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VITASTA ANNUAL NUMBER: Volume XXXIV (2000-2001)

Kashmiri Language and its Dialects

Prof. Omkar N. Koul


1.1 Area and speakers

The Kashmiri language, variously spelled as Kaschemiri, Kacmiri, Kashmiri, Cashmiri, and Cashmeeree by European scholars, is called Ka:shur or ka:shir zaba:n by its native speakers. It is primarily spoken in the Kashmir valley of the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India, and also parts of Kashmir occupied by Pakistan. Kashmiri is also spoken in other parts of India, and in many other parts of the world by Kashmiri immigrants. The speech of the valley is divided into three groups, traditionally known as mara:z, spoken in the southern and southeastern region; kamra:z, spoken in the northern and northwestern region; and yamra:z, the dialect of Srinagar and its neighboring areas in the center. The variations in Kashmiri spoken in these areas are minor. Two other regional dialects of Kashmiri Kashtawari/Kishtawari and Poguli are spoken outside the valley. Siraji and Rambani, often listed as dialects of Kashmiri and also spoken outside the valley, are more akin to Dogri than Kashmiri (Koul and Schmidt 1984). The language spoken in the Srinagar area is regarded as standard and holds a prestigious position. It is widely used in literature and mass media. It is, however, neither the official language nor the medium of instruction in the state, except at the elementary level.

The state of Jammu and Kashmir is the northern most state of India. It is bordered by Pakistan in the west, China in the north, and Tibet in the east. It is divided into three provinces, namely, Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh, each with its own distinct geographic, ethnic, and linguistic boundaries. The Kashmir valley, popularly known as Vale of Kashmir, is separated from Ladakh in the northeast by the Zojila pass in the Himalayan ranges. Most of the Ladakhi people speak Ladakhi, which is of Tibetan origin. Jammu is situated in the south beyond the Pir Panjal range of the Himalayas. The major language of this region is Dogri, an Indo-Aryan language. Kashtawari is spoken in the Kashtawar valley of the Doda district, which borders on the southeast of Kashmir province. Poguli is spoken in Pogul and the Paristan valley, west of Kashtwar. The extreme northwest territory of the state, known as Gilgit, and a small area in the west are under dispute at present. The three main languages of the northwest territory are Shina which is closely related to Kashmiri; Balti, related to Tibetan and spoken in Baltistan; and Burushaski, which is spoken in Hunza in the northeast of Baltistan.

According to the 1981 census of India, the total number of Kashmiri speakers in the state of Jammu and Kashmir is 3,174,684, with the main concentration in the Kashmir valley.

1.2 Linguistic affinity

The linguistic affinity of Kashmiri with the Indo-Aryan (IA) family has not been easy to establish within the framework of traditional comparative method. This is not surprising in view of its several unique features, which differ from other IA languages such as Punjabi, Sindhi, and Hindi. These features encompass several aspects of linguistics, including phonetics, phonology, morphology, pronominal system syntax, and prosody, as first documented in detail in Grierson (1915). In Kashmiri, for example, one finds several features such as insertion of epethetic vowels, aspiration of the final unvoiced stops, absence of voiced aspirates and gemination, presence of an indefinite article ah three-way distinction in the pronominal system and also in the past tenses, which are unlike other IA languages. It is worth noting here that in spite of these differences the great bulk of Kashmiri vocabulary is of the IA/Sanskritic stock, regardless of the heavy borrowing from Persian. In his elaborate article "The Linguistic Classification of Kashmiri", Grierson concludes that :

"Kashmiri is a mixed language, having at its basis a language of the Dard group of the Pis'acha family allied to Shina. It has been powerfully influenced by Indian culture and literature and the greater part of the vocabulary is now of Indian origin and is allied to that of the Sanskritic Indo-Aryan languages of northern India. As, however, its basis, in other words, its phonetic system, its accidence, its syntax, its prosocy is Pis'acha, it must be classed as such, and not as a Sanskritic form of speech. (1915)

The word Pis'acha is later replaced by Grierson with Dardic, since the former has a derogatory connotation a cannibal demon in Indian mythology.

Grierson reiterates this classification in his Linguistic Survey of India (1919, 8,2:2). According to him. Aryan language branched into three distinct sister groups, with further subgroups as follows :  

The three Dardic subgroups include several languages and dialects. For example, the Kafir group, includes Bashgali, Wai-ala, Wasi-veri of Veron, Ashkund, and Kalasha-Pashai subgroup; the Kho-war, also called Chitrali, group includes a few dialects; and finally the Dard group, which includes Shina, Kohistani, and Kashmiri. It is significant to note that Kashmiri has been classified as a Dardic language.

Turner (1927), Bloch (1934), and some others have expressed their opposition to Grierson's three way classification of Aryan. Morgenstierne, however, was the first person to seriously challenge this classification. After years of research in Afghanistan and surrounding areas, he concluded that Aryan branched into only Indo-Aryan and Eranian. He denies the existance of Dardic as a third sister. He places Ka:firi, presently Nuristani, languages under Eranian, and Khowar and Dard group under Indo-Aryan. This is clearly seen in his article "Some Features of Khowar Morphology."

The Dardic languages, in contradistinction to the true Kafir group, are of pure IA origin and go back to a form of speech closely resembling Vedic. This state of affairs cannot be altered by the fact that Dardic has preserved many archaisms lost in latter IA languages, by the widespread loss of aspiration. (1947:6)

In "Dardic and Kafir Languages," Morgenstierne, reiterates his views :

"[Dardic] ... contain absolutely no features which cannot be derived from old IA. They have simply retained a number of striking archaisms, which had already disappeared in most Prakrit dialects. Thus for example the distinction between three sibilant phonemes (s, s' (sh), s), or the retention, in the western dialects, of ancient st, st. The loss of aspiration of voiced stops in some Dardic dialects is late, and in most of them at least some trace of aspiration has been preserved. There is not a single common feature distinguishing Dardic as a whole, from the rest of the IA languages, and the Dardic area itself is intersected by a network of isoglosses, often of historical interest as indicating ancient lines of communication as well as barriers.

Dardic is simply a convenient term to denote a bundle of aberrant IA hill languages, which in their relative isolation, accented by the invasion of Pathan tribes, have been in varying degrees sheltered against the expanding influences of IA Midland (Madhyadesh) innovations, being left free to develop on their own. (1961:138) [emphasis added]"

Morgenstierne's Dardic/IA hill group consists of six subgroups, which are listed here with our own simplified numbering and a few "remarks": (1) Kalasa, Khowar; (2) Dameli, Gawar-Bati, remnants of dialects similar to Gawar-Bati (however, see Kachru 1973:16; also 1981:4-5, fn. 8. Morgenstierne has reclassified this language with the Kafir group); (3) Pashai; (4) Bashkarik (Garwi/Gawri), Torwali, Maiya (Kohistani), Tirahi, etc.; (5) Sina, Phalura, Dumaki; and (6) Kashmiri, with Kashtawari as a true dialect and other dialects strongly influenced by Dogri.

This classification of Morgenstierne, which clearly identifies his Dardic group consisting of IA hill languages including Kashmiri as being a direct descendant of IA, has been taken as a departure point by Fussman (1972), Strand (1973), and some others with certain reservations and further clarifications. Fussman, for example, also warns that Dardic and Kafir languages are geographic, not linguistic, expressions :

"... c'est une statement geographique, non linguistique. Prise au pied de la lettre, elle laisserait croire que font partie des langues dardes toutes les langues parlees au Dardistan. Or le Bur. [Burshaski], du Hunza, N'ayant d'I-A que quelques rares mot empruntes au Sh. [Shina], n'est pas une langue darde. Inversement stricto sensu la denomination langue darde ne devrait pas s'appliquer au K. [Kashmiri] (1972: 2, 11)."

Strand (1973) agrees with Morgenstierne but has suggested a slightly revised classification. His work is mostly confined to Kafiri/Nuristani languages.

Returning to Kashmiri, though Morgenstierne has classified it as an IA language, the position of Suniti Kumar Chatterji, the famous Indian philologist, seems ambivalent :

"As a language, Kashmiri, at least in its basic stratum, belongs to the Dardic section of Aryan or Indo-Iranian. Possibly one section of the Aryans who came to India before 1000 B.C. and who spoke dialects very much like the languages of the Rig-Veda but with certain special characteristics (which later gave rise to the Dardic branch of Aryan) became established in the valley of Kashmir, and in the surrounding mountainous tracts; and very early, possibly from after the Vedic age, Brahminical Aryans with their Indo-Aryan "spoken" Sanskrit (and subsequently with the Prakrits) came and settled in Kashmir and other Himalayan areas .... In this way, Kashmir, in spite of a Dardic substratum in its people and its speech, became a part of the Sanskrit culture-world of India. The Indo-Aryan Prakrits and Apabhramsha from the Midland and from Northern Panjab profoundly modified the Dardic bases of Kashmiri, so that one might say that Kashmiri language is a result of a very large over laying of a Dardic base with Indo-Aryan elements. (Chatterji 1963 : 256)"

Schmidt (1981), and Koul and Schmidt (1984), represent the most recent work on Kashmiri, Shina, and their dialects. Their analyses are based on the comparison of phonology, morphology, syntax and vocabulary count, which previous scholars have used to define the so-called Dard group. Their findings confirm that both Shina and Kashmiri posses phonological and morphological features that characterize the so-called Dard group, (i.e., IA languages of the Dard area), though there are certain differences between the two. Shina, for exampe, has developed a tone system and has preserved a three-way contrast among sibilants. Kashmiri, in contrast, has developed a system of palatalized consonants. The most striking difference, according to these authors, is the occurence of verb-second order, which is peculiar only to Kashmiri and its dialect Kashtwari/Kishtwari. The Poguli dialect shows both verb-second and verb-final order in the root clause. Word-order facts about Poguli are also confirmed in Hook (1987).

It is worth nothing here that Zakharyin (1984), working within a quantitative typological framework, which is different from the comparative method, also concludes that Kashmiri belongs to the IA family. We will not go into the details of his analysis except to quote his remarks on the ergativity in Kashmiri and other IA languages:

"Among the Indo-European languages of the West India, Kashmiri is the one that concentrates to the greatest degree the characteristics of ergativoidness. Thus it is a kind of prototype for all ergativoid languages of the area. The Indo-European languages of the West demonstrate the mixed phrase of ergativoidness. Detailed analysis of each language allows to determine the degree of "verbalness" or "nominalness" in them. In this respect in Kashmiri the verbal features of ergativoidness are found to the maximum extent. Hindi and its dialects, specially those bordering Western Pahari (Bangaru, for example), represent the opposite prototype of a system with the greatest concentration of nominal features. While moving along the line of Kashmiri, Lahnda, Sindhi, Western Rajastani, Gujarati, Marathi, Western Hindi, and Eastern Punjabi dialects, we can easily observe the decrease of verbal features within the mixed type of ergativoidness and the increase of its nominal features. (1984 :43)"

In this connection, his earlier remarks in the same article are also worth noting :

".... the more we learn about the Dardic languages ... the more evident it becomes that G.A. Grierson might have been wrong to separate Kashmiri from the Indo-Aryan language stock, and that perhaps J. Block (1934) was right in stating that Kashmiri only primordially had been Dardic and later underwent a very heavy "Indo-Ayanization." (1984:29)"

At present, then, there is a clear consensus that Kashmiri belongs to the IA hill language family. What should be noted here first is that Kashmiri and the related hill languages are listed as Dardic in most linguistic literature even today, giving an impression that they form some sort of a separate branch from Indo-Aryan. Second, Kashmiri is the only language that has a rich literary tradition dating from the thirteenth century onward (see Kachru 1981 for details) and a great bulk of Sanskrit vocabulary that has yet to be explained. The problem in our judgment clearly borders on ethnolinguistics rather than pure linguistics.

1.3 Kashmiri grammars

Edgeworth (1841) and Leech (1844) represent the earliest attempts at recording the grammars and vocabulary of Kashmiri. Pandit Icvara Kaula's Kashmirashabdamrtam (A Kashmiri Grammar), written in Paninian style in Sanskrit in 1879 A.D. and published in 1898, is probably the first complete descriptive grammar of Kashmiri written by any scholar. The book contains chapters on the rules of sandhi, declension of nouns, pronouns, substantive and adjective, varieties of the vocative case, concordance and composition of nouns, formation of derived nouns, and adjectives, verbs, and their conjugation. The book was translated into English by Grierson in the form of essays in the pages of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal for the years 1896-98. At that time, Grierson also wrote an elaborate article on the Kashmiri vowel system and laid down the foundations for his transcription. These essays and articles form a valuable reference source for Kashmiri even today. In 1911, Grierson wrote the Standard Manual of the Kashmiri Language, which comprised grammar, a phrase book, and vocabulary. It was mostly meant for tourists wanting to learn Kashmiri. A brief description of the Kashmiri language is also found in his Linguistic Survey of India (vol. 8, part 2). Later Grierson compiled a four volume Kashmiri-English dictionary (1932) based on the material left by Icvara Kaula. Kachru (1969b) and Bhat (1980) represent more recent works on Kashmiri.

1.4 The contribution of the present grammar

Most of the studies on Kashmiri have concentrated on phonology and morphology. Unfortunately, the syntax of the language has received very little attention. For example, until recently, Kashmiri word order was supposed to be similar to English (see Grierson 1911). In reality, however, Kashmiri word order is more like Germanic and other verb-second languages. In the root clause, the finite verb may be preceded not only by the subject, as in English, but also by other clause constituents, as is the case in the verb-second languages, such as German, Dutch, and Icelandic, to name a few. Interestingly, the word order in Kashmiri differs even from these languages. For example, unlike German, Dutch and Icelandic, to name a few. Interestingly, the word order in Kashmiri differs even from these languages. For example, unlike German, Dutch and Icelandic, in Kashmiri, the clause constituents generally precede the wh-question words, shifting the verb to the third position. The constituents may also precede the verb in yes-no questions. In addition, the finite subordinate clauses show a remarkable symmetry with the root clause in all types of constructions. In this book, we have made every attempt to note the word-order variations in all aspects of the language root structures, question-word questions, imperatives, relative clauses, adverbials, and comparatives thus making extensive data available for the first time to scholars interested in comparative studies. We have also described in detail the distribution of pronominal suffixes/citics, the role of the reflexive possessive as the subject antecedent of the object self's mother loves John double case-marking in the possessive, extensive layering of causatives, and many other interesting and significant features of Kashmiri. Our book thus fills an important gap in Kashmiri grammar.

This work is primarily based on the standard dialect spoken in the Srinagar district of the Kashmir valley, where coauthor Omkar Nath Koul was a resident for many years. The data conform to the speech of many informants we know and have talked to. The vocabulary is a mixture of both Persianized and Sanskritized Kashmiri. No particular attempt is made to focus on these social differences.

1.5 Kashmiri script and transcription

Kashmiri is most commonly written in Perso-Arabic script with added diacritical marks to represent special Kashmiri sounds. It has been recognized as the official script by the Jammu and Kashmir Government. The old Sharada script, developed around tenth century, is mostly used for religious purposes by Kashmiri Pandits. The Devanagari script, with additional diacritics, is mostly used by Kashmiri Hindus for writing Kashmiri literature. The transcription scheme used in this volume is based on the one employed by Kachru (1974), Koul (1977, 1987), and Bhat (1987), and Bhat (1987) and is elaborated on in the chapter on phonology.

Finally, we must add that though at present Kashmir is in great political turmoil, we hope the turmoil will be over soon so that the scholars can once again visit Kashmir and pursue various aspects of this unique and fascinating language.

This is an excerpt from, "A Cognitive descriptive Grammar" by Kashi Wali and Omkar N. Koul, 1997. pgs. xiii xix

[Mailing Address : The author is Director : Central Institute of Indian Languages, Manas Gangotri, Mysore 700065]

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