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Top 10 Popular Languages in Pakistan 

Pakistan is a country characterized by linguistic diversity, boasting numerous primary languages. The majority of these languages fall within the Indo-Iranian branch of the larger Indo-European language family. While English also holds official status, Urdu takes precedence as the national language and lingua franca, particularly in international communication.

Communication among various ethnic groups in Pakistan involves the use of multiple regional languages, each serving as the primary language for distinct linguistic communities. Notable languages, each spoken by over 1 million people, include Punjabi, Pashto, Sindhi, Saraiki, Urdu, Balochi, Hindko, Gujari, Kashmiri, and Brahui. Communities that number less than a million members speak about 60 different local languages.

List of Top 10 Languages in Pakistan

  1. Urdu 
  2. Punjabi 
  3. Sindhi
  4. Pashto
  5. Saraiki
  6. Balochi
  7. English
  8. Kashmiri
  9. Hindko
  10. Brahui

1. Urdu

Urdu is the official language of Pakistan and serves as the common language for communication throughout the country. While only a small percentage around 7% of people of Pakistan have Urdu as their first language, most of the population understands and uses it as a second language. Although no specific region in Pakistan claims Urdu as its native language, it holds significance as a symbol of unity, chosen for the newly formed state in 1947. Muhajirs, Pakistani Muslim immigrants who migrated from India after independence, played a role in establishing Urdu as a lingua franca, given its pre-existing use among Muslims in the north and northwest.

Urdu is employed in writing and speech across all provinces and territories of Pakistan, often alongside English as the primary medium of instruction. Although different regions may have their native languages, Urdu is compulsory in high school education. The education system includes both English and Urdu streams, leading to the emergence of millions of second-language Urdu speakers from various linguistic backgrounds in Pakistan. This has resulted in the incorporation of vocabulary from local languages into Urdu, contributing to its diverse linguistic influences on regional languages in Pakistan.

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2. Punjabi 

Punjabi is an Indo-Aryan language primarily spoken in Pakistan’s Punjab province. The predominant dialect is Maja, typically written in the Shahmukhi script. It stands out as the most extensively spoken language in Pakistan, with 38.78% of the population considering it their first language. In India, Punjabi ranks as the 11th most spoken language and holds the third position as the most spoken mother tongue in the Indian subcontinent. Beyond the subcontinent, Punjabi resonates among diasporas, notably in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

What distinguishes Punjabi is its lexical usage, setting it apart from other Indo-Aryan and wider Indo-European languages. The linguistic richness and diversity contribute to its uniqueness. The Maja dialect, written in Shahmukhi script, plays a vital role in preserving the cultural and linguistic identity of the Punjabi-speaking community.

As a language with a significant diasporic presence, Punjabi continues to flourish globally, maintaining its cultural significance and contributing to the multicultural patterns in countries where it has found a home. Its prevalence underscores its importance, not just as a means of communication but also as a vessel of cultural heritage for millions of speakers worldwide.

3. Sindhi

Sindhi stands as a significant Indo-Aryan language, serving as the primary language for nearly 15% of Pakistanis. Predominantly spoken in the Sindh province of Pakistan, the nomenclature “Sindhi” finds its roots in Sindhu, the original name of the Indus River. Like others within its linguistic lineage, this language traces its origins back to Sanskrit and Pali. Initially thought to have descended from the Vrachada dialect of Ababramsha, as posited by 20th-century Western scholars like George Abraham Grierson, subsequent studies have cast doubt on this claim.

The linguistic journey of Sindhi took a transformative turn during the 10th century AD when it entered the Neo-Indo-Aryan stage, signifying a crucial phase in its evolution. This period marked significant linguistic developments that shaped the language into its contemporary form. The intricate linguistic landscape of Sindhi further unfolds through its six primary recognized dialects, namely Siroli, Bichori, Lari, Thali, Lasi, and Kutch. Each of these dialects contributes distinct linguistic nuances, adding layers to the broader patterns of Sindhi’s rich heritage.

These dialects are not mere linguistic variations; they serve as repositories of cultural and historical intricacies specific to the region. The diversity within Sindhi’s linguistic structure mirrors the multifaceted influences that have molded it over the centuries. Beyond being a mode of communication, Sindhi embodies a vibrant linguistic legacy, reflecting the ebb and flow of historical currents and encapsulating the essence of the Sindh province’s cultural nuances in Pakistan. The language serves as a testament to the dynamic interplay between culture and language, preserving the unique identity of the region.

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4. Pashto

Pashto is a linguistically significant Iranian language, holding the status of the primary spoken language for more than 18.24% of Pakistan’s population. This linguistic influence is particularly pronounced in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Balochistan, where Pashto is deeply embedded in the fabric of local cultures. Its impact extends to major urban centers such as Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and, notably, Karachi, where the city boasts the world’s largest Pashtun population.

The intricacies of Pashto unravel through three major dialect patterns. The northern breeds, centered around Peshawar, exhibit distinct linguistic nuances. Meanwhile, the southern Pashto dialect, prevalent near Quetta, adds another layer of diversity. In northern Balochistan, the Vanetsi or Tarino breeds contribute to the linguistic panorama, each reflecting the unique historical and cultural amalgamations of their respective regions.

Examining Pashto within the context of different states and regions in Pakistan unveils a dynamic fabric of linguistic diversity. It serves not only as a means of communication but also as a cultural identifier, fostering a sense of community and heritage. The multifaceted nature of Pashto across states enriches Pakistan’s linguistic landscape, encapsulating the historical narratives and societal intricacies that have shaped these diverse linguistic expressions.

5. Saraiki

An Indo-Aryan language Saraiki with its roots firmly planted in central and southeastern Pakistan, predominantly in the southern regions of Punjab. Boasting a speaker base of around 26 million individuals, Saraiki extends its linguistic influence across eastern Balochistan, northern Sindh, southern Punjab, and southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa border regions.

The linguistic landscape of Saraiki reveals a close kinship with Standard Punjabi, showcasing a substantial overlap in vocabulary and grammatical structures. However, distinctive phonological characteristics set Saraiki apart, featuring the absence of tone, the retention of voiced sounds, and the unique development of implosion. Notably, Saraiki also shares significant grammatical features with Sindhi, a language spoken in the southern reaches of Pakistan.

The prevalence of Saraiki marks its significance as a vital means of communication for millions in Pakistan, embodying cultural identity and regional ties. Its usage extends beyond linguistic boundaries, contributing to the rich fabric of linguistic diversity within the country. As a linguistic bridge connecting various regions, Saraiki plays a crucial role in shaping the cultural and social fabric of the communities it serves.

6. Balochi

Baluchi, an Iranian language, is spoken by approximately 3% of the Pakistani population, predominantly in the Balochistan province. Among its dialects, Lakshani stands out as the most prevalent. Within Lakshani, there exists a sub-dialect called Salhadi. 

The linguistic landscape of Baluchi in Pakistan is diverse, reflecting the cultural richness of the region. Lakshani, as the major dialect, plays a crucial role in shaping the linguistic identity of the Baloch people. The nuances within sub-dialects like Salhadi, Karathi, Chagai Kalani, and Panjiguli contribute to the overall linguistic curtain, showcasing the intricacies of Baluchi as a language.

Furthermore, the Eastern Hill Baloch or Northern Baloch introduces an additional layer of diversity, highlighting the regional variations within the Baluchi language. This linguistic diversity not only underscores the complexity of Baluchi but also serves as a testament to the cultural and historical influences that have shaped the language spoken by this minority community in Pakistan.

7. English

English is officially recognized as the language of administration in Pakistan and is extensively utilized within the executive, legislative, and judicial branches, as well as among the officer ranks of the Pakistani Armed Forces. The country’s constitution and laws were initially drafted in English, and ongoing efforts are underway to rewrite them in the local language. Furthermore, English serves as a primary medium of instruction in both schools and universities. It holds a distinct position as a language associated with prestige, particularly among the upper classes, where it is frequently spoken alongside Pakistan’s native languages.

In 2015, there were discussions regarding the promotion of Urdu in official matters; however, Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal clarified that Urdu is intended to become a secondary language alongside English in official affairs. Bilingualism is envisioned as the future norm. As part of this language policy, English will continue to be taught alongside Urdu in schools, emphasizing its importance in the educational system. The recognition of English as a language of influence and its integration with Urdu in official matters highlight the complex linguistic landscape in Pakistan, reflecting both historical legacies and contemporary aspirations for linguistic diversity and inclusivity.

8. Kashmiri

Kashmiri, an Indo-Aryan language, holds a significant cultural and linguistic heritage. Spoken primarily in the Kashmir Valley and surrounding regions, Kashmiri is the native language of the Kashmiri people. It has a rich history dating back centuries and is deeply intertwined with the cultural fabric of Kashmiri society.

The language, written in the Perso-Arabic script, boasts a distinctive phonological and morphological structure. It is renowned for its unique features, such as vowel harmony and a diverse set of consonantal sounds. Kashmiri literature, both oral and written, has flourished over the years, encompassing a range of genres like poetry, prose, and folk narratives. Prominent poets and writers have contributed to the development and preservation of the Kashmiri language, capturing the essence of the region’s traditions and experiences.

Despite facing challenges over time, including political unrest and social changes, efforts are being made to promote and revitalize the Kashmiri language. Educational initiatives, cultural programs, and literary endeavors aim to ensure the continuity of this linguistic heritage. The significance of Kashmiri extends beyond mere communication; it serves as a symbol of identity and connection to the rich cultural curtain of the Kashmir Valley.

9. Hindko

Hindko, denoting the diverse Lalda dialects, is a colloquial term for the linguistic variety spoken across distinct areas in northwestern Pakistan, primarily in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. This language group, mutually comprehensible with Punjabi and Saraiki, exhibits a stronger linguistic affinity with the latter than the former. Noteworthy differences from other Punjabi variations are more prominent in the realms of morphology and phonology rather than in syntax.

The term Hindko is commonly applied to describe the multitude of Indo-Aryan dialects spoken in proximity to the Pashto-speaking population. Originally, it is thought to have signified an “Indian language” in contrast to Pashto. Another locally recognized name for this linguistic cluster is Hindki.

The linguistic landscape is characterized by a rich curtain of dialects, each reflecting the cultural and historical nuances of its region. The use of Hindko as a descriptor encompasses the linguistic diversity found in these areas, underscoring the intricate interplay of languages and cultures in northwestern Pakistan. Furthermore, the term serves as a cultural identifier, capturing the essence of the language spoken by communities in this vibrant and linguistically diverse part of the country.

10. Brahui

Burahui, or Brahui, is a Dravidian language with its roots firmly planted in the central expanse of Balochistan, Pakistan. Its linguistic presence extends predominantly across districts like Karat, Khuzdar, and Mastun, while also making its way into a few neighboring regions. Notably, Burahui resonates beyond the national borders, finding a place among communities in Afghanistan that share proximity with Pakistani Balochistan. 

Inhabitants of Karat, Khuzdar, and Mastun districts primarily communicate in Burahui, contributing to the linguistic curtain of central Balochistan. However, the linguistic landscape is evolving, and a noteworthy proportion of individuals from the ethnic group associated with Burahui have transitioned away from using this language in their daily interactions.

The multifaceted distribution of Burahui mirrors the complex cultural interplay in this region, where linguistic diversity serves as a testament to the rich heritage and historical connections. As globalization and sociolinguistic shifts continue to influence communities, the fate of Burahui stands at an intriguing crossroads, with some embracing it as an integral part of their identity, while others distance themselves from its usage in favor of more widely spoken languages.

List of other Minor Languages of Pakistan

  • Chitrali
  • Khowar
  • Wakhi
  • Balti
  • Shina
  • Burushaski
  • Kalasha
  • Potohari
  • Dhatki
  • Marwari
  • Goaria

Conclusion

Pakistan’s linguistic landscape is a vibrant montage, with Urdu as the national language and regional languages like Punjabi, Sindhi, Pashto, and Balochi adding cultural richness. This diversity reflects the nation’s commitment to inclusivity and cultural preservation. The coexistence of languages in Pakistan contributes to a unique and dynamic identity, symbolizing unity amid the rich fabric of the country’s multicultural heritage.

FAQs

Which is the Oldest Language of Pakistan?

Determining the absolute oldest language in Pakistan can be challenging due to the complex linguistic history of the region. However, Sanskrit, an ancient Indo-Aryan language, holds significant historical relevance and was spoken in the region that is now Pakistan. Sanskrit has ancient roots and is the liturgical language of Hinduism, which has a deep historical presence in the Indian subcontinent.

What is Pakistan’s First Language?

Pakistan’s first language in terms of official status is Urdu. Urdu was declared the national language of Pakistan at the time of its creation in 1947. It serves as a lingua franca, enabling communication among people from various linguistic backgrounds. English holds official status and is widely used in government, education, and business, alongside Urdu.

How Many Languages Are in Pakistan?

Pakistan is a linguistically diverse country with a multitude of languages spoken within its borders. The Ethnologue, a widely referenced resource on world languages, lists over 70 languages in Pakistan. However, the majority of the population communicates in a handful of major languages.

Oleksandra Mamchii

Working as a academic lead at Best Diplomats.

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