Indigenous communities living in the mountainous terrain and valleys in the North of Pakistan speak over 24 indigenous languages. Some of these languages are Khowar, Shina, Indus Kohistani, Torwali, Gawri, Palula, Kalahsa, Dameli, Gawar-bati, Bateri, Chiloso, Dumaki, Brushaski, Ushojo, Balti, Wakhi, Yidgha, etc; and they are known indigenous languages spoken in Northern Pakistan.
All of these languages are ‘endangered’ according to UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s languages in danger. These languages are endangered because of a number of challenges/threats the languages and their speakers face. Crucial among these challenges/threats are lack of political organization, globalization, the rule of dominant languages over these languages, rough terrain, poverty and so forth.
The aforementioned cultural, political, linguistic and ecological milieu adds to the ‘language and culture loss’ among these communities. Notwithstanding the toughest challenges, there are some good initiatives carried out in these communities that are focused on reversing the language and cultural loss by documenting the languages and cultures in question, transmitting the languages and cultures to the coming generations; and by trying to make the languages relevant in pedagogical setting.
This paper studies the challenges these communities face. It briefly mentions the work carried out for the documentation, preservation and promotion of these languages by individuals and community-based organizations.
The areas where these languages are spoken comprise of the mountainous north-western part of the North west Frontier Province named Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Gilgit-Baltistan.in Chitral only twelve languages are spoken. These are Khowar, Kalasha, Dameli, Palula, Gawar-bati, Yidgha, Shekhani, Eastern Kativiri, Madaklashti Persian, Gujari, Wakhi and Pashto. Khowar is the dominant language in Chitral. Pashto is the dominant language in Swat, where the indigenous languages are Torwali, Gawri, Ushojo, and Gujari. Torwali and Gawri are said to be the ancient languages of Swat which are traced to pre-Muslim era in the valley. In Indus Kohistan five indigenous languages are spoken in addition to Pashto and Gujari. These are kohistani, Shina, Chilliso, Gowro and Bateri. Shina and Kohistani are major languages here. In Upper Dir Gawri is spoken alongwith the moribund language Kalkoti. In Gilgit-Baltistan Shina, Brushaski, Balti, Khowar and Dumaki are spoken; Shina, Brushaski and Balti being the major languages. All these excluding Yidgha, Balti and Brushaski are of the Indo-Aryan origin. They have been classified as ‘Dardic” by a number of writers, notably by G. W. Lietner. The number of the speakers of these languages is never known because in Pakistan these communities do not have a separate counting column in the census. Their population vary from a few thousand to millions. According to ethnologue there are around 7106 languages spoken in the world. Linguists estimate that by the end of this century, more than half of the 7000 plus spoken languages will be extinct; resulting in loss of valuable scientific and cultural information.
UNESCO’s Atlas of the Worlds languages in Danger categorizes 2473 languages into five levels of endangerment:
These languages are endangered because of a number of challenges/threats that the languages and their speakers face. Crucial among these challenges/threats are:
These languages don’t have widely used scripts1. The working scripts they have are based on Arabic. Orthographies in these languages have recently been developed with the help of SIL. None of the languages had a writing tradition before the advent of the third millennium, except Khowar and Shina wherein a number of writers tried to write their works following Urdu. In some languages for instance Balti, some people use a Romanized script instead of the Arabic one. Having been without a working orthography, no written literature of worth was ever written in these languages. The old poets in Shina and Khowar wrote their works using Urdu alphabets. Urdu literacy among the people compelled them to use Urdu alphabets, even for special sounds these languages have.
Since the state education in Pakistan usually discourages lessons on cultural diversity of society in course books; and as these communities have no effective political say in the country, therefore, a majority of ordinary educated Pakistanis don’t know about the indigenous identity of these communities. And as successive invaders dismantled their centres of power in the past, these communities have lost their unique identity and consequently suffer a tarnished one. This is the reason that a majority of these communities relate themselves with Arabs or the dominant community they live with. Moreover globalization has posed critical questions of identity and identity construction. It is a complex issue especially in context of a rapidly imposed external change. Culture and identity share many things, yet they are not the same. Though an important part, there is more to identity than culture. Identity is very much political as well. Given the complexity of identity construction and the modern tools that shape it, these ethnic minorities seem the worst victims of marred identities.
As is the case with many such communities, the affluent families among these communities of North Pakistan feel pride in speaking Urdu with their families. Their cultures and languages are also threatened by the popular Urdu dominated media-both electronic and print. Similarly the global revival in religious fundamentalism/fanaticism, especially in the form of a politically charged puritanical version of Islam has badly affected the cultures of these communities. They cannot observe their folk traditions in music or rituals. Of course, these new phenomena have affected the large society as well but these indigenous communities cannot survive the onslaught as they are less in number, weak both politically and economically and historically brutalized.
All of these communities live in mountains. Many of them living in northern Pakistan share the same history, ancestry and culture but cannot relate to each other, being scattered in valleys in the mountains of the Hindukush, Karakorum, Himalaya and Pamir. This has cut them off for centuries. The Shina or the Khowar community of Gilgit and Chitral don’t know that their sister community lives in Dir or Swat. Even the Khowar community in Chitral, where it is dominant, feel shy about being identified with the Kalash, Palula, Dameli commuties living in Chitral too.
the aforementioned cultural, political, linguistic and ecological milieu adds to the ‘language and cultural loss’ among these communities. Notwithstanding the toughest challenges, there are some good initiatives carried out in these communities that are focused on reversing the language and cultural shift by documenting the languages and cultures in question, transmitting the languages and cultures to the coming generation and by trying to make the languages relevant in pedagogical setting.
1. Forum for language Initiative (FLI): it is a civil society organization established in 2002 with the aim of training people from the indigenous communities in north Pakistan so as to enable them to document and promote their languages. FLI has so far trained scores of language activists in more than a dozen languages in basic linguistics, orthography development, cultural research, teacher training and in community mobilization and advocacy.
2. Idara Baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT): This is a civil society organization based in Swat. Established in 2007, one of its main objectives is the revitalization, documentation and promotion of endangered languages, especially the Torwali language. This forum has, so far, written a number of books in and on the Torwali language. It has also been successfully implementing a mother tongue based on early childhood multilingual education initiative among Torwali community in upper Swat.
3. Gawri Multilingual Education Program in Gawri Community Swat by Gawri Development Program (GCDP): Gawri is a sister language of Torwali spoken in Kalam, Swat and upper Dir district. GCDP has, to date, published a number of books in and on Gawri. It has also been implementing a mother tongue based on early childhood multilingual education project in the area.
4. Palula Multilingual Education program in southern Chitral by the Palula Community welfare program (PCWP). The PCWP has also been running similar programs to those of GCDP and IBT.
5. Other Such Programs are: Kohistani Multilingual Education program in Indus Kohistan by community based organization, Initiative for People in Need (IPN), Khowar Multilingual Education program in Chitral by mother tongue Initiative for Education and Research (MIER), the bakarwal mbil School System for the nomadic Gujjars in Azad Jamu & Kashmir, and the Hindko based multilingual education project by a community based organization in Abottabad, pakistan.
Some good initiatives by the communities themselves are underway with the meager support of some international organization. These communities, however, cannot sustain this work unless and until the Pakistani government recognizes these languages and sets up plans for the preservation and promotion of these languages. Globalization, with all its modern technologies, is a threat to these communities but it can be turned into an opportunity if proper measures are undertaken for including these languages in education and media- the primary drivers of globalization.
1. Although scripts have been designed for Khowar, Shina, Indus Kohistani, Torwali, Gawri, Brushaski and Palula, but these are not widely used within the respective communities. Among these languages, especially Torwaly, Gawri, Palula, Indus Kohistani and Khowar, the situation has bettered off over the years since 2008 because of the early childhood education initiatives undertaken with the support of Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) and Forum for Language Initiativ (FLI). Among them the literacy of the script in Torwali community is spreading a bit faster because of a number of literacy (for both adult and children) initiatives recently carried out by Idara baraye Taleem-o-Taraqi (IBT), a local civil society organization based in Bahrain Swat.