Dardistan, one of the world’s most multilingual places

  • Thread starter Astronuc
  • Start date
In summary: because they are all located in close proximity to other languages. There's a lot of language contact going on between these languages. This leads to the diversity we see in these regions.
  • #1
Staff Emeritus
Science Advisor
2023 Award
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.
  • Informative
Likes Klystron and pinball1970
Science news on Phys.org
  • #2
I thought, "wow, a 'stan' that I've never heard of", and did a Google search. Wikipedia has no article for Dardistan, but instead has one for Dardic languages:
Early British efforts placed almost all the peoples and languages of the upper Indus River between Kashmir and Kabul into one unitary group, coining the distinct identities of all other peoples in the region, resulting in the formation of terms such as Dard, Dardistan, and Dardic.[12]

No people in the region refer to themselves as Dards, their country as Dardistan, or their language as Dardic.[13] The word Dard itself is unknown in any languages of the area, except as a loan word from Persian via Urdu, in which it means "pain".[14] The broad application of this term have been criticised by many scholars.[15]
G.W. Leitner coined the terms Dard and Dardistan, even though the name 'Dard' was not claimed by any people in the region.[21][22] John Biddulph, who spent many years in Gilgit, also stated the name Dard was not acknowledged by any section of the tribes to whom it was commonly applied.[23] Biddulph recognized Leitner's term Dardistan as founded on a misconception, but accepted the term as a convenient way of designating the difficult, diverse, and largely unknown Karakoram between Kashmir and the Hindukush Range.[24]
George Abraham Grierson, with scant data, borrowed the term and proposed an independent Dardic family within the Indo-Iranian languages.[26] However, Grierson's formulation of Dardic is now considered to be incorrect in its details, and has therefore been rendered obsolete by modern scholarship.[27]

Georg Morgenstierne, who conducted an extensive fieldwork in the region during the early 20th century, revised Grierson's classification and came to the view that only the "Kafiri" (Nuristani) languages formed an independent branch of the Indo-Iranian languages separate from Indo-Aryan and Iranian families, and determined that the Dardic languages were unmistakably Indo-Aryan in character.[28]
  • #3
jtbell said:
"wow, a 'stan' that I've never heard of"
There's a ton of "Stans" that aren't there own nations. Here are a few more: Dagestan, Tatarstan, Khusestan, Nuristan, Baluchistan, and Sistan.

The region of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir are very ethnically diverse themselves. I have a theory that this happens because of the numerous valleys and mountains that split the people so it is harder for cultures to mix.
  • #4
MevsEinstein said:
There's a ton of "Stans" that aren't there own nations. Here are a few more: Dagestan, Tatarstan, Khusestan, Nuristan, Baluchistan, and Sistan.

The region of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Kashmir are very ethnically diverse themselves. I have a theory that this happens because of the numerous valleys and mountains that split the people so it is harder for cultures to mix.
I have read that Nepal has about 129 languages. There is little communication between the valleys.
  • Wow
Likes pinball1970

Related to Dardistan, one of the world’s most multilingual places

1. What is Dardistan?

Dardistan is a region located in the Himalayan mountains, spanning across parts of India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. It is known for its linguistic diversity, with over 20 languages spoken by its inhabitants.

2. How did Dardistan become one of the most multilingual places in the world?

Dardistan's linguistic diversity can be attributed to its location in the Himalayas, which has historically served as a barrier to outside influences. This isolation allowed for the development and preservation of various languages within the region.

3. What are some of the languages spoken in Dardistan?

Some of the languages spoken in Dardistan include Shina, Khowar, Kalasha, Burushaski, Wakhi, and Pashto. These languages belong to different language families, such as Indo-Aryan, Iranian, and Sino-Tibetan.

4. How do people communicate with each other in Dardistan?

Due to the linguistic diversity in Dardistan, people often communicate using a common language called Hindko, which serves as a lingua franca. Additionally, many people in the region are multilingual and can speak multiple languages.

5. Is Dardistan a culturally diverse region as well?

Yes, Dardistan is not only linguistically diverse but also culturally diverse. The region is home to various ethnic groups, including the Kalash, Wakhi, and Burusho, each with their unique customs and traditions.