Kalasha language

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Native to Pakistan (Chitral District)
Region Bumburet, Rumbur and Birir, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
Ethnicity Kalash
Native speakers
5,000 (2000)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3 kls
Glottolog kala1372[2]
Linguasphere 59-AAB-ab

Kalasha (also known as Kalashamondr) is an Indo-European language in the Indo-Aryan branch spoken by the Kalash people, further classified as a Dardic language in the Chitral group.[3] The Kalasha language is phonologically atypical because it contrasts plain, long, nasal, and retroflex vowels as well as combinations of these (Heegård & Mørch 2004).

Kalasha is spoken by the Kalash people who reside in the remote valleys of Bumburet, Birir and Rumbur, which are west of Ayun, which is ten miles down the river from Chitral Town, high in the Hindu Kush mountains in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The Kalash have their own religion, with gods and goddesses. There are an estimated 5,000 speakers of Kalasha.[4]

According to Badshah Munir Bukhari, one of the world's leading authorities on this subject,[peacock term] "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 term "Kalasha" seems to have been adopted 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 and the Nuristani language Kalasha-ala, which descend from different branches of the Indo-Iranian languages.

Until the late 20th century, Kalasha was an undocumented language. More recently, through the work of a Greek NGO and local Kalasha elders seeking to preserve their oral traditions, a new Kalasha alphabet has been created. Working in close collaboration with various international researchers and linguists, Kalasha linguist Taj Khan Kalash organized first "Kalasha Orthography Conference"[6] in Islamabad Pakistan. Having moved to Thessaloniki, Greece, to study linguistics in the Aristotle University, he and the Greek NGO Mesogaia took on the task of compiling the script and creating The Alphabet Book, a primer used to teach the alphabet to the Kalasha children. In 2004 he was able to raise funds to publish the first alphabet book of the Kalasha language based on Roman script designed by an Australian linguist, Gregory R. Cooper.

Of all the languages in the subcontinent, Kalasha is likely the most conservative, along with the nearby western Dardic language Khowar.[7] 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.[8]


Below is set out the phonology of the Kalasha Language.[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 simply lexical—i.e., clusters of 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 tʃʰ
breathy voiced dʒʱ
Fricative voiceless s ʂ ʃ (x) h
voiced ʐ ʒ (ɣ)
Approximant l j w
Rhotic r (ɽ)

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


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

English Kalasha Sanskrit New age Hindi
bone athi, aṭhí asthi Hindi -; Nepali ā̃ṭh 'the ribs'
urine mutra, mútra mūtra H. mūt
village grom grama H. gā̃u;Sanskrit gramam
rope rajuk, raĵhú-k rajju H. rassi, lejur
smoke thum dhūma H. dhūā̃, dhuwā̃
meat mos maṃsa H. mā̃s, mās, māsā
dog shua, śõ.'a śvan H. -; Sinhal. suvan
ant pililak, pilílak pipīla, pippīlika H. pipṛā
son put, putr putra H. pūt
long driga, dríga dīrgha H. dīha
eight asht, aṣṭ aṣṭā H. āṭh
broken china, čhína chinna H. chīn-nā 'to snatch';
kill nash nash, naś, naśyati H. nā̆s 'destroy'


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

  • 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; 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 (agentive?): Pl. Kal. -en, -an, Kho. -an, -an
    • Genitive: Kal. -as (sg.), -an (pl.); Kho. -o (sg.), -an, -ān (pl.)
    • Dative: Kho. -a < OIA dative -āya, elsewhere lost already in late OIA
    • Instrumental: Kal. -an, Kho. -en < OIA -ēna
    • Ablative: Kal. -ou, -ani, Kho. -ār
  • 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", akārim "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)
  2. Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Kalasha". Glottolog. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 1998 Census Report of Pakistan. (2001). Population Census Organization, Statistics Division, Government of Pakistan.
  5. http://users.sedona.net/~strand/Nuristani/Kalasha/kalasha.html, http://nuristan.info/Nuristani/Kalasha/kalasha.html
  6. Kalasha Orthography Conference 2000
  7. Georg Morgenstierne. Indo-Iranian Frontier Languages, Vol. IV: The Kalasha Language & Notes on Kalasha. Oslo 1973, p. 184, details pp. 195-237
  8. Gérard Fussman: 1972 Atlas linguistique des parlers dardes et kafirs. Publications de l'École Française d'Extrême-Orient
  9. Kochetov, Alexei; Arsenault, Paul (2008), Retroflex harmony in Kalasha: Agreement or spreading? (PDF), NELS, 39, Cornell University, p. 4<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Edelman, D. I. (1983). The Dardic and Nuristani Languages. Moscow: (Institut vostokovedenii︠a︡ (Akademii︠a︡ nauk SSSR). p. 202.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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


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  • 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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  • Heegård, Jan; 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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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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.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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External links