Sat. Sep 19th, 2020

Resuscitating Endangered Language – Part II


By Syed Shamsuddin

Gilgit-Baltistan, multi-cultural and multi-lingual in its demographic character, remains home to six languages, each of which is quite distinct and different from the other. The languages of Gilgit-Baltistan include Shina, Balti, Khowar, Brushaski, Wakhi, Gujjari and Domaki. Kashmiri, Kohistani Shina, Khowar, Kilasha or Kalasha and Phalway are some of the languages spoken in GB’s neighboring regions.  Some of these languages are classified as Dardic, while .

According to researchers, Chitrali languages (Khowar, Kalasha, Yadgha, Phalola), Kohistani languages (Kalami, Torwali, Kalkoti), Indus Kohistani languages (Batairi, Chiliso) and Shina languages/dialects (Aoshoojo, Domaki, Phalola and Salvi) are classified as Dardic languages. Brushaski, Wakhi, and Balti, on the other hand, are categorized as non-Dardic languages.

Some of these languages have grammar and alphabets. Others are still without alphabets and grammars. Nevertheless, all of these languages are endangered, because they have been ignored for decades. Following are some details about these languages:

Shina Language

Shina is spoken in Gilgit, Diamir, Astore, Ghizar, lower Hunza, Nagar, Baltistan, and Kohistan, in addition to some areas of the Indian Occupied Kashmir.

According to Abdul Khaliq Taj, famed poet and author of Shina Qaeda, the origin of Shina language dates back to thousands of years. He also suggests that archaeological evidences make it well construable that Shina might be an offshoot of Sanskrit.

The Training Coordinator of the Forum for Language Initiative, Amir Haider, says that the rock carvings found all across Gilgit-Baltistan make it sufficiently infer-able that Shina language encompasses a period spanning some 3 to 5 thousand years. According to him, Shina has from its womb begot about 12 to 13 languages. Another reputed researcher of Shina, Zubair Torwali opines that Shina has the distinction of being the mother of the Dardic languages of Northern Pakistan.

The Gilgit-Baltistan Manuscript (Lotus Sutra), historical documents which are yet to become readable, might add a wealth of knowledge about the region’s history, probably shedding light on the origin of the people and their languages.

According to a survey conducted by the Forum for Language Initiative, a lot of parents in Gilgit don’t prefer to speak Shina with their children, which is being reported as a dangerous trend. According to Amir Haider, in Kargil, Dras and Ladakh (areas occupied by India), Shina books are included in the syllabus with a great spadework having been done on Shina literature.

Gilgit-Baltistan also has a strong poetic tradition, spanning centuries. Some of the relatively recent famous poets of Shina in Gilgit-Baltistan are Professor Muhammad Amin Zia, Abdul Khaliq Taj,  Ghulam Naseer Al-ma’aroof Baba Chilasi, Rehmat Jan Malang, Fazlur Rehman Alamgir, Azizur Rehman Malangi, Jan Ali, Zafar Viqar Taj, Aqil Khan, Attaullah Asar, Nazir Hussain Nazir and Sher Khan Nagiri, among many others.

Azirur Rehman Malingi is the only poet having his own Diwan, or a compilation of his poetry, while two publications of the famed poet of the present times are said to be underway. Interestingly, his publication along with that of Syed Asad Hassan – an alumnus of KIU, along with that of the former was publicized by the varsity. Though the latter contains singularly environmental poetry composed in Urdu with a book review on it titled ‘Environment – Plaintive Cry’, it is, nonetheless, a great addition to the ongoing literary activities in the region.  Ishtiaq Ahmad Yad is yet another emerging poet. His compositions in Urdu are note worthy which make a significant contribution in current literary atmosphere.

Reputed researcher Shakil Ahmad Shakil’s deserves accolades for his publications on Shina folklores ‘Dadi-e-Shilokeh-I and II’, thus making a significant addition to the existing literature of Shina language.

Likewise, a recent great scholarly effort and trailblazing literary work is Haji Shah Mirza (Bagrote) ’s translation of the Holy Qura’n into Shina language. This, indeed, makes an invaluable contribution to Shina literature in that no such effort has been made before. What is all the more significant is that he has employed chaste and unadulterated Shina throughout which is a great service in the context of resuscitating Shina in its original form and diction which needs be eulogized equitable and compatibly.

Great linguist Dr Tariq Rehman opines that from the platform of the Karakoram Writers Forum, Muhammad Amin Zia, S.M Namos and Abdul Khaliq Taj did the innovative work of forming Shina orthography by modifying Persian/Arabic alphabets. Renowned author and educationist Muhammad Amin Zia gets singled out as a trailblazing researcher of the Shina language who authored Shina grammar and Shina dictionary. Significantly, work on Shina folklores and folk songs and poetry has been hectically undertaken by native writers whilst a stupendous work by foreigners too, has been done. Topping them all is German scholar Professor  G. Budras. But nevertheless, all these striving appear to have been made on individual level.

Astore Valley remains in the vanguard in terms of literary activities. Late Wazir Muhammad Ashraf Khan(Alig.), deserves mention for his literary effort in English – perhaps first native. His prodigious output ‘The Hinterland of Asia’, though not in Shina,  is a laudable literary work. The denizens of Astore Mhuammad Zaher Sahar and Salman Paras have come out with Shina compositions but nevertheless, there has been no other significant literary work in Shina there in cumulative terms.

Indubitably, evolution of any language could fundamentally be premised upon an alphabetic but Shina has long been short of any definite alphabetical order. It has been written in Shahukhi Or Nasta’aleen. In this way, thousands of years old Shina language witnessed little or no research in it. Research efforts, however, started from 80s and onward. Pakistan’s official institutions came to play an important role.

According to famed linguist Dr Tariq Rehman, radio broadcast in Shina was first started from Radio Pakistan Rawalpindi in 1949, followed 30 years later by Radio Pakistan Gilgit, in 1979. In addition, Pakistan television has been telecasting Shina news bulletins. All the programmes are listened/watched by  people of GB settled in big cities of Pakistan in an enthusiastic demonstration of their love for their mother language as attested by ceaseless literary, musical functions held by them. Another notable progress is the formation of ‘Shina Literary Forum’ (SLF), also present on Twitter, which is engaged in promotion of the language by sharing information with a global audience. This, alongside the literary activities mentioned in the fore-going, will go long way in promoting and resuscitating Shina language in its original form and diction.

Balti Language

Balti is the second largest spoken language of Gilgit-Baltistan in terms of population. Batistan has the attribute of being called by the name of “Little Tibet”.

It is very much a fertile land in terms of literary activities with a considerable treasure of literature in Balti. This region comprises four administrative districts currently and 95 percent population of these speaks Balti. However, the nearest population of Skardu inhabiting Rondu area has about a dozen villages where people speak Shina.

Balti is the only language of Pakistan connected to the Tibetan, Chinese, group of languages. Its history dates back to thousands of years old Tibetan civilization. Western researcher Backstrom says, “Balti speaking people love their language so intensely and hence this language faces no danger of extinction whatsoever on that score.”

To famous researcher and intellectual Yousuf Hussainabadi, Balti alphabet called ‘Agay’ came to be formed somewhere in seventh century (between 632 to 652).  However, with the dawn of Islam and Islamic preachers and Sufis to this area after 1381, Persian and Arabic gained popularity and eventual precedence over ‘Agay’. In these circumstances, the latter was gradually elbowed out. Yet another reason for running into desuetude of ‘Agay’ was the adoption of Persian as official language by the ruling dynasties.

To be continued…

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