Linguistic Diversity in NWFP

Posted on May 7, 2008
Filed Under >Manzoor Ali Shah, Culture & Heritage
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Manzoor Ali Shah

The NWFP has always been in limelight, but for wrong reasons. From the British raj’s Afghan wars in eighteenth century to Russian invasion in 1979 and American ouster of Taliban from Kabul in 2002, NWFP had been pivotal to the imperialistic designs, as it provides road access to Afghanistan. Later, the emergence of local Taliban and militancy, itself a product of 30 years long Afghan war, put the Frontier on the map of world, as the bastion of terrorism.

The media stereotyping put the beautiful aspects of its culture, history and people on the backburner and nowadays world knows the people of the Frontier as mere suicide bombers and terrorists. However, there are many a remarkable traits and cultural aspects, which only the Frontier could claim and linguistic diversity of the province is one of such traits.

There are around 69 languages are spoken in Pakistan, 26 out of these spoken in NWFP, and 12 languages in Chitral district alone. According to Frontier Language Institute (FLI) Bateri (20,000), Chillaso (2,000), Gowro (200) and Kohistani (200,000) are spoken in Indus Kohistan.

Chitral district, according to renowned Norwegian linguistic Georg Morgenstierne, was the area with the highest linguistic diversity in the world. The languages give the district a unique flavor of socio-cultural richness and ethno-linguistic diversity. Dameli (2,000), Gawar-Bati (200), Kalasha (3,000), Khowar (200,000), Palula (2,000), Wakhi (2,000), Yidgha (2,000) and Kam-Kataviri (2,000) are the languages spoken in district.

Kalasha is the mother tongue of the famed and mysterious race of Kalasha living in the valleys of Rambur, Bomboret and Berir, while Kam-Kataviri is of the Nuristani people. Nuristanis are the people believed to be subject of a Kipling story “The Man Who Would Be King” which was adapted as motion picture starring Sean Connery in 1975. Unlike Kalasha who are known as the black Kafirs (infidels) due to the black outfit they wear; Nuristanis are known as Red Kafirs due to the red color of their skin.

While, Domakki (200) Hunza, Shina (200,000) Gilgit, Balti (200,000) Baltistan, Burushaski (20,000) Hunza, Nagar and Yasin, Kashmiri, Kundal Shahi and Pahari-Potwari are spoken in Northern Areas and Azad Kashmir.

Gwari (20,000) is spoken in Swat and Upper Dir, while Torwali (20,000) and Ushojo (200) are spoken in Swat, while Kalkoti (2,000) is spoken in Dir Kohistan and Ormuri (2,000) is spoken in South Waziristan.

Pashto and Gojari are spoken throughout the region and Hindko is spoken in Peshawar, Kohat and Kashmir. However, as most of these languages are spoken by small communities, therefore, qualify for categories of languages near extinction and threatened languages and it is need of the hour to preserve this marvelous part of our ethno-linguistic heritage.

* Number within brackets shows number of speakers in excess of the number

27 Comments on “Linguistic Diversity in NWFP”

  1. Qudsia says:
    May 7th, 2008 9:48 am

    wow what a treasure of info

    Sp much info here that I just did not know

    Wish they had taught us this in school

  2. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    May 7th, 2008 11:19 am

    Informative article. Considering the various languages and the areas covered here, perhaps the heading of the article could be expanded to “Linguistic Diversity in NWFP, Tribal Areas, Northern Areas, and Azad Kashmir” or simply “Linguistic Diversity in Northern Mountain Regions of Pakistan”. Any way, a nice first and preliminary effort on an interesting and vast subject related to Pakistan.

  3. faraz Waseem says:
    May 7th, 2008 12:36 pm

    What are major languages in NWFP? Hindku and Pashtu? How many in % these speaker represent in NWFP.

    Do these ppl are mixed or divided on lingusitic basis?

  4. Ali Dada says:
    May 7th, 2008 3:16 pm

    I so wish they post this article through out the internet. Afghan and Pakistani pathan nationalist go around the web B.S.-ing as to how they should be united and blah blah blah.

  5. May 8th, 2008 1:40 am

    Looking at the numbers in front of some of these languages (and I assume this is the number of people who speak that language), I worry that many of these languages are quickly on the way to extinction.

    In fact a lot of languages around the world are going extinct as a certain ‘language homogeneity’ spreads. Would love to hear more about what, if any, attempts have been made to maintain the language stock?

  6. faisal says:
    May 8th, 2008 1:53 am


    I am surprised to read that that region is so rich in terms of spoken language. We need to do something to protect our culture and heritage, otherwise the westernization will sweep everything away.

  7. Nasir Khan says:
    May 8th, 2008 3:11 am

    I am surprised and offended to note that the writer has completely overlooked Hazara Division which has a population of 4.5m and an area of 18 thousand sq KMs. Hazara is predominantly Hindko speaking, especially districts Haripur, Abbotabad and to some extent Mansehra and Batgram. Writer only mentions in passing that “Hindko is spoken in Peshawar, Kohat and Kashmir” which is incorrect on two counts: (i) as mentioned above, Hindko is also the main language in District Haripur and Abbotabad and (ii) Kashmir is not a part of NWFP.

  8. Alam says:
    May 8th, 2008 3:51 am

    Manzoor ………….u r going to mislead the nation ……….as District Chitral is not the whole province………The major language being spoekn in Pakhtunkhwa is Pakhtooo……..not chitrali, hindko or any other language

    U must keep it in mind


  9. Manzoor says:
    May 8th, 2008 7:05 am

    Mr Alam has wrongly accused me of misleading, which is contrary to the fact. Pashto is the largest language in the area, with speakers exceeding 10,000,000, according to Frontier Language Institute, followed by the Hindko with estimated speakers 2,500,000 throughout the area.
    Chitral, which also is my native district, merits special mention due to the number of languages spoken in the area, although it is the smallest district of the province in terms of population, which stood around 450,000.
    Secondly, Pashto and Hindko are major languages and Pashto is even medium of education, while on the other hand Domaaki, spoken in Gilgit has only 500 speakers and faces threats of extinction due to the fact that people are learning and adopting big languages due to the economic and other opportunities they offer.

  10. Daktar says:
    May 8th, 2008 10:52 am

    Does anyone know if there is a good place to find a list of ALL the languages spoken in Pakistan?

  11. Pervaiz Munir Alvi says:
    May 8th, 2008 11:52 am

    Daktar: Certainly no Pakistan based source is available for the information asked by you. We are preoccupied with other important issues. Try ‘National Geographic’. It has compiled information regarding most major regional languages of Pakistan.

  12. May 8th, 2008 4:58 pm

    Dear Mr.Manzoor Ali Shah,

    Linguistic Diversity in NWFP

    Data is , in whoever hand it is in.

    Are you a Punjabi working in a Punjabi/Pakistani office trying to create differences amongst the people of NWFP/Pakhtunkhwa which does not exist, after all the NWFP/Pakhtunkhwa was there well before Punjabi/Pakistan was imposed on us?

    What is your agenda?

    In my household, the languages spoken are: Pakhto, English, Russian, Urdo, Punjabi, Arabic and Farci but it is still my household and I will not allow anyone to divide my home.

    So everyone in NWFP/Pakhtunkhwa are people of NWFP/Pakhtunkhwa.

    As far as your comments concerning the “Hindko” , I refer you to the following letter addressed to a newspaper :-

    ‘Renaming NWFP’
    Last week I read two above-titled letters in your newspaper concerning renaming of NWFP. Opposing Pakhtunkhwa, both the writers suggested some other names for the province. One must remember that the NWFP people want to rename their province because the present name does not represent their identity and they want the name which represents them. So if the province adopts the names suggested by the writers, it will complicate instead of solving the problem. It is not possible for Pakhtuns to become Nooristani or Abbasini.

    One reason cited for opposing the name ‘Pakhtunkhwa’ is the objection the people of Hazara may have to this name. I myself belong to Hazara and want to clear that this is just propaganda that the people of Hazara are opposed to renaming NWFP as Pakhtunkhwa. There are three kinds of people in Hazara: (1) Those who speak Pashtu, (2) those who speak both Pashtu and Hindko and proudly call themselves Pashtun or Pathan and (3) those who speak Hindko but write themselves as Pathan in their domiciles and very proudly claim that they are basically Pathans.

    So, if approximately all the Hazarawals call themselves Pathan, then there is no room for them to oppose a name which provides them their identity. I also want to clear it that renaming NWFP is the matter of the people belonging to this province, and Pakhtuns know better what should be the name of their province.

    Nazir Alam Khan

    Long live the people of FATA & NWFP and may God protect them from all their enemies (inside/outside of Pakistan).

    Wishing you well.

    Mohammad shah

  13. Owais Mughal says:
    May 8th, 2008 5:11 pm

    Dear Shah Saheb
    Diversity means acknowledging differences and it does not mean division. I believe author has just highlighted the diversity of languages for pure informational reasons and not for any political reasons.

    I for one, am very happy to know such information about my beloved NWFP of Pakistan. Just like Manzoor saheb pointed out, one of the languages in Gilgit is spoken by 500 people only and it needs to be somehow preserved or documented. Articles like this bring such heritage issues to lime light before they become extinct.

    best regards

  14. aslam says:
    May 9th, 2008 1:00 am

    does any one tell what is the language of pakistan

  15. Yasir Khan says:
    May 9th, 2008 5:18 am

    I am dismayed by the kind of comments people have posted here,” comments like you have ignored my district” and like “punjabi/pakistani, agenda?” I am a proud Pashtoon and this article has made me even prouder of my land. Sadly it shows the state of mind of our people, who cannot appreciate a simple piece ,written to inform. it is the narrow mindedness and stubbornness of these school called “proud” people who have made the simple process of changing name so complicated by politically charged statements, which naturally makes people who do not speak pashto uncomfortable with the idea of changing name of N.W.F.P. I wish I had an Aladin’s lamp and I could change attitude of my people (Pashtoons)

  16. Rafay Kashmiri says:
    May 9th, 2008 6:21 am

    @ Faraz Waseem,

    your three queries are contradicting each other.

  17. Qaisrani says:
    May 12th, 2008 4:34 am

    No mention of Seraiki in the artile?? Seraiki is widely spoken in the southern part of NWFP including Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Laki Marwat.

  18. May 13th, 2008 8:02 am

    Dear Qaisrani ,

    “No mention of Seraiki in the artile?? Seraiki is widely spoken in the southern part of NWFP including Dera Ismail Khan, Tank and Laki Marwat”

    Does Seraiki needs to be somehow preserved or documented, it being the second most spoken (native) language in Pakistan.


  19. ALi says:
    May 26th, 2008 5:21 pm

    I hope the writer should rectify the data. According to 1998 census of pakistan 74% speaks pashtu in Paktunkhwa, and by race more then 80% of population is Pashtoon. IN peshawar and kohat only in small pockets hindku is spoken.

  20. afghan says:
    June 6th, 2008 6:13 am

    the Author should have look on data. In nwfp pasthun are in majority, he should mention the population of pashtun. SEraiki is third biggest language of the area got no place in discussion.
    I suggest you, only recomended data should be forwarded.

  21. August 12th, 2008 12:09 pm

    The choice for changing the name lies only with the people of NWFP. This is their choice and people of other provinces should simply be happy with the choice they make. Pashtuns have a rich and colorful culture and heritage of which most are very proud of. Renaming to Pakhtunkhwa i believe is justified not only because of this pride but also because some Pashtuns especially in waziristan feel discontent due to NWFP being given a strategic name and all other provinces having regional names according to the traditions and names of the indegenious people in the province (eg sindh sindhi). Pakhtunkhwa or Pashtunistan should be the new name of NWFP. Hope ANP changes the name soon according to the wishes of the people. Afghan Pashtuns also find this a good opportunity to take a few potshots at our motherland.

    Long live Pashtuns and long live Pakistan

  22. Mohammad says:
    September 2nd, 2008 11:09 am


    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    Govt decides to rename NWFP as Pakhtunkhawa

    LAHORE: The federal government has decided to rename the NWFP as Pakhtunkhawa, Samaa TV reported. The channel said the decision was made in a meeting between an Awami National Party delegation and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani on Monday. It said that ANP chief Asfandyar Wali assured Gilani that his party would support Asif Zardari in the presidential election. daily times monitor
    Courtesy Daily Times

  23. zubair torwali says:
    September 24th, 2008 2:45 am

    Some of the information is not up to date. The number of speakers of Torwali exceeds 1oo,000 and similarly the number of Gawri. I would like to post one of my articles here published in Dawn this June.

    June 28, 2008

    Language and identity

    By Zubair Torwali

    An June 7-8, a two day moot on the various languages spoken in the NWFP was held in Peshawar. The conference was attended by representatives of more than 30 languages spoken in the province. The conference, though apparently a literary moot, was of great significance in the backdrop of the constitutional package recently prepared by the PPP-led coalition government that recommends Pukhtunkhwa as the new name of the NWFP.

    Language has always played a crucial socio-political role in Pakistan since its inception. It has been a significant factor in promoting national cohesion or the vice versa. With the partition of the subcontinent in 1947, two things which had a great influence on determining the future course of Pakistan were the role of religion and languages in the newly-born state. The concept and ambiguity about the ideology of Pakistan has delayed the constitution-making for more than a decade while the state

  24. Ahsan says:
    February 4th, 2009 1:57 am

    I dont know why these pathans need to snatch more land from Pakistan now even though they have a huge country of thier own that they need to work on first. All this time we were saving ourselves fromt he enemy on the east, turns out they werent as bad as was portrayed! The pathans werent even a major faction of the Indus valley region. You give someone the shift off of your back and they pull it right off and make you naked…we opened our arms and welcomed the afghans and now they wanna claim our land! what if we moved to helmund and claimed it as part of pakistan?

  25. Seema Saeed says:
    March 29th, 2010 9:27 pm

    Changing name of NWFP: A political drama towards disintegration.
    For decades ANP used the issue of renaming the province as a political agenda, and now when they are in absolute power, they have no option, but to address the issue they once created. I am wondering how the changed name of the province will bring a favorable change in the life of those who are living in this province:
    • Will the intensity of bomb blasts decreases or the suicide bombers will stop exploding?
    • Will the masses get better health and education facilities within a clean environment to live?
    • Will there be no more load shedding of electricity, gas, sugar and ‘atta’?
    • Will the lawlessness and cases of kidnapping for ransom will decrease?
    If the answer to these questions is yes, then I am the first to swear that I will fight till death for this noble cause. However, if this is not the case, then what is the logic of making a bigger crisis out of this ill-advised and poorly perceived issue?
    If the ANP is successful in changing the name, what can be the consequences? To address this critical question, we have to accept the hard reality that Pashto is not the primary language of majority in Chitral, Kohistan (both Swat-Kohistan and Indus-Kohistan of Manshera), Abbottabad, Manshera, Haripur, Kohat, and Dera Ismail Khan. These will be the aggrieved districts, if the name is changed to Pashtoon-Khwaa or Paktoon-Khwaa or Afghania etc. Similarly, the majority in these districts will resist to varying degree against this unpopular decision. Once, the Pandora box is opened, then we should not forget that our hidden and apparent enemies will help the locals in these aggrieved districts to claim some autonomy, merge with others, stay independent or whatever. If the ANP is under the impression that they will control the future mob and resistance, they have an open choice now to test their muscles in FATA, even with the full support of Para Military and Armed Forces of Pakistan.
    The actual strengths of the NWFP are its unique resources like water, forests, natural gas and vast agricultural lands of the south. Regarding water resources of Pakistan, we have to admit that most of the water ways and water storages are more in the control of those potential aggrieved districts mentioned above. Once the resistance due to changed name is started, the control of water will be no more be in the hands of those, who are controlling the things now. Thus, if ANP by virtue of its stance as the local party working for the welfare of people of NWFP; will lose its strength of being custodians of water resources of Pakistan, then what will be their say in the national politics.
    Similarly, most of our productive and valuable forests and associated wildlife are in Chitral, Kohistan and Manshera. Again all these are the potential aggrieved districts. We cannot neither find the valuable Diar nor the globally recognized and most expensive trophy animal of the world – Markhor in Charsadda and its surrounding districts. These forested areas are also a great source of tourist revenues for NWFP. Most of the national and international tourists are interested in visiting Chitral, Swat Kohistan and Hill tracts of Hazara. Except for Lower Swat all the areas are again the potential aggrieved districts. We also have to take into consideration that whether any tourist will ever bother to visit lower Swat, when they are aware of the fact that Green Chowk, the business centre of lower Swat was the favorite site of certain hidden forces for hanging the beheaded bodies of the residents of Swat.
    Natural gas in Karak district is another great resource of the province. The Khattaks of this area are smart enough to understand that they will never be like the residents of Sui, who are still without gas, where as the gas of Sui is distributed from North to South and East to West corners of the country. The Khattaks are already agitating whenever they feel discriminated in matters related to gas. Moreover, ANP is present in papers once we cross the Kotal pass or the Kohat tunnel. So, leaders of ANP should stop daydreaming that they will ever negotiate on the basis of the natural gas resources of Southern NWFP.
    Another big resource of the NWFP is its vast potential agricultural lands of Karak, Lakki Marwat and Dera Ismail Khan. In the past, these areas were kept intentionally backward by the political forces of NWFP, so that the dominance of Charsadda and its surroundings should stay intact. However, who so ever is a regular visitor of these areas for last few decades would have noticed that now these areas are turning ‘green’. Thanks to the Chasma Right Bank Canal, as it improved the water table in the southern districts of NWFP. Now with the cheaper but technologically improved water pumps (tube wells), the virgin lands of these southern districts are turning into more productive agricultural lands. Again, the masses of these districts have no sympathizes with ANP, their leaders and their political agendas. They still remember the words of the then leader of ANP, Abdul Wali Khan, who during the cold war era, declared the people of these districts as the potential “labour class” of independent Pakhtoonistan.
    FATA always enjoyed the independent status, so, if ANP leaders will try to merge the tribal agencies with their Paktoon-Khwaa or Afghania, they will only face resistance. Same will be the case of the PATA, as they will definitely keep their separate identity and will be more comfortable with FATA, as against some other alternative arrangements.
    When ANP and their Paktoon-Khwaa or Afghania, will be without the water resources, forests, natural gas and vast agricultural lands, on what basis will they take part in the national or local politics? Their remaining strongholds of Charsadda, Mardan and Nowshera will produce nothing except a few ‘Khans’ and lot of their enemies.
    If we as Pakistanis want our separate identity, it is high time that we come together, join hands against our hidden and apparent enemies and talk about integration. For that to happen, we have to forget our differences and political agendas and it is an excellent opportunity for ANP in NWFP to come with the suggestion that we will definitely change the name of our province, but the name of that province will be “Amnistan” – a place of ‘Amn’ or in other words ‘a place of peace, serenity and tranquility’. First, they will swear and promise that this province will never be a battle field for others to fight their war over here, and then we will promise that we will never allow anyone to use our lands as battle fields for others. If such words will come from the souls and bodies of all of us, our future is bright, InshaAllah.

  26. Watan Aziz says:
    May 7th, 2010 2:24 pm

    There are around 69 languages are spoken in Pakistan, 26 out of these spoken in NWFP, and 12 languages in Chitral district alone.

    And this should be part of the standard text for the social studies.

    We keep reading the wrong books, have wrong information and make wrong decisions. And then we wonder where we are and why?

    Can we respect diversity of peoples, faiths, languages, cultures?

  27. November 1st, 2010 7:44 am

    good thinking dear seema saeed

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