There is no dictionary for my father’s language.
His dialect, for a start, is difficult to name.
Even this taxi driver, who talks it, lacks the knowledge.
Some say it’s Pahari – ‘hill speak’ –
others, Potwari, or Pahari-Potwari –
too earthy and scriptless to find a home in books.
This mountain speech is a low language. Ours. “No good.
You should learn speak Urdu.” I’m getting the runaround.

Whatever it is, this talk, going back, did once have a script:
Landa, in the reign of the Buddhists.
… So was Dad’s speech some kind of Dogri?
Is it Kashmiri? Mirpuri? The differences are lost on me.
I’m told it’s part way towards Punjabi,
but what that tongue would call tuvarda,
Dad would agree was tusaana –
‘yours’ –

truly, though there are many dictionaries for the tongue I speak,
it’s the close-by things I’m lost to say;
things as pulsed and present as the back of this hand,
never mind stumbling towards some higher plane.
And, either way, even at the rare moment I get towards –
or, thank God, even getting to –
my point, I can’t put into words
where I’ve arrived.

About the Poet

Zaffar Kunial published a pamphlet in the Faber New Poets series in 2014 and was Poet-in-Residence at the Wordsworth Trust the same year. In 2011 he won third prize in the National Poetry Competition with ‘Hill Speak’. With Steve Ely, Denise Riley and Warsan Shire, he contributed to The Pity, a series of new poems commissioned and published by the Poetry Society as a response to the centenary of the First World War. The Pity commissions were premiered live at Purcell Room, Southbank Centre, on 2 October, National Poetry Day, 2014, accompanied by background visuals by Robert Peake. The poems are now available as a book, available from The Poetry Society online shop


  1. “There is no dictionary for my father’s language.”

    It is a great shame that not many Mirpuris take pride in their linguistic heritage. Our language, with its subtle differences in dialect across the Mirpur diaspora and surrounding villages, comprises of nuances which make it as unique as any other tongue.

    We are working towards establishing the world’s first dictionary for the Pahari language, firstly focusing on the dialects spoken in the Andrahal and Chakswari regions and then moving forward to compare these with other dying varieties of our “mother tongue” (or “father tongue”).

  2. This poem has really upset me. Whatever they call our language, we know what it sounds like, it is sweet and kind and familiar. It is us. It is beautiful and rich with expressions I can’t even find in English.

  3. we choose to find fault with our language, it’s beautiful. I can’t express myself the way I can express myself in Pahari. Our words are true without any sense of class or race or whatever. Our people said what they thought and they were nice people. They were not racists or bigots, fools, idiots, or people with agendas.

  4. Whether we call it Pahari, Patwari, Hindko, Mirpuri, Chachi – they used to call it Chibhali in Jammu Kashmir – the colonial linguists had loads of names for it, whatever terms we want to use, even “Panjabi” or “Dogri”, which are related languages from different branches not so much Dogri which seems to be more related to the these dialects, it’s our language, the language of our parents, grandparents and forebears. It is the language of the hills and mountains of the Western Himalayas. It had always been a language of life and high spirits, of trials and tribulations, but of fun and straight-forward talking; why should we trade in something so beautiful and authentic for something “imposed” and less authentic. It’s like English, we speak English because we were born and raised in the UK, so English is our language, the language we think in, dream in, posture through, but would we ever trade in English for French because people are telling us we need to speak French? There is something inauthentic about such prospects.


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