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Some Important Aspects of Kashmiri as a Language

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 In all other Indian languages that are Aryan in origin 'dvi' has been replaced by 'b' or 'bi' as in 'bahattar' (seventy-two) 'biyasi' (eighty-two) and so on.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 list.

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, n.

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 and votam.

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 this respect.

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]
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