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Kashmiri Language : An Encyclopaedic Overview

Dr. B. K. Moza

The present day researches leave no doubts about the Indo-Aryan origin of Kashmiri language and its roots in Vedic Sanskrit. Despite inconclusive and contrary hypothesis, put forward by Grierson and subsequently also presumed to some extent by Suniti Kumar Chatterji, the original researches carried out by S.K. Toshkhani had unambiguously established the above contention that is now being upheld undisputedly. However, there have been, in between, many conflicting assumptions. These could be because of the fast expanding horizons of linguistics and its developments based on certain set parameters and specialized considerations, which led to some conflicting observations about the origin of this language. This became convenient to the political climate of Kashmir prevailing at that time and, therefore, reality remained disputed. However, the emerging intricacies required further detailed investigations linguistically and otherwise. And these have become an interesting area of research, from various points of view, for some time. During the intervening period, however, the origin of Kashmiri language, therefore, remained a grey area for drawing any definite conclusions. Separately, the up to date views of the recognized linguists and distinguished authorities on this subject, have been presented in this publication; many of these experts are, naturally, of Kashmiri origin. In this paper, courtesy the authorities of respective Encyclopaedia, very pertinent information as documented in these reference compendia are presented. These duly endorse the Indo-Aryan origin and Vedic connection of this language. What emerge of vital importance, in this connection are the views of some classical historians about the basis of Dardistan, Dardic languages and, as such, Kashmiri language. These, not having been mentioned by others with this historical detail, called for presentation of these independent and authoritative references as quoted below :

The New Encyclopaedia (1994, vol. 3, Pg. 884) throws light as follows, "Dardic languages also called Dard, Pisacha or Pisaca languages is a group of closely related Indo-Iranian languages, spoken in Pakistan, Kashmir and Afghanistan. They are often divided into three subgroups, Kafir or Western; Khowari or Central (spoken in the Chitral dist. of N.W Pakistan) and the Eastern group which includes Shina and Kashmiri (Some scholars use the term Dardic to refer only to the Eastern subgroup of languages and use the name Pisaca to refer to the group as a whole). The exact position of the Dardic languages within the Indo-Iranian languages' family has been a matter of dispute among scholars. Some scholars believe these languages to stem from an undifferentiated stage of Indo-Iranian; others believe the Eastern and Khowari groups to be Indo-Aryan with the Kafir sub-group being separate.

Kashmiri is the only Dardic language that has been used extensively for literary purposes. Except for Shina, the languages of the eastern sub-group have been radically changed by the influence of the Indo-Aryan languages spoken further south. The Dardic languages differ from the other Indo-Iranian languages in their sound systems and in the preservation of a number of words lost in India and Iran after the time of Vedic Sanskrit.

Dardistan : region inhabited by the so-called Dard peoples in the north of Pakistan and northern Kashmir. It includes Chitral, the upper reaches of the Panjkora river, the Kohistan (highland) of Swat and the upper portions of the Gilgit Agency. Mentioned by the classical historians Pliny the Elder, Ptolemy and Herodotus, the Dard (Daradae, Daradrae or Derdae) are said to be the people of Aryan origin who ascended the Indus Valley from the Punjab plains, reaching as far north as Chitral. They were converted to Islam in the 14th century and speak three distinct dialects of Gilgit; Khowari, Burushaski and Shina employing the Persian script in writing."

This Encyclopaedia refers to Kashmiri (1994, vol. 6, Pg. 756) as "language spoken in the vale of Kashmir and the surrounding hills, by origin it is a Dardic language but it has become predominantly Indo-Aryan in character, reflecting the history of the area, the Kashmiri vocabulary is mixed containing Dardic, Sanskrit, Panjabi and Persian elements. Religious differences are evident in vocabulary and choice of alphabet. Muslims employ Persian and Arabic words freely; they also use the Persian form of the alphabet to write Kashmiri, although the Persian alphabet is not truly suited to the task because it lacks symbols for the many Kashmiri vowel sounds. The majority of educated Kashmiris are Hindus; they favour words derived from Sanskrit and write Kashmiri in the Sarda alphabet a script of Indian origin. In printed books the Devnagri character is used."

The Encyclopaedia of Languages includes a detailed write up on Kashmiri language contributed by Prof. B.B. Kachru. This is not referred herein as there is a separate article included in this publication, contributed by Prof. Kachru, specially written for this publication, which throws light on this subject in detail.

M.B. Emeneau, documents in Collier's Encyclopaedia (1986, Vol 7, Pg 716) that, "Dardic  languages is a group of languages spoken in Kashmir and in the area to the north and north west as far as the Hindu Kush mountains in Afghanistan. The languages are subdivided into 1) the Kafir Group Bashgali, Waigali, Prasun, Ashkund, Klasha, Pahari, Diri and Tirahi. 2) Khowar and 3) the Dard language proper Shina, Kashmiri, Kohistani. With the exception of Kashmir they are spoken in very rugged, mountainous areas by small groups of people. Except for Kashmiri, comparatively little is known, in detail, about the languages of the group because of the inaccessibility of native speakers.

Early in this century Sir George Grierson, the editor of the Linguistic Survey of India, put forward the theory that the group was to be regarded as a third section of the Indo-Iranian subfamily coordinate with Indo-Aryan and Iranian. New material, however, was gathered in the 1920 by the Norwegian scholar George Morgenstierne. On the basis of this, he proved that all the languages show Indo features. Most of the features peculiar to the group on which Grierson had relied in forming his theory are what would be expected if these languages had descended from old Indo-Aryan dialects, closely akin to Vedic and had shared in the development, of the Middle Indo-Aryan dialects from which the other modern, pro-Aryan languages (Hindi, Marathi, etc) have descended. Never the less, the Kafir group retains traces of phonology which may put it outside both Iranian and Indo-Aryan as a third language group. The most plausible theory is that prior to the invasion of India by Indo-Aryan speakers, the ancestors of the Kafir tribes occupied their present area and their languages developed there independently except for heavy borrowings from both Indo-Aryan and Iranian."

Again the above mentioned learned scholar refers in this Encyclopaedia (1986, Vol. 13, Pgs. 758-9) that, "Kashmiri is a Dardic language of Indo-Aryan origin. The Dardic core of Kashmiri is a language which has descended from an old Indo-Aryan dialect closely related to Vedic without having shared in the middle Indo-Aryan (Prakrit) developments that have yielded the peculiarities of most of the modern Indo-Aryan languages (Hindi, Marathi etc.). One Dardic feature is the failure of some consonant clusters to simplify as in the Prakrit and the languages derived from them e.g., Kashmiri, treh, "three" contrasts with Hindi, tin (Sanskrit trim). For many centuries however, there has been a strong Sanskritic influence in Kashmir, whose Brahmins have been known for their Sanskrit learning; the Kashmiri language has borrowed many Sanskrit words so that it is now strongly, "Indianized".

In general Kashmiri grammar is very much like that of the other Indo-Aryan vernaculars. One peculiarity is the occurrence of three past participles (instead of one) from which past tenses are formed denoting recent past, remote past, and indefinite past.

Kashmiri shares with the other Dardic languages and with Lahnda and Sindhi the use of pronominal suffixes as subjects of certain verb forms and as objects and other oblique cases which with verbs in general e.g., "dim" "give it to me" and "wuchunam", "they will see me", "where-m and -am represent the first person. It seems that such forms are survivals of the enclitic pronouns of old Indo-Aryan. They have been lost in modern Indo-Aryan except in these languages which, are in contact with and influenced by the Iranian languages, all of, which show pronominal, suffix system of even greater complexity than those found in Kashmiri and its neighbours.

The Kashmiri Brahmins are famous for their devotion to Sanskrit literature and their production of Sanskrit works of importance. This literary activity has carried over into the composition of works in Kashmiri also, from the 14th century onwards. The earliest work is the collection of verses in praise of the God Siva (Shiva) by the poetess Lalla, the Lallawakyani. Numerous Hindi religious works have been composed down to the present day. There have also been Muslim works based on Persian models. A Sanskrit work of some interest is a grammar of Kashmiri, the Kasmira-sabdamvta, composed by Iswara Kaula at the end of the 19th century.

The Kashmiri language is written by Muslims in Persian characters, which are ill suited for the purpose since their rudimentary vowel-signs fail to represent the complicated Kashmiri vowel system. Hindus used the Sarda alphabet, the local characters related to the Devnagri alphabet of India."

The above details documented in and quoted from various Encyclopaedia and contributed by non-Kashmiri authors, provide independent, authoritative and present day view on the origin and subsequent developments of Kashmiri language. Reportedly, there is a lot of dis-information in circulation about the origin of this language. The purpose of giving above details, besides the objectives of bringing about awareness and awakening about the origin of Kashmiri language, is to arrest this misinformation and provide established facts on this subject. The historical genesis of "Dard" and such origin of the people speaking this language, being rooted in Aryan stock that had migrated from Panjab plains, further clarifies the controversies and establishes the Indo-Aryan and Vedic origin of Kashmiri language.

The author is Editor-in-Chief of the Vitasta, official organ of Kashmir Sabha, Kolkata.

[Mailing Address : 211 Park St., Kolkata-700017]

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