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Kashmiri Citations   Kashmiri Links   Select a New Language

Number of Speakers: 4.6 million

Key Dialects: The standard or main dialect of Kashmiri is Kishtwari. It is spoken in the Koshtawar valley in southeast Kashmir. Poguli is the second most prominent regional dialect of the language and is spoken in the Pogul and Paristan valleys. Other key dialects are Rambani and Siraji.

Geographical Center: Kashmir

Kashmiri is the most widely spoken of the Dardic languages. It is spoken by 4.4 million people primarily in the valleys of Kashmir, a formerly independent state of north India and Pakistan now occupied by India, Pakistan, and China. Kashmiri is recognized as the official language of this Kashmir state. It is also spoken in the Indian state of Jammu and in Pakistan. Kashmiri is closely related to Dogri, Shina, and to some extent, Punjabi. The following alternate names/spellings are sometimes used: Keshur, Kaschemiri, Cashmiri, Cashmeeree, and Kacmiri.

Kashmiri is a Northwestern Dardic language of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-Iranian subfamily of the Indo-European language family. The genetic classification of Kashmiri has been and is presently debated among Indo-Iranianists.

There are four primary regional dialects of Kashmiri: Kishtwari, Poguli, Rambani, and Siraji. Of these dialects, Rambani and Siraji do not share many of the typical linguistic characteristics of standard Kashmiri (Kishtwari). Although they are themselves closely related dialects, they share more features with Dogri (a related Indo-Aryan language), than standard Kashmiri. In fact, some scholars hold Siraji to be a Kashmiri creole. They do, however, share some key features of standard Kashmiri, for instance the semantic dimensions of the language’s pronominal system, some morphology, and a significant amount of the language’s lexicon (vocabulary). For these reasons, the dialect is modestly intelligible to speakers of Kishtwari or Poguli Kashmiri, although some difficulties tend to arise. The remaining two regional dialects (Kishtwari and Poguli) enjoy a high degree of mutual intelligibility. Poguli shares 70% of its vocabulary with Kishtwari Kashmiri (Koul and Schmidt 1984). In addition to these regional dialects, Kashmiri possesses two social dialects “Hindu Kashmiri” or “Sanskritized Kashmiri” and “Muslim Kashmiri” or “Persianized Kashmiri” (Grierson 1919). These social dialects differ from standard Kashmiri with regard to vocabulary, phonology, and a relatively small amount of grammatical properties.

Kashmiri is the only Dardic language that uses its own writing system. The traditional script of Kashmiri is the Indian Sharada, a script that was developed around the 10th century. It is currently being used for very restricted purposes by select classes of Kashmiri society, however. The main writing system of Kashmiri is a modified Persio-Arabic alphabet. This orthography has attained official status and is the writing system employed in mass communication.

The Kashmiri phoneme inventory is extensive, consisting of seven to fifteen vowels (depending on the analysis), two of which (the unrounded back vowels) are not found in any other Indo-Aryan or Dravidian language. Additionally, two other Kashmiri vowels (one of the high vowels and the mid central vowel (schwa)) are not found in any other language of the Indian subcontinent. Vowel length and nasalization are both contrastive. The consonant inventory is comprised of twenty-eight phonemes. Aspiration is phonemic, but voiced aspirated stops are unattested in the language. The dental affricates of Kashmiri are relatively rare among Indian languages. Palatalization is a distinctive feature of the Kashmiri sound system. With the exception of the palatal phonemes, all consonants can be palatalized. The syllable structure of the language is characterized by the following schematic (where C denotes ‘consonant’, V denotes ‘vowel’, and symbols in parentheses are optional): (C)(C)V(C)(C). Accent/stress is not a distinctive feature in Kashmiri.

Many scholars characterize the basic word order of Kashmiri as SVO, however, this description only scratches the surface. In some (but not all) subordinate clauses the verb appears finally (i.e. with SOV word orders), as in German and Dutch. In main clauses, however, the verb is not always noun phrase medial as would be expected if Kashmiri were an SVO language, but rather surfaces as the second constituent in the sentence string, again as in German and Dutch (Hook 1976). Similar to these languages, if the verb is accompanied by an auxiliary element, the main verb surfaces sentence-finally. For these reasons, Kashmiri is best described as a verb-second (V-2) language, rather than simply as an SVO language. This word order pattern is strikingly distinct from that found in other Indo-Aryan languages. The following examples from Hook 1976 illustrate that the verb occurs in second constituent position, regardless of the first constituent.

(1) a. Raman khav bati.
Ram eat.PAST food
‘Ram ate food.’

b. Rath pyauv sethah rud.
yesterday fall.PAST much rain
‘Yesterday, much rain fell.’

Kashmiri is an ergative language; subjects of transitive verbs in the past tense are case-marked differently than intransitive subjects. The language’s case system is extensive. The following five cases are marked morphologically as suffixes; the so-called agentive (or nominative) case and the four oblique cases: dative, ergative, ablative, and vocative. Notably, this five-way morphological marking distinction exists only in masculine singular forms. All other forms are morphologically marked solely with the oblique cases. The remaining cases are encoded by way of postpositions. Included in this set are the following cases: locative, instrumental, genitive, sociative, and allative. Nouns are declined for number, gender, and case. Likewise for pronouns, which additionally encode the spatial relationship between the speaker and the referent of the pronoun in third person forms (proximal [near], remote [within sight], distal [out of sight]). Adjectives and adverbs divide into two classes: those that decline for number, gender, and case; and those that do not. Verbs inflect for person, number, gender, tense, aspect, voice, mood, and temporal proximity to the present time (the later admitting a three-way distinction between proximal, indefinite, and remote forms). Verbs agree with their subjects in person and number and with their objects in gender and number. As in many Indic languages, adpositions are postpositional and affixation is predominantly suffixal. Some prefixes are attested, but these are all borrowed forms. Thus, prefixation can be considered a non-productive morphological process in the language. Reduplication is widely attested and is productive.

Kashmiri is recognized as one of the 15 major languages in the constitution of India and is the official language of the Kashmir and Jammu states. Nonetheless, it is neither used as the language of administration nor is it standardly taught in primary or middle schools. Only within the past twenty years has Kashmiri been taught in Indian universities. Despite this state, however, literacy rates are high. 88% of males over 35, for instance, are literate in written Kashmiri (Gordon 2005). Speakers are predominantly fluent in a second language, typically Hindi/Urdu. Many Kashmiris also speak English. The language enjoys a rich literary tradition, dating from the 12th century A.D. In fact, Kashmiri is the only Dardic language to have established itself as a literary language. Kashmiri poetry, in particular, is regarded as internationally influential and culturally important. A good deal of mass communication is carried out in Kashmiri, for instance, newspapers, radio programs, and films.

There is much speculation and disagreement concerning the origin and genealogical classification of Kashmiri. Genetically, the received opinion seems to be that Kashmiri is both a Dardic language and an Indo-Aryan language. There are basically two other schools of thought on this matter. The first places Kashmiri under the Dardic group of languages, a language subfamily hypothesized to be of neither Indian nor Iranian origin, but rather stemming from Aryan stock (Grierson 1919). The other considers Kashmiri an Indo-Aryan language, but devoid of any Dardic lineage. Most scholars today agree that Kashmiri has descended from Vedic roots, that is, from one of the dialects of which classical Sanskrit was formed. Kashmiri historians claim that the language emerged from a Prakrita-Apabhrams’a substratum of the Kashmir region around the 10th century A.D. Given the separation of the Kashmiri people from other ethnic groups as imposed by geography, there are few surviving historical records to shed light on this matter.

Bhat, Roopkrishen. 1987. A Descriptive Study of Kashmiri. Delhi: Amar Prakashan.

Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Editor). 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.

Grierson, George A. 1919. Linguistic Survey of India, Vol. VIII, Part II. Calcutta: Superintendant Government Printing.

Hook, Peter E. 1976. Is Kashmiri an SVO Language? Indian Linguistics 37: 133-142.

Hook, Peter E. and Omkar N. Koul (eds.). 1984. Aspects of Kashmiri Linguistics. New Delhi: Bahri Publications.

Koul, Maharaj K. 1986. A Sociolinguistic Study of Kashmiri. Patiala: Indian Institute of Language Studies.

Koul, Omkar N. 1977. Linguistic Studies in Kashmiri. New Delhi: U.S. Bahri.

Koul, Omkar N. and Ruth Laila. Schmidt. 1983. Kashmiri: A Sociolinguistic Survey. Patiala: Indian Institute of Language Studies.

Koul, Omkar N. and Ruth Laila. Schmidt. 1984. Dardistan Revisited: An Examination of the Relationship Between Kashmiri and Shina. In Peter E. Hook and Omkar N. Koul (eds.), Aspects of Kashmiri Linguistics, 1-26. New Delhi: Bahri Publications.

Raina, Soom Nath. 1990. Kashmiri for Non-Kashmiries: Learning and Teaching Problems. Patiala: Gopi Publications.

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