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Number of Speakers: 21.5 million

Key Dialects: Kachchi, Lari, Lasi, Thareli, Vicholo (Central Sindhi), Macharia, Dukslinu (Hindu Sindhi), and Sindhi Musalmani (Muslim Sindhi).

Geographical Center: Sindh province, Pakistan

Sindhi is an official language in both Pakistan, where it is spoken by approximately 18.5 million speakers, and in India, where it is spoken by close to three million speakers in the northern region of the country. Outside Pakistan and India, Sindhi is spoken in Oman, United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and in the USA. Although Sindhi is an Indo-Aryan language, it shows some signs of Dravidian influence (in both the lexicon and phonology), making it a noteworthy Indic language both linguistically and culturally.

Sindhi is a Northwestern Indo-Aryan language of the Indo-European language family.

Sindhi divides into three primary dialects, largely on the basis of socio-geographical distribution: Central Sindhi (Vicholo Sindhi), Hindu Sindhi (Dukslinu Sindhi), and Muslim Sindhi (Sindhi Musalmani). These dialects are for the most part largely mutually intelligible, with differences in pronunciation/phonology and vocabulary items/loan words differentiating between them. Although all dialects make use of a number of Arabic borrowings, the Central and Muslim Sindhi dialects incorporate a greater number of Arabic loans into their lexicons than the Hindu Sindhi dialect does. The latter dialect, by contrast, makes use of a number of Sanskrit loan words. Other important dialects of Sindhi include Kachchi, Lari, Lasi, Thareli, and Macharia.

Sindhi is written in a modified Arabic script in both Pakistan and India, however, a number of Sindhi speakers in India also use the Devanagari script. Since Sindhi has many more consonants and vowels than Arabic, extra letters have been created through the use of diacritic dots that modify the basic letter shapes. As such, the orthography consists of 52 consonant graphemes, 10 vowel symbols, and a number of diacritics. As in the Arabic orthography, the Sindhi script is written from right to left and short vowels are omitted in the written form of words. Except at the beginning of a word, short vowels appear only as diacritics on the preceding consonant.

In 1948, the Indian government implemented the Devanagari script for use in writing Sindhi, however, it failed to gain mass acceptance. As such, the language is written in both the modified Arabic and Devanagari scripts in India.

In many ways, the Sindhi phonological system resembles that of other Indo-Aryan languages. The Sindhi phoneme inventory consists of 30 consonant phonemes and 10 vowels, depending on the analysis. Two diphthongs are also attested. A number of consonants (the stops, affricates, nasals, and liquids, to be precise) have aspirated or breathy voiced counterparts. That is to say, aspiration is phonemic or contrastive in Sindhi, as in many other Indic languages (i.e. aspiration is a dimension that can minimally differentiate pairs of otherwise phonologically identical words). In much the same way, every Sindhi vowel has a nasalized counterpart, which is to say that nasalization is also phonemic or contrastive in the language. The Sindhi phoneme inventory features a number of implosive stops, as in a number of genetically and areally related languages. (Implosive articulations contrast with plosive articulations in that the breath is drawn in instead of being expelled in the production of the sound.) To be precise, Sindhi makes use of four such implosive stops. As such, Sindhi has the fullest series of stop consonants of any of the Indo-Aryan languages, showing contrasts between voicing and unvoicing, aspiration and non-aspiration, and plosive vs. implosive articulations.

For the most part, Sindhi syllables end with a vowel or semi-vowel. Syllables ending in consonants are infrequently attested in the language, as are consonant clusters in all positions within the syllable. Syllable onsets are optional in the language, making the syllable structure of the language: (C)V. As in many Indic languages, stress does not play a lexically contrastive role, but rather has a limited use demarcating words and attracting emphasis on a particular word within the utterance. Within a word, stress is largely predictable on the basis of the syllable structure (i.e. on its weight). Stress typically falls on the heaviest syllable of the word, that is, the syllable with the most segmental material (for example, consonant-vowel (CV) syllables are heavier than syllables consisting solely of a single vowel (V) and consonant-vowel-vowel (CVV) syllables are heavier than consonant-vowel (CV) syllables).

Syntactically, Sindhi displays a host of properties that are typical of Indic languages as a whole. Sindhi is a head-final SOV language. Postpositions are attested and affixation is largely suffixal. Adverbs typically follow the subject and precede the object(s) of the verb. Adjectives and relative clauses precede the nouns they modify. Articles are generally absent in the language. Indirect objects precede direct objects and negative/interrogative elements precede the verb. The marking of case (nominative, accusative, dative, genitive, locative, instrumental, ablative, vocative) is achieved via postpositions in the language. Nouns inflect for gender (either masculine or feminine – neuter having been lost diachronically) and number (either singular or plural – the dual form having been lost diachronically). Verbs inflect for mood, tense, and aspect. In addition, Sindhi verbs agree with their subjects in person, gender, and number. All inflection proceeds by way of affixation.

Sindhi is an official language of Pakistan and India. As such it is used in government, education, mass media, and in everyday communication. In particular, Sindhi has a rich literary tradition. Sindhi is spoken by a variety of religious denominations, including Hindus, Muslims, Christians, and Sikhs living in both Pakistan and India. In southeast Pakistan, Sindhi is taught as a first language in all levels of school. Although a sizeable population speaks the language natively, most Hindus speak Sindhi as a second language. Many ethnic Sindhi living in India never learn their traditional ethnic language. Unlike in Pakistan, the majority of Sindhi speakers in India are women and older adults. A number of nomadic groups have adopted the Sindhi language. Most notable among these groups are the Shikari Bhils, a group of approximately three thousand non-literate hunters who live in the southern Sindh province centered around Badin.

Sindhi is considered to have evolved from the Munda-related languages spoken by a group of ancient aboriginal Sindh tribes. Around 4000 B.C., Dravidian invaders conquered the Sindh and considerably influenced their language. This civilization and its language evolved and prospered until roughly 1500 B.C. when Indo-Aryan invaders conquered the Sindh and established the Vedic civilization that came to dominate the region and its numerous languages for hundreds of years. Today, Sindhi is primarily spoken in Pakistan, although a number of Sindhi speakers emigrated to India in 1947 when British India was divided.

One notable aspect of the history of Sindhi is that it was the first language that the Qur’an was translated into in rhymatic format. This translation took place sometime around or before the 12th century. Between the 14-18th centuries, Sindhi was one of the most popular literary languages in the eastern world. This is often attributed to the fact that the language had a vast vocabulary that surpassed the vocabularies of many of the major languages of its time.

Allana, G.A. 1998. Papers on Sindhi Language and Linguistics. Institute of Sindhology. University of Sindh, Jamshoro.

Cardona, George. 2003. The Indo-Aryan Languages. New York, New York: Routledge.

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

Masica, Colin P. 1991. The Indo-Aryan Languages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Mircandani, Dayaramu Vasanmalu. 1964. Mathyom Sindhi Vyakaranu/Higher Sindhi Grammar: Devanagari Script. Bombay: Devanagari Sindhi Sabha.

Trumpp, Ernest. 1970. Grammar of the Sindhi Language. (Reprint of the 1872 edition) Osnabruck: Biblio Verlag.

Yegorava, R.P. 1971. The Sindhi. Moscow: Nauka Publishing House.

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