Linguistic Diversity: Languages Spoken in Pakistan

Urdu: Our National Language

Urdu, a term originating from the Turkish lexicon, translates to “Army.” This language’s genesis can be traced back to the amalgamation of individuals from diverse regions who enlisted in the Mughal dynasty’s army. Across different eras, it bore various names. Initially, it was referred to as Hindwi, Hinda, and Hindi. Prior to the decline of the Mughals, it went by the name “Reekhta.” Subsequently, it adopted the title of “Urdu-e-Mualla” and ultimately, simply “Urdu.” Ameer Khusro, Qulli Qutub Shah, and Wali Dakni could be credited as the pioneering poets of this linguistic journey. In the early 19th century, before British colonial rule, Urdu experienced an unprecedented surge. Distinguished poets from that epoch include Mir Taqi Mir, Asadullah Khan Ghalib, Khwaja Mir Dard, Khwaja Haider Ali Atish, and more. The establishment of Aligarh College by Sir Syed Ahmad Khan marked a pivotal moment in Urdu’s evolution. Eminent figures like Maulana Altaf Hussain Hali, Baba-e-Urdu Maulvi Abdul Haq, Maulana Shibli Noamani, and Deputy Nazir Ahmed actively contributed to its enrichment. During the British colonial era, Hindu interests sought to undermine the prominence of Urdu, but Muslim leaders adeptly countered these efforts. A substantial portion of Allama Iqbal’s poetic opus finds expression in Urdu. In Pakistan, various literary genres, including ghazal, novel, drama, short story, and criticism, have flourished within the ambit of Urdu. Distinguished contemporary Urdu writers encompass Imtiaz Ali Taj, N.M. Rashid, Meera Jee, Ata Shad, Hafeez Jalandhri, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib, Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi, Ahmed Faraz, Munir Niazi, and Naseem Hijazi.

II. Regional Languages

I. Balochi

Balochi, the language of the Baloch tribes, extends beyond the borders of Pakistan, encompassing regions in southeastern Iran, Afghanistan (Nimroz Province), Turkmenistan, Kurdistan, and the Gulf states. Linguists trace its roots back to the Iranian languages of the Aryan era. Balochi exhibits three major dialects:

a. Eastern or Sulaimani Dialect

This variant is prevalent in Jaccobabad, Kashmor, D.G.Khan, Rajanpur, Marri, Bugti, Sibi, and Naseerabad, among others.

b. Rakhshani Dialect

Inhabitants of Kalat, Nushki, and Kharan predominantly converse in this dialect.

c. Western Dialect

This version is spoken in Makran Division, Karachi, and Iranian Balochistan. Notably, it bears the imprint of Persian linguistic influence.

Balochi language and literature’s historical tapestry is chiefly interwoven with poetry, serving as a conduit for transmitting the Baloch tribes’ history, tales of valor from their ancestors’ wartime exploits, and narratives such as Hani-Sheh Murid, Mir Beuragh and Granaz, Shahdad and Mahnaz, among others. Eminent classical-era Balochi poets include Mir Chakar Khan Rind, Sheh Murid, Mir Beuragh, Mir Shahdad Rind, Mir Jamal Rind, and Shah Mubarik.

Post the formation of Pakistan, Balochi language and literature experienced an upswing. A standardized script was formulated, involving minor alterations to Urdu alphabets. In 1951, the Balochi Deewan was composed. Periodicals like “Oman” and “Olas” monthly, along with the weekly “Deer,” commenced publication in Balochi. The establishment of the Balochi Academy in 1959 furthered the cause, issuing numerous classical books in Balochi. Balochistan University’s Balochi Department has actively engaged in research on the language.

Prominent contemporary Balochi writers include Mir Gul Khan Naseer, Azad Jamaldini, Atta Shad, Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi, Munir Ahmad Badini, Hakim Baloch, Dr. Niamat Gichki, Mubarak Qazi, Akbar Barakzai, Abdullah Jan Jamaldini, Dr. Shah Muhammad Marri, and Allah Bakhsh Buzdar, among others, who have played instrumental roles in promoting Balochi language and literature.

ii. Pashto

Pashto, an ancient Indo-Aryan language, boasts an illustrious history, with references to it found in the Vedas and Mahabharata, ancient Hindu texts. Some scholars contend that it emanated from the “Bakht or Baakht” region in Afghanistan, leading to its early inhabitants being known as “Bakhtoon,” eventually evolving into “Pakhtoon” or “Pashtoon.” Pashto speakers are primarily concentrated in Pakistan’s western and northern regions, including Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province and northern Balochistan Province.

a. Dialects

Pashto exhibits two major dialects due to its connection with Indo-Aryan languages: eastern and western dialects. Consequently, Pashto speakers are divided into two groups, with one pronouncing the letter “ژ” as intended and the other articulating it as “ز” or “زڼ.” This distinction gives rise to the classification of Pashtoons speaking Khattak dialect for the former and Yousafzai dialect for the latter. The demarcation line runs from Attok to Afghanistan, with northeastern tribes speaking Pakhto and southwestern tribes favoring Pashto, as delineated by Sir Olaf Caroe. The former dialect thrives in regions like Dir, Swat, Bunair, and Bajorh, while the latter finds prevalence among Khattak, Durrani tribes, and various tribes in Waziristan, Bannu, Derajat, Zhob, and northern Balochistan.

Pashto’s diverse landscape has given rise to numerous dialects, with two notable ones being the soft western dialect and the robust eastern dialect. Variations are based on specific letters and phonetic sounds. The Kandahari dialect stands out as the most balanced and preserved over time.


While Pashto is an ancient language, its literary journey commenced relatively later. Similar to other established languages, Pashto literature began with poetry. The earliest Pashto book, “Pata Khazana,” dates back to the 8th century A.D., with Ameer Karor being recognized as the inaugural Pashto poet.

In the initial decades of the 19th century, Pashto literature embraced Qaseeda and Marsiya as its genres. “Tazkira-e-Aulia,” authored in 1200 A.D., attests to the presence of Pashto poets composing Hamd and Naat in addition to other forms. During Mahmood Ghaznavi’s reign, Sa

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