Chitral Kalasha language

Kalasha (locally: Kalashamondr) is an Indo-Aryan language of the Dardic subgroup spoken by the Kalash people, in the Chitral District in Pakistan.[2] There are an estimated 5,000 speakers of Kalasha.[3] It is an endangered language and there is an ongoing language shift to Khowar.[4]

Native toPakistan (Chitral District)
RegionBumburet, Rumbur and Birir
Native speakers
5,000 (2000)[1]
Arabic script, Latin script
Language codes
ISO 639-3kls

Kalasha should not be confused with the nearby Nuristani language Waigali (Kalasha-ala). According to Badshah Munir Bukhari, a researcher on the Kalash, "Kalasha" is also the ethnic name for the Nuristani inhabitants of a region southwest of the Kalasha Valleys, in the Waygal and middle Pech Valleys of Afghanistan's Nuristan Province. The name "Kalasha" seems to have been adopted for the Kalash people by the Kalasha speakers of Chitral from the Nuristanis of Waygal, who for a time expanded up to southern Chitral several centuries ago.[5] However, there is no close connection between the Indo-Aryan language Kalasha-mun (Kalasha) and the Nuristani language Kalasha-ala (Waigali), which descend from different branches of the Indo-Iranian languages.


Early scholars to have done work on Kalasha include the 19th-century orientalist Gottlieb Wilhelm Leitner and the 20th-century linguist Georg Morgenstierne. More recently, studies have been undertaken by Elena Bashir and several others. The development of practical literacy materials has been associated with the Kalasha linguist Taj Khan Kalash.


Of all the languages in the subcontinent, Kalasha is likely the most conservative, along with the nearby language Khowar.[6] In a few cases, Kalasha is even more conservative than Khowar, e.g. in retaining voiced aspirate consonants, which have disappeared from most other Dardic languages.

Some of the typical retentions of sounds and clusters (and meanings) are seen in the following list. However, note some common New Indo-Aryan and Dardic features as well.[7]


The Kalasha language is phonologically atypical because it contrasts plain, long, nasal and retroflex vowels as well as combinations of these (Heegård & Mørch 2004). Set out below is the phonology of Kalasha:[8][9]


Front Central Back
Close i ĩ i˞ ĩ˞ u ũ u˞ ũ˞
Mid e ẽ e˞ ẽ˞ o õ o˞ õ˞
Open a ã a˞ ã˞


As with other Dardic languages, the phonemic status of the breathy voiced series is debatable. Some analyses are unsure of whether they are phonemic or allophonic—i.e., the regular pronunciations of clusters of voiced consonants with /h/.[10]

Labial Alveolar Retroflex Postalveolar/
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n (ɳ) (ɲ) (ŋ)
Stop voiceless p t ʈ k (q)
voiced b d ɖ ɡ
aspirated ʈʰ
breathy voiced ɖʱ ɡʱ
Affricate voiceless ts
voiced dz
aspirated tsʰ tʂʰ tɕʰ
breathy voiced dʑʱ
Fricative voiceless s ʂ ɕ (x) h
voiced z ʐ ʑ (ɣ)
Approximant l ɫ j w
Rhotic r (ɽ)

The phonemes /x ɣ q/ are found in loanwords.

Vocabulary comparisonEdit

The following table compares Kalash words to their cognates in other Indo-Aryan languages.[11]

English Kalasha Sanskrit other Indo-Aryan languages
bone athi, aṭhí asthi Hindi -; Nepali ā̃ṭh 'the ribs'
urine mutra, mútra mūtra H. mūt; Assamese mut
village grom grama H. gā̃w; A. gãü
rope rajuk, raĵhú-k rajju H. lej, lejur; A. lezu
smoke thum dhūma H. dhūā̃, dhuwā̃; A. dhü̃a
meat mos maṃsa H. mā̃s, mās, māsā
dog shua, śõ.'a śvan H. -; Sinhalese suvan
ant pililak, pilílak pipīla, pippīlika H. pipṛā; A. pipora
son put, putr putra H. pūt; A. put
long driga, dríga dīrgha H. dīha; A. digha
eight asht, aṣṭ aṣṭā H. āṭh; A. ath
broken china, čhína chinna H. chīn-nā 'to snatch';
kill nash nash, naś, naśyati H. nā̆s 'destroy'

Conservative traitsEdit

Examples of conservative features in Kalasha and Khowar are (note, NIA = New Indo-Aryan, MIA = Middle Indo-Aryan, OIA = Old Indo-Aryan):[12]

  • Preservation of intervocalic /m/ (reduced to a nasalized /w/ or /v/ in late MIA elsewhere), e.g. Kal. grom, Kho. gram "village" < OIA grāma
  • Non-deletion of intervocalic /t/, preserved as /l/ or /w/ in Kalasha, /r/ in Khowar (deleted in middle MIA elsewhere), e.g. Kho. brār "brother" < OIA bhrātṛ; Kal. ʃau < *ʃal, Kho. ʃor "hundred" < OIA śata
  • Preservation of the distinction between all three OIA sibilants (dental /s/, palatal /ś/, retroflex /ṣ/); in most of the subcontinent, these three had already merged before 200 BC (early MIA)
  • Preservation of sibilant + consonant, stop + /r/ clusters (lost by early MIA in most other places):
    • Kal. aṣṭ, Kho. oṣṭ "eight" < OIA aṣṭā; Kal. hast, Kho. host "hand" < OIA hasta; Kal. istam "bunch" < OIA stamba; Kho. istōr "pack horse" < OIA sthōra; Kho. isnār "bathed" < OIA snāta; Kal. Kho. iskow "peg" < OIA *skabha (< skambha); Kho. iśper "white" < OIA śvēta; Kal. isprɛs, Kho. iśpreṣi "mother-in-law" < OIA śvaśru; Kal. piṣṭ "back" < OIA pṛṣṭha; Kho. aśrū "tear" < OIA aśru.
    • Kho. kren- "buy" < OIA krīṇ-; Kal. grom, Kho. grom "village" < OIA grāma; Kal. gŕä "neck" < OIA grīva; Kho. griṣp "summer" < OIA grīṣma
  • Preservation of /ts/ in Kalasha (reinterpreted as a single phoneme)
  • Direct preservation of many OIA case endings as so-called "layer 1" case endings (as opposed to newer "layer 2" case endings, typically tacked onto a layer-1 oblique case):
    • Nominative
    • Oblique (Animate): Pl. Kal. -an, Kho. -an < OIA -ān
    • Genitive: Kal. -as (sg.), -an (pl.); Kho. -o (sg.), -an, -ān (pl.) < OIA -asya (sg.), āṇām (pl.)
    • Dative: Kal. -a, Kho. -a < OIA dative -āya, elsewhere lost already in late OIA
    • Instrumental: Kal. -an, Kho. -en < OIA -ēna
    • Ablative: Kal. -au, Kho. -ār < OIA -āt
    • Locative: Kal. -ai, Kho. -i < OIA -ai
  • Preservation of more than one verbal conjugation (e.g. Kho. mār-īm "I kill" vs. bri-um "I die")
  • Preservation of OIA distinction between "primary" (non-past) and "secondary" (past) endings and of a past-tense "augment" in a-, both lost entirely elsewhere: Kal. pim "I drink", apis "I drank"; kārim "I do", akāris "I did"
  • Preservation of a verbal preterite tense (see examples above), with normal nominative/accusative marking and normal verbal agreement, as opposed to the ergative-type past tenses with nominal-type agreement elsewhere in NIA (originally based on a participial passive construction)


  1. ^ Kalasha at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015) (subscription required)
  2. ^ Bashir, Elena (2007). Jain, Danesh; Cardona, George (eds.). The Indo-Aryan languages. p. 905. ISBN 978-0415772945. 'Dardic' is a geographic cover term for those Northwest Indo-Aryan languages which [..] developed new characteristics different from the IA languages of the Indo-Gangetic plain. Although the Dardic and Nuristani (previously 'Kafiri') languages were formerly grouped together, Morgenstierne (1965) has established that the Dardic languages are Indo-Aryan, and that the Nuristani languages constitute a separate subgroup of Indo-Iranian.
  3. ^ 1998 Census Report of Pakistan. (2001). Population Census Organization, Statistics Division, Government of Pakistan.
  4. ^ Heegård Petersen, Jan (2015-09-30). "Kalasha texts – With introductory grammar". Acta Linguistica Hafniensia. 47 (sup1): 1–275. doi:10.1080/03740463.2015.1069049. ISSN 0374-0463.
  5. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2001-11-01. Retrieved 2001-11-01.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link),
  6. ^ Georg Morgenstierne. Indo-Iranian Frontier Languages, Vol. IV: The Kalasha Language & Notes on Kalasha. Oslo 1973, p. 184, details pp. 195-237
  7. ^ Gérard Fussman: 1972 Atlas linguistique des parlers dardes et kafirs. Publications de l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient
  8. ^ Kochetov, Alexei; Arsenault, Paul (2008), Retroflex harmony in Kalasha: Agreement or spreading? (PDF), NELS, vol. 39, Cornell University, p. 4
  9. ^ Petersen, Jan H. (2015). Kalasha texts – With introductory grammar. Acta Linguistica Hafniensia,Vol. 47: International Journal of Linguistics.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  10. ^ Edelman, D. I. (1983). The Dardic and Nuristani Languages. Moscow: (Institut vostokovedenii︠a︡ (Akademii︠a︡ nauk SSSR). p. 202.
  11. ^ R.T.Trail and G.R. Cooper, Kalasha Dictionary – with English and Urdu. National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Islamabad & Summer Institute of Linguistics, Dallas TX. 1999
  12. ^ Jan Heegård Petersen (2015) Kalasha texts – With introductory grammar, Acta Linguistica Hafniensia, 47: sup1, 1-275, doi: 10.1080/03740463.2015.1069049


  • Bashir, Elena L. (1988). Topics in Kalasha Syntax: An Areal and Typological Perspective. (Ph.D. dissertation) University of Michigan.
  • Cacopardo, Alberto M.; Cacopardo, Augusto S. (2001). Gates of Peristan: History, Religion, and Society in the Hindu Kush. Rome: Instituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente.
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  • Gerard Fussman. Atlas Linguistique Des Parles Dardes Et Kafirs. Vol. (two umes). Maps showing distribution of words among people of Kafiristan.
  • Heegård, Jan; Mørch, Ida Elisabeth (March 2004). "Retroflex vowels and other peculiarities in Kalasha sound system". In Anju Saxena; Jadranka Gvozdanovic (eds.). Synchronic and Diachronic Aspects of Himalayan Linguistics. Selected Proceedings of the 7th Himalayan Languages Symposium held in Uppsala, Sweden. The Hague: Mouton.
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  • Morgenstierne, Georg (1926). Report on a Linguistic Mission to Afghanistan. Serie C I-2. Oslo: Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning. ISBN 0-923891-09-9.
  • Morgenstierne, Georg (1973). The Kalasha Language & Notes on Kalasha. Indo-Iranian Frontier Languages. Vol. IV. Oslo. ISBN 4871875245.
  • Sir George Scott Robertson (1896). The Kafirs of the Hindukush.
  • Strand, Richard F. (1973). "Notes on the Nûristânî and Dardic Languages". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 93 (3): 297–305. doi:10.2307/599462. JSTOR 599462.
  • Strand, Richard F. (2001). "The Tongues of Peristân". In Alberto M. Cacopardo; Augusto S. Cacopardo (eds.). Gates of Peristan: History, Religion and Society in the Hindu Kush. Rome: Instituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente. pp. 251–259.
  • Trail, Ronald L.; Cooper, Gregory R. (1999). Kalasha dictionary—with English and Urdu. Studies in Languages of Northern Pakistan. Vol. 7. Islamabad: National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University and Summer Institute of Linguistics. ISBN 4871875237.

External linksEdit