Prof. Braj B. Kachru
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Selected Topics
An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri

A Sociolinguistic Profile of Kashmiri


The research on the linguistic aspects of the Kashmiri language is very inadequate and fragmentary; therefore, a clear sociolinguistic profile of the language has not emerged as yet. There are several reasons for this lack of research on Kashmiri. Consider the following 1 observation (Kachru, 1969) [1],

The last two decades, especially after 1955, have been of substantial linguistic activity on the Indian sub-continent. A large number of Indic languages have been analyzed for the first time, and new analyses of many languages have been worked out following contemporary linguistic models. By and large, this linguistic interest has left Kashmiri and other Dardic languages untouched. There are two main reasons for this neglect of the Dardic languages. First, politically, the task is difficult since the Dardic language area spreads over three political boundaries and involves three countries (i.e. Afghanistan, sections of the western part of Pakistan, and the northern part of India). Second, geographically, the terrain is not easily accessible. Thus there continues to be a great shortage of reliable and detailed linguistic literature on the Dardic language family.
In the following pages, some basic information is presented which should be of interest as a background for the study of Kashmiri, to someone who is studying the language.

At present, the area-defined varieties of Kashmiri are very tentatively classified; and, for most of these, we do not have any descriptions or lexicons available (see Grierson,1915; and Kachru, 1969).

Area and Speakers

The Kashmiri language and its dialects are spoken by 1,959,115 people in the Valley of Kashmir and surrounding areas. The language area covers approximately 10,000 square miles in the Jammu and Kashmir State. [2] The natives of Kashmir call their land  and their language .  In Hindi-Urdu the terms  or   are used for the language.[3]


The question of the linguistic origin of Kashmiri, and its relation,on the one hand, to the Dardic group of languages and, on the other hand to the Indo-Aryan group of languages, continues to be discussed. The question was originally raised in a serious sense by Grierson. [4] He claimed that, linguistically, Kashmiri holds a peculiar position because it has some formal features which show its Dardic characteristics and many other features which it shares with the Indo-Aryan languages. There are basically the following two views on the origin of Kashmiri. The first view is that Kashmiri developed like other Indo-Aryan languages, (e.g., Hindi and Punjabi) out of the Indo-European family of languages and thus, may be considered a branch of Indo-Aryan. Chatterjee argues that

... Kashmiri, in spite of a Dardic substratum in it people and its speech, became a part of the Sanskritic culture-world of India. The Indo-Aryan Prakrits and Apabhramsa from the Midland and from Northern Panjab profoundly modified the Dardic bases of Kashmiri, so that one might say that the Kashmiri language is a result of a very large over-laying of a Dardic base with Indo-Aryan elements. [5]
The second view is that Kashmiri belongs to a separate group--within the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European--called the Dardic (or the  ) group of languages, the other two members of the group being Indo-Aryan and Iranian.  Grierson suggests that
 ... the   languages, which include the Shina-Khowar group, occupy a position intermediate between the Sanskritic languages of India proper and Eranian languages farther to their west. They thus possess many features that are common to them and to the Sanskritic languages. But they also possess features peculiar to themselves, and others in which they agree rather with languages of the Eranian family.... That language [Kashmiri] possesses nearly all the features that are peculiar to , and also those in which   agrees with Eranian. [6]
Three language groups are included in the Dardic family: the Kafiri Group, the Khowar Group, and the Dard Group. It is rather difficult to give the exact number of speakers of these three groups because political and geographical factors have made it impossible to secure any reliable figures.  Often the number of speakers and the name of a language varies from study to study. Traditionally, the above three groups have further been sub-classified according to the languages and/or dialects in each group. In three available studies [7], one finds extreme differences and confusions in both the names and number of languages listed under these three groups. These lists, according to Morgenstiern [8], are partially correct. Morgenstiern has also pointed out other inconsistencies pertaining to the names of languages and/or dialects as they appear in these studies.

Table Showing the Speakers of Dardic Languages [9]
Language (or Group)  Number of Speakers
Kifiri Group 1
Khowar Group 3
Shina 856
Brokpa 544
Chilasi 82
Gilgiti 76
Siraji 19,978
Bunjwali 550

Out of the languages of the Dardic Group, Kashmiri came under the direct influence of Sanskrit and later Prakrits, and much later under Persian and Arabic.

Dialects of Kashmiri

There has been no serious dialect research on Kashmiri. The outdated and rather tentative dialect classification of Kashmiri by Grierson continues to be used in current literature. Adopting the same framework, the dialects of Kashmiri may be grouped along two dimensions:   (a) those dialects which are area-defined, and (b) those dialects which are defined in terms of the user.

The list of area-defined dialects given in Grierson and in the Census of India 1961 are not identical. In the latter, the following dialects are listed: Bunjwali (550); Kishtwari (11,633); Poguli (9,508); Shiraji-Kashmiri (19,978); Kaghani (152); and Kohistani (81).  Grierson, on the other hand, claims that Kashmiri has "only one true dialect--Kashtawari" and "a number of mixed dialects such as Poguli, Siraji of Doda and Rambani .... Farther east, over the greater part of the Riasi District of the State, there are more of these mixed dialects, about which nothing certain is known, except that the mixture is rather between Kashmiri and the Chibhali form of Lahanda." [10]

There has been no linguistically-oriented field work on the dialects of Kashmiri. The above classifications, determined by both Grierson and the Census of India, 1961, seem to be arbitrary and subjective. Perhaps further investigation may show that Kashtawari is the only dialect of Kashmiri,as is claimed by Grierson, and that the other varieties are (a) those based on the variations of village speech, (b) those based on Sanskrit and Persian/Arabic influences, and (c) those based on professions and occupations of speakers. In some studies, the above (b) have been termed the religious dialects of Kashmiri (i.e., Hindu Kashmiri and Muslim Kashmiri).

Geographical Dialects

In current literature, the following are generally treated as the area-defined dialects of Kashmiri:

1.  Kashtawari : This is spoken in the Valley of Kashtawar which lies on the southeast of Kashmir, on the upper Chinab River. It shows the deep influence of the Pahari and the Lahanda dialects, and is written in the Takri characters.
2.   Poguli : This is spoken in the valleys of Pogul, Paristan and Sar. These valleys lie to the west of Kashtawar and to the south of the Pir Pantsal (Panchal) range. Bailey has used the cover-term Poguli for the language of this area. It is mixed with the Pahari and Lahanda dialects.
3.   Siraji : This is spoken in the town of Doda on the River Chinab. Whether or not it is a dialect of Kashmiri is still debated. Grierson thinks that it can, with almost "equal correctness, be classed as a dialect of Kashmiri... because it possesses certain Dardic characteristics which are absent in Western Pahari. [11]
4. Rambani : This is spoken in a small area that lies between Srinagar and Jammu. It is a mixture of Siraji and Dogri, and shares features with both Kashmiri and Dogri.
In the literature, the Kashmiri Speech Community has traditionally been divided into the following area-defined dialects:
(a) mara:z (in the southern and southeastern region),
(b) kamra:z (in the northern and northwestern region), and
(c) yamra:z (in Srinagar and some of its surrounding areas).
On the basis of this grouping, it is believed that the Kashmiri spoken in the mara:z area is highly Sanskritized and the variety spoken in the kamra:z area has had a deep Dardic influence. Note that further research on the dialect situation of Kashmiri may show that, in addition to village dialects (and perhaps religious dialects), Kashtawari is the only dialect of Kashmiri outside of the valley, and that the other dialects discussed above are only partially influenced by Kashmiri, since they are spoken in transition zones.

Sanskritized and Persianized Dialects

In earlier and current literature, it has been claimed that in terms of the users there are two dialects of Kashmiri: Hindu Kashmiri, and Muslim Kashmiri [12] The evidence presented for this religious dichotomy is that Hindu Kashmiri has borrowings from Sanskrit sources, and Muslim Kashimri has borrowings from Persian (and Arabic) sources. It turns out that the situation is not as clear cut as has been presented by Grierson and Zinda Koul 'Masterji', for example. The religious dichotomy applies, to some extent, to Srinagar Kashmiri, but it presents an erroneous picture of the overall dialect situation of the language. We shall, therefore, use rather neutral terms, i.e., Sanskritized Kashmiri (SK) and Persianized Kashmiri (PK).

The differences at the phonetic/phonological levels between the two communities may be explained in terms of distribution and frequency of certain phonemes.  The sub-system of borrowed phonological features also is shared by the educated speakers of the two communities (e.g., /f/ and /q/). The other differences are mainly lexical and, in a very few cases, morphological. Lexically, SK has borrowed from Sanskrit sources and PK from Persian and Arabic sources. This aspect of Kashmiri, however, needs further research.

In village Kashmiri, the religion-marking phonetic/phonological and morphological features merge into one, though in Srinagar Kashmiri, as stated earlier, they mark the two communities as separate. In recent years, with the spread of education, the religious differences have been slowly disappearing. In earlier studies, the observations made on the religious dialects of Kashmiri are mainly based on lexical evidence, and  whatever phonetic/phonblogical evidence is presented is from Srinagar Kashmiri. Consider, for example, the sound alternations in the following section.


The following variations are, essentially, the substitution of different phonemes in individual lexical items. It seems that the two communities share one overall phonological system; In Srinagar Kashmiri   alternates with [r] in the speech of Muslims. This feature is again shared by both communities in village Kashmiri, (e.g., PK ; SK ). Note also, among others, the following differences:




The lexical variation between SK and PK is based on the sources of lexical items. In SK there is a high frequency of Sanskrit items, while in PK there are Persian and Arabic borrowings. On the other hand, a number of registers (e.g., legal or business) have a high frequency of Persio-Arabic borrowings that are shared by both the communities. Note that the dichotomy of SK and PK does not always hold with reference to the use of Sanskritized words by the Hindus and Persianized words by the Muslims. There are several examples where Muslims use SK and Hindus use PK, for example,   'moon' has a high frequency among Muslims. Consider the following two sets of lexical items.


The Persianized forms of these are given below.



The morphological differences are of two types: those which differ in the source (see above), and those which show the presence of an item in one community which is now absent in the speech of the other community.

Note, for example, that in PK hargah has been preserved as a conjunction, but in SK it is fast disappearing, at least in Srinagar SK. In Srinagar agar is used more frequently (this is a loan from Hindi-Urdu, Punjabi). This also applies to the item   (e.g., , 'I did not go there for this reason.') which is restricted to PK. The use of the following declensions is also restricted to Muslims in Srinagar Kashmiri, although it is shared by both communities in the villages:


Standard Kashmiri

It is customary to consider Kashmiri, as spoken in Srinagar, as the standard form of the language. The attitude-denoting such terms as   'village Kashmiri' and   'city Kashmiri' are frequently used to mark speakers.  The administrative and educational uses of Kashmiri are still very restricted.  Therefore, the process of standardization is very slow. In recent years, especially since 1947, Kashmiri has been used for various forms of creative writing. This has helped in developing various literary styles.

The Writing Systems of Kashmiri

The aim of this manual is not to introduce a learner to the writing system of Kashmiri. We have, therefore, used a modified version of the Roman script, with some diacritical marks added. There were several reasons for this decision.  The main reason is that there is no uniformity in the use of scripts for Kashmiri. In recent years, Kashmiri has been written in more than one script. The reasons for this lack of uniformity are both socio-religious and political. The following scripts are used for Kashmiri and some of its dialects.

The Sharda Script

Developed around the 10th century, this is the oldest script known to Kashmiris. It is now used for restricted purposes by a small group among the Kashmiri Pandit community (e.g., for religious purposes or horoscope writing). In formation, the symbols are different from the Devanagari symbols and every letter of the alphabet has a name.

The Devanagari Script

This was used by Kashmiri Hindus for writing Kashmiri literature until 1947, and is still in use today. It was made popular particularly by Zinda Koul 'Masterji' and S. K. Toshkhani.

The Persio-Arabic Script

This cuts across religious boundaries and is now used by both the Pandits and the Muslims. It has also been recognized as the official script for Kashmiri by the Jammu and Kashmir government.

The Roman Script

This, too, has been used by a very small number of Kashmiris (see J. L. Kaul, Kashmiri Lyrics).

The Takri Script

This is used in the Kashtawar area for Kashtawari.

Literary Tradition

In the Dardic group, Kashmiri is the only language which has a literary tradition. The earliest literary text of Kashmiri has been placed between 1200 and 1500 A.D. The tradition of literary writing, however, was not continuous, and there have been many significant interruptions. We may divide the history of Kashmiri literature, on the basis of the language features and content of the texts, into the following tentative periods: the Early Period (up to 1500 A.D.), the Early Middle Period (1500 to 1800 A.D.), the Late Middle Period (up to 1900 A.D.), the Modern Period (1900-1946), the Contemporary Period (1947- ).

Mahanaya-Prakasha, a work on Tantric worship, is considered to be the first extant manuscript written in the Sharda script (cf. 5.0.). Little is known about its author Sitikanta Acharya. Grierson assigns it to the 15th century, but Chatterji and some other scholars [13] are of the opinion that it was composed around the 13th century. Another work, Chumma-Sampradaya, is comprised of seventy-four verses belongs to the same period. The development of prose forms of literature (e.g., novels, short stories, drama) is very recent in Kashmiri. In this book we have written brief notes on five poets of Kashmiri. These include two poetesses, Lal Ded and Habba Khatun, and three poets, Zinda Koul 'Masterji', Gulam Ahmad 'Mahjoor', and Dina Nath 'Nadim'. We have also included some of their poems (see Lessons 46 through 50).

Influences on Kashmiri

In general, the languages of the Dardic-group show a large number of lexical items which have been preserved from Vedic Sanskrit and which are rarely found in other Indian languages. The Kashmiri language and literature had two major influences. First, the earliest phase of Kashmiri shows the impact of Sanskrit on Kashmiri. The second phase began after the invasions of the Muslims and the large scale conversion to Islam. This phase led to Persian (and Arabic) influences. The impact of the West on Kashmiri literature is recent.

in Kashmir

In the current language planning of Kashmir,  does not play an importatnt role. Kashmir is the only State of India in which a non-native language was introduced as the state language after the Independence. Thus, Kashmiri, which is the first language of 1,959,115 speakers, is not now in the language planning of the state. Though Kashmiri is the medium of instruction in the primary schools, the teachers have inadequate teaching materials and no motivation for teaching their own language. In this connection, the following observation continues to be true (see Kachru, 1969).

The University of Jammu and Kashmir has so far shown no interest in research in Kashmiri and/or other Dardic languages. One can count many reasons for this attitude (e.g., political, educational), but the main reason is the language-attitude of Kashmiris toward their own language. This attitude has developed over hundreds of years under varied foreign political and cultural domination and, in spite of the recent cultural upsurge, the attitude toward the language has not changed. Perhaps this is why the Government and other educational institutions [14] do not seriously consider under their academic domain.

Notes and References
1.    Braj B. Kachru, "Kashmiri and Other Dardic Languages" in Current Trends in Linguistics, Vol. 5, ed. Thomas A. Sebeok (The Hague: Mouton , 1969), p. 284.

2.    Registrar-General and Census Commissioner of India, Census of India, Vol. 1, Part 2, Language Tables (Delhi: 1965).

3.    In English a number of spellings have been used in literature for transliterating the word Kashmiri, e.g., Kaschemiri, Cashmiri, Cashmeeree, Kacmiri.

4.    For arguments in favor and against these two views, cf. G.A. Grierson, The Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. 8, Part 2, p. 235 and pp. 241-253; Sunitikumar Chatterji, Indo-Aryan and Hindi, 2nd edition (Calcutta: 1960), pp. 130-131; Languages and Literatures of Modern India (Calcutta: 1963, pp. 33-34; M.S. Namus, “Origin of Shina Language" in Pakistani Linguistics 1962, Lahore, pp. 55-60; Census of India 1961, pp. ccii-cciii; Braj B. Kachru, op. cit

5.   Sunitikamar Chatterji, Languages and Literatures of Modern India (Calcutta:   1963)., p. 256.

6.    G.A. Grierson, "The Linguistic Classification of Kashmiri", Indian Antiquary, XLIV, (1915).

7.    For sub-classifications of languages/dialects under these three groups see: "The Dardic branch or sub-branch of Indo-European" in the supplement "Languages of the World: Indo-European Fascicle One" of Anthropological Linguistics, Vol. 7, No. 8, Nov. 1965, pp. 284-294; Grierson, G.A., Linguistic Survey of India,Vol. 8, Part 2, p. 2; A. Mitra, Census of India, 1961, Vol. 1, an introductory note on classification by R.C. Nigam, Registrar General, India, (Delhi: 1964), pp. ccii, cciii, ccxxxiv, 216, and 401. The following review article based on the available published literature, presents the same sub-classification as given in the above studies: Braj B. Kachru, "Kashmiri and Other Dardic Languages", in Current Trends in Linguistics, Vol. 5, pp. 284-306. It seems that if Morgenstiern's observation is correct, then all the above mentioned studies are misleading. Kachru (op. cit.) has referred to this confusion in the available literature on the Dardic languages in his study. Note the following: "We do not have reliable figures even about the number of speakers of these languages. What is worse, in the available studies, there is no uniformity about the number and names of languages which are included under the Dardic group . (Ibid.,p. 286)

The following are some of the important studies on the Dardic group of languages (mainly on the Kafiri and Khowar).

S.A. Burnes "On the Siah-Posh Kafirs: with Specimens of their language and costume" , Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Vol. 7, (1838); G. Morgenstierne, "Indo-European K in Kafiri", NTS, Vol. 13 (1945); "The Personal Pronouns first and second plural in the Dardic and Kafir Languages", IL, Vol. V (1953); Ernest Trumpp, "On the Language of the So-called Kafirs of the Indian Caucasus", JRAS, Vol. 29 (1862), (also cf. ZDMG, Vol. 20, 1868).

G. Morgenstierne, "Some Features of Khowar Morphology", NTS, Vol 24 (1947); "Sanskrit Words in Khowar", in Felicitation Volume Presented to Professor Sripad Krishna Belvalkar , ed. S. Radhakrishnan, et. al. (Benaras: 1957); D.J.T. O'Brien, Grammar and Vocabulary of the Khowar Dialect (Chitrali), with Introductory Sketch of country and People (Lahore: 1895).

See also footnote 9 for Shina.

8.  In a personal communication dated June 1, 1970, Georg Morgenstierne, makes the following points about the classification of the Dardic group of languages:

a)   Wai-ala is identical with Waigali of which Zhonjigali is a sub-dialect;
b)   Prasun is another name for Wasi-veri;
c)   the correct form [of Ashkund] is Ashkun;
d)   Dameli [not mentioned in any of the lists in above mentioned studies (see fn. 7)] "might possibly be included" among the languages in the Kafir group;
e)   "Gowar-bati, Pashai and Tirahi are not Kafir languages, and Lagman, Deghani (for Dehgani) are neither alternative names for Pashai as a whole, nor well-chosen names for the most important dialects of this extremely split-up language";
f)   Bashkarik belongs (together with Torwali and other dialects) to the Kohistani group, "at any rate in the generally accepted meaning of this term";
g)   Gujuri is not a Kafiri nor even a Dardic language; under Shina the archaic Phalura (in Chitral) should be mentioned.

In addition to this he has also made certain points about the Khowar group. This communication of Morgenstierne makes it clearer that we still do not have even a definitive or reliable classification of these languages. The three studies mentioned in fn. 7 are therefore to be taken as very tentative and in many cases misleading and incorrect.

9.   Cf. The Census of India, 1961 (Delhi: 1964), pp. ccii-cciii. Note that the Census Report makes it clear that "...the Kafir and Khowar groups of speakers have their main concentration outside the Indian territory ...".

10. The Linguistic Survey of  India, Vol. 8, Part 2, p. 233.

11.   Ibid., p. 433.

12.   Braj B. Kachru, op. cit.

13.   Sunitikumar Chatterji, Languages and Literatures of Modern India (Calcutta:   1963), pp. 258-259.

14.  Kachru, op. cit., p. 300.

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