Khowar Language

Khowar,  the  language  (war)   of  the  Kho  community,  is also  known  as  Qashqari  or  Chitrali:  it  is  an  Indo-Aryan language of the Dardic group  spoken by approximately 400,000 people in Chitral in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in the  Ghizer  District  of  Gilgit4Baltistan  (including  the  Yasin Valley,  Phandar  Ishkoman  and  Gupis ,  and  in    two  villages  of  Kalam  area  in  Upper  Swat,  Ushu  and  Matiltan.

Speakers of Khowar have also migrated heavily to Pakistan’s major urban centers e.g. Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, creating sizeable populations there.

There  are  thirteen  languages  are  spoken  in  District  Chitral, of which Khowar is the second largest. Khowar has four dialects:  two  are  spoken  within  Chitral,  viz  Lotkoh and  Laspur,  and  two  beyond,  in  Ushu  and  Matiltan  in Swat, and the Ghizer valley.

There is no documentary proof of the Khowar language’s origin, although there are some stories about it.  Before the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Khowar had important role in the functioning of government. Although it was not a written language, it was the  language  of  the  royal  family  and  was  used  “for  all oral  official  communications”,  while  Farsi  (i.e.  Persian) was used for all written purposes until 1952.

The  first  evidence  of  Khowar  as  a  written  language  is  a letter  of  Mr.  Muhammad  Nasirul  Mulk  ,  written  to  his munshi  (personal  assistant   Muhammad  Ghufran,  on  26 May  1917.  In the  letter,  he  used  Persian  script,  devising signs  for  Khowar’s  extra  phones.  In this early period,there  was  some  limited  foreign  research  on  Khowar.  It used Roman script for the language.

Shehzada  Muhammad  Hisam-ul-Mulk,  governor  of  Mehter  state,  established  a  literary  organization  called  Anjuman-e-Tarqi-Khowar,  for  promotion  the  Khowar  language in 1956: he became its founder president. In addition,  he  organized  the  first  poetry  recital  on  the  lawn  of

Chitral’s public library in 1957: 17 poets attended. It was the start for local scholars. Later on the organization continued  to  hold  poetry  recitals,  as  part  of  a  wider  programme of promoting  language development.

In 1962, Shehzada Muhammad Hisam-ul-Mulk managed to get Khowar included in the curriculum as an optional subject at primary level. Within a few months, however, this decision was withdrawn by the provincial  government,  since  it  did  not  seem  to  have  community  support.

In  1969,  a  monthly  magazine  Jamhor-e-Islam  Khowar (The  Khowar  Islamic  Masses)   began  publishing  in Khowar; but it too ceased to exist when the government withdrew its financial support.

Since 1965, Radio Pakistan Peshawar has relayed a one hour program daily in Khowar. In 1993 a Khowar radio station was established too at Chitral, but this is only audible within a distance of ten kilometers.

Despite all these setbacks, Khowar is a written language with a working orthography, and long history of publication, even if it is still facing some challenges in details of its spelling.  For example, the sort order of Khowar alphabet is not yet standardized. It varies with every publication (one letter added, another removed.  Another big issue is spelling inconsistency, which sometimes is visible even within the work of a single writer. Writers vary in their use of diacritics etc. There is no sign for long and short  vowels,  stress  or  tone.  In sum one can say that Khowar orthography still faces big challenges.

In Khyber Pakhtun-Khawa province Pushto is the dominant language.  Kho people are considered  peace-loving and  honest  but  outsiders’  attitudes  to  the  Khowar  language are not good. Some consider it a dialect of Persian. Kho speakers like their language and speak it anywhere, without reserve.  However,  they  have  economic  reasons to use English  and Urdu,  the  official  languages  of  Pakistan.  Khowar is not included in the curriculum of Government or private schools.  Private schools actually discourage speaking of Khowar in the classroom, encouraging their students rather to speak English, or Urdu.

The  present  government  has  included  five  languages  in the  curriculum,  and  Khowar  is  one  of  them.  However, this does not entail progress practically.

 Pakistan has no clear language policy.  The Government authorities  do  not  know  how  many  languages  are spoken  in  Pakistan,  and  sometimes  mix  up  dialect  and language.  In practice, the Government of Pakistan supports only English and Urdu. At  present,  the  minor  languages  face  endangerment  although  the  speakers  themselves  are  doing  their  best  to promote  and  save  the  language  and  culture  for  future generations.  The pressures from national and international media speed up the process of endangerment of the minor languages, threatening their very existence, as

well  as  the  history  and  culture  which  they  have  preserved. This is the time to act to save the history, culture and language.  Otherwise in the near future the world will deprived of its long-treasured diversity.

The writer is coordinator, Multi-Language Education (MLE), a project for promotion of local languages. He has worked extensively for promotion and preservation of local and endangered languages and culture documentation.  

2 Comments on "Khowar Language"

  1. Saif_chitrali | March 7, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Reply

    It iis our pleasure tthat like farid people are living in Chitral and want to promote their culture and identity

  2. Rozi Khan Burki | March 1, 2012 at 12:55 am | Reply

    A good historical narration of Khowar language by Farid Raza. It is encouraging to note that many Khowar language activists are now involved not only to codify their language but also to develop and promote this national treasure to our future generation. I would urge speakers of other neglected languages to follow suit and keep alive their languages by passing to their children and also preserve them through the latest technological means   

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