Languages of Pakistan
|Languages of Pakistan|
|Official language(s)||Urdu, English|
|Main language(s)||Punjabi (44%), Pashto (15%), Sindhi (14%), Saraiki (10%), Urdu (7.6%) (understood & spoken by 90%), Balochi (3.6%)|
|Sign language(s)||Pakistan Sign Language|
|Common keyboard layout(s)||
|Part of a series on the|
Pakistan Monument, Islamabad
Languages of Pakistan include two official languages: Urdu and English. Urdu is also Pakistan's national language and lingua franca. The four major provincial languages are Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi and Balochi. Punjabi is the language of more than 50% of the population if Saraiki and Hindko are included in it. Other regional languages include Brahui, Kashmiri, Shina, Balti, Khowar, Burushaski, along with numerous other languages.
|Rank||Language||1998 census||1982 census||1961 census||1951 census|
Following are the major languages spoken in Pakistan. The percentage of Pakistanis who are native speakers of that language is also given.
|Language||2008 estimate||1998 census||Areas of Predominance|
National language: Urdu 
Urdu (اردو) is the national language (قومی زبان), lingua franca and one of two official languages of Pakistan (the other being English). Although only about 8% of Pakistanis speak it as their first language, it is spoken and understood as a second language by almost all Pakistanis. Its introduction as the lingua franca was encouraged by the British upon the capitulation and annexation of Sindh (1843) and Punjab (1849) with the subsequent ban on the use of Persian. The decision to make the language change was to institute a universal language throughout the then British Raj in South Asia as well as minimize the influence of Persia, Ottoman Empire, Afghanistan and Central Asia had on this transitional region. Urdu is a relatively new language in the contemporary sense but has undergone considerable modifications and development borrowing heavily on the traditions of older languages like Persian, Arabic, Turkish and local South Asian languages all of which can be found in its vocabulary. It began as a standardized register of Hindustani and in its spoken form. It is widely used, both formally and informally, for personal letters as well as public literature, in the literary sphere and in the popular media. It is a required subject of study in all primary and secondary schools. It is the first language of most Muhajirs (Muslim refugees who fled from different parts of India after independence of Pakistan in 1947), who form nearly 8% of Pakistan's population, and is an acquired language. As Pakistan's national language, Urdu has been promoted to promote national unity. It is written with a modified form of the Perso-Arabic alphabet, usually in Nastaliq script, and its basic Hindustani vocabulary has been enriched by words from Persian, Arabic, Turkic languages and English. Urdu has drawn inspiration from Persian literature and has now an enormous stock of words from that language. In recent years, the Urdu spoken in Pakistan has gradually been influenced by many of the native languages including Pashto, Punjabi and Sindhi in terms of intonation, as well as incorporating terminology from those languages. As such the language is constantly developing and has acquired a particularly "Pakistani" flavour to it distinguishing itself from that spoken in ancient times and in India. The first poetry in Urdu was by the Persian poet Amir Khusro (1253–1325) and the first Urdu book "Woh Majlis" was written in 1728; the first time the word "Urdu" was used was by Sirajuddin Ali Khan Arzoo in 1741. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb Alamgir (1658–1707) spoke Urdu (or Hindustani) fluently as did his descendants while his ancestors mostly spoke Persian and Turkish.
Provincial languages 
Punjabi (پنجابی) is spoken as a first language by more than 44% of Pakistanis, mostly in Punjab. The exact numbers of Punjabi speakers in Pakistan is difficult to ascertain since there are many dialects, such as Saraiki, which some regard as part of Punjabi and others regard as a separate language. When taking into account Hindko, Potwari, Pahari, Saraiki, Punjabi dialects are thus spoken by almost 60% of the population in Pakistan. The standard Punjabi dialect is from Lahore, Sialkot, Gujranwala and Sheikhupura districts of the Pakistani Punjab which was used by Waris Shah (1722–1798) in his famous book Heer Ranjha and is also nowadays the language of Punjabi literature and music.
Punjabi is descended from Prakrit in the Vedic period (1700 B.C.), Pali, Old Persian and Apabhramsha in the Ashoka period (273 B.C. - 232 B.C.) and Hindvi, Lahori and Multani in the Muslim period (711 A.D. - 1857 A.D.). Punjabi literature was principally spiritual in nature and has had a very rich oral tradition.
Pashto (پښتو) is spoken as a first language by 15.5% (c. 29 million) of Pakistanis, mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and in northern Balochistan as well as in ethnic Pashtun communities in the cities of Karachi, Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Lahore. Karachi is one of the biggest Pashto speaking city in the world although the Pashto speakers constitute only about 25% of the city's population. Pashto is also widely spoken in neighboring Afghanistan where it has official language status.
Pashto has rich written literary traditions as well as an oral tradition. There are two major dialect patterns within which the various individual dialects may be classified; these are Pakhto, which is the Northern (Peshawar) variety, and the softern Pashto spoken in the southern areas. Khushal Khan Khattak (1613–1689) and Rahman Baba (1633–1708) were famous poets in the Pashto language. In the last part of 20th century, Pakhto or Pashto has produced some great poets like Ghani Khan, Khatir Afridi and Amir Hamza Shinwari. They are not included in the overall percentage.
Sindhi (سنڌي) is spoken as a first language by 15.5% of Pakistanis, mostly in Sindh, parts of Balochistan, Southern Punjab and Balochistan. It has a rich literature and is taught in schools. It is an Indo-Aryan (Indo-European) language, derived from Sanskrit, and Arabic languages. The Arabs ruled Sindh for more than 150 years after Muhammad bin Qasim conquered it in 712 AD, remaining there for three years to set up Arab rule. Consequently, the social fabric of Sindh contains elements of Arabic society. Sindhi is spoken by over 53.4 million people in Pakistan and some 5.8 million in India as well as some 2.6 million in other parts of the world. It is the official language of Sindh province and is one of the scheduled languages officially recognized by the federal government in India. It is widely spoken in the Lasbela District of Balochistan (where the Lasi tribe speaks a dialect of Sindhi), many areas of the Naseerabad, Rahim Yar Khan and Dera Ghazi Khan districts in Sindh and Jafarabad districts of Balochistan, and by the Sindhi diaspora abroad. Sindhi language has six major dialects: Sireli, Vicholi, Lari, Thari, Lasi and Kachhi. It is written in the Arabic script with several additional letters to accommodate special sounds. The largest Sindhi-speaking cities are Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Shikarpur, Dadu, Jacobabad, Larkana and Nawabshah. Sindhi literature is also spiritual in nature. Shah Abdul Latif Bhita'i (1689–1752) is one of its greatest poets, and wrote Sassi Punnun and Umar Marvi, folk stories, in his famous book "Shah Jo Risalo".
Balochi (بلوچی) is spoken as a first language by about 4% of Pakistanis, mostly in Balochistan province. It is believed that the language was brought to its present location in a series of migrations from the Kurdistan region of northeastern Iraq and northwestern Iran. Rakshani is the major dialect group in terms of numbers. Sarhaddi is a sub-dialect of Rakshani. Other sub-dialects are Kalati (Qalati), Chagai-Kharani and Panjguri. Eastern Hill Balochi or Northern Balochi is very different from the rest. Balochi language is very close to the Persian itself. The name Balochi or Baluchi is not found before the 10th Century. Rakshani is the major dialect group in terms of numbers. Sarhaddi, is a sub dialect of Rakshani. Other sub - dialects are Qalati, Chagai Kharani, and Makrani. The Eastern Hill Balochi or Northern Balochi are distinct dialects. The Kethran language in North East Balochistan is also a variant of Balochi. It is one of the 9 distinguished languages of Pakistan. Since Balochi is a very poetic and rich language and has a certain degree of affinity to Persian and Urdu, Balochi poets tend to be very good poets in Urdu as well and Ata Shaad, Gul Khan Nasir and Noon Meem Danish are excellent examples of this.
Regional languages 
Life in Pakistan
Kashmiri (كأشُر) is an ancient Dardic language spoken in Azad Kashmir, Gilgit–Baltistan and Punjab provinces of Pakistan. There are over 2 million Kashmiri speakers in Pakistan. Most of the Kashmiris in Punjab province and Karachi are refugees and their descendents who fled Indian invasion and occupation of Kashmir in 1948.In 1919 George Abraham Grierson wrote that “Kashmiri is the only one of the Dardic languages that has a literature”. Kashmiri literature dates back to over 750 years, this is, more-or-less, the age of many a modern literature including modern English. Kashmiri retains several features of Old Indo-Aryan that have been lost in other Modern Indo-Aryan languages such as Urdu, Punjabi and Sindhi.
Brahui (براھوی) is a Dravidian language of central and east-central Balochistan. The language has been influenced by neighboring Balochi and to a lesser extent by Sindhi and Pashto. 1–1.5% of the Pakistani population has Brahui as their first language. It is one of the nine distinguished[clarification needed] languages of Pakistan.The Brahui people have traditionally been taken as a relict population, suggesting that Dravidian languages were formerly more widespread but were supplanted by the incoming Indo-Aryan languages. However, this idea has fallen out of favor; Brahui appears to have migrated to Balochistan from central India after 1000 CE, as evidenced by the absence of Avestan loanwords. The main Iranian contributor to Brahui vocabulary, Balochi, is a western Iranian language like Kurdish that moved to the area from the west only around 1000 CE.
Shina (شینا) (also known as Tshina) is a Dardic language spoken by a plurality of people in Gilgit–Baltistan of Pakistan. The valleys in which it is spoken include Astore, Chilas, Dareil, Tangeer, Gilgit, Ghizer, and a few parts of Kohistan. It is also spoken in Gurez, Drass, Kargil, Karkit Badgam and Ladakh valleys of Kashmir. There were 321,000 speakers of Gilgiti Shina in 1981. Current estimate is nearly 600,000 people.
Saraiki (سرائیکی) is spoken in southern Punjab,which comprises Multan, Lodhran, Bahawalpur,Bhakkar, Layyah, Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh and Rahim Yar Khan districts. It is also spoken by majority of population of Dera Ismail Khan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (خیبر پښتونخوا) province, kachi plain of Balochistan, northern parts of Sindh, and also spoken by few people in the cities of Hyderabad and Karachi. More than 17 million Saraiki live in Pakistan, and nearly 100 thousand Saraiki live in other countries specially India, UAE and Saudi Arab.
Hindko language (ہندکو) is known as the "language of the mountains." It is spoken in many dialects in the districts of Peshawar, Kohat, Nowshera, Swabi, Haripur, Abbottabad, Mansehra, Attock, Murree, the lower half of Neelum District and Muzafarabad District of Kashmir. Hindko is an ancient Indo-Aryan language spoken by Hindkowans in Pakistan. It is very similar to northern dialects of Punjabi. The language is spoken in the areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including Hazara), local people of Peshawar Punjab and Azad Kashmir by an estimated 2.2 to 4 million people.
Other languages 
English (official language) 
English is one of the official languages of Pakistan (the other being Urdu) and is widely used in the executive, legislative and judicial branches as well as to some extent in the officer ranks of Pakistan's armed forces. Pakistan's Constitution and laws are written in English. It is also widely used in schools, colleges and universities as a medium of instruction. Amongst the more educated social circles of Pakistan, English is seen as the language of upward mobility and its use is becoming more prevalent in upper social circles often spoken alongside native Pakistani languages.
Arabic (religious language) 
Arabic (عربي) is the religious language of Muslims. The Quran, Sunnah, Hadith and Muslim theology is taught in Arabic with Urdu translation. The Pakistani diaspora living in the Middle East has further increased the number of people who can speak Arabic in Pakistan. Arabic is taught as a religious language in mosques, schools, colleges, universities and madrassahs. A majority of Pakistan's Muslim population has had some form of formal or informal education in the reading, writing and pronunciation of the Arabic language as part of their religious education.
Persian (فارسی) was the language of Muslims in South Asia before the advent of the British and was the official and cultural language of the Mughal Empire. Persian was officially abolished from the region with the arrival of the British: in Sindh in 1843 and in Punjab in 1849 to minimize the influence of the Mughal Empire. It is still spoken and understood by a few in Pakistan as a literary language. Many Persian speaking refugees from Afghanistan have settled in Pakistan permanently.
Turkic languages (cultural language) 
Turkic (ترک) languages were used by the ruling Turco-Mongols (or Mughals) and earlier Sultans of India many of whom have settled in Pakistan. There are pockets of Turkic speakers found throughout the country, notably in the valleys in the countries northern regions which lie adjacent to Central Asia, western Pakistani region of Waziristan principally around Kanigoram where the Burki tribe dwells and in Pakistan's urban centres of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad. The autobiography of Mughal emperor Babur, Tuzk Babari was also written in Turkish. After returning from exile in Safavid Persia in 1555, Mughal emperor Humayun introduced Persian language and culture in court and government. The Chaghatai language, in which Babur had written his memoirs, disappeared almost entirely from the culture of the courtly elite, and Mughal emperor Akbar could not speak it. Later in life, Humayun himself is said to have spoken in Persian verse more often than not.
Minor languages 
Other languages spoken by linguistic minorities include the languages listed below, with speakers ranging from a few hundred to tens of thousands. A few are highly endangered languages that may soon have no speakers at all.
Most of the languages of Pakistan belong to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. They are divided between two major groups: Indo-Aryan (the majority, including Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Hindko, and Saraiki, among others), and Iranian (including Pashto, Persian, Balochi, and Khowar, among others).
Some of the important languages in the Indo-Aryan group are dialect continuums. One of these is Lahnda, and includes Western Panjabi (but not the Panjabi of India and Pakistan), Northern Hindko, Southern Hindko, Khetrani, Saraiki, and Pahari-Potwari, plus two more languages outside of Pakistan. The other is Marwari, and includes Marwari of Pakistan and several languages of India (Dhundari, Marwari, Merwari, Mewari, and Shekhawati). A third is Rajasthani, and consists of Bagri, Gujari in Pakistan and several others in India: Gade Lohar, Harauti (Hadothi), Malvi, and Wagdi.
There are several dialects continuums in the Iranian group as well: Balochi, which includes Eastern, Western and Southern Balochi; Pashtun, and includes Northern, Central, and Southern Pashto; and Persian, which includes Western Farsi in Iran and Eastern Farsi in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Three of the languages of Pakistan are not part of the Indo-European language family:
- Brahui (spoken in central Balochistan province) is a Dravidian language. Its vocabulary has been significantly influenced by Balochi. It has been suggested, with evidence, to be linked to the ancient Indus valley civilization, but oral history and linguistic evidence indicates that it is a fairly recent immigrant to the area from southeastern India
- The Balti dialect of Ladakhi (spoken in an area of southern Gilgit–Baltistan) is a Tibetan language of the Tibeto-Burman language family
- Burushaski (spoken in Hunza, Nagar, Yasin, and Ishkoman valleys in Gilgit–Baltistan) is a language isolate with no written script
Writing systems 
All languages of Pakistan are written in Nastaʿlīq, a modified Perso-Arabic script. The Mughal Empire used Persian as the court language during their rule over South Asia. During this time, Nastaʿlīq came into widespread use in South Asia. The influence remains to this day. In Pakistan, almost everything in Urdu is written in the script, concentrating the greater part of Nastaʿlīq usage in the world.
After the Islamic conquest of Persia, Iranians adopted the Perso-Arabic script and the art of Persian calligraphy flourished in Iran alongside other Islamic countries. Apparently, Mir Ali Tabrizi (14th century) developed Nastaʿlīq by combining two existing scripts of Nasḫ and Taʿlīq. Hence, it was originally called Nasḫ-Taʿlīq. Another theory holds that the name means "that which abrogated (naskh) Taʿlīq".
Taʿlīq script, in Arabic calligraphy, cursive style of lettering developed in Iran in the 10th century. It is thought to have been the creation of Ḥasan ibn Ḥusayn ʿAlī of Fars, but, because Khwājah ʿAbd al-Malik Buk made such vast improvements, the invention is often attributed to him. The rounded forms and exaggerated horizontal strokes that characterize the taʿlīq letters were derived primarily from the Riqāʿ script. The ornateness and sloping quality of the written line had roots in the Tawqīʿ script of Ibn Muqlah (died 940).
Sindhi adopted a variant of the Persian alphabet as well, in the 19th century. The script is used in Pakistan today. It has a total of 52 letters, augmenting the Persian with digraphs and eighteen new letters (ڄ ٺ ٽ ٿ ڀ ٻ ڙ ڍ ڊ ڏ ڌ ڇ ڃ ڦ ڻ ڱ ڳ ڪ) for sounds particular to Sindhi and other Indo-Aryan languages. Some letters that are distinguished in Arabic or Persian are homophones in Sindhi.
The Urdu alphabet is the right-to-left alphabet used for the Urdu language. It is a modification of the Persian alphabet, which is itself a derivative of the Arabic alphabet. With 38 letters, the Urdu alphabet is typically written in the calligraphic Nasta'liq script, whereas Arabic is more commonly in the Naskh style.
Usually, bare transliterations of Urdū into Roman letters, Roman Urdu, omit many phonemic elements that have no equivalent in English or other languages commonly written in the Latin script. The National Language Authority of Pakistan has developed a number of systems with specific notations to signify non-English sounds, but these can only be properly read by someone already familiar with Urdū, Persian or Arabic for letters such as ژ خ غ ط ص or ق and Hindi for letters such as ڑ.
See also 
- Statistics Division of the Government of Pakistan
- National Language Authority
- Demographics of Pakistan
- Pakistan Census
- Urdu/Hindi: an artificial divide : African heritage, Mesopotamian roots
- Bonds of Culture
- "Demographic divide". Zia Ur Rehman, a journalist and a researcher based in Karachi. thefridaytimes. July 15–21, 2011. Retrieved 2013-01-05.
- K.L. Kalla, The Literary Heritage of Kashmir, Mittal Publications, "... Kashmiri alone of all the modern Indian languages preserves the dvi (Kashmiri du) of Sanskrit, in numbers such as dusatath (Sanskrit dvisaptati), dunamat (Sanskrit dvanavatih) ..."
- (Mallory 1989)
- J. H. Elfenbein, A periplous of the ‘Brahui problem’, Studia Iranica vol. 16 (1987), pp. 215-233.
- HEC, Islamabad Pakistan.Letter No. 20-/R7D/09 -5243 Dated 20-01-2010.
- Gordon, Raymond (2005). "Languages of Pakistan". Retrieved 2009-03-17.
- ISO 639 code sets. Sil.org. Retrieved on 2011-01-14.
- ISO 639 code sets. Sil.org. Retrieved on 2011-01-14.
- Ethnologue report for language code: gda. Ethnologue.com. Retrieved on 2011-01-14.
- ISO 639 code sets. Sil.org. Retrieved on 2011-01-14.
- ISO 639 code sets. Sil.org. Retrieved on 2011-01-14.
- WALS – Sino-Tibetan. Wals.info. Retrieved on 2011-01-14