Wed. May 25th, 2022

Linguistic skills flourishing among the multilingual residents of Gilgit-Baltistan

By Syed Mujahid Ali Shah

Till the near past when people from different linguistic regions visited one another in Gilgit Baltistan ,they always  needed a translator for communication. While I was ten years old  my Shina speaking  maternal grand-parents family members from Minapin  in Shinaki area ( lower region of Hunza-Nagar in the west where people speak Shina) and Nomal visited our home in Phakar Nagar situated just four Kilometers in the east of Minapin  in Burushso Nagar,( upper region in the east where  people  speak Brushaski) .Whenever one had to talk to my Burushaski speaking paternal grandfather or neighbouring old people in my village they used to call someone able to speak Shina who might have lived in Gilgit to help them as  translator.

It is recently that Urdu has become a lingua franca  for Balti, Shina, Khowar, Wakhi, Domaaki, Burushaski, Pashtu and Punjabi speakers in Gilgit Baltistan .In Nagar valley on every social occasion when people  from both Burusho-Nagar and Shinaki-Nagar meet they use make code switching and code shifting for communication. Similarly in Hunza when people from the three different linguistic regions of the Shinaki in lower regions in the south, Brusuho-Hunza at central town areas and Wakhi in upper region namely Gojal  come together,  Urdu becomes their language rather than English, especially among the young people.

This situation has boosted up Urdu in the region.

Dr. Muhammad Ali Siddiqui who taught students of Gilgit Baltistan at Pakistan Study Centre,University of Karachi wrote in a newspaper article as “ The Karachites will be surprised to know that when it comes to written Urdu the average Gilgiti, Balti or Hunzai proves to be a better communicator in Urdu than most of the Karachi boys and girls”

He further describes the growth of Urdu poetry in Gilgit Baltistan as “A mushaira recently held in the valley below the world-famous Rakaposhi peak outdid the Lucknow style of mushairas. A participant described its grandeur in the following words. “Even the full moon, stuck as the crown on the Rakaposhi head, was presenting the Aadab in the Lucknow style, and the whole valley seemed intoxicated with the mushaira grandeur.””

While giving thee reason to marvelous Urdu poetry in Gilgit Baltistanin Dr.Siddiqui has taken the point of view of  Dr.Nasir Uddin Hunzai as” In the Northern Areas the language of the elite and aristocracy, insofar as cultural expression is concerned, is Persian; hence one is taken by surprise by the imagery of Northern Areas’ poets. It sounds so musical and sweet that it easily wins over lovers of the traditional diction of Urdu poetry.”.

But as for as the extra ordinary skills of the  students of Gilgit Baltistan to learn and write poetry in Urdu as their second  language is concerned it is not only Persian as an embedding language of Gilgit Baltistan being that of  historically  language  of elites but more than that it is the experience of students from their very child hood to learn more  languages spoken in the area when they have to move to  main educational cities  like Gilgit and Skardu which are multi lingual societies . While  Persian as a language of elites and autocrats may have a limited impression on mass level. Because the then illiterate commons of Gilgit Baltistan could not read and write Persian except that of listening  it from religious scholars. As the education had been historically a recent  phenomenon in the region where education was not allowed in the then principalities in the region before British period when the first state-sponsored school was established  in 1892 in Gilgit city.In 1948 primary schools grew to 50 and 3 primary schools were upgraded to middle schools  in Gilgit and Skardu regions. After 1970s with the end of fuedal system and construction of Karakoram Highway education became a common phenomenon in the region when elected leaders established schools in the region and people were allowed to go to educational institutions out side of the  then principalities into over all the country and the world.

Today when in government,private and NGO school systems education is  accesible to almost of the population in Gilgit Baltistan and youth in the area aquire education in modern languages of Urdu and Endglish and through  media and communication, globalization and modernization have made their way into the area,being  only spoken ,the indigenous languages of Gilgit Baltistan  are  pose to endangerement . In such a situation with every   death of an ielder person  in the  area  a bit of the laguage he spoke also diminishes .

According to  UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger , in Gilgit Baltistan languages like Brushaski Khowar and Balti are venerable, Wakhi , Domaaki and Chilisso are critically endangered  .In some cases like that of Domaaki the languges is critically endangered  with only 500 speaker left who are scattered  in Gilgit ,Ghizer and Hunza-Nagar districts. Among many reasons one big reason of its endagerenment  is that because the native speakers of younger generation have literally stopped using it. As the the Domaaki speakers were confinement to the special trait of blacksmith by local kings in the past which the youth do not want to speak to be their past identification any more.

The languages of Gilgit Baltistan have also been tried to be documented . But very limited literal works can bee seen in the world catalogues

In Shina language ,dialects of which are mainly spoken in districts of Gilgit,Diamer and Astor while in western parts of Hunza-Nagar ,some parts of Skardu and Ghanche  and in a considerable part of Ghizer district, Gilgit based Shina poet Mohammed Amin Zia has written.  Shina Qa’ida aur Grammar in 1986 .He has been working on a co-authored series of work on a  translating Shina idioms and phrases into German and English with Georg Buddruss which have been published  in various international research journals in 1987,1993 and 1996.

Abdul Khaliq Taj  compiled. Shina qa’idah. and published in 1989. Shakeel Ahmad Shakeel has written  Shina short stories in the books of  Dadi Shulukay, Alkhan Basharon, Gilgiti and  Folktales in the Shina of Gilgit was coauthored by Karla F. Rudolph and  published by  Summer Institute of Linguistics and National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaide-e-Azam University in 1998.

His  other books of Shina may Parhna Likhna : Aik Taaruf and Shina – Urdu – Angrezi Bol Chal  he has tried to introduce  alphabets to make the language written and readable. Ruth Laila Schmid  and Razwal Kohistani. have worked on grammer of Kohastani dialect of Shina and compared it with various other dialects in Gilgit Baltistan.They published various research papers including those in 1985 2000,2001and 2004.

In Balti language mainly spoken in districts of Skardu and Ghanche in Baltistan division an Skardu based writer and educationist Muhammad Yousuf Hussainabadi has translated The Holy Quran into Balti language in 1995.Dr Richard Keith Sprigg has compiled a Balti-English dictionary in 2002.

Brushaski is spoken in three dilects in the valleys of Hunza, and Nagar  in district Hunza-Nagar and one in Yasin Valley of district Ghizer .When I started learning German for my studies and living in Germany for my current master programme  at Greifswald University it was quite interesting for me to know that in the very  limited German vocabulary of mine I found 6 words which sound almost alike and  mean the same as Brushasky dialects of Hunza and Nagar .Some samples are as follow:
In Brushasky late Professor Dr. Hermann Beger at Heidelberg University published his first work on Yasini Dialect of Brushuski in Yasin valley district Ghizer  with the name Das Yasin-Burushaski (Werchikwar) : Grammatik, Texte, Worterbuch  in 1974  which comprised grammer,translation of Brushusaski text into German and  a  Brushaski(Yasini)/Werchikwar-German dictionary,.He worked closely with Dr.Naseer Uddin Hunzai in bringing his next volume of similar pattern on Hunza and Nagar dilects of Burushaski  “Die Burushaski-Sprache von Hunza und Nager. 3 Bde. 1. Grammatik. 2. Texte mit Übersetzungen. 3. Wörterbuch” It also comprised grammer translation of Burushaski text into German and a Burushaski(Hunza and Nagar)-German Dictionary. Recently The ‘Burushaski Urdu Lughat’ Vol-1 and 2 have been published  by University of Karachi  in 2006 and 2009 respectively under the supervision of  Dr.Naseeruddin Hunzai. .

Syed Yahya Shah gave an orientation of Burushaski and Shina terminologies related to the primitive  myth of Shamnism in the Gilgit,Hunza and Nagar in his book Brushaal ke Qabail published in 2005.

The language of  Khowar spoken in some parts of Ghizer district in Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral district of Khaybar Pakhtunkhaw province has been aslo focused to some linguists like  and Georg Morgenstierne has written   Some Features of Khowar Morphology.1947 .Badshah Munir Bukhari who compared Urdu and Khowar in 2001.

In Wakhi language which is spoken in the upper region of Hunza called Gojal,  Wakhi Tajik Cultural Association Pakistan organises annual Wakhi  cultural festival and encourages poetry and music in the language

Among all the languages of Gilgit Baltistan critically endangered language of  Domaaki in the area, still needs  literary attention to compile  the dictionary of the language.

Documentation of the spoken languages through literary work is the mile stone in protecting them. Karakoram International University can start study programmes in these languages But to thrive they need revitalisation efforts to brought back to public life.

Since the languages have no culture of writings therefore only electronic media can play main role to preserve and develop these languages in the region. Two state run radio stations in Gilgit and Skardu are presenting one to two hour programme daily in the languages of Burushaski,Shina Wakhi .Khowar and Balti except Domaaki which has had played great  role in this regard. In the future telivision can play very important role to revitalize the endangered languages of Gilgit Baltistan.

Syed Mujahid Ali Shah is a sociologist and nature conservationist/ecologist based in Nagar
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