Dardistan is one of the most diverse linguistic regions in the world. In the 1930s, the Norwegian linguist Georg Morgenstierne called it one of the most polyglot parts of Asia. More recently, the Italian anthropologist Augusto Cacopardo has called it ‘Peristan’, an area with an ‘enormous diversity of tongues and cultures’. The region has the large Dardic languages such as Kashmiri, Shina and Khowar on the one hand and, on the other, it is home to the Burushaski language, which could not be placed within any language family because of its unique features. The Nuristani, formerly Kafiri, languages are spoken here, too. There are minor languages such as Kalasha, spoken by the Kalash community of hardly 4,000 people who still follow the ancient animistic religion that was once practised across Dardistan.
The name ‘Dardistan’ describes the area comprising the highest mountain ranges of Hindu Kush, Karakoram, western Himalaya and the Pamir mountains, and includes northern Pakistan, parts of Eastern Tibet in China, eastern Afghanistan and the Kashmir valley on both sides of the Pakistan-India border.
Dardistan’s enormous linguistic diversity occurs despite the fact that, culturally, the area is fairly homogeneous. Cacopardo says there is no match for this region in terms of linguistic and cultural diversity, except the Caucasus. Though, of course, minor differences exist, the same religious rituals and religious pantheon prevailed among the polyglot peoples of Dardistan.
In 1986, the Summer Institute of Linguistics in collaboration with the National Institute of Folk Heritage, Lok Virsa, and the National Institute of Pakistan Studies at the Quad-e-Azam University in Islamabad, undertook a survey of the languages of northern Pakistan. Published in five volumes, this Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan (1992) documented 25 languages. In fact, there are even more – at least 35 – languages in north Pakistan, namely Badeshi, Bateri, Balti, Brokskat, Burushaski, Chilisso, Dameli, Domaaki, Gawar-Bati, Gawri, Gowro, Gujari, Hindko, Kalasha, Kalkoti, Kamviri, Kashmiri, Kativiri, Khowar, Kohistani, Kundal Shahi, Kyrgyz, Madakhlashti, Mankiyali, Ormuri, Pahari, Palula, Pashto, Sarikoli, Shina, Torwali, Ushojo, Yadgha, Wakhi, and Waneci.
Swedish linguist Henrik Liljegren suggests that this part of the world is not a ‘linguistic area’ in that conventional meaning. Instead, he argues that the Hindu Kush–Karakorum (HK) – also known as Dardistan – is a ‘linguistic area’ in the sense that it is a ‘convergence zone with a core that shares certain linguistic features’ as a result of a prolonged period of contact with other subareas whose languages do not share all the features of HK yet display some other ‘micro-areal convergence’.
In the 1970s, I had a German teacher who was interested in Hunza. He showed a movie, I believe recorded by a German documentarian. I've always wanted to visit Hunza and the Swat Valley.