Prof Henrik Liljegren
Prof Henrik Liljegren

DR Tariq [Abdur] Rahman’s research says that there are 74 languages spoken in Pakistan. Dr Atash Durrani puts the figure at 76.

But the latest edition of Ethnologue, a web-based publication that carries out research on over 7,000 languages of the world (,, says there are 73 languages spoken in Pakistan. Ethnologue’s 19th edition, published in 2016, names 7,457 languages of the world and of these 360 are “dead languages”. The remaining 7,097 languages are listed by Ethnologue as “living languages”. But many of these living languages are ‘endangered’ and something must be done to save them, otherwise many would become extinct.

Some of these endangered languages are spoken in Pakistan. In fact, Pakistan’s linguistic diversity is amazing and in the northern areas alone 30 languages are spoken. It is a virtual paradise for linguists! Of them, some belong to Indo-Aryan family of languages, some are Indo-Iranian and others are Sino-Tibetan.

But one language, namely Brushaski, has not been classified by the linguists because of its unique characteristics. It is considered a “language isolate”, as linguists have not been able to find its “demonstrable genetic relationship” with other languages. Luckily, a three-volume Brushaski-Urdu dictionary, compiled by Naseeruddin Hunzai, has been published in collaboration with Karachi University. Its third volume has appeared recently.

While most of us do not even know the names of the languages spoken in Pakistan, an NGO has been carrying out research on languages spoken in Pakistan’s northern areas, with a helping hand from USAID, for the last 10 years. Named Forum for Language Initiatives (FLI) and with an office in Islamabad, it has been able to prepare books on basic grammar and basic vocabulary of five languages (with Urdu equivalents) spoken in northern Pakistan: Dameli, Gawar-Bati, Palula, Ushojo and Yidgha.

During a symposium on Pakistani languages, organised by Pakistan Academy of Letters, Islamabad, Mr Fakhruddin of FLI was kind enough to furnish this writer with a few of their publications. While enthusiastic about the research and the help from foreign organisations and scholars, he was a bit unhappy over the general indifference of his fellow countrymen.

Prof Henrik Liljegren of Stockholm University has been carrying out research on the languages of the Hindukush-Karakoram region for the last 10 years. In the intro (translated into Urdu) to the these books, he says that Dameli, Gawar-Bati, Ushojo and Yidgha are the native languages of these areas but can be termed “minor languages” as compared to the other languages of the area.

He says Dameli is an Indo-Aryan language and is spoken in the Valley of Damel in the South western parts of Chitral. There are about 5,000 native speakers. Gawar-Bati, too, is an Indo-Aryan language and is spoken in the villages situated on both sides of Pak-Afghan border, near Chitral in Pakistan and Kunnar in Afghanistan. While the latest data is not available, it is estimated that Gawar-Bati is spoken by about 10,000 native speakers. Ushojo, an Indo-Aryan language, is spoken by a few thousand people in the Swat Valley and is influenced by Shina, a language spoken in the North of Gilgit, adds Prof Liljegren.

Chitral is a linguistically-rich area and 10 to 12 languages are spoken there. Yidgha is one of them. Spoken by about 6,000 natives of Latkoh Valley in the west of Chitral, Yidgha is an endangered language. District of Chitral’s dominant language is Khowar, writes Prof Liljegren, and some Yidgha areas have become under the influence of Khowar.

Other publications of FLI include Report on local names and uses of plants in Kalam-Koshistan, Pahari and Pothwari: A sociolinguistic survey, The Ormuri language in past and present and Palula Vocabulary. FLI is indeed doing a commendable job and one feels such introductory books on other languages of Pakistan should also be prepared.

It will not be out of place to name here the languages listed by Ethnologue. They are, in alphabetical order: Aer, Badeshi, Bagri, Balochi (as a macro-language) Balochi (Eastern), Balochi (Southern), Balochi (Western), Balti, Bateri, Bhaya, Brahvi, Brushaski, Chilisso, Dameli, Dari, Dehwari, Dhatki, Domaaki, Gawar-Bati, Ghera, Goaria, Gowro, Gujarati, Gujari, Gurgula, Hazaragi, Hindko (Northern), Hindko (Southern), Jadgali, Jandavra, Jogi, Kabutra, Kachchi, Kalami, Kalasha, Kalkoti, Kamviri (also known as Kam-Kataviri),Kashmiri, Kati, Khetrani, Khowar, Kohistani (Indus), Koli (Kachchi), Koli (Parkari), Koli (Wadiyara), Kundal Shahi, Lahnda, Lasi, Loarki, Marwari, Memoni, Od, Ormuri, Pahari (Pothwari), Palula, Pashto (as macro-language), Pashto (Central), Pashto (Northern), Pashto (Southern), Punjabi (Western), Sansi, Saraiki, Savi, Shina, Shina (Kohistani), Sindhi, Sindhi (Bhil), Torwali, Urdu, Ushojo, Vaghri, Wakhi, Waneci, Yidgha.

If English is also included the number goes up, and also, Pakistan Sign Language is mentioned by Ethnologue, but its status is shown as “developing”. All other are “living” languages. The list, however, terms some dialects as languages and yet some dialects, especially some dialects of Punjabi, are not mentioned. But the list is useful and the details are very interesting.

Details about the status, number of native speakers and areas of these languages are available on Ethnologue’s two websites mentioned above. The western scholars, especially German and Norwegian scholars, have carried out tremendous research on the language spoken in Pakistan’s northern areas and have written books, articles and dissertations on them. This is something we Pakistanis should have done.

Published in Dawn, March 13th, 2017