Balti language

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Not to be confused with Baltic languages.
Balti in nastaliq.jpg
Native to Baltistan, Ladakh
Region Pakistan (Kashmir, Gilgit–Baltistan), Kargil, and small pockets in Karachi, Rawalpindi, Islamabad & Lahore
Ethnicity Balti people
Native speakers
290,000 (1992–2001)[1]
Urdu script and modified Tibetan script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bft
Glottolog balt1258[2]

The Balti language (Urdu: بلتی‎; Wylie: sbal ti skad, THL: Beltiké ) is a Tibetic language spoken in Baltistan division of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, and adjoining parts of Ladakh, India. It is quite different from Standard Tibetan. Many sounds of Old Tibetan that were lost in Standard Tibetan are retained in the Balti language. It also has a simple pitch accent system only in multisyllabic words[3] while Standard Tibetan has a complex and distinct pitch system that includes tone contour.

Balti is considered the oldest dialect of Tibetan. Based on Standard Tibetan, it has its own alphabet.


All people living in Baltistan may be referred to as Balti. The Greeks derived Byaltae from Tibetan: སྦལ་ཏིའི་Wylie: sbal-ti, which, in Tibetan, means "water gorge." The historian Ptolemy, also a general in the army of Alexander the Great, named the region "Byaltae" in his book.[citation needed] In fact, Baltistan is the Persian translation of Baltiyul, "the homeland of Balti." People of Balti ethnicity are settled on both banks of the river Indus from Kargil in the east to Haramosh in the west, and from Karakoram range in the north to Deosai plains in the south.

The Balti ethnicity is primarily Tibetan in origin, with some Dardic admixture. However, people migrated to this area in different periods of ancient times for different reasons, and after merging in the prevailing Tibetan society, they gave birth to a new civilisation. All the multiracial groups speak Balti language, which is a branch of Ancient Tibetan.

However in some rural areas, the Sheen people still speak the Shina language. To develop Balti, local intellectuals like Yusuf Hussain Abadi has worked on the language. He discovered the history and the script and revived the Tibetan script in Baltistan after six centuries (1980).

He wrote the book 'Balti Zabaan' in 1990, the first book on the language. Abadi did the translated the Quran into Balti in 1995. Later on, many people inspired by him, worked on Balti. Ghulam Hassan Lobsang wrote a book 'Balti Grammar' in both English and Urdu versions: "Balti Grammar" and "Balti English Grammar". The latter was published by Bern University Switzerland in 1995.

The Balti have a reputation for being very forbearing, cheerful and hospitable people. During the Rmakpon dynasty (from the 12th century to 1840), the Balti invaded Ladakh and Tibet in the east and Gilgit and Chitral many times, thus making these people acknowledge the martial abilities of the Balti.

The modern population of Baltistan is a heterogeneous mixture of ethnic groups. Tibetans form the principal ethnic group in the area accounting for 60 percent of the population. Outside Baltistan, there are several Balti communities located in Pakistan's urban and rural areas.


Tournadre (2005)[4] considers Balti, Ladakhi, and Purik to be distinct languages because they do not have mutual intelligibility. As a group, they are termed Ladakhi–Balti or Western Archaic Tibetan, as opposed to Western Innovative Tibetan languages, such as Spiti Bhoti.


The main is script for writing Balti is the Tibetan Balti script, but it is often written in the Persian script (especially within Pakistan). The language spoken by the entire population of Baltistan is called Balti, an archaic dialect of Tibetan.

The language spoken in Baltistan, generally known as Balti, was originally a Tibetan dialect.[citation needed] According to Professor Jampal Gyathso, a Chinese Scholar and expert in Epic of King Gesar and a Khampa (Tibetan) by origin, the present Balti language has all the linguistic characteristics and roots from the Tibetan language.[citation needed]

According to his initial survey Balti resembles the Kham dialect more than other Tibetan dialects of U and Thsang, Amdo, and others. He further suggests that either the first Tibetan settlers of Baltistan could be the Khambas or at least majority of the settlers were Khambas. The people of Baltistan, dubbed as "mini-Tibet," are related to the Tibetans, and their language is a branch of the Tibetan language, retaining many features of archaic Tibetan pronunciation. The missionary, orientalist and linguist Heinrich August Jäschke (1817–1883) classified Balti as one of the westernmost Tibetan dialects. In his Tibetan–English Dictionary, he defines it as "Bal (Balti), the most westerly of the districts in which the Tibetan language is spoken".

Many other scholars also are of the view that Balti is a Tibetan dialect and not a separate language from the Tibetan.

In 1985, Abadi added four new letters to the Tibetan script and seven new letters to the Persian script to adapt both of them according to the need of Balti language. Two of the four added letters now stand included in the Tibetan Unicode alphabet.

The Tibetan script had been in vogue in Baltistan until the last quarter of the 14th century, when the Baltis converted to Islam. Since then, Persian script replaced the Tibetan script, but the former had no letters for seven Balti sounds and was in vogue in spite of the fact that it was defective. Adding the seven new letters has now made it a complete script for Balti.

Recently, a number of Balti scholars and social activists have tried to promote the use of the Tibetan Balti script, Yige, with the aim of helping to preserve indigenous Balti and Ladakhi culture and ethnic identity. Following a request from this community, the September 2006 Tokyo meeting of ISO/IEC 10646 WG2 agreed to encode two characters which are invented by Abadi (U+0F6B TIBETAN LETTER KKA and TIBETAN U+0F6C LETTER RRA) in the ISO 10646 and Unicode standards in order to support rendering Urdu loanwords present in modern Balti using Yige script.

Like other Tibetan dialects, Balti had no script of its own until Tibetans created a script for their language, introducing it through Tibetan Lamas and other learned people. In 727, when King Khri Lde-gTsug-Brtan conquered Baltistan and annexed it to his state, the Tibetan script was formally introduced as the official script through government offices, religious books and rock inscriptions.

The famous mandala carving and the Tibetan inscription on a rock in village Manthal near Skardo town, which dates back to early 8th century, is one of the best examples of these efforts. Until then, there was no difference between the Tibetan dialects of Lhasa or central Tibet and Baltistan; therefore, the Baltis faced no problem in reciprocal communication and usage.

Before the invasion of Tibet in 727, the official language of both the Palola shahis and the clergy was Brahmi, brought into the area after the 4th legendary Buddhist Conference in Jalandhar. There are still many rock-inscriptions from the 5th and 6th centuries in the Brahmi script. The Tibetans spread their own script with all their zest and zeal. The Tibetan script remained in use among the Balti until the 16th century, when the Mullahs persuaded the Balti masses to use the Persian script for Balti. However, there was no endeavour to form fully corresponding Persian letters for Balti. Moreover, when the Rmakpon dynasty rose to its climax in the 16th century, it developed a strong political and cultural relationship with the Moghuls of India. The Balti language, including its script, lost its strongest patron. The Dogras of Jammu conquered Baltistan in 1840 and annexed it to their state. Since Pakistan gained control of the region in 1948, Urdu words have been introduced into local dialects and languages, including Balti.

In modem times, Balti has no native names or vocabulary for dozens of newly invented and introduced things; instead, Urdu and English words are being used in Balti.


Now, the Balti language or dialect is spoken in the whole of Baltistan, and it is said that Purki-dialect of Purig and Suru-Kartse valleys come into the Balti group linguistically. However, Balti is spoken by nearly 0.4 million people living in Baltistan and about 0.1 million Baltis who live in different cities of Pakistan and working abroad.


Balti has always been at a disadvantage. Its original Tibetan script was changed to a defective one based on Persian, which did not correspond with the letters and requirements of Balti[citation needed] Its folk literature is not yet available in written form but continues to be orally transmitted.

On the contrary, the Balti have been quite promising in the sense of literature in category, aptitude and profundity. Despite all the handicaps, the Balti language has retained many honorific words that are characteristic of Tibetan dialects and many other languages.

The first Balti grammar was written in Urdu by Ghulam Hassan Lobsang, a milestone for Balti. Below are a few examples:

Ordinary Balti Text Writing Honorific Ladakhi Meaning
Ata اتا Baba Aba Father
kho کھو kho - he
gashay گشے liakhmo liakhmo Beautiful
paynay پینے khumul painay Money
bila بلا Bila bilo Cat
su سُو su sou Who
Ano/Amo انو/امو Zizi Ama Mother
Kaka ککا Kacho Acho Brother (elder)
Bustring بُسترنگ Zung Nama Woman / Wife
Momo مومو Jangmocho Ajang Maternal uncle
Nene نےنے Nenecho Ane Aunt
Bu بُو Bucho Tugu Son
Fru فُرو Nono Busa Boy
Apo اپو Apocho Meme Grandfather
Api اپی Apicho Abi Grandmother
Ashe اشے Ashcho Singmo Sister (elder)
Zo زو bjes Zo Eat
Thung تُھونگ bjes Thung Drink
Ong اونگ Shokhs Yong Come
Song سونگ Shokhs Song Go
Zair زیر Kasal-byung Zer Speak/Say
Ngid tong نِت تونگ gزim tong Ngid tong Sleep (go to)
Lagpa لقپا Phyaq-laq/g Lagpa Hand/Arm
Khyang کھیانگ Yang/Yari-phyaqpo Khyorang You
Kangma کنگما gzok-po kang Leg


Though Balti has remained under adverse conditions, it has proved to be a very fertile language capable of creating several genres of folk and classical literature. No prose except proverbs (in hundreds) has been found, and some epics and sagas (such as those of King Kesar/Gesar, Rgyalucho-Lo-bZang and Rgyalu-Srasbu and some others), are in oral tradition. All other literature is in verse. Balti literature has adopted numerous Persian styles of verse and vocables which amplify the beauty and melody of its poetry.

Nearly all the languages and dialects of the mountain region in the north of Pakistan including Pashto, Khowar and Shina belong to the Indo-Aryan or Iranic language groups, but Balti belongs to the Tibetic branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages. As such, it has nothing in common with neighboring languages except some loanwords absorbed as a result of linguistic contact. Although Balti is, at the moment, cut off from its sister languages of Ladakh, they have 80–90% of nouns, pronouns, verbs and other literary and grammatical character in common.[citation needed] Balti and Bodhi of Ladakh can be termed as separate dialects, but not separate languages.

The major issue facing the development of Balti literature is its centuries-long isolation from Tibet, owing to political divisions and strong religious differences and even from its immediate neighbor Ladakh for the last 50 years. Separated from its linguistic kin, Balti is under pressure from more dominant languages such as Urdu. This is compounded by the lack of a suitable means of transcribing the language following the abandonment of its original Tibetan script. The Baltis do not have the awareness to revive their original script and there is no institution that could restore it and persuade the people to use it again. Even if the script is revived, it would need modification to express certain Urdu (and the various words of other languages through Urdu) phonemes that occur in common loanwords within Balti.

Balti literature may be categorised as under:

Rgya-glu: This can be categorised as a classical one in the folk-verses for its meaning or deepness. It contains romantic songs, elegies, advice, complaints, historical events, and the like.
Rtse-glu:This is a light type of poetry sung while dancing. In this kind of song, different topics and events of life, families and their social or cultural conditions, jokes, and the like are the subject matter.
Yurmi-glu: This is a song sung by the women while working or weeding in the fields. In such songs, women recollect their childhood, love and longing for her parents, pleasant or unpleasant experience or feelings about her husband or other relatives.
Ridagsi-glu: These are the songs composed in praise of mountain-goats of all sort. Some songs admire the beauty of wild-life, some depict motherhood in these animals for their kids and in some the poets lament the extinction of goats and sheep.
Bar-glu: Also called Deewan, this can be described as the medieval stage between the Rgya-glu and the modern poetry (glu). This type of poetry also involves romantic and other general experiences.
Glu: This can be described as the mGul-glu as it has only romantic feelings and flavour.
Hamd: This is the form of verses in praise of God.
Qaseeda: These are verses in praise of Muhammad and the twelve Imams, their family members according to Shia Islam.
Marsia: Versed elegy commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (the grandson of Muhammad, the third Imam) in Karbala, other Imams, and the like.
Noha: These are versed elegies sung with rhythm while the (Shiaite) mourners beat their chests. This category is also attributed to the martyrs of Karbala and other family members of Muhammad. For example:

تھونما زینب قتلگاہ عباس چھوزورکھا سھوکفامید
تھون نارے ستریمو لا تعزیم چی بیک پارگولا نین مہ مید

Bahr-e-Taweel: These verses are in long metre and consist of several stanzas of 9 to 14 lines. In this poetry, generally, the mortality of life and other similar topics are explored in a mystic way.
Goshwara: This is similar to the Persian or Urdu "Masnavi" Narrative couplets. Usually the dignity and illustrious personalities and deeds of Muhammad and the Imams are narrated.
Ghazal: These are the odes of love and romance exactly on the principles of Persian and Urdu Ghazal and Nazm.
Youq fangsay thalang paqzi na mandoq na mabour na
Na drolbi laming yani si soq fangse chi thobtook
Nasir Karmi
Sa-get-pi-glu: These are the songs praising or encouraging the farmers and agriculturists in modern time.
Milli-naghma: These are like Urdu Milli-naghmas.


It shares up to 90% of the vocabulary with the neighbouring Ladakhi as well as with Amdo and Kham dialect of northeastern Tibet.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Balti at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Balti". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ Sprigg, R. K. (1966). "Lepcha and Balti Tibetan: Tonal or Non-Tonal Languages?". Asia Major 12: 185–201. 
  4. ^ *N. Tournadre (2005) "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes." Lalies, 2005, n°25, p. 7–56 [1]


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