Pakistan is home to wondrous tourist gems, most of which haven’t been explored yet. In recent years, many of the world’s most famous travellers have visited Pakistan and praised its incredible natural beauty as well as the hospitality of the local people. The colourful culture of our homeland is based on a vibrant mix of different communities, ethnicities and linguistic diversity, which is truly awe-inspiring. What’s more amazing is that, according to Ethnologue, an international website, around 73 languages are spoken across the country, including some of the internationally recognised endangered languages. In this blog, we’ll find out all about the most popular languages spoken in Pakistan.
Let’s get the ball rolling!
Popular Languages Spoken in Pakistan
First of all, let’s list down and discuss some of the popular languages spoken in Pakistan while taking a look at the percentage of their speakers in the country’s total population.
- Urdu – 10% Percent (the National Language of Pakistan)
- Punjabi – 48% Percent
- Sindhi – 12%
- Saraiki – 10%
- Pashto- 8%
- Balochi – 3%
- Hindko – 2%
- Brahui – 1%
Now, let’s discuss each of these languages of Pakistan in detail.
Urdu (the National Language of Pakistan)
The first language of around 70 million people and spoken as a second language by over 100 million people, mostly in Pakistan and India, in the world, Urdu is one of the oldest and most popular members of the Indo-European family of languages. The history of the Urdu language dates back to as early as the 12th century AD. Formed as a result of the intermingling of the people speaking different languages such as Turkish, Persian and Arabic with a prominent local influence, this mixed speech was given various names in its early days such as Zaban-e-Hind, Hindi, Zaban-e-Delhi, Hindvi, Rekhta, Dakkhani, Gujari, Zaban-e-Urdu-e-Mualla, Zaban-e-Urdu, or just Urdu (Horde in Turkish), which literally means ‘the language of the camp.’ Amir Khusro (1253–1325) was the very first poet of the Urdu Language. Widely spoken and understood across the globe, it is the national language of Pakistan whereas English remains the official language of the state. Urdu literature started flourishing centuries ago. By the 19th century, poetry written in Urdu was stimulated by socialist nationalist, pan-Islamic feeling, and writers and poets from Punjab as well as the areas of Delhi and Lucknow began to contribute.
Punjabi, which often spelled as Panjabi, is counted among the most common Indo-Aryan languages in today’s world. In Pakistan, Punjabi language is spoken by around 70 million souls, mostly in Punjab province. However, the status of the official language of Punjab is reserved for Urdu. As spoken in both India and Pakistan, Punjabi is a language of many dialects. Written in Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi scripts, the dialects of the language doesn’t have much difference between them and sound quite similar. Dialects of Punjabi spoken in India are Majhi, Doabi, Pwadhi and Malwi. However, in Pakistan, the chief dialects are Pothohari, Hindko, Majhi and Multani. Since Majhi is used to form the standard for writing in Punjabi, it is considered the most important dialect of Punjabi in the country.
Based on Arabic script and Devanagari script, Sindhi is one of the most popular languages of Pakistan. It has been formed as a result of amalgamation of different regional languages spoken in different regions of South Asia. It is also an ancient Indo-Aryan language that is now spoken by millions of people in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and India. Some of the major dialects of the language are Vicholi, Lasi, Siroli Lari, Thari or Thareli, Kathiawari Kachhi, Macharia, Dukslinu and Muslim Sindhi.
Saraiki is another very popular member of the Indo-Aryan languages family. It is the first language of around 17 million people mainly found in the provinces of Sindh and Punjab of Pakistan. It is also a minor language in India and is mainly spoken in the state of Punjab. Saraiki language is known by many different names including Seraiki, Siraiki, Multani, Lahndi and Western Punjabi. Saraiki is often considered as a dialect of Punjabi. In Pakistan, the Perso-Arabic script is followed to write Saraiki, while in India the alphabets of Gurmukhi and Devanagari are used as the written script for the language.
Pashto, which is also known as Pukhto, is an important member belonging to the southeastern Iranian branch of Indo-Iranian languages, which are chiefly spoken in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. The language of Pashto comes in three main regional varieties: Northern Pashto, Southern Pashto and Central Pashto. The speakers of Northern and Southern variants of Pashto language are mainly found in Pakistan. However, Central Pashto is mostly spoken in Iran and Afghanistan. Pashto speaking people in Pakistan are mainly found in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and upper parts of Balochistan.
One of the most popular, and common, languages spoken in Pakistan is Balochi. Often spelled Baluchi or Beluchi, it is one of the oldest living languages in the subcontinent belonging to the group of the Indo-European languages spoken in the Indo-Iranian region. The language is mostly spoken in Afghanistan, Iran and Balochistan, the largest province of Pakistan. As per the historical records, the Perso-Arabic script was adopted by the Baloch scholars to write Balochi language after the independence of Pakistan. The Balochi language has been divided into several dialects: Eastern Balochi (spoken in Afghanistan/Iran), Western Balochi (spoken in coastal areas of Balochistan), Northern Balochi (spoken in central and upper Balochistan) and Southern Balochi (spoken in lower Balochistan).
Hindko is another ancient language spoken in Pakistan that belongs to the group of Indo-Aryan languages. The speakers of Hinko are Hindkowan people, mostly living in the northern areas of Pakistan. According to linguistic experts, the name of the language is actually a merger of two words where “Hind” means Sindh and “ko” means language. As per the historical records, when the invaders came from Afghanistan to this area, they gave this name to the local language, which was being spoken from Peshawar to UP at that time. There has been a debate about Hindko as some people consider it as a dialect of Sindhi while others call it one of the lesser known dialects of Punjabi language.
Spoken primarily by the Brahui people in distant parts of the province of Balochistan, in Pakistan as well as in scattered regions across Iran, Brahui is a very unique and rare language of the Indo-Iranian region. Brahui is also spoken in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates by expatriate Brahui communities, which is why it is also considered a minor language in these countries.
Other Languages Spoken In Pakistan
In addition to the above-listed languages, Kashmiri, Bengali and Shina are some popular languages of Pakistan. Shina language is very rare and is mostly spoken in the Gilgit Baltistan region of Pakistan. Some other linguistic minorities are listed as follows:
- Gojri (Gujari)
- Kohistani Memoni
This brings us to the end of our overview of the popular languages spoken in Pakistan. We hope you have enjoyed reading it. Let us know about your queries and suggestions by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Your valuable feedback helps us improve.
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