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Languages of Pakistan

Official language(s) English, Urdu
Main language(s) Punjabi (44.15%), Pashto (15.42%), Sindhi (14.1%), Saraiki (10.53%), Urdu (7.57%), Balochi (3.57%)
Regional language(s) Kashmiri; Saraiki; Potwari;
Minority language(s) Burushaski; Kalash; Khowar; Shina; Balti; Brahui; Hindko.
Sign language(s) 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 language isolate.

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 Pakistanis.

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 partition.

Census History of Major Languages
(present-day Pakistan)

Rank Language 1951 1961 1982 1998
1 Punjabi 67.08% 66.39% 48.17% 44.15%
2 Pashto 8.16% 8.47% 13.15% 15.42%
3 Sindhi 12.85% 12.59% 11.7% 14.1%
4 Saraiki --  --  9.54% 10.53%
5 Urdu 7.05% 7.57% 7.60% 7.57%
6 Balochi 3.04% 2.49% 3.02% 3.57%

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

Language   1998 census   2008 estimate   Main areas spoken
1     Punjabi 58,433,431 44.15% 76,367,360 44.17% Punjab
2 Pashto 20,408,621 15.42% 26,692,890 15.44% NWFP
3 Sindhi 18,661,571 14.10% 24,410,910 14.12% Sindh
4 Saraiki 13,936,594 10.53% 18,019,610 10.42% South Punjab & Sindh
5 Urdu 10,019,576 7.57% 13,120,540 7.59% Karachi
6 Balochi 4,724,871 3.57% 6,204,540 3.59% Balochistan
7 Others 6,167,515 4.66% 8,089,150 3.59%  


132,352,279 100% 172,900,000 100% Pakistan

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) (12531325), 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 1860).

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 Punchhi (Poonchi).
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 Bahauddin districts.
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, Kurukshetra, etc.
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 (16131689) and Rehman Baba (16331708) 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 Indo-European.

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.[1]. 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 Urdu.

Other languages
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 countries
Burushaski, a language isolate
Pakistan Sign Language, a deaf sign language


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