Saraiki language

Saraiki language
Spoken in  Pakistan
Native speakers 13.9 million in Pakistan (1998 Population and Housing Census, Pakistan)
68,000 in India (Census of India, 2001) (combined figure for persons claiming either the Multani dialect or the Bahawalpuri dialect)
Language family
Writing system Persian alphabet, Laṇḍā scripts particularly Gurumukhi, Devanagari script, Langdi script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 skr
Indic script
This page contains Indic text. Without rendering support you may see irregular vowel positioning and a lack of conjuncts. More...

Saraiki (Persian script: سرائیکی ), transliterated as Sirāikī and sometimes spelled Seraiki and Saraiki, is a standardized written language of Pakistan belonging to the Indo-Aryan (Indic) languages. It is a language spoken in the heart of Pakistan. Saraiki is based on a group of vernacular, historically unwritten dialects spoken by over 14 million people across the southern most half of Punjab Province, the adjacent border region of Sindh Province, and the northwest of Punjab Province, southern districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province as well as by nearly 70,000 emigrants and their descendants in India.[1][not in citation given] The development of the standard written language, a process which began after the founding of Pakistan in 1947, has been driven by a regionalist political movement.[2][3] It is to be considered that this is the movement for a separate ethnic identity only and Saraikis are considered as Pakistani nationalists due to their geographic position within Pakistan. The national census of Pakistan has tabulated the prevalence of Saraiki speakers since 1981.[4]:46 Saraiki is the fourth most widely spoken language in Pakistan, behind Punjabi, Pashto, and Sindhi; and within Punjab Province it is one of the two major languages.

The standard English language spelling of the name (at least de facto) is "Saraiki". However, into the new millennium, "Saraiki", "Seraiki", and "Siraiki" have all been used in academia and among promoters of Sairaiki ethnic consciousness. The language name (in whichever of these spellings) was adopted in the 1960s by regional social and political leaders. An organization namely "Saraiki Academy" was founded in Multan on 6 April 1962, under the Presidentship of Mir Hassaan-ul-Haidri who was replaced by Makhdoom Sajjad Hussain Qureshi, which gave the name of universal application to the language.[3]



Saraiki Area Study Center Multan, inaugurated by Prime Minister of Pakistan Yousaf Raza Gillani

Historically, the speakers of dialects now recognized as belonging to Saraiki did not hold the belief that they constituted a cohesive language community or a distinct ethnicity. This consciousness developed among local elites in the years after the founding of Pakistan in 1947 in response to the social and political upheaval caused by the mass immigration of Urdu speaking refugee Muslims from India. Traditionally, the dialects were designated by any of a number of areal or demographic names (see table below), e.g. "Multani" for the dialect spoken around Multan, which has been the largest city in the "Saraiki" speaking area for centuries. The name "Saraiki" (or variant spellings) was formally adopted in the 1960s by regional social and political leaders who undertook to promote Saraiki ethnic consciousness and to develop the vernaculars into a standardized written language.[2][3] The word "Sarāiki" originated from the word سوویرا "Sauvira",[5] a state name in old India . By adding adjectival suffix "-ki" to the word "Sauvirā" it became "Sauvirāki". The consonant 'v' with its neighboring vowels was dropped for simplification and hence the name became "Sarāiki". Although George Abraham Grierson reported that "Sirāiki" (that was the spelling he used) is from a Sindhi word sirō, meaning 'of the north, northern', Shackle[3]:388 asserts that this etymology is unverified.

The standard Roman script spelling of the Saraiki language name (at least de facto) is "Saraiki"; this is the spelling used in universities of Pakistan (the Islamia University of Bahawalpur, department of Saraiki established in 1989,[6] Bahauddin Zakariya University, in Multan, department of Saraiki established in 2006,[7] and Allama Iqbal Open University, in Islamabad, department of Pakistani languages established in 1998),[8] and by the district governments of Bahawalpur[9] and Multan,[10] as well as by the federal institutions of the Government of Pakistan like Population Census Organization[11] and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation.[12] Two of the native scripts, Gurmukhi and Devanagari, use the 'a' spelling (or rather, its native equivalent), which indicates that the vowel of the first syllable is a short /a/. In the Gurmukhi and Devanagari spellings given above, this is manifested by the lack of any vowel diacritic. As is standard for native Indo-Aryan orthographies, the absence of any diacritic over a consonant indicates that a short /a/ is spoken after that consonant.

Classification within Indo-Aryan

Saraiki, Sindhi and Punjabi are all members of the Indo-Aryan subdivision of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. Although Punjabi and Saraiki are mutually intelligible, they differ in consonant inventory and in the structure of the verb.

In 1919, Grierson maintained that the dialects of what is now the southwest of Punjab Province in Pakistan constitute a dialect cluster, which he designated "Southern Lahnda" within a putative "Lahnda language". Subsequent Indo-Aryanist linguists have confirmed the reality of this dialect cluster, even while rejecting the name "Southern Lahnda" along with the entity "Lahnda" itself.[13][14] However, outside of Indo-Aryanist circles, the concept of "Lahnda" is still found in compilations of the world's languages (e.g., Ethnologue).

There is a tendency for some discussions of the Saraiki dialects and their emerging standard literary language to incorrectly include dialects or languages spoken farther north, in particular Hindko and modern Panjistani. This error is due to confusing Saraiki (Grierson's "Southern Lahnda") with Grierson's larger category of Lahnda, within which Grierson included dialects spoken north of the Salt Range, now called Hindko and modern Panjistani (Potwari, Mirpuri) as stated by Mohammd Afzal of London UK. While the more northern dialects are considerably similar to Saraiki in linguistic structure, starting with Grierson they have been recognised as definitely distinct from the dialect cluster spoken south of the Salt Range.

Problems in nomenclature

The historical inventory of names for the dialects now called Saraiki is a confusion of overlapping or conflicting ethnic, local, and regional designations. "Hindki" and "Hindko" -- which means merely "of India" -- refer to various Saraiki and even non-Saraiki dialects in Punjab Province and farther north within the country similar language now called modern Panjistani( ascertained by Mohammed Afzal of London, UK), due to the fact they were applied by arrivals from Afghanistan or Persia. One historical name for Saraiki, Jaṭki, means "of the Jaṭṭs", a northern South Asian ethnic group; but Jaṭṭs speak the Indo-Aryan dialect of whatever region they live in. Only a small minority of Saraiki speakers are Jaṭṭs, and not all Saraiki speaking Jaṭṭs necessarily speak the same dialect of Saraiki. Conversely, several Saraiki dialects have multiple names corresponding to different locales or demographic groups. When consulting sources before 2000, it is important to know that Pakistani administrative boundaries have been altered frequently. Provinces in Pakistan are divided into districts, and sources on "Saraiki" often describe the territory of a dialect or dialect group according to the districts. Since the founding of Pakistan in 1947, several of these districts have been subdivided, some multiple times. Until 2001, the territorial structure of Pakistan included a layer of divisions between a province and it's districts. The name dialect name "Ḍerawali" is used to refer to the local dialects of both Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan, but "Ḍerawali" in the former is the Multani dialect and "Ḍerawali" in the latter is the Thaḷi dialect.[15][16]

Tabulation of dialects

Shackle 1976 has proposed a tentative classification of Saraiki dialects into six "varieties", wherein variety is defined as a group of dialects. (Shackle's scheme really involves just five "varieties", since he himself observes that Shahpuri, spoken in Sargodha District and parts of neighboring districts, is in truth not a kind of Saraiki, but instead a dialect of Punjabi with Saraiki features.) The precise geographical distribution of these dialect groups is unknown. The six are dubbed "Central" (i.e., Multani); "Southern" (i.e., Bahawalpuri, spoken primarily in Rahim Yar Khan district and in Bahawalpur district south of the city of Bahawalpur); Sindhi (spoken in Sindh province by emigrants); "Northern" (Thaḷi); Jhang; and Shahpuri.

A list of names in use at one or another time during the 20th century for Saraiki dialects and dialect groups is compiled in the table below.[15][16] The dialect names are spelled in the standard Anglicized spelling. 'C' and 'ch' both resemble English 'ch'; 'c' represents an unaspirated sound, 'ch' an aspirated. A macron over a vowel indicates a long vowel.

Dialect group Subdialect Where spoken Alternate names Notes
Saraiki Saraiki Multan, Lodhran, Vehari, Bahawalpur, Muzaffargaṛh, Rahim Yar Khan Districts Bahāwalpurī/Riyāsatī, both names in use in Bahawalpur District. According to Masica, the two names Bahāwalpurī and Riyāsatī are locally specific names for the Mūltānī dialect group, possibly specific dialects within the group. According to Shackle, they instead denote a distinct dialect group. Also according to Shackle, the Bahawalpur District of Punjab Province (i.e., within its 1976 boundaries) is split between Multani in the north and Bahawalpuri in the south, with the dialect of Bahawalpur city being of blend of these two.
Ḍerāwālī[17] Dera Ismail Khan District, Dera Ghazi Khan District, Rajanpur District, Derawal Nagar (Delhi) According to Masica, this use of the name Ḍerāwāl is to be distinguished from its use as an alternate name for a different dialect group (see following row).
Thaḷī Saraiki Jhang, Sargodha, Layyah, Muzaffargarh, Mianwali Districts (Punjab Province); Bannu Districts (Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) Thaḷochṛi in Jhang District; Jaṭkī; Hindkō, Hindkī, Ḍerāwāl west of the Indus River, the last referring to the vicinity of Dera Ismail Khan Named after the Thaḷ, a region bordered by the Indus River to the west and the Jhelum and Chenab Rivers to the east.
Sindhī Saraiki northern part of Sindh Province Sirāikī dialect which has some features of the Sindhī language. Sindhi Saraiki is widely spoken in Kashmore, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Sobho Khan Mastoi, Kamal Khan Mastoi, Thatta, Sujawal, Dadu and Ghotki. Initerier sindh 40% of papulation speak sindhi Saraiki.
Jhangvī Saraiki Local Saraiki Local Saraiki Jhang, Faisalabad, Gujrat, Gujranwala Districts Cināwaṛī, Cinhāwaṛī (from the name of an area on the right bank of the Chenab River) Jhangī may actually be closer to the Punjabi language. Gujrat District is not to be confused with Gujarat State in India.
Jāng(a)lī , Rachnavi Jangal Bar tract of Faisalabad District and all regions encompassing the former Montgomery District Dialect of Jhangochi spoken by the pastoral tribes of the mentioned areas, such as the Kharals, Wattus, Johiyas, who used to rear cattle and sheep in the jungles, before irrigation of the region.
Kacchṛī Kacchṛī is named for alluvial desert plain of Kacchī, SW of Jhang town
Niswānī North Jhang District Subdialect or local name of Jhangī as spoken by a tribe, the Niswānā, as of 1919.


Saraiki and Sindhi both have somewhat similar consonant inventories.[18] This inventory includes phonemically distinctive implosive consonants, which makes Sindhi and Saraiki unusual among the Indo-European languages (and not just among the Indo-Aryan languages).



Saraiki has three short vowels, seven long vowels and six nasal vowels.


Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops and
Voiceless p pʰ t̪ t̪ʰ t tʰ t͡ʃ t͡ʃʰ k kʰ ʔ
Voiced b bʱ d̪ d̪ʱ d dʱ d͡ʒ d͡ʒʱ ɡ ɡʱ
Implosives ɓ ɗ ʄ ɠ
Nasals m mʱ n nʱ ɳ ɲ ŋ
Fricatives Voiceless f s ʃ x h
Voiced v z ʒ ɣ
Trills r rʱ
Flaps ɽ ɽʱ
Laterals l lʱ
Semivowel j

Writing system

There are three writing systems for Saraiki, though very few Saraiki speakers—even those literate in other languages — are able to read or write their own language in any writing system. The most common Saraiki writing system today is the Persian script, which has also been adapted for use on computers. Saraiki has a 42-letter alphabet including 37 of the Urdu alphabet and five letters unique to Saraiki. The Saraiki keyboard can also be used for other languages such as Punjabi & Kashmiri. The Devanagari and Gurmukhi scripts, written from left to right, were used by Hindus. Though not used in present-day Pakistan, there are still emigrant speakers in India who know the Devanagari or Gurmukhi scripts for Saraiki.[19][20] Traders or bookkeepers wrote in a script known as Langdi, although use of this script has been significantly reduced in recent times. The transliteration from and to Persian and Devanagari scripts for Saraiki language can be made online.[21]

In the process of creating a distinct Saraiki written language, activists have paid attention to creating a standard script and orthographic norms. Orthographic and linguistic standardization of Saraiki seems more connected with the politics of identity. Although Saraiki shares four implosive sounds with Sindhi, care was taken so that the Saraiki script and the representation of these symbols should be different from that of Sindhi so that the Sindhis should not lay any claims over Saraiki literature as theirs.[citation needed]

Geographic distribution and number of speakers

Saraiki is a language of great antiquity in Pakistan. It served as "Lingua Franca" among the people living around i.e. the Bloch and Sindhis, the Pashtoons and Punjabis etc. for centuries. It also remained the language of commerce and trade until recent times. Today over forty million people of South Punjab and Dera Ismail Khan region of Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province speak Saraiki as their first language. It is widely spoken and understood as a second language in other areas of Punjab, Northern and Western Sindh down to the suburbs of Karachi, and in Kachhi plain of Baluchistan. The vernacular dialects on which Saraiki is based are native to what is now the southwestern half of Punjab Province in Pakistan, south of the Salt Range of mountains. It is also spoken in India and Afghanistan.

The first national census of Pakistan to gather data on the prevalence of Saraiki was the census of 1981.[citation needed] In that year, the percentage of respondents nationwide reporting Saraiki as their mother tongue was 9.83. In the census of 1998, it was 10.53 out of a national population of 132 million, for a figure of 13.9 million Saraiki speakers resident in Pakistan. Also according to the 1998 census, 12.8 million of those, or 92%, lived in the Province of Punjab.[22]


Saraiki is home to the districts of, but not limited to, Mianwali, Bhakkar, Khushab, Layyah, Muzaffar Garh, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rajanpur, Multan, Vehari, Lodhran, Mailsi, Khanewal, Sahiwal, Bahwalpur, Bahawalnagar, Rahimyar Khan, Sadiqabad. Thal and Cholistan deserts also are homes of Saraiki language. These areas are called as Saraiki Waseb according to Saraiki literature. More than Saraiki Waseb, there are native speaskers of Saraiki language in the districts of Mandi Bahuddin, Chakwal, Hafizabad, Faisalabad, Okara, Toba Teksingh and Lahore.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Saraiki is native language in the districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank.


In Sindh Saraiki is widely spoken in Kashmore, Jacobabad, Shikarpur, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allahyar, Sobho Khan Mastoi, Kamal Khan Mastoi, Thatta, Sujawal, Dadu and Ghotki.


Saraiki is widely spoken in Naseerabad Division of Balochistan. It is also the second language of many in the Sulaiman Mountains including Loralai, Musa Khel and Barkhan adjoining Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur districts of Punjab.

Saraiki in the World

Saraiki is also spoken by a tiny, recent diaspora in Punjab, India. According to the Indian census of 2001, Saraiki is spoken in urban areas throughout northwest and north central India by a total of about 70,000 people, the descendants of emigrants from western Punjab after the partition of India in 1947. Out of these total speakers of the language, 56,096 persons report their dialect as Mūltānī and by 11,873 individuals report their dialect as Bahāwalpurī.[1] Other dialects of Saraiki that are spoken by Indian Saraikis include Derawali[23] Jafri, Saraiki Hindki, Jhangi, Thali, and Jatki.[24] Saraiki is spoken in Faridabad, Ballabhgarh, Palwal,Rewari,Sirsa, Fatehabad, Hisar, Bhiwani, Panipat districts of Haryana, some area of Delhi and Ganganagar district,Hanumangarh and Bikaner districts of Rajasthan. It is spoken at low scale in Utrakhand and U.P. Romani and Saraiki share some words and similar grammatical systems. The cause of the Romani diaspora is unknown. However, the most probable conclusion is that the Romanies were part of the military in Northern India. When there were repeated raids by Mahmud of Ghazni and these soldiers were defeated, they were moved west with their families into the Byzantine Empire. This occurred between AD 1000 and 1030.

Multani, In Afghanistan, Kandahari, a dialect of Multani Saraiki is a mother tongue of Afghan Hindus.[25]

Many Saraiki migrants are in Middle East, Europe and America with smaller communities in Australia, South East Asia and China. Saraiki is second largest language in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with more than 2.5M. In UK Saraiki is spoken by 400 thousads.


Tomb of Sufi poet Khwaja Ghulam Farid

Khawaja Ghulam Farid (1845–1901), his famous collection is Deewan-e-Farid, Sultan Bahu and Sachal Sar Mast (1739–1829) are the most celebrated Sufi poets in Saraiki and their poems known as Kafi are still famous.

The beloved's intense glances call for blood
The dark hair wildly flows The Kohl of the eyes is fiercely black
And slays the lovers with no excuse
My appearance in ruins, I sit and wait
While the beloved has settled in Malheer I feel the sting of the cruel dart
My heart the, abode of pain and grief A life of tears, I have led Farid
-one of Khwaja Ghulam Farid's poems (translated)

Shakir Shujabadi (Kalam-e-Shakir, Khuda Janey, Shakir Diyan Ghazlan, Peelay Patr, Munafqan Tu Khuda Bachaway, Shakir De Dohray are his famous books) is very well recognized modern poet.

Music and Arts

Saraiki folk singer late Pathanay Khan

Many modern Pakistan Singers like Hadiqa Kiyani and Ali Zafar have also sung Saraiki folk songs.

Related languages

See also


  •  This article incorporates text from The cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia: commercial, industrial and scientific, products of the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, useful arts and manufactures, Volume 2, by Edward Balfour, a publication from 1885 now in the public domain in the United States.
  1. ^ a b Abstract of speakers’ strength of languages and mother tongues – 2001, Census of India (retrieved 19 March 2008)
  2. ^ a b Rahman 1997:838
  3. ^ a b c d Shackle 1977
  4. ^ Javaid 2004
  5. ^ A.H. Dani, Sindhu-Sauvira: A glimpse into the early history of Sind In Hameeda Khusro (ed), Sind Through The Centuries (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1981) pp. 35-42
  6. ^ Department of Saraiki, IUB
  7. ^ Department of Saraiki, BZU
  8. ^ Department of Pakistani languages, AIOU
  9. ^ District Government, Bahawalpur
  10. ^ District Government, Multan
  11. ^ Population by Mother Tongue, Website of the Population Census organization of Pakistan
  12. ^ Saraiki News Bulletins, Website of Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation
  13. ^ Masica 1991:18, 20
  14. ^ Grierson 1904-1928, volume of 1919. "Lahnda" was his novel designation for various dialects up to then called "Western Punjabi", spoken north, west, and south of Lahore. The local dialect of Lahore is the Majhi dialect of Punjabi, which has long been the basis of standard literary Punjabi.
  15. ^ a b Grierson 1919:239ff.
  16. ^ a b Masica 1991, Appendix I:220-245
  17. ^ The spelling with retroflex 'Ḍ' instead of 'D' is according to Masica 1991.
  18. ^ Masica 1991
  19. ^ "Multani poets relive memories of struggle". Indian Express. Retrieved 2007-12-08. 
  20. ^ Balfour 1885: 1095
  21. ^ Saraiki Online Transliteration
  22. ^ Pakistan census 1998
  23. ^ "Colonies, posh and model in name only!". NCR Tribune. Retrieved 2007-12-16. 
  24. ^ "Seraiki". Ethnologue. Retrieved 2007-07-14. 
  25. ^ "Introduction". Afghan Hindu. Retrieved 2007-12-08. 


  • Asif, Saiqa Imtiaz. 2005. Saraiki Language and Ethnic Identity Journal of Research (Faculty of Languages and Islamic Studies), 7: 9-17. Multan (Pakistan): Bahauddin Zakariya University.
  • Balfour, Edward. 1885. The cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia: commercial, industrial and scientific, products of the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, useful arts and manufactures. Volume 3; Entry on "Multani Writing". London: B. Quaritch. Google Books view.
  • Grierson, George A. 1919. Linguistic survey of India. vol. VIII, Part 1. Calcutta. Reprinted 1968 by Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi.
  • HEC, Islamabad pakistn.Letter No. 20-/R7D/09 -5243 Dated 20-01-2010.
  • Javaid, Umbreen. 2004. Saraiki political movement: its impact in south Punjab. Journal of Research (Humanities), 40(2): 55–65. Lahore: Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of the Punjab. (This PDF contains multiple articles from the same issue.)
  • Masica, Colin. 1991. The Indo-Aryan languages. Cambridge University Press.
  • Pakistan. 1998. Population and Housing Census of Pakistan.
  • Rahman, Tariq. 1997. Language and Ethnicity in Pakistan. Asian Survey, 1997 Sep., 37(9):833-839.
  • Shackle, C. 1976. The Saraiki language of central Pakistan: a reference grammar. London:School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
  • Shackle, C. 1977. Saraiki: A Language Movement in Pakistan. Modern Asian Studies, 11(3):379-403.

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