[lg policy] blog: (Pakistan): Khowar Language :
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Fri Jul 16 14:04:57 UTC 2010
Khowar Language :
The people of Chitral in north-western Pakistan are experiencing a
period of rapid and unprecedented change. For centuries they have
lived in relative isolation in their mountain kingdom but, dating from
their involuntary association with the British Empire (1895) and their
voluntary association with the new state of Pakistan (1947) and their
incorporation into the North-West Frontier Province (1969), they have
established ever more frequent and profound contacts with people from
other linguistic and cultural traditions.
The leaders of Chitral are rightly concerned that the process of
change in Chitrali society be managed wisely--so that the people will
benefit from what is good in the new but will also preserve what is
most precious in their own linguistic and cultural heritage
(Israr-ud-Din, 1990). Those leaders with whom my wife and I have had
the honour of becoming acquainted are most concerned about the
preservation and promotion of the Khowar language, the mother tongue
of the great majority of Chitralis and the second language of many
others in the district.
The purpose of this paper is to draw a broad sketch of the Khowar
language from a sociolinguistic perspective (Section 1) and to
highlight those factors which will affect its on-going vitality as a
spoken language and its chances of success as a developing literary
language (Section 2). It needs to be emphasized that this is only a
preliminary, qualitative study. It draws on library research,
observations of life in Chitral during various visits to the district
(1984-87) and conversations with Chitrali friends. However, it is
hoped that this paper will serve as a basis for future quantitative
studies conducted with the more precise tools of sociolinguistic
research now available.
1. Language Profile
The Khowar language has been given many names by those from outside
the Khowar-speaking community--including Khowari, Khawar, Chitrali,
Citrali, Chitrari, Arniya, Patu, Qashqari, and Kashkari (Grimes,
1988:574). 'Kashgari' (and its variants noted above) is the Pashto
name for a person from Chitral (Stahl, 1988:39) [Pashto is the
language of the Pathans, the dominant ethnic group of the North-West
Frontier Province.1; 'Patu' is the name by which the Kalash, a small
ethnic group in Lower Chitral, refer to Khowar-speakers
(Morgenstierne, 1936:661); 'Arniya' was the name given to the language
by Leitner who must have first encountered Khowar-speakers in the area
of Yasin (in western Gilgit Agency) known to the Shina-speaking
population as 'Arinah' (Grierson, 1919:112), and 'Chitrali' (and its
variants) obviously derives from the name of the district which, in
Khowar, is pronounced Chiltrar but which is usually pronounced
'Chitral' by Europeans and other outsiders (Ibid). However, 'Khowar',
which means 'the language mulberry handbags of the Kho (people)', is
the proper name.
There has been a small controversy in recent years concerning the most
appropriate way to spell 'Khowar' in Roman script. The problem is
that, in Asia, the 'kh' sequence has often been used as a digraph to
represent the velar fricative lxl--whereas, in 'Khowar', the
traditional Roman-script spelling of the name, the 'kh' represents an
aspirated, velar stop. As a result, some who are not well acquainted
with the language have been mispronouncing it xo'war. To add insult to
injury, xo'war is an actual word in the Khowar language which means
'the inferior one' or 'the poor one'. To avoid this unfortunate
mistake, some have been lobbying for a change of spelling to 'Kohwar'
and this change has been effected in several recent publications
(Inayatullah Faizi, 1989a). However, Inayatullah Faizi, the President
of Anjuman-e-Taraqqi Khowar, the Chitrali literary society, recently
informed us that the society has decided to retain the traditional
Roman-script spelling, 'Khowar',--perhaps, (although he did not say)
to avoid creating even more confusion.
Khowar is the principal language of the District of Chitral in the
North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan (see Map 1 and 1A). In upper
Chitral, the acknowledged homeland of the language (Morgenstierne,
1936:660), Khowar is spoken almost exclusively-- with the exception of
a small population of Wakhi-speakers in the upper reaches of the
Yarkhun valley. In Lower Chitral nine other languages are spoken by
relatively small groups of people (Dangarik, Dameli, Kalasha, Gujri,
Gawar Bati, Farsi, Kati, Yidgah and Pashto) (Israr-ud-Din, 1965:9 and
1990). Several of these small groups inhabit elevated side-valleys but
others have settlements in the main valley itself starting in the area
just south of Drosh and extending down-river to the Afghan border. In
fact, the Khowar-speaking area ends three or four miles south of Drosh
town in the vicinity of Kalkatak on the east side of the river and
Suwir on the west side of the river (see maps 2 and 3). Khowar is also
spoken in western Gilgit Agency, in Yasin and in the Ghizar River
Valley from the area of Gupis west to Shandur Pass, and in the Ushu
Valley of Kalam (primarily in the village of Mathiltan) in Swat
mulberry handbags District of the N.W.F.P. (Stahl, 1988:40) (see Map 2
Meillet (1952) claims that there are 6,956 speakers of Khowar in
India. This has not been confirmed.
Prof. Buddruss of Germany has also seen a paper "written in Russian by
a Soviet scholar, who has discovered a few Khowar-speakers in the
Soviet Pamirs" (1988:14,15). The Soviet scholar has published a list
of 130 words, mulberry handbags "most of them actually being good
Khowar" (Ibid) (exact location and number of speakers unknown).
Nyrop (1975:126) estimates that the number of Khos (Khowar-speakers)
in Chitral is about 110,000. However, a survey of Chitral conducted in
1983 by the District Council of Chitral with the help of The Community
Five Year Development Program places the total population of Chitral
at 215,701 (Survey, 1983:28). Prof. Israr-ud-Din, Chairman of the
Geography Dept. at the University of Peshawar and himself a Chitrali,
estimates that 90% of a total population of 200,000 are
Khowar-speakers (1984, personal communication). This would place the
total number of Khowar-speakers in Chitral somewhere between 180,000
We do not have any information concerning the number of
Khowar-speakers in Yasin and Ghizar of western Gilgit Agency but the
Wali of Swat (Barth, 1985:102) states that there are about 400 houses
in Kalam that speak Khowar. Presumably these 'houses' are occupied by
extended families of five to ten to fifteen members each. If one uses
a conservative figure of 7 members each, then the Khowar-speaking
population of Kalam may approach 3000.
Recognizing the gaps in the information that is available to us and
the difficulty of conducting an accurate census in the area, we,
nevertheless, estimate that the total number of Khowar-speakers in
Chitral, Gilgit and Swat is about 200,000.
Khowar is an Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Indo-Aryan (Indic) language
of the Northern India, Dardic, Chitral sub-group (Morgenstierne,
1961:138-39; Emeneau, 1966; Strand, 1973:302; Voegelin and Voegelin,
1965, 1977:165; Ruhlen, 1987:325).
The term 'Dardic' or 'Dard' comes from the writings of Herodotus who
"is the first author who refers to the country of the Dards, placing
it on the frontier of Kashmir and the vicinity of modern Afghanistan"
(Schmidt, n.d.:9). In its widest sense the region of Dardistan
includes "Gilgit, Astor, Hunza, Nager, and Chitral and Kafiristan"
However, concerning language classification, many scholars in the
field agree that 'Dardic' should be used in an areal, rather than a
phylogenetic sense (Strand, 1973:298). Schmidt says that the term
'Dardic' is ambiguous because "it is used to define both geographic
and linguistic regions, the boundaries of which do not correspond to
each other" (n.d.:9). In this opinion Strand, Schmidt et al are
following the lead of Morgenstierne who claimed that:
"The [non-Nuristani] languages ... contain absolutely no features
which cannot be derived from Old IA ... There is not a single common
feature distinguishing Dardic, as a whole, from the rest of the IA
languages ... Dardic is simply a convenient term to denote a bundle of
aberrant IA hill languages, which in their relative isolation ... have
been in a varying degree sheltered against the expanding influences of
IA Midland (Madhyadesa) innovations, being left to develop on their
Concerning the position of Khowar within this Dardic group of
languages, Sir George Grierson postulated that, "the whole tract
comprising the present Kafiristan (now Nuristan), Chitral and Gilgit
was once occupied by one homogeneous race, which was subsequently
split in two by a wedge of Kho invasion, representing members of a
different, but related, tribe coming from the north" (1919:133). He
based this hypothesis on the claim that "in some essential particulars
... it (Khowar) agrees rather with the Ghalchah languages to the
north" (=Iranian Pamir languages) and that "the Kafir languages are
much more nearly related to those of the Dard Group than either of
these groups mulberry handbags is to Kho-war" (Ibid).
However, Morgenstierne was unable to share Grierson's views on this
subject. Although he acknowledged "a strong influence upon Khowar from
the languages beyond the Hindu Kush", his own studies led him to the
firm conclusion that "the general structure of Khow. is ... purely
IA"--based on Khowar's preservation of several archaic features in its
phonology and particularly upon its preservation of the Old IA case
system almost intact (1947:6-8).
1.5 Linguistic features
The inventory of Khowar consonants and vowels is presented in (1) and
(2). (1) is a modification of a chart by Endresen and Kristiansen
(1981:233) and (2) has been borrowed from the same source without
change. The multi-graphs represent single segments and upper case
The reader will note that Khowar has a well-developed inventory of
obstruents including a complete series of RETROFLEX stops, affricates
and fricatives. In fact, Khowar has eight consonant phonemes
(highlighted in (1)) which are not found in Urdu, the national
language of Pakistan. This has led to some orthographic innovations
which will be discussed in Section 1.13.
In Morgenstierne's opinion, "the most striking feature of Khow. is its
remarkable inflectional archaisms" (1947:7). Whereas "in the great
majority of modern IA languages the ancient case system has been
radically reduced ... Khowar stands alone in retaining, in the
inflection of inanimate nouns, six of the seven Old IA cases"
Morgenstierne also commented on the successful blend of conservation
and adaptation which Khowar has achieved. He notes that, "Khowar ...
is characterized on the one hand by a tenacious preservation of
ancient IA. sounds, forms, and words, and on the other hand by the
existence of a remarkably large number of foreign elements"
Particularly numerous are the Iranian loanwords which Morgenstierne
divides roughly into the following groups (not, he cautions, always
clearly distinguishable) (Ibid):
I. Loanwords from (Modern) Persian. II. Loanwords from some Middle Ir.
language III. Loanwords from the Pamir dialects IV. Loanwords from
some undefinable or unknown Iranian source
Words borrowed from Pashto are "extremely rare in Kho." due to the
fact that "it is not till quite recently that the two languages have
come into contact, Kho. expanding towards the south and Pashto.
towards the north in the Kunar valley and Dir" (Morgenstierne,
In 1957 Morgenstierne published "a brief list of the Sanskritic
elements preserved, often in an astonishingly archaic form, in this
outpost of IA (84)." That 'brief list' contains five hundred entries
with their etymologies, "all the more interesting, because the great
majority of such words must be real tadbhavas, or at any rate ancient
tatsamas, since Chitral has been cut off from the main current of
Indian civilization for a long time" (Ibid).
It has been observed by several foreign investigators that there is
very little dialect variation in Khowar. Emily Lorimer writes that her
husband D. L. R. Lorimer "collected texts, notes, vocabulary, and all
the data for a scientific grammar (in Yasin, Gilgit Agency) to
supplement his considerable material from Chitral, noting how very
trivial were the differences between the two varieties of Khowar"
(Lorimer, 1939:19). [Lorimer's valuable collection of Khowar texts and
his Khowar Vocabulary (7000 entries), very little of which has been
published, were bequeathed to The School of Oriental and African
Studies, London (Endresen and Kristiansen, 1981:214).]
[1994 Addendum: A photocopy of Lorimer's Khowar Vocabulary, obtained
from SOAS by Don Gregson, is now in the possession of Ron and Gail
Trail and will be added to the SIL library in Islamabad. Photocopies
of Lorimer's Khowar texts can be obtained from SOAS upon request--and
for a price!]
Morgenstierne also came to the conclusion, early in his Khowar
studies, that dialect variation in the language was not very
significant (1926:69). The following is his most complete statement on
the subject, quoted here in its entirety (1932:50):
"On the whole there are no very pronounced dialectical variations
within Khow. Pronunciation may vary slightly, e.g. as regards the
vowels and the voiceless r (e.g. bort, boxt 'stone', sayurc, sayuc
'eagle'), and certain vulgarisms have developed in the bazaar language
of Chitral village; but there does not exist any well defined dialects
of the language, although it spreads over a territory much larger than
that inhabited by most of the neighbouring tribes.
"There are probably several reasons for this relative homogenity
(sic). As remarked above, the expansion of Khow. appears to have taken
place at a comparatively recent date. And there is still a good deal
of circulation among the Khos of different parts of Chitral. Nobles
receive new fiefs and settle on them, and serfs are moved from one
estate to another.
"The custom of assigning children to a foster-mother of a befriended
family living in another part of the state is common among the
nobility, and probably counter-acts the tendencies towards linguistic
differentiation. And, finally, Khowar, though not a written language,
enjoys a certain prestige. The Mehtar and his family, and many
Adamzadas or nobles, are proud of their sonorous language and
cultivate a distinct pronunciation, thus forming a - conservative
safeguard, retarding all changes. This is a factor which is not active
to the same extent with regard to other languages of the region."
Of course, the existence of a state structure with political
organization and an astute leadership is, in itself, an important
unifying factor--working for the preservation of the Khowar language,
protecting it from encroachments by neighbouring languages and even
giving it the strength to make gains at the expense of those languages
To these reasons for the homogeneity of Khowar we might add the
comment of Maula Nigah (personal communication), himself a member of a
noble family and a resident of Zondrangram in Upper Terich valley in
Upper Chitral, who said that it has been the custom in the past for
marriages to be arranged between families of distant villages (the
brides taking up residence in their husbands' villages). We failed to
ask whether this custom was peculiar to the upper strata of society
only but any circulation of brides would also, no doubt, tend to
counter-act the forces that create dialect variation.
Inayatullah Faizi, the President of Anjuman-e-Taraqqi Khowar, recently
published an article on the Different Dialects of Kohwar
(1989b:19-28). He states that "there is considerable difference of
dialects in various zones of the Kohwar speaking areas. People of each
zone claim that only their dialect is the original and correct one.
Some times there are even bitter differences on this issue"
(Ibid:19,20). He defines six dialect zones (1. Chitral and Drosh, 2.
Torkhow and Mulkhow, 3. Biyar ("the main valley of Tehsil Mastuj
including Yarkhun"), 4. Lotkoh, Karimabad and Arkari, 5. Laspur and 6.
Ghizar, Yasin, Warashgum & Ishkomin) and compares fifty-three words or
phrases across the six zones.
Faizi's data and comments confirm Morgenstierne's and Lorimer's
observations that, in comparison with other languages in the region,
the dialect variations in Khowar are rather minor-- although they may
certainly be of significance to speakers of the language. Faizi's
study also supports the hypothesis that dialects of Khowar spoken
outside Chitral (i.e. Zone 6.) show the greatest signs of divergence
(and we assume that the same would be true in the Ushu valley of
Kalam, Swat). And concerning the situation inside Chitral, the study
also confirms verbal reports we have received that the dialects of
Khowar spoken in Lotkoh Tehsil (perhaps under the influence of Yidgah)
and in Laspur valley (between Mastuj and Shandur Pass) are the most
On the basis of the information provided above, it would be possible
to test the mutual intelligibility of these dialects using procedures
described by Casad (1974) and Blair (forthcoming). Our hypothesis is
that these tests would show a high degree of mutual intelligibility.
The 'domains' of a language, as defined by Joshua Fishman, are
"socio-culturally recognized spheres of activity" in which a language
is used (1965:72). More specifically, a domain is a "social nexus
which brings people together primarily for a cluster of purposes-...
and primarily for a certain set of role-relations" (emphasis his)
(Ibid:75). The following are the 'spheres of activity' in which Khowar
Khowar is the language of hearth and home. It is the language which
children learn from their parents and grandparents within the extended
family and through which they receive their informal education in the
customs, traditions, values and beliefs of Kho society.
As the language of the hearth, Khowar is also the language of the
heart. It is the medium through which sentiments of various kinds can
be most appropriately expressed--a fact to which the long, oral
tradition of romantic poetry bears eloquent witness.
Khowar is also the language of the village. It is the means by which
good-neighbourly relations are maintained and by which the leading men
of the village make decisions which effect the life of the
community--from the construction and maintenance of the irrigation
channels, to the establishing of water-sharing timetables, to the
settling of local disputes.
Arabic, of course, is the language of religion in Islam. The Qur'an is
written in Arabic, it is only authoritative in Arabic and should be
read in Arabic--if one wishes to derive the greatest benefit from it.
In Khowar-speaking communities, however, the local 'imam' or spiritual
leader will preach the Friday sermon in Khowar, interpreting and
applying quotations from the Qur'an.
The object of instruction in the schools is Urdu and English and
Arabic. The medium of instruction, however, is Khowar--at least in the
primary grades--because the children, through lack of opportunity, do
not know Urdu. Most of the teachers in Chitral District are
Khowar-speakers and are, therefore, able to assist their students with
explanations of their subjects in Khowar. At some point, however,
perhaps at the high school level (years 9 and 10) or at the
intermediate college level (years 11 and 12), lecturing in Urdu
begins. And at the B.A. (13 and 14) and M.A. (15 and 16) levels
English assumes an ever more important role.
Most villages have one or two small shops dealing in a variety of
essential commodities. The owners of these shops are almost invariably
Khowar-speaking and so business at a local level can be carried on in
the Khowar language.
Khowar is used in sporting events--polo matches, games of 'buDi dik'
(Chitrali cricket) or football (soccer).
Khowar is also used in social gatherings for interactive and
entertainment purposes. Traditionally, women have gathered on long,
dark winter nights to card and spin wool and to re-tell the old
'shilogh' (folk tales), and poets have held 'mushairas' to recite
their latest work.
Khowar's oral tradition is full of well-loved poems and songs, passed
down from generation to generation and sung to the accompaniment of a
variety of instruments--especially the 'sitar'. And with the advent of
tape recorders, a small business has sprung up in the sale of Khowar
audio cassettes featuring certain, well-known vocalists and
1.7.7 Language of wider communication
'For centuries Khowar has been the language of wider communication or
'lingua franca' in Chitral. Many of the speakers of the ten other
languages in Chitral have learned Khowar as a second language.
Morgenstierne estimated that Khowar "is probably understood to some
extent by every grown up man in the state" (1932:46).
In fact, in certain locations, among certain groups, there has been a
shift to Khowar from these other languages. Morgenstierne noted that,
"even at the present day the Khos are-expanding at- the expense of the
Kalashas in Lower Chitral and its side-valleys" (Ibid:47) and he drew
attention to some Kalasha-speaking, Muslim converts in a few villages
in the main valley near Drosh who would "ere long be assimilated by
the Khowar-speaking population" (Ibid:51). -Decker confirms that this
shift from Kalasha to Khowar has proceeded on a wide scale throughout
southern Chitral. Kalasha converts to Islam have deliberately made
this shift to Khowar to distance themselves from the (animistic)
Kalash religion (1990:7).
Decker also discovered that the Dangarik-speakers of the village of
Ghos, situated near Drosh, seem to be making an intentional shift to
Khowar by marrying Khowar-speaking wives. He interviewed some older,
educated boys who mulberry handbags felt that they "have no future use
for Dangarik" and who expressed a preference for Khowar-speaking wives
"so that their children would speak Khowar" (Ibid). They feel that
this will make it easier for their children to get an education
because most of the teachers in the schools are Khowar-speakers
The situation concerning small, village shops was discussed in Section
1.7.5 above. However, in Chitral town and Drosh there are large
bazaars where the patterns of language use are not quite so clear.
Chitralis own the majority of shops in Chitral and in Drosh but there
are also Pathan shopkeepers in both places. Some of these Pathans are
descendants of immigrants who came to Chitral from Dir district
several generations ago. They have learned to speak Khowar in order to
live and conduct business in Chitral.
Since 1979/80, however, a large number of Afghan refugees have set up
camps in Lower Chitral and some Afghan entrepreneurs have begun to
compete very successfully with local Chitrali and Pathan businesses.
These refugees speak Pashto and Farsi and a variety of other languages
and are probably not as accommodating to Khowar as the older Pathan
immigrants were. As a result, Khowar's traditional dominance in the
commercial life of the district may be adversely affected.
In the past, Khowar had an important role to play in the functioning
of government. Although it was not a written language, it was the
language of the royal family and was used "for all oral official
communications" (emphasis mine) (Morgenstierne, 1932:46). [Farsi was
used for all written purposes in government until 1952 (Sher Nawaz
The British did not seek to alter this situation when they became
involved in the affairs of the state. In fact, we understand that a
program was set up whereby an officer newly assigned to the state
could learn Khowar under the tutelage of a Khowar-speaker. If the
program was completed successfully, the student would receive a
stipend [The program is still in place but has apparently fallen into
In 1969, however, the royal family gave up their rule and the state
was incorporated as a District into the North-West Frontier Province.
Now the reins of power are in the hands of the Deputy Commissioner,
the Superintendent of Police, the Commander of the Chitral Scouts (the
local militia) and the officer in charge of the regular army unit
stationed in the area. These officers are all non-Chitralis--as a
matter of policy. Serving under them, at various levels within the
bureaucracy, are both Chitralis and non-Chitralis--with the proportion
of Chitralis increasing at the lower ranks. Government documents are
in Urdu and/or English. Khowar is, therefore, still of some use if one
is dealing with a Khowar-speaking officer, clerk, constable, etc. If
not, Pashto or Urdu or English must be employed. To gain the coveted
civil service posts, however, one must have a knowledge of Urdu and
1.8 Language attitudes and choice
As the discussion above indicates, Khowar has lost something of the
prominence it once enjoyed in Chitral. In the past, it met most, if
not all, of the linguistic needs of the Kho. In the last fifty years,
however, its role in government and administration has been severely
curtailed, its traditional dominance in the commercial life of the
district has been challenged and it has been given no place in the
modern institutions of formal education.
Therefore, for the first time in their long history, the Kho have been
faced with the necessity of learning other languages--to conduct
business with the government, to trade with outsiders, to get an
education, to obtain employment in the civil service and to advance
economically. However, the languages they choose to speak (e.g.
Pashto, Urdu or English) and the degree to which, and the purposes for
which they use them depend to a considerable extent on their attitudes
towards these languages (and their own).
Although Khowar's usefulness in certain spheres of activity has
declined, the attitude of the Kho toward their own language is still
quite positive. It is regarded as a sweet-sounding, melodious language
(as, indeed, it is), eminently suitable for poetic expression. The
older poems and songs are still recited and sung with pleasure and new
works are still being created.
Khowar also retains something of the aura and prestige of the former
princely state (see Section 1.6 above). Concerning the situation in
Gilgit, Emily Lorimer made the following observation (1939:19):
The 'Royal Families' of Yasin and Punial are descendants of the
Chitral Khushwaqts, who had conquered parts of the Agency two hundred
years ago. They retain their native language and have, to a certain
extent, imposed it as a second language on the upper strata of their
subjects. Throughout the Agency it is therefore regarded as a polite
language, meet for chiefs.
Chitralis, therefore, take quiet pride in their language (perhaps more
so in Upper Chitral than in Lower) and we have not observed any
instances of Chitralis switching to another language in the presence
of non-Chitralis through embarrassment or shame. There are also those
who are enthusiastically promoting Khowar as a language of literature.
However, there is also a general recognition that, in terms of higher
education and career advancement, Khowar is something of a 'dead-end
street'. The path to the future lies elsewhere.
Pashto (or pux'tu) is the language of the Pathans, the dominant ethnic
group of the North-West Frontier Province. They may number between
eight and ten million (Nyrop, 1975:84) and inhabit most of the
province--including Dir District, immediately to the east of Lowari
Pass. There are also Pathans living in the area south of Drosh in
Chitral and in the Kunar valley of Afghanistan. [The Chitral river
becomes the Kunar river at the point where it flows out of Pakistani
territory into Afghanistan.] One might expect, therefore, that Pashto
would be a natural choice as a second language for many Chitralis.
Chitralis, however, seem to have a general dislike for Pathans and
their language. Several Chitralis have told us that Pashto sounds like
a stone rattling around in a tin can. Perhaps more to the point, they
regard Pathans as an uncivilized, uncouth, and violent people
(blood-feuding, which is endemic in the Pathan tribal territories, has
not been a factor in Chitrali society). This view was once graphically
illustrated for us when we were discussing the cover design of a
booklet with a Chitrali friend. He suggested that the image of a
mosque and an open book be superimposed on an outline map of
Chitral--with guns juxtaposed to the right and left (east and
west)--symbolic of the fact that Chitral is a land of peace and
civility and faith surrounded by barbarians.
Chitrali students who attend the University of Peshawar in the
provincial capital have ample opportunity to mingle with Pathans and,
as a result, may gain some proficiency in the language. However, a
Chitrali graduate employed in the Post Office informed us that he (and
his Chitrali fellow-employees) prefer to speak in Urdu with Pathan
customers unless the customer is monolingual in Pashto and there is no
Another Chitrali friend from Drosh, whose mother is a Pathan and who
speaks Pashto fluently, told us that, when he visits Peshawar, he
prefers to attend a mosque on Friday where the sermon in delivered in
Urdu, not Pashto.
However, we suspect that, in spite of this apparent preference for
Urdu as a second language, Chitrali men who find employment, either on
a permanent or seasonal basis, in Peshawar or other parts of the
N.W.F.P., working with or for Pathans, actually learn Pashto and
become reasonably fluent in it. This would certainly be true of
Chitralis who have brought their wives to Peshawar and have lived
there for many years.
The attitude of Chitralis towards Urdu is positive. It is the language
which has been associated with the Muslim population of the
sub-continent for many centuries and it has a rich literary tradition.
It is regarded (we believe) as a pleasant and elegant language--easier
to learn than Pashto and certainly easier than English. It is also a
language of higher education (Pashto is not) and is the language of
wider communication in Pakistan.
English is a foreign language -- to Chitral and to the subcontinent.
It is written in a different script and has a difficult spelling
system, vocabulary and grammar. It is, however, an international
language with great prestige and it has maintained its prominence in
Pakistan as the (unofficial) language of government administration
(Nyrop, 1975:111) and as the premier language of higher education and
science and technology.
For these reasons, many Chitralis have a strong desire to learn
English and to have their children educated in English. Following the
nation-wide trend, several public (read private) schools have opened
in Chitral, two in Drosh, one in Ayun and two in Chitral town, where
English is taught and where the educational standards are advertised
to be higher than in the government schools. These schools are run as
businesses and charge tuition fees but parents who have the financial
means are willing to pay in the hope that their children will proceed
on to college and university and eventually obtain the choice civil
1.9 Multilingualism & polyglossia
The changes which have occurred in Chitral and the language choices
which Chitralis now face have given rise to a new Kho society
characterized by multilingualism and polyglossia.
Multilingualism refers to the ability of a person or a group of people
to comprehend and speak more than one language (Fasold, 1984:40).
Chitralis, of course, have always lived in a multilingual
environment--sharing, as they do, their rather confined mountain
valley with speakers of ten other languages. In the past, however, it
was not necessary for Chitralis to learn these other languages. They
were the masters of their own house; the weaker neighbours had to
learn Khowar. Now, however, for the various reasons described above,
Chitralis are forced to learn other languages. These languages fulfill
certain specific functions, a situation referred to as 'polyglossia'
(Ibid:40,48-50) and illustrated in (3) below:
(3) Linear polyglossia for the Kho of Chitral:
Pashto (?) M
(H=high, M=medium, L=low, R=register)
Khowar-R1, -R2 and -R3 are three 'registers' or variations of Khowar.
Khowar-R3 is the local dialect of Khowar which a Chitrali learns in
his home and village. It is characterized by a distinct pronunciation
and certain vocabulary items and colloquialisms peculiar to that area.
Khowar-R2 (we speculate) is a somewhat more restrained,
de-colloquialized version of Khowar used by Chitralis who interact
frequently with speakers from other dialect zones. Khowar-R1 is
'academic' Khowar used by the highly educated in certain settings and
characterized by 'code-mixing' (Fasold, 1984:180), the inclusion of
Urdu and English words and phrases in Khowar.
Above Khowar is Pashto, in a somewhat ambivalent position for reasons
described above, but which may be needed for business purposes or for
employment, and Urdu and English, for government and higher education,
and Arabic for religion. Only a highly educated Chitrali would
participate in this system of linear polyglossia fully; others to a
greater or lesser degree depending on their level of education and how
much time they have spent outside Chitral. The vast majority of
Chitrali ladies would be monolingual in Khowar-R3, the local dialect,
but would also have learned to "read" (that is, pronounce or sound out
the words of) the Qur'an in Arabic.
Multilingualism among the Kho is an area of study which is obviously
ripe for investigation using the quantitative testing techniques
described by Blair (forthcoming). The object of the tests would be to
determine what proportion of Khowar-speakers (by age and sex) speak
what languages with what degree of fluency. In Chitral the languages
to test would be Pashto and Urdu. In Ushu valley of Kalam, Garwa would
have to be added to the list. In Gilgit Agency the languages to test
would be Shina and Urdu and, perhaps, Werchikwar (the dialect of
Burushaski spoken by the indigenous population of Yasin). Because very
few Chitralis speak English, we assume that it would not be worthwhile
to include it in the testing.
1.10 Language policy (Government)
Urdu is the language which has been associated with Muslim government
and scholarship in the sub-continent since the days of the Mughal
emperors. Consequently, when the new state of Pakistan was formed in
1947 as a homeland for the Muslims of British India, Urdu was chosen
as the national language--even though it is not indigenous to the
territory of Pakistan and is the mother tongue of only about 8% of the
population (Nyrop, 1975:111)
The promotion of Urdu as the national language has not proceeded
without difficulty. On the one hand, it has faced stiff competition
from English which was inherited from 'British India as the language
of government administration and which is jealously guarded as a tool
of power and privilege by the civil and military elite. On the other
hand, it faces competition from the other 'national' languages of
Pakistan, Panjabi, Sindhi, Baluchi and Pashto. Opposition to Urdu has
been particularly intense among Sindhi nationalists and has led to
bloodshed in the past (Ibid:116).
The Constitution of 1973 states that Urdu is the national language but
that the provinces may teach and use other languages "in addition" to
Urdu and "without prejudice to the status of the national language".
It also states that "any section of citizens" may promote the use of
their own language, within the guidelines established for the use of
the national language (Ibid:117). [The Sind province and the N.W.F.P.
offer instruction in Sindhi and Pashto up to the university level
Although the promotion of regional or local languages is generally
seen as contrary to the interests of national unity, Khowar has
received some concessions from the government. In 1965 a fifteen
minute Khowar radio program commenced broadcasting from Peshawar on
Radio Pakistan (Sher Nawaz Naseem, 1987b). It has since expanded its
format to one hour and is broadcast daily. The program features
Chitrali music, poetry, stories, interviews, drama, etc. There is also
a brief, daily news broadcast in Khowar from the same station.
Furthermore, in 1968 the Border Publicity Organization in Peshawar
appointed a Chitrali, Gul Nawaz Khaki, as editor of the Khowar section
of a new monthly journal, Jamhoor-e-Islam (Sher Nawaz Naseem, 1987c).
At that time Jamhoor was primarily a Pashto publication. Eventually,
however, the journal was divided to create two separate journals, one
for Pashto and one for Khowar (Sher Nawaz Naseem, 1988).
Jamhoor-e-Islam Khowar is now published by the Press Information
Department in Peshawar. Its editor and assistant editor are both
Chitralis, based in Chitral and Peshawar respectively. Although the
journal is primarily designed to promote government policy, and
although it does contain some articles in Urdu, it also contains
articles, stories, poems, etc. in Khowar.
In recent years the provincial government of the N.W.F.P. has also
given a modest sum of money to Anjuman-e-Taraqqi Khowar, the Chitrali
literary society, to launch a program of publication of Khowar
1.11 Language development (non-government)
1.11.1 Promotion & publication
In 1956 Prince Hisam-ul-Mulk, the 'Father of modern Khowar',
established Anjuman-e-Taraggi-e-Chitral (the 'Society for the
Promotion of Chitral'). He organized 'mushairas' (poetry-readings) and
literary gatherings of various kinds and remained president of the
society until his death in 1977 (Sher Nawaz Naseem, 1988). [Yousaf
Shahzad (1989:32) places the foundation of Anjuman in 1957.]
More recently, the Society (now renamed Anjuman-e-Taraggi-e-Khowar)
has established links with the Academy of Letters and Lok Virsa (the
Folk Heritage Institute) in Islamabad and has launched an ambitious
publications program. They now have about fifteen titles to their
credit and have published the first issue of the Annual Journal of
Khowar with articles in Khowar and Urdu and English.
The aim of the Society, according to President Inayatullah Faizi, is
to preserve the language and culture of Chitral. He emphasizes,
however,, that the Society is a purely non-political, social and
voluntary organization and that it is also "striving for the cause of
national cohesion and understanding" (Inayatullah Faizi, 1989a).
In the first issue of the Annual Journal, Yousaf Shahzad (on behalf of
the Society) proposes the establishment of a Khowar Adabi Board, an
institute for the promotion of the language and culture of Chitral,
that would operate directly under the control of, and with the funding
of the provincial government. Its aims would be to carry out extensive
research into the language and culture of Chitral and to translate and
publish important works from Khowar into other languages and vice
versa (Yousaf Shahzad, 1989:32-35).
Another proposal (perhaps a modified version of the above) has been
recently advanced by the Recommendations Committee of the Second
International Hindu Kush Cultural Conference (September, 1990). They
recommend the establishment of a Research Institute in Chitral under
the auspices of Anjuman-e-Taraqqi Khowar that would "provide an
interdisciplinary base for further research, together with a library
and bibliographical resources to which all participating scholars
would contribute." Financial assistance from private and foreign
sources has been solicited.
According to Yousaf Shahzad, Sir Nasir-ul-Mulk (Mehtar of Chitral,
1936 to 1943) and Mirza Mohammad Ghufran "prescribed the present
Arabic script with additional alphabets (sic) for peculiar Kohwar
words, instead of international Roman, alphabets with phonatic (sic)
It may be, however, that this new script for Khowar was not widely
promoted at first because, when Prince Samsam-ul-Mulk was a student at
Islamia College in Peshawar, Mr. Abdul Qadir, the director of the
Pashto Academy at the University of Peshawar, asked him to design a
script for Khowar. This he proceeded to do with the help of his
father, Prince Hisam-ul-Mulk, the late Ghulam Umar and (now Prof.)
Israr-ud-Din, and he prepared a Khowar grammar (in Khowar and Urdu)
which was published by the Pashto Academy (Sher Nawaz Naseem, 1988).
[It seems likely that these collaborators drew on the work of Sir
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