Pakistan is a country of rich ethnic and linguistic diversity. According to Ethnologue, more than 72 Living Languages have been listed for Pakistan, giving it a Diversity Index [of 0.83, while 1.0 being highest] that is amongst the highest in the World. While the social diversity is obvious and desirable, accurate numbers for most of these languages have largely been elusive. National census has established Punjabi [44%] to be by far the largest language, while Pashto [15%], Sindhi [14%], Urdu [8%] and Baluchi [4%] having significant number of speakers. Language of importance for the Independence Movement and national unity remains Urdu, while Arabic and Persian are arguably the most influential languages in academic circles of the country. Most of the living languages of Pakistan belong to the family of Indo-European languages, where Indo-Aryan is predominant in the Eastern parts, Iranian being in the Western and Dardic being in the North/North-Western parts of the country.
Urdu is the official language of Pakistan since 1978. Choosing Urdu as the national language provides a linguistic basis for a Muslim national identity, as Urdu was the language of the educated Muslims of North India that led the Pakistan Movement. Even though merely 8% of Pakistanis speak it as their mother tongue, Urdu cuts across the linguistic, ethnic, religious and provincial boundaries as the National Language. It is estimated that more than 75% of Pakistanis can speak and understand Urdu in general, where in urban areas close to 95% of the people can communicate in Urdu. Most Pakistanis however are bilingual and an overwhelming segment today is trilingual with English, Urdu and a regional language. For all practical purposes, therefore, English is the de facto official language. Pakistan’s legal system [based on British Common Law], judicial system, private educational institutions and English language media has promoted English to be the language of choice for educated and forward-looking youth of the country.
Arabic and Persian are also popular languages in Pakistan because of religious influence, literature and immigration. Arabic is taught as a common heritage of Muslims in certain schools and religious institutions. More than a million speakers of Persian reside in Pakistan. It is also taught in universities because of its highly developed literature, and because of its major influence on Urdu. Many immigrants from war-torn Afghanistan speak Persian as their first language. In Azad Kashmir, Kashmiri, Mirpuri and Hindko are popular.
MAJOR LANGUAGES OF PAKISTAN:
Seven languages are considered to be major languages in Pakistan, collectively representing 85% of the people of the country. All four provincial languages [Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Baluchi], the National Language [Urdu], the Legal language [English], and the literary language [Persian] are all considered major by the linguists in Pakistan.
Punjabi [also Shahmukhi, Gurmukhi in literature], one of the world’s biggest languages [10th at 104 million speakers], is an Indo-Aryan language spoken by almost half the people of Pakistan [44% + 11% Seraiki + 2.5% Hindko], making it the dominant language in the vast Pakistani landscape. Its speakers are spread in a large area from foothills of Karakorum to the borders of Sindh, and from the banks of Kabul [at Attock] to the banks of Yamuna [at Delhi]. Excluding Seraiki [11%] and Hindko [2.5%], which are sometimes considered Punjabi dialects, Punjabi is spoken by 44% population of Pakistan, and is also represented in all major non-Punjabi cities of Pakistan by its immigrants. It seems to be the only language that has kept the people of Pakistan and of North India at ease with each other, in an otherwise rough history of their relationships.
The roots of Punjabi are Indo-European, within the Indo-Iranian family of languages. In Pakistani Punjab, it is largely an oral language but it had a Gurmukhi/Shahmukhi script in the pre-Independence history and has a Persio-Arabic [Urdu] script in academic circles of post-Independence Pakistan. Linguistic analysis on the word “Punjabi” is simple, as the word is a combination of two simple Persian words: “Punj” [five] and “Aab” [water]. The word, therefore, literally means “Five Waters” or more precisely “The people of the land of five Rivers”. The name was given to them because of the five tributaries of River Indus that have flown through the landscape of Punjab since time immemorial, namely Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Satluj, Beas. Unique amongst the Indo-European languages, Punjabi is a tonal language [with High-tone, Mid-tone and Low-tone] as a reinterpretation of different consonant series in terms of pitch. With the words usually ordered Subject-Object-Verb, it is an agglutinative language in terms of morphological complexity.
Punjabi has several dialects and is rich in their use. Most important dialects in Pakistani Punjab are Pothohari, Lahndi and Multani. Majhi is the written standard for Punjabi in both parts of Punjab. Punjabi has had its share of influences from all sorts of languages from Arabic to Persian to Sanskrit to Dravidian. Recent modernization and industrialization of Punjab has witnessed an English influence on Punjabi, as Punjab absorbs the Science and Technology. Modern Punjabi uses Shahmukhi [from the mouth of the Kings] script in the Pakistani Punjab, which is a modified Persian-Nasta’liq script. Sikhs of Pakistan, however, use the Gurmukhi [from the mouth of the Gurus] script, in compliance to the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib. These two scripts are considered the official scripts of the Punjabi language. Gurmukhi is written from left to right and the orthography is called Peti as the number of its letters is thirty five. Punjab is the land of Vedas, of Saints and of Gurus. Punjabi is the preferred and official language of East Punjab, as it holds a central position in the Sikh religion and culture. It is the language in which the Sikh religious literature, called Guru Granth Sahib, was written by Guru Nanak Dev and nine other Gurus. Punjabi is to Sikhism as Arabic is to Islam.
Punjabi is also the language of the Sufi saints of the Indo-Pak Sub-Continent, at the advent of Islam. Sufi mysticism used Punjabi to influence and spread the message of Islam throughout the North India. They gave birth to a distinct stream of the poetry of this land, called Sufi Kavya-Dhara. Great Sufi poets like Bulleh Shah, Ghulam Farid, Sultan Bahu, Waris Shah, Shah Hussein and Ilyas Ghumman have read and sung in this language and their contribution today is considered amongst the greatest Classical literatures and heritage of the Eastern world. Folk tales of Punjabi are the collection of the traditional urge of thousands of years of history. The folk tales and love stories of Saif-ul Maluk, Heer Ranjha, Sohni Mahinwal, Sassi Punnu, Mirza Sahiban, Yousaf Zulaikhan, Dulla Bhatti and Poran Bhughat continue to enrich the minds of Punjabi speakers till today. The oldest and most famous book of folk tales, Vad Kaha, composed by Rishi Gunadhya was written in the Panjab in the then prevalent dialect of Paishachi. The Arabic collection of fables, Kalilawa Dimnah, is also very popular and is based on the Panchatantra. Mystical Folk music sung as Kafeeas of Ghulam Farid, Shakookas by Ganj Shakar, baits, dohras, loris, Sehra and Jugni can be heard throughout the rural and urban Punjab to this day. Traditional joy songs are sung on the weddings by women from the villages, all over Punjab to this day. A woman's sentiments are deftly woven into the fine fabric of the folk-songs of the Punjab. They seldom sit idle and when they are free from household chores, the women of all ages from surrounding households bring out their spinning wheels and sit out in the open under a tree, singing as they spin. In more recent times, the traditional Punjabi Bhangra music, which uses extensive Punjabi lyrics, has gained immense popularity throughout the South Asia and the world. It is the Punjabi expression of the Islamic culture, Hindu philosophy and Sikh thought that unites the Punjabi speakers from all backgrounds into one people.
Pashto, spoken by more than 24 million [15%] of Pakistan’s population, is an Indo-European language of Indo-Aryan family. The Indo-Aryan influence on Pashto is very evident, and the language can be linguistically related to Ossetic spoken in the Caucasus Mountains in the present-day Russia, as well as Yaghnobi spoken in Tajikistan. It is primarily spoken in NWFP, as well as in corners of Baluchistan and the Afghan immigrants in the Punjabi and Sindhi metros. Along with Persian, it is the official language of Afghanistan [35% speak it as their mother tongue] and therefore has much Afghan influence in its literature and poetry. It is believed to have originated from the Kandahar-Helmand area of the Southern Afghanistan – right next to Baluchistan and Frontier province of Pakistan, where it is still the dominant language.
Pashto has two major dialects; Northern [spoken by 60%] and Southern [spoken by 40%] dialects. Another dialect besides these two is the Southern Pashto, spoken in Kandahar and in Baluchistan; both Pakistani province and Iran’s Sistan-va-Baluchistan province. Grammatical structure of a Pashto language phrase is on the format of Subject-Object-Verb, while the adjectives come before nouns. Pashto phonology is distinguished by the presence of the retroflex consonants that are borrowed from the surrounding Indo-Aryan languages. Such consonants are absent from the Iranian languages. Pashto also allows consonant clusters at the beginning of syllables, unlike other Iranian languages.
Pashto vocabulary has borrowed heavily from the Arabic and Persian, just as any other language of this region. It also has been influenced by other regional languages, besides them. We can also find some of the oldest borrowed words from Greek that date back to the Greek occupation of Bactria in third century BCE. There is also a trace influence of traditions like Zoroastrianism and Buddhism on the language.
From the time of the advent and rise of Islam in the Central Asia, Pashto has used a modified Persio-Arabic script with some indigenous alphabets. Pashto has been written since the sixteenth century but was only standardized in late eighteenth century.
Sindhi is an Indo-Aryan language of Indo-Iranian family of Indo-European group of families. The estimation of the total number of speakers of Sindhi and, therefore, its percentage in Pakistan has proven to be especially difficult, unreliable and politically motivated. It is estimated that the number of Sindhi speakers in Pakistan is between 20 million to 30 million [22.5 million or 14% is standard]. Besides that, 2.5 million Sindhis live in the neighboring India, and a few live in Hong Kong, S.A.R, Oman, Phillipines, Singapore, U.S, U.K and Emirates. Sindhi is also spoken in Southern Punjab and the Baluch borders with Sindh. Sindhi has been written in Arabic script in Pakistan, and Devangari script in neighboring India. Sindhi is a predominantly Aryan language, but it also embellishes itself with the Dravidian influence making its identity quite unique.
Sindh is rich in sound inventory, having 46 distinctive consonant phonemes and 16 vowels. The language has 52 letters and four separate implosives. In the area of pronunciation, many Sindhi letters are identical to the Arabic letters that heavily influenced the Sindhi language. The British encouraged the Persio-Arabic script for the Sindhi language before the partition in the province in 1852. In India, Dewangari script for the Sindhi was introduced by the Government to make it compatible with the Hindi; an effort that faced a wide-spread opposition in the early days. Sindhi was also written in Landa script during the 19th century. Sindhi first appeared in writing some 13 centuries ago, in 8 CE. The poetry and literature, however, became prominent only in the 15th century.
Sindhi has an official status in Sindh province and is taught as a first language in the province. Its dynamic vocabulary made it a heaven for the writers, poets and linguists, since ages. Sufi saints have sung and written the poetry in Sindhi since long, making Sindhi parallel to Punjabi in its mystical writings and literature. Shah Abdul Latif Bhatai and Sachal Sarmast are particularly popular in Sindh for their theosophical poetry, since their mysticism has helped spread Islam and enrich devotees for many centuries. Muslim holy book, the Quran was translated very early on in 12th century in the Sindhi language, making it one of the first translations of the holy book. This, coupled with Islamic mysticism in Sindhi, helped spread the religion very early on in that region.
Baluchi, an Indo-Iranian language of Indo-European family, is spoken by 8 million people and in Pakistan is spoken by 4% of the population. It is the official language of Baluchistan, and is widely spoken in Sistan-va-Baluchistan of Iran and Southern Afghanistan. It is also spoken in some parts of Turkmenistan, and also in very small minorities in East Africa and Oman. Many Brahui speakers of Baluchistan also speak Baluchi as their second language. Southern Punjabi areas and North-North-Western Sindhi areas bordering Baluchistan also have many Baluchi speakers. Three major dialects of Baluchi are categorized; Eastern Baluchi, Western Baluchi and Southern Baluchi. The Iranians recognize six dialects of Baluchi namely, Rakhshani [subdialects: Kalati, Panjguri and Sarhaddi], Saravani, Lashari, Kechi, Coastal Dialects, and Eastern Hill Baluchi. The language is closely related to Persian and Kurdish languages of Iranian family language. Because of its similarity to Persian in particular, many linguists insisted on classifying it as a dialect of Persian, which after the creation of Pakistan was rejected by the Baluch people.
Baluchi was been an oral language for the most of its history. It is only in the 19th century that efforts were made to create a script for Baluchi for writing and preserving its traditional poetry, oral literature, vocabulary and other aspects of its speech. In Baluch courts of pre-Independence Sub-Continent, the British used the Roman script for the Baluchi, as they used for many other regional languages. Baluch scholars, after Pakistan’s independence, adopted Nastaliq-Arabic script, similar to Urdu. Beyond the Afghan border, Baluchi is written in a modified Persio-Arabic script based on similarity with Pashto. In 1989, the Government of Pakistan under Benazir Bhutto gave permission for the use of local languages of Baluchi, Pashto, and Brahui, to be used in primary education in Baluchistan. In a similar move, Baluchi Studies section at the Baluchistan University and a Baluchi Academy in Quetta has been established. In a sharp contrast to provincial government’s efforts in Pakistan, the Baluchi language and culture is being swiftly replaced by the official Persian in the Sistan-va-Baluchistan province of Iran.
Urdu [formally Zabaan-e-Urdu-e-Mualla], an Indo Aryan language of Indo-European family, is the twentieth largest language of the world [104 million]. The language was developed for and used in the Muslim courts of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal Empire [1200-1800]. It was formed by the combination of the highest quality vocabulary of Persian, Turkish, Arabic and Sanskrit. Linguistic analysis of the word “Urdu” tells us that it’s a Turkish word that means “tent”, “army” or “horde”. Urdu, thus, is poetically called “Zaban-e-Lashkari”, or the language of the army. It was the commonality of Urdu with all major languages of the area, that the army addressed its pupils in this tongue during the ancient wars of the region. The language of the Pakistan Movement, Urdu is today the official language [the lingua franca] of the government and people of Pakistan, after its independence from the British Empire. The language is also the first language of the Muhajir [Original Immigrants that left India for Pakistan after Independence] community, as a sign and living testimony of their loyalty and unity with the Muslim brothers of their new homeland and of the entire Sub-Continent. The language is written almost entirely in Persian script today, while there has been a tradition of writing it in Devangari script of Hindi.
Urdu is an international language. Besides being the second language of all four provinces of Pakistan, it is widely spoken in Azad Kashmir, Northern Areas, Indian occupied Jammu & Kashmir, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Hyderabad (Deccan), Andhra Pradesh and many other states of India. The language is also spoken world-wide by the Muslim immigrants of Northern Sub-Continent: Guyana and Suriname in South America; Canada and American Metros in North America; Australian, Fiji and New Zealand’s Indo-immigrants in Oceania, South Africa, Libya and others in Africa; Oman, Yemen, Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and UAE in Middle East; Japan, Korea, Malaysia, China [Hong Kong], Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Nepal in Asia; British, French, Italian, German, Dutch, Spanish, Austrian, Scandinavian and other European towns and Cities of the West. Urdu is also one of the 24 national languages of India, and is understood in Bangladesh [former East Pakistan] and Sri Lanka. All major Indian cities are also the flourishing centers of the Urdu language, including metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Calcutta, Hyderabad, Delhi, Bangalore, Mysore and Madras. In fact, must of the literary development in Urdu has taken place in Utter Pradesh [especially Lucknow area] and Delhi.
Linguistically, Urdu is very similar to Hindi – the official language of India – and the speakers of both the languages can easily understand each other. The difference between the two are that while Urdu is written in Nastaliq script and is heavily influenced by Arabic, Persian and Turkish, the Hindi language as replaced some of its those “Urdu” words with Sanskrit words and is written in Devangari. Certain linguists have tried to put Urdu and Hindi as the same language using different dialects, most serious linguists and historians of Urdu have rejected such claims, based on the history, usage, influence and roots of the language. Urdu also has similarity with Punjabi language and its dialects, and the Punjabi speakers of Pakistan and India can easily pick the Urdu speech.
Four recognizable dialects of Urdu are Dakhini, Pinjari, Rekhta and the Modern Vernacular Urdu [based on Khariboli dialect of Delhi]. Vernacular Urdu is widespread across Delhi, Lucknow, Karachi and Lahore; as it loses some of the Persian and Arabic vocabulary, it becomes increasingly divergent. Dakhini [or Deccani], as the name indicates, is spoken in Maharashtar province in India, around Hyderabad Deccan; Compared to the standard, it has fewer Persian and Arabic words. Rekhta is the language of Urdu poetry and is a separate dialect; it was widely used in Urdu literary history.
Urdu is taught as a primary and compulsory language at all levels of education throughout Pakistan, and in most major universities of North India. This has produced millions of Urdu speakers, whose mother tongue is their native language, enriching and expanding the Urdu language beyond the ethno-religio-racial boundaries. This in its self has become the binding force for the four provinces of Pakistan, as the natives from all parts are integrating with the national social fabric in the urban melting-pots of the country. This exercise is also expanding the already rich and fertile vocabulary of the Urdu language, with words from Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Baluchi, Kashmiri, Brahui, English and Hindi. Moreover, this has also enabled nearly 3-5 million Afghan refugees of different ethnic origins [such as Pathan, Tajik, Uzbek, Hazarvi and Turkmen] to become fluent in the Urdu language, blending with the mainstream urban Pakistan. Madrassas and Universities in Indian Muslim-majority areas are also creating a rich tradition of Urdu speaking and writing. Hundreds of Urdu language newspapers, magazines and television channels are operating in different parts of Pakistan, India and the urban centers of the rest of the world.
Like most Semitic languages, Urdu is written from right to left, making it look very similar to Arabic. Indeed, many Urdu speakers can read Arabic written almost to its entirety; but since Urdu uses more complex Nastaliq script than Arabic, vice-versa is not that easy. Since the script is notoriously difficult to typeset, many publishers used hand-written masters until recently. More sophisticated software for writing Urdu more accurately and with style is under development. Writing Urdu in Devangari script is relatively easier for publishing, and is done in India. However, writing Urdu in Roman letters fails to convey a meaningful text often, as the Roman letters do not produce the similar and complex sounds and expressions of Urdu language. The use of Roman Urdu, however, has gained popularity recently, thanks to the electronic text-messaging and the complexity of the use of Urdu keyboards.
Urdu literature is unusually huge in quantity and high in quality for a language of its age. After Arabic and Persian, Urdu religious material is the largest archive of Islamic books/texts that exist today. Urdu Daastan, Afsaana, Safarnama, Mazmoon, Sarguzisht, Inshaeya, Murasela and Khud Navvisat, all are relatively well-developed and qualitatively competitive. Urdu poetry is similarly high in quality, quantity and diversity, including such types as Ghazal [and Diwan], Nazam [Masnavi, Marsia, Qasida, Diwan], Doha, Geet, Hamd, Kalam, Kulyat, Marsia, Masnavi, Musaddas, Naat, Noha, Qaseeda, Qataa, Rubaiyyat, Sehra, Shehr Aashob and Soz. Since Urdu has historically been the language of courts, upper-class circles, poets and eloquent speakers, it has produced very large amount of poets that became famous in their age, and later. Some of the most famous poets of Urdu [chronologically] are: Quli Shah, Wali Deccani, Mirza Mazhar, Mirza Sauda, Siraj Aurangabadi, Mir Dard, Mir Taqi Mir, Ghulam Mushafi, Nazir Akbarabadi, Inshallah Khan Insha, Khwaja Atish, Iman Nasikh, Mirza Ghalib, Mumin Khan Mumin, Mir Anis, Mirza Dabir, Nawab Dagh, Hussain Azad, Altaf Hussain Hali, Akbar Allahabadi, Hasrat Mohani, Allama Iqbal, Pandit Chakbast, Josh Maliabadi, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Makhdum Muhiuddin, Nun Rashid, Majaz Lucknawi, Alik Jafri, Jan Akhtar, Ihsan Danish, Yazdani Jallandhari, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Zamir Jafri, Qatil Shifai, Nasir Kazmi, Ibn-e-Insha, Jon Elia, Ahmad Faraz. List of famous contributors to Urdu literature and writing is large as well. Some of the earlier important names [chronologically] include: Sir Syed Ahmed Khan, Muhammad Hussain Azad, Farhatullah Baig, Nazir Ahmad, Mohsin-ul-Mulk, Altaf Hussain Hali, Chiragh Ali, Shibli Nomani and Abdul Halim Sharar.
English is not the native language of Pakistan, but is spoken widely in the academic and beaurocratic institutions, as well as the Armed forces. It is also spoken in the upper-class families of Pakistan, where it has become more of a status symbol than a conveniently expressive language.
OTHER LANGUAGES AND DIALECTS:
Besides the major languages, several smaller languages and dialects spoken in Pakistan are considered significant, because of the number of speakers and their literary importance. Seraiki [11%], Hindko [2.5%], Brahui [1%] and Gujarati [0.1%] have significant speakers in Punjab, NWFP, Baluchistan and Sindh respectively. Kashmiri is the language of Azad Kashmir and the Kashmiri immigrants from Indian occupied Kashmir. Arabic is a literary language of great social and religious importance in all classes of the Pakistani society.
DEAD LANGUAGES OF PAKISTAN: