The linguistic culture of Kashmir
Published on March 26, 2017

The linguistic culture of Kashmir

The linguistic culture of Kashmir

Although the linguistic history of the land is very old but very little is known of its ancient languages. Prakrit, Sanskrit, Persian and Kashmiri are stated as its major old languages while as Kharoshiti Brahmi, Sharda and Arabic were the main scripts used in writing of these languages.

It was in latter decades of 19th century that several European missionaries undertook the major linguistic surveys of the land. J Wilson, G A Grierson, Richard Temple, Dr. Leitner and Karl Fredrek like linguistic experts studied not only Kashmiri but several other classical regional languages of the land.

It is said that initially knowledge of Greek scripts helped scholars to decipher the ancient script and language of the land. The ancient cultural material which partly consisted of ancient inscribed coins carried legends in Greek as well as in Kharoshti. The scholars who knew classical Greek scripts could decipher the Kharoshti letters. The Greek tiles on such coins carried names of the coin issuers with respective tiles. For example the title in Greek was Basilous, Basilioen the same has been transcripted in local Kharoshti characters as Raja Dirajasa Maharaja on the other side of the coin. The similar studies of several bilingual inscriptions and manuscripts made scholars to identify Prakrit and Kharoshti. One of the characteristic features of Kharoshti script was that it was written from right to left like Persian while all other ancient scripts of the land were written from left to right.

Kharoshti letters were identified on hundreds of ancient coins found in Kashmir. The terra-cotta tiles recovered way back from several archaeological sites of the land also depicted Kharoshti numerals. These tiles by their makers were numbered in Kharoshti numerals. The discovery of these numerals also suggested the popularity of the script in ancient Kashmir. The Prakrit was also written in Gupta Brahmi character. Sanskrit and Sharda served as the language and the script of the land till medieval ages. Most of the cultural materials including manuscripts and dated to early material ages have been written in Sharda. It is similar to Devnagari and written from left to right. The coins of medieval and early medieval ages are also inscribed in Gupta Brahmi and Sharda characters.

The Arabic and Persian languages entered into land in 15th Century. The local Sultans and Mughal nobles promoted it. Persian was made the official language of the land  and it continued to serve as the official language for several centuries. Manuscripts, documents and inscribed coins of Dogra period are mostly available in Persian, which speaks of its popularity. Kashmiri, the language of the common man is very much influenced by Sanskrit and Persian language. There is no literary documentary evidence of its earlier stages, which suggests that the languages had no access to literary and royal institutions. The earlier literary evidences traced of these languages consisted the works of Lalla Arifa and Sheikh Noor-ud-Din the two patron saints of the land that lived with in common masses. Although Sanskrit and Persian served as the language of the ruling class but Kashmiri has been the major language of their subjects. Besides, these major languages there are other several regional dialects spoken in Kashmir but very little is known about these languages. These include pugali, shina etc.

The only work which gives any account of the gurezi dialect is the work of  Dr. Leitner’s,  Language and Races of Dardistan (Lahore) published in 1877 which contained little dialogue in Gurezi. These were reprinted in Calcutta and  published in 1889. Richard Temple also has given a good account of the grammar of the language. In an article published in the Indian antiquary Richard Temples writes:

“The valley known in English as Gurezi and in Persian as Gurez is called by its inhabitants Gorai. It is about five miles long by half a mile broad, and contains some six villages with a total population of about 2000 people. The people call themselves Dards, the principal inhabitants being Loan by tribe.”

 While writing about their language, he says, `their language is a dialect of Shina and is closely connected with those spoken in Chillas, Kane and Drass. The dialect is quite different from Kashmiri.  It is very much simple than Kashmiri, having far fewer inflections and is even simpler than Punjabi or Urdu, which it resembles in structure and syntax, though the vocabulary and inflections are almost entirely different.’

The other little known dialects are spoken in Drass, Kargil Chilas, Kane, Hunza and Gilgat in the north and in south in the villages of Banihal, Pugal Paristan and Wardwan. Steps are required to not only preserve these little known dialects but these also need to be promoted. It is the entire responsibility of the people living in such pockets of this state to promote their respective dialect and other related cultural activities of their areas. It is their identity which they should preserve at any cost.

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