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The Punjabi Language

Punjabi is considered to be an ancient language. The exact date when it started cannot be estimated but the ancestors of the Punjabis have been known to have inhabited the Indus Valley as far back as 2500 BC. The name “Punjabi” comes from the region it is spoken in “The Punjab”. The word Punjab means five rivers, the land of five rivers. Punjab had a different ancient name but during to the Moghul rule, the rulers who spoke mostly Persian gave the region this name. Punjab is actually a combination of two Persian words, “Punj” meaning five and “ab” (Pronounced Aab) meaning water.

Punjabi is fusion and tonal language. Tonal being that it distinguishes words by the tones and fusion, because of its tendency to fuse morphemes (a morpheme is the smallest linguistic unit that has semantic meaning). It is from the Indo-Aryan group of languages, which is the sub group of Indo-Iranian and Indo-European group of languages. Punjabi uses two different scripts, Perso-Arabic and Gurmukhi. Perso-Arabic is used by Muslims of Pakistan, whereas Gurmukhi by the Sikhs of Eastern Punjab. The Perso-arabic script was also referred to as Shahmukhi. “Shahmukhi” means “from the mouth of the kings” and “Gurmukhi” means “from the mouth of the Gurus”. Shahmukhi relates to the Persian language used by the Muslim kings of India. This script is a slightly modified version of the Persian script, whereas the Gurmukhi script used by the Sikh Gurus is the descendent of the Brahmi script. Like Perso-Arabic used in writing in Urdu, Pashto, Sindhi and Balochi languages, Gurmukhi has also been adapted to written in Hindi, Khairboli, Sanskrit, etc.

Punjabi is spoken in both Eastern and Western Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, the mountainous areas of Pakistan and India. Apart from this Punjabi is also spoken by immigrants who migrated to USA, Canada, U.K., Australia and Singapore. Almost a 100 million people worldwide speak different dialects of this language as their first language. The number of people who speak Punjabi as a second language is very small, but most people who speak Urdu or Hindi can understand most Punjabi dialects without too much effort.

Punjabi is the preferred language of the Sikh people and it is also the language of their religion. Punjabi as a language gained prominence in the 17th century when the first real Punjabi literary work started emerging. Punjabi has many dialects, the most noteworthy are as follows:

  • Bhattiani, is a mixture of Punjabi and Rajasthani, spoken in Eastern Punjab.
  • Rathi, is very commonly spoken in Ratia and Tohana in India
  • Malwai, spoken in Eastern Punjab
  • Powadhi, spoken in Eastern Punjab
  • Pahari, has further dialects spoken in the mountains of the South Asian sub-continent. Pahari is spoken in Pakistan, India and Nepal. The word Pahari means mountain. This is the dialect of the people of the Mountains
  • Doabi, spoken in Eastern Punjab
  • Kangri, spoken by the Kangri people of North-western India. This along with Dogri has been made part of the Pahari Group. (Group for the languages spoken by the people living in the Mountains
  • Dogri, spoken by the Dogras in Pakistan and Indian, this dialect too like the Kangri is now part of the “Pahari Group”
  • Wajeerawadi, Spoken in Eastern Punjab
  • Baar di Boli, this is a foreign dialect which evolved mostly in the United Kingdom and is spoken by the immigrants living there. This has a number of English words. The word Baar di Boli means, language of the outside or language from the foreign land
  • Jangli, spoken in Pakistan side of Punjab. Mostly in Jhang, Khanewal, Chistian and Bhawalnagr along with adjoining areas. This is considered to be a very old dialect and is more like eastern Punjabi spoken in a Siraiki tone. Among the most distinct difference is the use of the word “Then” in most Punjabi dialects it is “tay” in Jangli it is “wut”. And the Jangli speakers have a tendency to use it more often than required.
  • Jatki, Spoken by the Jatts on both sides of Punjab
  • Chenavri, Spoken in Eastern parts of Punjab
  • Multani, more commonly referred to as Saraiki, it has a beautiful singing accent and like Jangli the huge use of “Wut”. It is spoken in southern Punjab, Multan and adjoining areas, approximately 10 million speak this language. This is probably the most melodic dialect of Punjabi, there are many people who consider this a separate language and there are many movements trying to promote this idea
  • Bhawalpuri, Spoken in Bhawalpur and adjoining areas. It is very similar to Jangli
  • Thalochri, One of the dialects spoken by the desert people of southern Punjab
  • Thali, One of the dialects spoken by the desert people of southern Punjab
  • Lahore-Gujranwala, Spoken by the people of Lahore-Gujranwala and adjoining areas
  • Chakwali, Spoken by the people of Chakwal and adjoin area. This is a southern Potohar dialect, very close to dialects spoken in Sahiwal region
  • Lubanki, an almost extinct dialect, was spoken in Rajasthan and Gujrat regions of India and in some parts of Pakistan
  • Ghebi, spoken in Pindi Gheb, Fatehjhang and adjoining areas, however it is spoken in a belt with a large mix Punjabi dialects
  • Hindko, Hindko is spoken primarily by the people living the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan. Abbotabad, Haripur, Hazara, Mansehra and almost up to Kaghan. It is very commonly spoken in Peshawar. It is also considered to the language of the Punjabi speaking Pathans
  • Pothohari/Pindiwali, This is like the Pahari dialect of north-western Punjab and is spoken widely in the Potohar Plateau in Pakistan and also called “Pindiwali” the language of the people living in the Rawalpindi region
  • Gojri, This dialect was used by the Gujjars from both sides of Punjab. Mostly the northern part of Punjab
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