In The Name of ALLAH The Almighty
KALASHAMUN, AN ENDANGERED LANGUAGE OF PAKISTAN
Hidayat ur Rehman
Kalashamun, the Language
There are more than 3,000 languages currently included in the
UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Endangered Languages. The Atlas sites
external forces like military, economic, religious, educational and
cultural subjugation, as the main culprit for the killing of
languages. Add to this, the menace of globalization, and it would
seem that time is running short for many world. Linguists have long
been battling to preserve and revitalize these vanishing languages,
and are using new technologies and media to safeguard the cultural
identity and knowledge contained in them. Kalashamun or the
Language of the Kalash People is one of these endangered languages
of the World.
Kalashamun is an Indo-European language, in the Indo-Arian branch,
further classified as a Dardic language in the Chitrali Group.
Norwegian linguist George Morgenstierne maintains that “Kashamun
does not belong to the special Kafir branch of the Indo-Iranian
languages, but speaks it as a true Indo-Arian language. The Kalasha
Language is phonologically atypical because it contrasts plain,
long, nasal and retroflex vowels, as well as combinations of these
(Heegard& Morch, 2004). Of all the languages of the South Asia,
Kalashamun is likely to be the most conservative, along with its
sister language Khowar. .
Kalashamun is spoken by the Kalash people, who live in the three
remote side valleys of Chitral, named Bumburet, Birir and Rumbur.
The valleys are situated to the West of Ayun village, which is ten
miles downward from the Chitral Town. The Kalash People have their
own religion, with gods and goddesses, beliefs and custom. However
the number of the followers of this religion is rapidly diminishing
due to conversion. It is estimated that half of them have been
converted to Islam. There are some 6,000 speakers of Kalashamun, of
which 3,000 still follow their old faith. .
Effort to Save Kalashamun
Until the later half of the 20th century, Kalashamun was an
undocumented language. During the last century,the Kalash people
have been the subject of many studies conducted by scholars like,
Snoy(1962), Siiger(1963 and 1967), Darling(1973), Wutt(1976),
Parkes(1983), Jettmar(1975), Loude and Lievre(1980) and Cacopardo
and Cacopardo(1973,1996, 2001 and 2008). Among the earliest
linguistic works on Kalashamun are leinter’s sketches (1880), upon
which the Linguistic survey of India (1919) drew heavily. Another
important work was Morgenstern’s “Notes on Kalasha”. More recently,
a Greek NGO, with the help of local community, has developed a new
Kalasha Alphabet. A Kalash linguist, Taj Khan Kalash, in
collaboration with international researchers and linguists, has
organized the first Kalasha Orthography Conference in Islamabad.
Having moved to Thessalonica, Greek, to study linguistics in the
Aristotle University, he and the Greek NGO Mesogaia, took on the
task of completing the script, and creating the “Alphabet Book, a
premier for the Kalash children. In 2004 he was able to raise fund
to publish first Kalshamun Alphabet book based on Roman Script,
designed by an Australian linguist, Gregory R. Cooper.
What to Be Done
Once a language is determined to be endangered, there two basic
steps, that need to be taken, in order to stabilize or rescue the
language. The first is documentation, and the second is
revitalization of the language. .
Language documentation is the process by which a language’s
grammar, lexicon and oral traditions (stories, songs and religious
texts) are preserved. On the other hand, revitalization is the
process, by which a language community attempts to increase the
number of active speakers, through political, social and
educational means. This process is sometimes referred to, as
language revival or reversing language shift. Another option is
“Post-Vernacular Maintenance”. This is teaching of some words or
concept related to the lost language, rather than complete revival.
There are different opinions as to what will be the best method for
the preservation of Kalashamun. One way is to encourage the younger
generation speak their own language. However this option was nearly
impossible in the case of converted Kalashas. .
Conventional technologies like audio/video recording, as well as
the emerging one like Pod cast can be used to store spoken versions
of the language for the future. Technology can also preserve the
integrity of the spoken versions. Many of the technologies have
been successfully used to preserve oral history. The same can be
done to preserve spoken language. .
Print and electronic media, including Internet, can be utilized to
raise awareness about the issue of language extinction. We can
translate, catalogue, and store texts and other material related to
the language on the internet. .
The language can be taught in the elementary levels of formal
education. If it is not possible to make this language part of the
school curriculum, at least, some pre-school teaching of the
language can be arranged for the children. This method has been
successfully adopted in the neighboring Palua speaking people. .
Kalashamun can be used as medium for religious education of the
Kalasha children. This will not only help preserving the language,
but also the religious traditions of the people as well. .
One major problem with the Kalashamun is that, speaking this
language is considered synonymous to be a Kalash religiously. A
converted Kalash considered speaking Khowar, necessary for
completion of his conversion. The Kalash community needs to be
assured that conversion to other religion does not require giving
up your language.