Some Important Aspects of Kashmiri as a
Prof. S. K. Toshakhani*
Unique, in some respects, is the place that
Kashmiri can claim among the modern Indo-Aryan languages. To a linguist, its
importance can hardly be exaggerated. It lies in the first instance, in its
antiquity which may well go back to the Vedic times if not to some period
earlier still and as such it bids fair to provide the key to many a problem that
at present battles the linguist and the indologist. This may sound a tall claim
but a little reflexion will show that it is not altogether ill-founded. Let us,
for instance take the statement Yodvai, meaning 'if', 'although'. The
corresponding word current in most modern Indian languages of Aryan origin is Yadi
but not Yodvai. Though both these are Sanskrit words the latter (Yodvai)
is archaic and is to be come across mainly in the language. The statement as it
occurs in the Vedas is Yad-u-vai which due to retroactive effect of u
on a naturally changes to Yodvai, the form in which it is current
in Kashmiri even today. Again, the Kashmir Van (un) 'to speak' is as old
as the Vedas but as such is not to be found in any modern Indian, or for the
matter of that, Indo-Iranian language. Nor are these stray cases. When we come
to minerals we find that Kashmiri alone of all the modern Indian languages
preserves the dvi (Kashmiri du) of Sanskrit in such numbers as dusatath
(Sanskrit dvisaptati), dunamat (Sanskrit dvanavatih) and so
on. In all other Indian languages that are Aryan in origin 'dvi' has been
replaced by 'b' or 'bi' as in 'bahattar' (seventy-two) 'biyasi'
(eighty-two) and so on. Yet the 'b' form too survives in the Kashmiri
words, 'beyi' (secondly or again) and 'ba'h' (twelve).
I have referred above to the possibility of Kashmiri dating back to a period
remoter than the Vedic. The two Kashmiri words 'rost' (excluding) and 'sost'
(including) correspond to Sanskrit 'rahit' and 'salit' expressions
that we come across in the same form even in the Vedas. Obviously 'rost'
and 'sost' are pre Vedic as the transition from 's' and 's' to 'h'
is admittedly a later incident. Now let us take the Kashmiri word 'pheran'
meaning a 'cloak', the kind of tunic worn by Kashmiris now or its predecessor.
This word is not to be found in just this form in any of the Indo-Iranian
languages. Yet strongly enough but for the elision of the initial vowel it
closely resembles the Greek word 'pheron' from which the English word
'apron' derives. It is argued by some well meaning people that the word 'pheron'
comes from the Sanskrit word 'paridhan', to which is also related the
Iranian or Persian word 'pairahan' (dress). One can further say in favour
of this view that a soft aspirated consonant changes often to 'h' in most
Indian languages. But that is exactly not the case with Kashmiri. In the latter
case the soft aspirated consonants change to corresponding unaspirated ones of
the same group. For example Sanskrit 'bhu bhav' to 'be, become' change to
'ho' 'have' in Hindi but in Kashmiri the word changes to 'bav' of
'yi bavi na' in Kashmiri to 'ya nahin ho ga' in Hindi. In the
course of ages a word must undergo phonetic changes but the Kashmiri 'pheran'
and the Greek 'epheron' resemble each other without any significant
change having taken place to show that either of them are direct descendants of
either Avestan or Vedic. Does it not stand to reason, therefore, that both the
Greeks and Kashmiris got the word direct from 'viros' the parent of all
Indo-European languages? In this connection it may not be out of plce to point
out that in some parts of Kashmir we have the word 'luna' corresponding
to the Latin word 'Luni' meaning 'moon' and occurring even in such English words
as 'lunar', 'lunatic' and so on. The few words that have been pointed out above
to show as having a bearing on the antiquity of Kashmir dating to a time remoter
than the 'Vedas' are only illustrative but by no means do these exhaust the
It is said on high authority that Kashmiri is of Dardic or Shina source.
Dardic or Shina are Aryan languages but the vocabulary of either while closely
related to Sanskrit is associated with that part of the latter on which the
modern Indo-Aryan languages do not draw to whereas on which Kashmiri in common
with other Indo-Aryan languages does depend. Let us, for example, take the
Kashmiri words 'poni' (base pani) and 'zal' both meaning water, 'danya'
(paddy) and 'gur' (horse). These correspond to the cognate words found in
other Indian languages as are derived from the Sanskrit words 'paniya', 'jala',
'dhanya' and 'ghotaka' having the same meanings respectively
whereas the Shina words for the same are related to the Sanskrit 'vari',
'bribi' and 'ashva' respectively. Nor does Shina share with
Kashmiri its umlaut or the matra-system. This is not the place to go in detail
into the question of the origin of Kashmiri. Suffice it to say that in 1940 the
present writer went all the way from Srinagar to Gilgit on his own to
investigate the problem and was convinced that Sir George Grierson's conclusion
about the relationship of Kashmiri to Shina or Dardic are not warranted, though
the geographical proximity of Dardic to Kashmiri speaking part of the Indian
sub-continent must have resulted in some exchange of words between the two.
Coming now to intonation and other factors of melody we find that the 'udatta',
'anudatta' and 'svarita', that is, the 'high', 'low'
and circumflex tones of the Vedic Hymns have their echo in the Kashmiri hymns as
chanted by women on the occasion of the Yagneopavit (sacred thread)
ceremony of Kashmiri Brahmans. No other modern Indo-Aryan language has preserved
these Vedic forms of intonation. The others have their classical and lighter
music. Nor is Kashmiri a stranger to such melodies either as is evident from the
classical setting of the metrical sayings of Lal Ded, the lilt of the lyrics in
Banasura Vadh by Avatar Bhatta of the 15th century and from the popular songs
sung in the 'rohv' (rof) and chakkar styles. Over and above such
melodies we have the Sufiana music borrowed and adopted from the neighbouring
countries. The phonology of Kashmiri is very interesting indeed. The laws that
govern the phenomenon of change of sounds in Kashmiri, as words are adopted from
other languages or as the inherited stock of them undergo transformation through
the ages, are very regular on the whole. The umlaut is more fully
developed than in the Indo-German languages of Europe of which it is said to be
a special feature. Not only do the vowels change but the consonants also conform
to bring about an assonance that is not only pleasant to the ear but also
irresistably regular so as to facilitate articulation. Such a phenomenon is not
something haphazard but depends on the demands of the organs of speech and
hearing due to the final matra-vowel in which all the components of a word
terminate. The vowels change from the upper to the lower set, the guttarals to
palatals and the dentals to dental fricatives depending on the terminal matra-vowel
or roughly on gender with a regularity and precision in correspondance that is
astounding. The hard unasperated and asperated consonants of the guttaral or
dental group change respectively to hard unasperated and asperated palatals or
dental fricatives as the case may be; similarly, the soft consonants. Thus k,kh,
g change to ch, chh, j and dental t, th, d, n to dental fricatives ts, tsh, z,
Examples, pok (ripe) gives way to pach, dokh (support) to dachh
and log (came into contact) to laj. Similarly tot (hot)
changes to tats, voth (he got up) to vatsh (she got up), dod
(he got burnt) to daz (she got burnt) and ton (thin) to tan
corresponding roughly to change of gender.
The inherited words from Sanskrit change their asperated sibilants to 'h' for
example sat (hundred) changes to hat, sak to hak (a pot
herb), the palatals d & t change to 'r', for example nad to nar
(ravine) and Bhattaraka to Bror (base, brar). The soft aspirated consonants
change to corresponding unaspirated ones e.g. 'gh' to 'g', 'jh' to 'j' 'b' to 'bh'
and 'dh' to 'd' as in the case of a change from ghonas (viper) to gunas,
jharjharita (worn out) to zazarit and 'dhana' (wealth) to 'dana'
and so on.
The short vowel 'u' changes to 'o' e.g. putra to potra or pothar
(a son), e to long 'i' as in the case of deva to div and so on.
The semi-vowels v and y are introduced to assist the articulation of 'u' and 'i'
short and long cf, insan (man) Isvara (God) being pronounced as yinsan
and yisvara and umed (hope) and uttam (highest) as vomed
Even when pronouncing Sanskrit or Persian, this tendency seems to prevail, 'vapo
putro mitro' is read 'vopo potro metro' and 'ta' al ullah
chi davlat daram imshab' is read as 'tal ollah chi dolath daram yimshab'
and so on.
The syntax of Kashmiri also is not without its special significance. The
sequence of words in a Kashmiri sentence is very much the same as in English.
For example, 'I went there' may be translated 'bo (I) gos (went) tot
(there) in Kashmiri.
The syntax of Persian agrees with that of Hindustani but differs from English
and Kashmiri. The above English sentence done into Persian and Hindustani will
run thus : Hindustani, 'main (I) vahan (there) gaya
(went)', Persian, 'man' (I) unja (there) raftam (went). In
another respect the formation of agglutinative verbs combining pronominal
subject and in themselves is very common. In fact such verbs are sentences
rather than words. For example 'dyut may' in Kashmiri 'dudamat' in
Persian both mean 'I gave it thee'. But the analytical forms are also there. The
vocables 'dyutmai' and 'dadamat' have their analytical substitutes
in the sentences 'mye dyut yi tse' (Kashmiri) and 'man in tura dadam'
(Persian) meaning 'I gave it thee' so that we can almost catch the two languages
developing from agglutinative to analytical forms.
Kashmir has been rightly called the first home of Sanskrit and the second
home of Persian. Both these languages have influenced Kashmiri very much. The
trend has sometimes been to over sanskritise it and at others to over persianise
it depending upon the religion, the times, the political atmosphere and such
other factors that might have contributed to condition different writers.
Fortunately some of the best writers of the present age are alive to the danger
that such tendencies pose to the extent of obliterating the very identity of
Kashmiri and may, therefore, be trusted to maintain some sort of a balance in
We have seen how there is reason to believe in the great antiquity of
Kashmiri, in its resemblance to Indian, Iranian and European languages in point
of characteristics peculiar to them. What does all this indicate? May it not be
that further research into the morphology, phonology and semantics of Kashmiri
will give one peep into much that is hidden to the view of the past of all
languages that are Aryan in origin ?
Note on transliteration of oriental words
[Only an accent mark has been introduced here and there to distinguish short
and long vowels. Nor have cerebrals been shown as distinct from dentals. The
exigencies of the printing press could not have been met otherwise.]
The author (late) Prof S. K. Toslikhani, has been one of the great
academicians Kashmir has produced. Besides being a renowned professor he was an
outstanding researcher and expert in linguistics.
[Reproduce from, "The Literary Heritage of Kashmir" 1985. edited
by K.L. Kalla, Delhi]