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Languages of Pakistan
(44.15%), Pashto (15.42%), Sindhi (14.1%), Saraiki (10.53%),
Urdu (7.57%), Balochi (3.57%)
Burushaski; Kalash; Khowar; Shina; Balti; Brahui; Hindko.
Indo-Pakistani Sign Language
Urdu and English are both recognised as the official languages
of Pakistan. English is used by the government, corporate
businesses, and the educated urban elite. Most universities use
English as the medium of instruction for degree courses. Urdu is
the lingua franca of the people, being widely spoken as a second
language, although it is the mother tongue of only 7.57% of the
population, mainly Muhajirs (Muslim refugees from India after
1947), while an unknown percentage of Punjabis of urban areas
appear to be switching to the usage of Urdu as well.
Additionally, nearly all Pakistanis speak mutually-intelligible
regional Indo-Iranian languages of the Indo-European family. The
most widely spoken is Punjabi, followed by Pashto, Sindhhi, and
Balochi. Other Indo-European languages spoken in Pakistan
include Siraiki, Dari, Hindko, Pothohari, Gujarati, Shina, Wakhi,
Kashmiri, Marwari, Khowar, Memoni, and many others. In addition,
small groups of non-Indo-European languages are also spoken,
including Brahui, a Dravidian language, and Burushaski, a
These and almost all of the other languages spoken in Pakistan
belong to the Indo-Iranic language group. Some have a speaking
population of hundreds of thousands, while others have only a
few thousand or a few hundred speakers. These languages have
been in contact with each other for many centuries, with a lot
of borrowing, so the distinction between language and dialect is
not sharply drawn, resulting in a complex language situation.
Urdu was chosen as a national language of Pakistan to act as a
lingua franca amongst the various ethnic/cultural groups and has
historical significance as the language developed during the
Islamic conquests in the subcontinent during the Mughal Empire.
It was chosen as the neutral language to unite various groups of
Pakistan although only 8% of people in Pakistan speak Urdu as a
first language. However, Urdu is, increasingly, being adopted
and spoken as a first language by a new generation of urbanized
Many regional languages are spoken in Pakistan and the major
ones according to the number of native speakers are Punjabi
(44%), Pashto (15%), Sindhi (14%), Saraiki (10%), Baluchi (4%).
Pakistan has about 1 million native speakers of Persian. Persian
continues to be an important literary language in Pakistan.
Arabic is popular due to religious significance. Most Pakistanis
understand at least two languages.
Pakistan has about 99% of languages spoken are in the
Indo-Iranian (sub-branches: 75% of the Indo-Aryan and 24%
Iranian), a branch of Indo-European family of languages. All
languages of Pakistan are written in the Perso-Arabic script,
with significant vocabulary derived from Arabic and Persian.
Punjabi, Saraiki, Sindhi, Pashto (Iranian), Urdu, Balochi
(Iranian), Kashmiri (Dardic/eastern Iranian), etc., are the
languages spoken in Pakistan. In the case of Urdu/Hindi, while
Hindi is the mother-tongue of 40% of the population in the
Republic of India, Urdu is the mother-tongue of only 8%
Pakistanis. Urdu and Hindi are considered by most linguists to
be the same language; differing only in script, and formal
vocabulary; in which Urdu favours words of Perso-Arabic origin
whereas Hindi tends to use Sanskrit words. Colloquial Hindi and
Urdu, however, are completely indistinguishable - and as such,
were referred to as Hindustani in all of India before the 1947
Census History of Major Languages
Following are the major languages spoken in Pakistan. The
percentage of Pakistanis who are native speakers of that
language is also given.
Numbers of speakers of larger languages
Main areas spoken
South Punjab &
Urdu: the national language
Urdu (اردو) is Pakistan's national language (قومی زبان) and has
been promoted as a token of national unity. More than 95% of
Pakistanis can speak or understand Urdu as their second or third
language in many cases, though only about 8% of the population
of Pakistan has Urdu as its mother tongue. It is written in a
modified form of the Arabic alphabet. The first recorded poetry
in Urdu was by the Persian poet Amir Khusro (امیر خسرو)
(1253–1325), the first published Urdu book, Dah Majlis, was
written in 1728. The first time the word "Urdu" was used was in
1751, by Sirajuddin Arzoo (سراج الدین آرزو).
English: the official language
English is Pakistan's official language and is widely used in
the government, the judiciary, the legislature and in
educational institutes. Pakistan's Constitution and its laws are
written in English. It is also widely used in business.
Major provincial languages
Punjabi (پنجابی) is spoken as first language by 44% of
Pakistanis. It is an important language as about 70% of
Pakistanis can speak or understand it. However, Punjabi does not
have any official status in Pakistan. Punjabi lineage can be
traced through Lahori and Multani during Muslim period (700 to
Punjabi dialects include:
Majhi, "the standard Punjabi language", spoken in the heart of
Punjab where most of the Punjabi population lives. The main
districts are Lahore, Sheikhupura, Gujranwala, Sialkot, Gujrat
and to some extent in Jhelum in Pakistani Punjab and Gurdaspur
and Amritsar in Indian Punjab.
Potwari or Pothohari, is spoken in the Pothohar Plateau of
Punjab and Azad Kashmir. The main districts are Rawalpindi,
Mirpur and Sohawa Tehsil of Jhelum District. Dialects include
Dhundi-Kairali, Chibhali, Mirpuri, Jhelumi, Pindiwali and
Jhangvi or Jhangochi or Rachnavi, spoken in the central
Pakistani Punjab, stretches from districts Khanewal to Jhang and
includes Faisalabad and Chiniot.
Shahpuri, spoken in Mianwali, Sargodha, Khushab and Mandi
Hindko, spoken in districts of Peshawar, Attock, Nowshehra,
Mansehra, Balakot, Abbottabad and Murree and the lower half of
Neelum District and Muzafarabad.
Malwi, spoken in the eastern part of Indian Punjab. Main
districts are Ludhiana, Ambala, Bathinda, Ganganagar, Malerkotla,
Fazilka, Ferozepur. Malwa is the southern and central part of
present day Indian Punjab. Also includes the Punjabi speaking
northern areas of Haryana, viz. Ambala, Hissar, Sirsa,
Doabi (regional language), spoken between the rivers of Beas and
Sutlej, in the districts of Jalandhar and Hoshiarpur.
Pashto (پشتو) is spoken as a first language by 15% of
Pakistanis, mostly in the North-West Frontier Province, the
Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in northern part of
Balochistan Province. Pashto has no written literary traditions
although it has a rich oral tradition. There are two major
dialect patterns within which the various individual dialects
may be classified; these are Pakhto, which is the northern
(Peshawar) variety, and the Pashto spoken in southern areas
around Quetta. Khushal Khan Khatak (1613–1689) and Rehman Baba
(1633–1708) were two important poets in the Pashto language.
Sindhi (سنڌي ) is spoken as a first language by about 14% of
Pakistanis, mostly in the Province of Sindh and the southeastern
parts of the Province of Balochistan. Sindhi is known for its
very rich literature and is taught in schools in the province of
Sindh. The largest Sindhi-speaking city is Hyderabad, Pakistan.
The Saraiki language (Perso-Arabic: سرائیکی sometimes spelled
Siraiki and Seraiki) has a substantial literature dating back a
thousand years and including myriad proverbs. It was the
language of Raja Dahar and its fellows, and according to Aslam
Rasool Puri "the language which was effected by Daraveriens not
other than Saraiki". It is spoken by 30 million Pakistanis,
mostly in the southern part of the Province of the Punjab and in
adjacent parts of Sindh, Balochistan and North-West Frontier
Provinces. Saraiki , belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of
Balochi (بلوچی) is spoken as a first language by about 4% of
Pakistanis, mostly in the Province of Balochistan. The name
Balochi is not found before the tenth century. It is believed
that the language was brought to its present location in a
series of migrations from Northern Iran, near the Caspian
Shores. Rakshani is the major dialect group in terms of numbers.
Sarhaddi, is a sub-dialect of Rakshani. Other sub-dialects are
Qalati, Chagai-kharani, Panjguri. Eastern Hill Balochi or
Northern Balochi is very different from the rest.
There are an estimated one million native Persian (Farsi, or
Dari) speakers in Pakistan.. The philosopher poet Allama
Iqbal, who pioneered the movement for the creation of Pakistan,
was a noted Persian poet. Persian was the lingua franca of the
Mughal Empire of India (and the region that is now Pakistan)
since the time of the Persian Empire until its use was abolished
by the British. After the annexation of Sindh (in 1843) and of
Punjab (in 1849), the British changed the official language to
Other languages include Aer, Badeshi, Bagri, Balti, Bateri,
Bhaya, Brahui, Burushaski, Chilisso, Dameli, Dehwari, Dhatki,
Domaaki, Farsi (Dari), Gawar-Bati, Ghera, Goaria, Gowro,
Gujarati, Gujari, Gurgula, Hazaragi, Hindko (two varieties),
Jadgali, Jandavra, Kabutra, Kachchi (Kutchi), Kalami, Kalasha,
Kalkoti, Kamviri, Kashmiri, Kati, Khetrani, Khowar, Indus
Kohistani, Koli (three varieties), Lasi, Loarki, Marwari, Memoni,
Od, Ormuri, Pahari-Potwari, Pakistan Sign Language, Palula (Phalura),
Sansi, Savi, Shina (two varieties), Torwali, Ushojo, Vaghri,
Wakhi, Waneci, and Yidgha.Some of these have a relatively small
number of speakers, while others have hundreds of thousands of
speakers. A few are highly endangered languages that may soon
have no speakers at all.
Most of the languages of Pakistan belong to the Indo-Iranian
branch of the Indo-European language family. They are divided
between two major groups of that branch: Indo-Aryan (the
majority, including Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Hindko, and Saraiki,
among others), and Iranian (including Pashto, Balochi, and
Farsi, among others).
Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages are further divided into groups
of languages, although the reasons for the divisions are not
always well-documented. Indo-Aryan languages all belong to the
same language genus (Indic), and Iranian languages all belong to
a different language genus (Iranian).
Some of the important groups in the Indo-Aryan group have been
referred to by some as macrolanguages. One of these has been
given the name Lahnda, and includes Western Panjabi (but not
Eastern Panjabi of India), Northern Hindko, Southern Hindko,
Khetrani, Saraiki, and Pahari-Potwari, plus two more languages
outside of Pakistan. The other is called Marwari, and includes
Marwari of Pakistan and several languages of India (Dhundari,
Marwari, Merwari, Mewari, and Shekhawati).A third is called
Rajasthani (from India), and comprises Bagri, Gujari (of
present-day Pakistan), and the rest from India: Gade
Lohar,Harauti (Hadothi), Malvi, and Wagdi (of India).
Three groups in the Iranian group likewise have been called
macrolanguages. One is Baluchi; it includes Eastern, Western and
Southern Balochi.Another is called Pushto, and includes
Northern, Central, and Southern Pashto.The third is called
Persian, and includes Western Farsi (spoken in Iran) and Eastern
Farsi (spoken in Pakistan and Afghanistan).
Brahui is a Dravidian language. Its vocabulary has been
significantly influenced by Balochi. It has been postulated to
be linked to the ancient Indus valley civilization of Pakistan.
Balti, in the Bodic language genus of the Tibeto-Burman language
family, the same genus as 47 other languages spoken in other
Burushaski, a language isolate
Pakistan Sign Language, a deaf sign language