Language is a miraculous ability unique to humanity, conveying culture and identity as a means of communication, among kith and kin as well as the wider world, to learn more about other nations and communities. However, in the modern era, it is tragic that the number of languages on the brink of extinction ranges somewhere between 6,000 and 10,000. In the words of the Linguist, Professor David Crystal, “when a language dies which has never been recorded in some way, it is as if it has never been”.
The dialect(s) widely spoken in the ‘Pahari’ Diaspora is one such example of language not having been standardised in written format. Issues arise when the speakers of a language use it to communicate with one another in the absence of a written form to transcribe the language.
Our dialect traditionally has no standard written form.
Often, literate elders conversant in Pahari and its associated dialects would have no choice but to write in Urdu or even in Persian, the official lingua franca that preceded Urdu. Local vernaculars were to an extent frowned upon, deemed the language of the ‘common’, ‘uneducated’ people. Nobody accepted Pahari as a formal language. Urdu was the language taught in schools to those fortunate to have attained an education, and it was held in prestige which our dialect was not granted.
Although for the purposes of this post, I have used the term ‘Pahari’, we have yet to christen our family of languages with a mutually agreed name, but even this is fraught with problems. Some call it Pothwari after the Pothohar Plateau, north of the Panjab Plains. Others know it as Pahari, the language of the Pahar, the Hills/Mountains. These labels are not exhaustive as there are numerous local dialects spoken across this entire linguistic area with their own local names, which gradually change and become distinct the further they move away.
There are subtle differences between the various speech varieties, village to village and thus, it would be prudent to record the features of one dialect variety in one of the abundance of villages first before moving to other villages and eventually the entire area. Once we establish a definite connection between the dialects through similarities in vocabulary, morphology and syntax, we can vouch for the group of dialects to be named. In my own research, I refer to the dialect by the village where it is predominantly spoken, for instance, the Chakswari dialect.
Inevitably, language evolves.
There’s the necessity to name new concepts, inventions and new daily practices. Through communication with other languages, we pick up new terms and the vocabulary becomes more enriched. Although language change is essentially natural and unstoppable, the language of our elders, the archaic, older variants, are being gradually forgotten because they are being neglected. Even though we should embrace language progression, we should also preserve older forms of the language as well.
It is rare for us to think of ‘Pahari’ as having a literary canon due to the absence of a standardised script. Nevertheless, there is a major work of poetry renowned throughout Northern Pakistan and Jammu & Kashmir, composed of an elegant mixture of older versions of the ‘Mirpuri’ dialect and standard (Majhi) Panjabi, further enhanced with words and phrases from Arabic and Persian.
In 1863, the Sufi saint and poet, Mian Muhammad Baksh completed his magnum opus, entitled Safarul ’Ishq (The Journey of Love). This work of poetic talent was known as Sayf-ul-Mulūk, in which the mystic revived the fable of Prince Sayf-ul-Mulūk and the fairy Badi-ul-Jamal as a spiritual allegory.
Not much research has been carried out on our mother tongue and I am in the process of recording it as much as I can, at least, by compiling the vocabulary and grammatical features of my own dialect of ‘Pahari’, spoken in the Chakswari region of Mirpur District, ‘Azad’ Jammu Kashmir.
We are in the process of establishing the world’s first dictionary of the Mirpuri-Pothwari-Pahari dialects. By doing this, we can guarantee the longevity of our language for future generations.
when a language dies which has never been recorded in some way, it is as if it has never been