The Nuristani languages (Pashto: نورستانی, nurestāni) are one of the three groups within the Indo-Iranian language family, alongside the much larger Indo-Aryan and Iranian groups. They have approximately 130,000 speakers primarily in eastern Afghanistan and a few adjacent valleys in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Chitral District, Pakistan. The region inhabited by the Nuristanis is located in the southern Hindukush mountains, and is drained by Alingar River in the west, Pech River in the center, and Landay Sin River and Kunar River in the east.
Many Nuristani languages are subject–object–verb (SOV), like most of the other Indo-Iranian languages adjacent to them, but distinct from the Dardic Kashmiri language for the apparent verb-second word order which is also notably used in most Germanic languages including Old English. The Nuristani languages were often confused with each other before concluding a third branch in Indo-Iranian, and also accounting many Burushaski loanwords present in Dardic.
- Askunu (Ashkun) 2,000 speakers
- Kamkata-viri (Bashgali, includes the dialects Kata-vari, Kamviri & Mumviri) 24,200 speakers
- Vasi-vari (Prasuni) 2,000 speakers
- Tregami (Gambiri) 1,000 speakers
- Waigali (Kalasha-ala) 2,000 speakers
- Zemiaki 500 speakers
The Nuristani languages were not described in the literature until the 19th century. The older name for the region was Kafiristan and the languages were termed Kafiri or Kafiristani, but the terms have been replaced by the present ones since the conversion of the region to Islam in 1896.
Nuristani languages are generally regarded as an independent group, as one of the three sub-groups of Indo-Iranian, following the studies of Georg Morgenstierne (1973, 1975). However, sometimes it is classified in the Dardic languages branch of the Indo-Iranian language family, while another theory characterized it as originally Iranian, but greatly influenced by the nearby Dardic languages.
The languages are spoken by tribal peoples in an extremely isolated mountainous region of the Hindukush, one that has never been subject to any real central authority in modern times. This area is located along the northeastern border of Afghanistan and adjacent portions of the northwest of present-day Pakistan. These languages have not received the attention Western linguists like to give them. Considering the very small number of peoples estimated to speak them, they must be considered endangered languages.
There are five Nuristani languages, each spoken in several dialects. Major dialects include Kata-vari, Kamviri, and Vai-ala. Most of the Nuristanis in Pakistan speak Kamviri. These are influenced by, and sometimes classified as, Dardic languages; but this is more of a geographical classification than a linguistic one.
The Norwegian linguist Georg Morgenstierne wrote that Chitral in Pakistan is the area of the greatest linguistic diversity in the world. Although Khowar is the predominant language of Chitral and northwestern Pakistan, more than ten other languages are spoken here. These include Kalasha-mun, Palula, Dameli, Gawar-Bati, Nuristani, Yidgha, Burushaski, Gujar, Wakhi, Kyrgyz, Persian and Pashto. Since many of these languages have no written form, they are usually written in an ad hoc Arabic alphabet.
- Decker, Kendall D. (1992) Languages of Chitral. Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan, 5. Islamabad: National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University and Summer Institute of Linguistics.
- Grjunberg, A. L. (1971): K dialektologii dardskich jazykov (glangali i zemiaki). Indijskaja i iranskaja filologija: Voprosy dialektologii. Moscow.
- Morgenstierne, Georg (1926) Report on a Linguistic Mission to Afghanistan. Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning, Serie C I-2. Oslo. ISBN 0-923891-09-9
- Jettmar, Karl (1985) Religions of the Hindu Kush ISBN 0-85668-163-6
- J. P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth, Thames and Hudson, 1989.
- James P. Mallory & Douglas Q. Adams, "Indo-Iranian Languages", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
- Strand, Richard F. "NURESTÂNI LANGUAGES" in Encyclopædia Iranica
- Reiko and Jun's Japanese Kalash Page
- Hindi/Urdu-English-Kalasha-Khowar-Nuristani-Pashtu Comparative Word List
- Richard Strand's Nuristân Site This site is the primary source on the linguistics and ethnography of Nuristân and neighboring regions, collected and analyzed over the last forty years by the leading scholar on Nuristân.