Balti language

Balti language

states=Pakistan, India
region=Kashmir, Gilgit, small pockets in Karachi & Lahore

Balti (بلتی) is a language spoken in Baltistan, in the Northern Areas of Pakistan and adjoining parts of Jammu and Kashmir. Baltistan - before 1948 - was part of Ladakh province. The language is a sub-dialect of Ladakhi and has many similarities with archaic dialects of the Tibetan language. It is mutually intelligible with Ladakhi and Burig. Many of the consonants that are silent in most modern Tibetan dialects are pronounced in Balti.


All people of different races, living in Baltistan are called Balti. The Greeks derived "Byaltae" from sBal-ti, which in Tibetan means "water gorge." The historian Ptolemy who was also a general in the army of Alexander the Great had named the region (Byaltae) in his book.Fact|date=June 2008 In fact Baltistan is the Persian translation of Baltiyul, “The Homeland of Balti”. The people belonging to Balti nationality are settled on both banks of the river Indus from Kargil (in the east) to Haramosh (in the west) and from Karakoram range (in the north) to Deosai plains (in the south). In this nationality the majority comes from Tibetan origin. However people migrated to this area in different periods of ancient times, on account of different reasons and after merging in the prevailing Tibetan society, gave birth to a new civilisation. All these multi-racial groups speak Balti language, which is a branch of the ancient Tibetan language. However in some rural areas, the Sheen people still speak Shina language.

The Balti are a very forbearing, cheerful, and hospitable people. During the Rmakpon reign (from 12th century to 1840 A.D.) they invaded Ladakh and Tibet in the east and Gilgit and Chitral many times and thus made these people acknowledge of their martial abilities.

There are several Balti communities located in Pakistan's urban areas further south, notably in Lahore, Islamabad and in Karachi


Balti is also the name of the Tibetan Balti script, which was replaced by the Persian script in the 17th century.

The population of Baltistan is a heterogeneous mixture of ethnic groups. Tibetans form the principal ethnic group in the area accounting for 60 per cent of the population.

The language spoken by the entire population of Baltistan is called -BALTI- which is an archaic dialect of Tibetan language. At present Balti has been heavily influenced by Burushaski, Turkish and Urdu and affected by Muslim literature in Persian. With the result that it has deviated from the original Tibetan language.

The language spoken in Baltistan, generally known as BALTI is originally a Tibetan dialect. According to Professor Jampal Gyathso, a Chinese Scholar and expert in Epic of king Gesar and a Khampa (Tibetan) by origin, the present Balti has all the linguistic characteristics and roots from Tibetan language. According to his initial survey Balti resembles more the Kham dialect than other Tibetan dialects of U and Thsang and Amdo etc. He further suggests that either the first Tibetan settlers of Baltistan could be the Khambas or at least majority of the settlers were Khambas. The people of Baltistan, dubbed as -mini Tibet-, are related to the Tibetans and their language is a branch of the Tibetan language and retains many features of archaic Tibetan pronunciation. Reverend H. A. Jascke too has defined Balti as one of the western most-Tibetan dialect. In his Tibetan-English Dictionary (First Indian Reprint Delhi 1975-1980) he defines it as "Bal (Balti), the most westerly of the districts in which the Tibetan language is spoken". Many other scholars also are of the view that Balti is a Tibetan dialect and not a separate language from the Tibetan

Recently a number of Balti scholars and social activists are trying to repromote the use of the Tibetan / Balti script (Yige) with the aim of helping to preserve indigenous Balti and Ladakhi form of culture and ethinic identity. Following a request from this community, the September 2006 Tokyo meeting of ISO/IEC 10646 WG2 agreed to encode two characters (U+0F6B TIBETAN LETTER KKA and TIBETAN U+0F6C LETTER RRA) in the ISO 10646 / Unicode standards in order to support writing Urdu loanwords present in modern Balti in this script (yige).

Like other Tibetan dialects, Balti had no script of its own till the Tibetans managed to create a script for their language and simultaneously introduced the same by the Tibetan Lamas and other learned people. In 727 AD when King Khri Lde-gTsug-Brtan conquered Baltistan and annexed it to his State, the Tibetan script was formally introduced as official script through their offices, religious books and rock inscriptions. The famous (Mandala) carving and the Tibetan inscription on a rock in village Manthal near Skardo town, which dates back to early 8th century AD is one of the best examples of these efforts. Till that time there was no difference between the Tibetan dialects of Lhasa or central Tibet and Baltistan; therefore, the Baltis faced no problem in reciprocal communication and usage. It is worth mentioning here that before the invasion of Tibetans, in 727 AD, the official language of Palolashahis and the clergy too was "Brahmi", which was brought into the area after the 4th legendary Buddhist Conference in jalandhar. We still find many rock-inscriptions (5th & 6th centuries) in the Brahmi script. However, the Tibetans spread their script with all their zest and zeal. This (Tibetan) script remained in use for the Balti till the 16th century AD when a strong opposition routed it away from the area and instead, the Mullahs persuaded the Balti masses to use the Persian script for Balti, but they never endeavoured to form fully corresponding Persian letters for Balti. Moreover, when the Maqpon Dynasty rose to its climax in the 16th century AD and they developed a strong political and culturalrelationship with the Moghuls of India, they used Persian instead of Balti language for their offices and subsequently the Balti language including its script lost the strongest patron. The Dogras of Jammu conquered Baltistan in 1840 AD and annexed it to their State. Since Pakistan took it over in 1948 AD, Urdu has flooded over all the local dialects /languages including Balti. In the modem times Balti has no names /vocabulary for dozens of newly invented and introduced things, therefore, Urdu and English names/ words are being used in Balti.


The present Balti language or Balti form of Tibetan language is spoken in the whole of Baltistan and it is said that Purki-dialect of Purig and Suru-Kartse valleys come in to the Balti group linguistically. However, at the moment nearly 0.4 million people living in Baltistan and about 0.1 million Baltis who live in different cities of Pakistan and working abroad speak Balti.


The Balti language has always been at a disadvantage. As mentioned earlier it had to change the script from the original to an artificial one (Persian) which never corresponded with the letters and requirements of the Balti with the result that it lost its standard and Tibetan originality. Its folk-literature is not yet available in written-shape; but continues to be orally transmitted. On the contrary the Balti has been quite promising in the sense of literature in category, aptitude and profundity. It is worth mention here that, despite all handicaps the Balti language has retained may honorific words like all the Tibetan dialects and many other languages. Below are a few examples:


Though Balti has remained under adverse conditions, even then it has proved to be a very fertile language capable of creating several categories/ kinds of folk and classical literature. We do not find any prose except Proverbs (in hundreds) and some Epics and Sagas (of King Kesar/Gesar, Rgyalucho-Lo-bZang and Rgyalu-Srasbu and some others), all in oral tradition. All other literature is in verse. The Balti literature has adopted numerous Persian styles of verse and vocables also wluch have amplified the beauty and melody of its poetry.

All the languages and dialects of the mountain region in the north of Pakistan including Burushaski and Shina belong to the Indian or Persian group of languages, but the Balti is the only language which belongs to the "Tibeto-Burman" branch of "Sino-Tibetan" group of languages. Basically it has nothing in common with them except some words absorbed later on, owing to interaction of masses. Apparently, Balti is, at the moment, cut off from its sister-languages of Ladakh but has 80-90 per cent of nouns, pronouns, verbs and other literary and grammatical character in common except those few which made their place in Balti afterwards. We can, however, term Balti and Bodhi of Ladakh as separate dialects, but not separate languages. Problems

The major problem of the Balti language is that it had to disconnect the relationship with its radical centre, Tibet, owing to political divisions and strong religious differences since last 500 years and even from its immediate neighbour Ladakh for the last 50 years. It has been left at the mercy of other languages and literatures which are stronger in quantity and vocabulary. The other major problem is the abandoning of its original script-Tibetan and during the last 500 years it has not been able to adopt a suitable script so far. This critical and adverse situation knocked away Balti from its original stream or natural track and left as an astray animal. At the moment neither the Baltis have the awareness to revive their original script nor there is any institution which could restore it and persuade the people to use it again. And the third problem is those Persian and Urdu letters which do not exist in Tibetan which have become now un-avoidable in some cases. There is an urgent need to establish a Forum to, at least, carry out initial efforts to revive its original status.

The Balti Literature may be categorised as under:

:Rgya-glu: This can be categorised as a classical one in the folk-verses for its meaning or deepness. It contains romantic songs, elegies, advice, complaints and historical events etc.:Rtse-glu:This is a light type of poetry sung while dancing. In this kind of song, different topics and events of life, families and their social or cultural conditions, jokes, etc. are the subject matter.:Yurmi-glu: This is a song sung by the women while working or weeding in the fields. In such songs, women recollect their childhood, love and longing for her parents, pleasant or unpleasant experience or feelings about her husband or other relatives.:Ridagsi-glu: These are the songs composed in praise of mountain-goats of all sort. Some songs admire the beauty of wild-life, some depict motherhood in these animals for their kids and in some the poets lament the extinction of goats and sheep.:Bar-glu: Also called "Deewan", this can be described as the medieval stage between the Rgya-glu and the modern poetry (glu). This type of poetry also involves romantic and other general experiences.:Glu: This can be described as the mGul-glu as it has only romantic feelings and flavour.:Hamd: This is the form of verses in praise of God.:Qaseeda: These are verses in praise of Muhammad and the twelve Imams, their family members according to Shia Islam.:Marsia: Versed elegy commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (the grandson of Muhammad , the 3rd Imam) in Karbala, other Imams, etc.:Noha: These are versed elegies sung with rhythm while the (Shiaite) mourners beat their chests. This category is also attributed to the martyrs of Karbala and other family members of Muhammad.:Bahr-e-Taweel: These verses are in long metre and consist of several stanzas of 9 to 14 lines. In this poetry, generally, the mortality of life and other similar topics are explored in a mystic way.:Goshwara: This is similar to the Persian or Urdu "Masnavi" Narrative couplets. Usually the dignity and illustrious personalities and deeds of Muhammad and the Imams are narrated.:Ghazal: These are the odes of love and romance exactly on the principles of Persian and Urdu Ghazal and Nazm.

:youq fangsay thalang paqzi na mandoq na mabour na :na drolbi laming yani si soq fangse chi thobtook
::::::nasir karmi
:Sa-get-pi-glu: These are the songs praising or encouraging the farmers and agriculturists in modern time.:Milli-naghma: These are like Urdu Milli-naghmas.balti ka ek shier ABDUL BARI GOHAR kharkoi(islamabad)na yaan na thot pa thon ma meath

yaan na thot pa chagh fa meath

muawari sniin la dogh say cheath

pa khaer ya ghalea


The Balti language shares 90% of the vocabulary with the neighboring Ladakhi, as well as with Amdo and Kham dialect of North Eastern Tibet. However, they have adopted words from Shina, Burushaski and Persian with the process of Islamization.

See also

* Balti people
* Languages of Pakistan
* Badshah Munir Bukhari


* Everson, Michael. [ ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 N2985: Proposal to add four Tibetan characters for Balti to the BMP of the UCS] . 2005-09-05
* Hussainabadi, Mohamad Yusuf. "Balti Zaban". 1990.
* Read, A.F.C. "Balti grammar".London:The Royal Asiatic society, 1934.

External links

* [ Unicode]
* [ Koshur: The Balti Language]
* [ Tibetan script makes a comeback in Pakistan]
* [ Proposal to add four Tibetan characters for Balti to the BMP of the UCS]
* [ Tibetan Extensions 2 : Balti]
* [ Pakistan's Northern Areas dilemma]
* [ Northern Areas Development Gateway]
* [ Pakistan's Northern Areas]

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