophy. The people I know who try to understand the texts learn Farsi, Arabic, Sanskrit and some mix of braj and khari boli to make sense of what all was composed.

    @ bhai "Using only English will result in sikhs being liberals in the classic sense."
    Made my day 😀

  14. ??? ?????? says:

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  15. ??? ?????? says:

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  16. ????? ?? ??? ????? ????? ?????

    ???????? '? ?????? ??? ???? ????? ?? ?????? ???? ????

    ?? ????????? ??? ?? ????? ???? ??? 16 ??? ?????? ??? ??????

  17. ??? ?????? says:

    ????????, 14 ????-????? ????? ????? ???-???? ?????? ??? ???????? ???? ???? ????? ??? ???-?????? ?????? ?? ???? ???????? ?????????? ??? ???? ??????? ???? ?? ?? ??? ?????? ??????

  18. Sewa says:

    being Punjabi and Being Sikh are not interchangable..look at 3HO.. A Punjabi can be Hindu, Muslim and Atheist. No one is born a Sikh, you become one…

  19. Sewa says:

    being Punjabi and Being Sikh are not interchangable..look at 3HO.. A Punjabi can be Hindu, Muslim and Atheist. No one is born a Sikh, you become one…

  20. CaliFamily says:

    Excellent conversation! My contribution to it may be pretty basic, but here goes…my husband and I are Punjabi, but both of us were born and raised in the UK, US, and Canada. Our family histories and traditions have been passed down orally for many generations. The history of our villages, the origins of our surnames, and the wonderful stories filled with suspense, humor, and yes, occasional naughtiness…without understanding Punjabi, we will lose all of them, much like some Native Americans lost their cultural identity through the loss of their language. More importantly, we will (and in our case have somewhat already) lost our understanding of what it means to be Sikh because we really don't understand the scripture readings or kirtan without a translation. Making them widely available to Sikhs is a wonderful step in the right direction–in this age of technology, we should be able to use the tools our kids are most comfortable with to expose them to the language as much as possible. While I do believe it remains the parents' job to teach the language, I would love to see more after school program in our area offering classes for local kids.

  21. iSingh says:

    @ CaliFamily
    Send your kids to Punjab for 3-4 years of education. One, they'll probably have better education, second, they'll get a crash course in Punjabi and may develop a more comfortable sense of their identity.

  22. CaliFamily says:

    Excellent conversation! My contribution to it may be pretty basic, but here goes…my husband and I are Punjabi, but both of us were born and raised in the UK, US, and Canada. Our family histories and traditions have been passed down orally for many generations. The history of our villages, the origins of our surnames, and the wonderful stories filled with suspense, humor, and yes, occasional naughtiness…without understanding Punjabi, we will lose all of them, much like some Native Americans lost their cultural identity through the loss of their language. More importantly, we will (and in our case have somewhat already) lost our understanding of what it means to be Sikh because we really don’t understand the scripture readings or kirtan without a translation. Making them widely available to Sikhs is a wonderful step in the right direction–in this age of technology, we should be able to use the tools our kids are most comfortable with to expose them to the language as much as possible. While I do believe it remains the parents’ job to teach the language, I would love to see more after school program in our area offering classes for local kids.

  23. iSingh says:

    @ CaliFamily
    Send your kids to Punjab for 3-4 years of education. One, they'll probably have better education, second, they'll get a crash course in Punjabi and may develop a more comfortable sense of their identity.

  24. Bahadar says:

    I agree with ISingh

  25. Bahadar says:

    I agree with ISingh

  26. sewa says:

    Go to my name and link to see alternative debate in Pak

  27. sewa says:

    Go to my name and link to see alternative debate in Pak

  28. Roop Dhillon says:

    Yes we can preserve the language…

  29. Roop Dhillon says:

    Yes we can preserve the language…

  30. Bhupi says:

    Keep it up Roop. There are lot of ignorant people who don't love their MOTHER tongue due to whatever reasons. Its one of the sweetest languages, whether you hear gurbani or bhangra. I guess some folks have either discovered to REALLY enjoy 'ENGLISH' based gurbani in ragas or bhangra or heer : ). Mitti yaad aundi hai ki nahi ?

    I live in US and was born outside Punjab so my parents taught me to read and write gurmukhi and I did my part by teaching them to my kids. As they say in ENGLISH, 'ignorance is bliss'. The sad story in the west is that, lot of sikhs won't teach their kids gurmukhi but will very proudly display their kids speaking spanish or french or other language.

    We need to speak it at home to begin with. Everything else follows…

    An 'amar chitra katha' like pictorial but gurmukhi based version is an ideal introduction for kids. And in the world of internet and 'You Tube', there's no dearth of spreading it easily.

  31. Bhupi says:

    Keep it up Roop. There are lot of ignorant people who don't love their MOTHER tongue due to whatever reasons. Its one of the sweetest languages, whether you hear gurbani or bhangra. I guess some folks have either discovered to REALLY enjoy 'ENGLISH' based gurbani in ragas or bhangra or heer : ). Mitti yaad aundi hai ki nahi ?

    I live in US and was born outside Punjab so my parents taught me to read and write gurmukhi and I did my part by teaching them to my kids. As they say in ENGLISH, 'ignorance is bliss'. The sad story in the west is that, lot of sikhs won't teach their kids gurmukhi but will very proudly display their kids speaking spanish or french or other language.

    We need to speak it at home to begin with. Everything else follows…

    An 'amar chitra katha' like pictorial but gurmukhi based version is an ideal introduction for kids. And in the world of internet and 'You Tube', there's no dearth of spreading it easily.

  32. Roop Dhillon says:

    Thanks Bhupi..maybe being a Western Sikh like me you might enjoy this story I just had published…well part 1…
    http://www.rubru.ca/
    http://www.rubru.ca/dunghapaani.html

  33. Roop Dhillon says:

    Thanks Bhupi..maybe being a Western Sikh like me you might enjoy this story I just had published…well part 1…
    http://www.rubru.ca/
    http://www.rubru.ca/dunghapaani.html

  34. Satyajit says:

    A few days ago Punjab government asked CBSE board to make Punjabi compulsory in the schools of Punjab.

    What did the board do—-? Refused. They refused to make Punjabi compulsory in Punjab!!!!
    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/no-compulsory-p

    It is unfair, absurd and stupid to not make Punjabi compulsory in schools.

    Most important- where are the protests, where the people speaking out and fighting for Punjabi?

  35. Satyajit says:

    A few days ago Punjab government asked CBSE board to make Punjabi compulsory in the schools of Punjab.

    What did the board do—-? Refused. They refused to make Punjabi compulsory in Punjab!!!!
    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/no-compulsory-p

    It is unfair, absurd and stupid to not make Punjabi compulsory in schools.

    Most important- where are the protests, where the people speaking out and fighting for Punjabi?

  36. Satyajit says:

    A few days ago Punjab government asked CBSE board to make Punjabi compulsory in the schools of Punjab.

    What did the board do—-? Refused. They refused to make Punjabi compulsory in Punjab!!!!
    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/no-compulsory-p

    It is unfair, absurd and stupid to not make Punjabi compulsory in schools.

    Most important- where are the protests, where the people speaking out and fighting for Punjabi?

  37. Satyajit says:

    A few days ago Punjab government asked CBSE board to make Punjabi compulsory in the schools of Punjab.

    What did the board do—-? Refused. They refused to make Punjabi compulsory in Punjab!!!!
    http://www.indianexpress.com/news/no-compulsory-p

    It is unfair, absurd and stupid to not make Punjabi compulsory in schools.

    Most important- where are the protests, where the people speaking out and fighting for Punjabi?

  38. Pritpal says:

    Clearly not, looking at the posts on " Punjabi Zubane"

  39. Pritpal says:

    Clearly not, looking at the posts on " Punjabi Zubane"

  40. Ashar Hafeez Ghumman says:

    It is a pitty that after partition, all the resources of Pakistan were given into the hands of Urdu speakers. So, whn people saw their officers speaking urdu, they started speaking urdu at home with their kids. they thght it will make their kids as educated as their officers or high class is neglecting the fact that they were being responsible of destroying punjabi and punjabi culture. And, when a nations forets her mother toungue, hse becoes slave, so has happened with punjabis in Pakistan. Now, in pakistan, all other nations hate punjabis, even punjabis hate their own language as a language of jahils. We need to awake our nation and need to speak Punjabi at homes to make our kids loyal to their mother land because language is the only tie or we will have no reason to love our land. Thanks to my parent for speaking Punjabi at home even they were very highly educated and worked on very high ranks in government.

  41. Ashar Hafeez Ghumman says:

    It is a pitty that after partition, all the resources of Pakistan were given into the hands of Urdu speakers. So, whn people saw their officers speaking urdu, they started speaking urdu at home with their kids. they thght it will make their kids as educated as their officers or high class is neglecting the fact that they were being responsible of destroying punjabi and punjabi culture. And, when a nations forets her mother toungue, hse becoes slave, so has happened with punjabis in Pakistan. Now, in pakistan, all other nations hate punjabis, even punjabis hate their own language as a language of jahils. We need to awake our nation and need to speak Punjabi at homes to make our kids loyal to their mother land because language is the only tie or we will have no reason to love our land. Thanks to my parent for speaking Punjabi at home even they were very highly educated and worked on very high ranks in government.

  42. Nemo says:

    I wonder if there is any merit in promoting Punjabi as talked about by msing in his post 'Nemo – Punjabi Style'
    at
    http://m-singh.blogspot.com/2005/12/nemo-punjabi-

  43. Nemo says:

    I wonder if there is any merit in promoting Punjabi as talked about by msing in his post 'Nemo – Punjabi Style'
    at
    http://m-singh.blogspot.com/2005/12/nemo-punjabi-

  44. Roop says:

    There is merit…it still is one of the top 20 languages of the world

  45. Roop says:

    There is merit…it still is one of the top 20 languages of the world

  46. Hershey kaur says:

    I feel that people nowadays are losing their punjabi culture and language itself. For example, recently, we hired a maid from Punjab who has a degree in Punjabi. I am a punjabi school student in Singapore and when I ask her meanings of simple words in Punjabi, she seems to be oblivious to it. It seemingly seems as if the word is alien to her. Upon asking her why her punjabi wasn't good, her reason was that nowadays punjabi is not taught so deeply as how it is in Singapore, and the words we use in Singapore according to her, is olden days, difficult words. What does this show about punjabi in Punjab nowadays? I am astounded. Why is it that the punjabi in Singapore seems to be superseding the punjabi in Punjab itself, where the Punjabi language was actually created and founded. How is this even possible? I see that Singaporeans are trying their utmost best to preserve the Punjabi culture and language in Singapore by sending their children to punjabi school, yet the culture is almost diminishing in punjab itself! This is utterly astonishing.

  47. Hershey kaur says:

    I feel that people nowadays are losing their punjabi culture and language itself. For example, recently, we hired a maid from Punjab who has a degree in Punjabi. I am a punjabi school student in Singapore and when I ask her meanings of simple words in Punjabi, she seems to be oblivious to it. It seemingly seems as if the word is alien to her. Upon asking her why her punjabi wasn't good, her reason was that nowadays punjabi is not taught so deeply as how it is in Singapore, and the words we use in Singapore according to her, is olden days, difficult words. What does this show about punjabi in Punjab nowadays? I am astounded. Why is it that the punjabi in Singapore seems to be superseding the punjabi in Punjab itself, where the Punjabi language was actually created and founded. How is this even possible? I see that Singaporeans are trying their utmost best to preserve the Punjabi culture and language in Singapore by sending their children to punjabi school, yet the culture is almost diminishing in punjab itself! This is utterly astonishing.

  48. Dosanjh says:

    "and the words we use in Singapore according to her, is olden days, difficult words. "
    ^ My sentiments exactly, Hershey Kaur. I'm born in the UK to parents who were also born in the UK and whenever we visit Punjab my relatives are amazed and shocked by the Punjabi words I use in my sentiments. They smile when they hear my words and remark how they remember their grandparents used to use those same words but they haven't heard anybody use them in the last decade or so. As I said before….us Sikhs who live in countries away from India are the true guardians of the Punjabi language.

  49. Dosanjh says:

    My feeling is that we Sikhs that don't live in India will safeguard the Punjabi language in the same way that the Americans safeguarded and remained true to the English language. What I mean by this is that when the English first took the English language to America that language from England included words such as 'gotten'…'pants'…'diapers' etc. Since then however, the language in England started to incorporate many French and Gaeilic words into the English langauge. So much so that the word for pants became the Scots Gaelic word of 'trousers'. The Americans however, remained true to the English language. And now, centuries later, via movies and popular culture, those original words are coming back to the country they started from. We will see the same phenonema with Punjabi. The Punjabis in Punjab will one day learn Punjabi from s London, Toronto and California born Punjabis.

  50. Dosanjh says:

    "and the words we use in Singapore according to her, is olden days, difficult words. "
    ^ My sentiments exactly, Hershey Kaur. I'm born in the UK to parents who were also born in the UK and whenever we visit Punjab my relatives are amazed and shocked by the Punjabi words I use in my sentiments. They smile when they hear my words and remark how they remember their grandparents used to use those same words but they haven't heard anybody use them in the last decade or so. As I said before….us Sikhs who live in countries away from India are the true guardians of the Punjabi language.

  51. Dosanjh says:

    My feeling is that we Sikhs that don't live in India will safeguard the Punjabi language in the same way that the Americans safeguarded and remained true to the English language. What I mean by this is that when the English first took the English language to America that language from England included words such as 'gotten'…'pants'…'diapers' etc. Since then however, the language in England started to incorporate many French and Gaeilic words into the English langauge. So much so that the word for pants became the Scots Gaelic word of 'trousers'. The Americans however, remained true to the English language. And now, centuries later, via movies and popular culture, those original words are coming back to the country they started from. We will see the same phenonema with Punjabi. The Punjabis in Punjab will one day learn Punjabi from s London, Toronto and California born Punjabis.

  52. hershey kaur says:

    I agree with you Donsanjh. But don't you think it's rather ironic? I mean, look around Punjab nowadays? Everyone is so modernised and westernised that you almost see very little punjabi culture left in the people. When I went to Punjab, I saw that Punjabis start to speak Hindi. Though, what you say is true, don't you think that if Punjab itself were to lose their language, then it'll become even harder to keep our language in foreign countries. For example, we punjabis ourselves came from Punjab, and in order to keep our culture, we depend greatly on punjabi migrants. However, if these punjabi migrants were to start speaking English, and less of Punjabi, what will our future generation speak? Also, I'm not only talking about the language itself. I am also talking about Sikhism as a religion. I see the trend of many sikhs nowadays converting to other religions. Especially, in Singapore, where so many youths nowadays, don't even know their own religion, even in Punjabi School, where I study Punjabi. This is appalling.

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