An Overview Of Languages Spoken In Pakistan

While the world knows about the inks of Pakistan with Osama Bin Laden, few know anything about its rich cultural heritage, its history or even its people. Pakistan exists on a territory where great civilizations have met and struggled for domination in the past. Their interaction is still evident from the plethora of languages spoken in Pakistan even today.
An Overview of Languages Spoken in Pakistan
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Like other countries of South Asia that share the rich heritage of the ancient Indian civilization, Pakistan is also blessed with several evolved languages and a a plethora of dialects.

Where the Dialect Changes Every 80 Miles

While Islam is the common thread running through Pakistan, it is not the same with languages. It used to be said that the dialect changes in the country every eighty miles, and if you take in to account the fact that there are over 300 recognised dialects spoken in the country, the old saying is not far off form the mark. Since only 43% of

the population is literate as per official estimates, it is not difficult to understand that for most people, local dialect is as important as the official language, if not more.

The Official Language of Pakistan

The official language is English which is not the first language of anyone, yet retains its official status, highlighting the fact that when it comes to language, there is no single Pakistani language as yet. After independence, Urdu was proposed to replace English in 1958. However, the sensitivity of the issue and its political implications have kept the matter under wraps, and any further progress on this issue in near future remains unlikely. Language priorities are closely connected with regional dominance, and have led to clashes within the country in the past. Sind and other regions keep protesting against the Punjabi dominance and any attempt of imposing Urdu or Punjabi can precipitate matters. Indeed, it was such a regional imbalance and protests against it by the erstwhile East Pakistan that led to separation of Bangladesh.

Urdu: The National Language of Pakistan

'Urdu' is the national language, and is spoken and understood by 90% Pakistanis. Yet only 8% claim it as their first language. 'Punjabi', on the other hand is the first language of over 44% people in Pakistan, and spoken and understood by almost two third of all Pakistanis. Urdu and Punjabi are thus the two dominant languages, and their prominence is associated with the dominance of Punjab in the political map of Pakistan. This is what leads to friction, as 'Sindhi' is the first language of about 15% of people, largely in Sindh, while 'Pashto' accounts for another 15% in the state of North West Frontier province and 'Balochi' is spoken by around 4% people spread over a large area of Balochistan.

Languages of Pakistan... or a Basket of Dialects

Many of these languages are not one single language, but a group of similar

languages and / or dialects spoken in different parts of the country. For example, standard Punjabi language is called 'Majhi' and is spoken in districts of Lahore, Sialkot, Gujranwala and Gujarat along with certain parts of India like Amritsar and Gurdaspur.But there are other Punjabi languages too, like Jhangwi, Malwi, Hindco, Shahpuri and Doabi, each one of which is spoken in different areas of Punjab and adjoining districts. Similarly, Sindhi includes many dialects like Kachchi, Thareli, Vicholo Macharia, Dukslinu (Hindu Sindhi) and Sindhi Musalmani. Balochi is actually a group of three languages, Eastern, Southern and Western, each of which are in turn a group of different dialects.

Consolidation of Dialects in Modern Pakistan

With increasing literacy and urbanisation, there is a lot of consolidation of dialects taking place within cities and towns. In fact, 'Saraiki' a language that represents the fusion of Sindhi and Punjabi is now spoken by around 10% people of Pakistan. Many of these dialects are also spoken in neighbouring countries specially India where spoken Hindi is almost the same as spoken Urdu, with the exception of vocabulary which is more Sanskritized in case of Hindi, and more Iranian-Arabic in case of Urdu. Another difference is the script which is Arabic in case of Urdu. Many other dialects of Pakistan are also shared in India and represent the people who migrated during the undivided country.

Origin of Languages of Pakistan

Most of Pakistan's languages are Indo-Aryan in origin, which have originated from Sanskrit gradually evolving over many thousand years, but their vocabulary has heavily borrowed from Persian and Arabic languages, which were heavily patronised during the period of Moghul rulers in mideval periods. One majoe language, 'Brahui' is of Dravidian origin, surviving as the vestige of ancient Indus valley civilisation, and is still spoken by around 2 million people in Quetta, East Baluchistan and Sind province. In the Northern part of Pakistan, there are some languages that have evolved from the Tibet-Burman family. The most important of them is 'Balti', spoken in Baltistan, Skardu and Gultari valleys.
To sum up, the linguistic map of Pakistan offers an array of different colors and shades. It is also a reflection on the origin of its people, its age-old history as well as some of its contemporary political realities.

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