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

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27 responses to “Linguistic Diversity in NWFP”

  1. Qudsia says:

    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:

    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:

    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:

    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. Adil Najam says:

    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:


    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:

    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:

    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


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