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Survival of Kashmiri language ‘Koshur’

Published : Saturday, 14 September, 2019 at 12:00 AM  Count : 148
Hasan Al-Mahmud

Although the local language of Jammu and Kashmir is 'Kashmiri', but the official language is Urdu which is moderately popular there. It is also prevalent in both neighbouring countries, Pakistan and India. Moreover, it is one of their official languages too. Another name of Kashmiri language is 'Koshur', spoken by around seven million Kashmiris that can claim a distinctive position among the modern Indo-Aryan languages.

Probably this language is of a Dardic or Sinha source, both of which are Aryan languages and many historians believe that it also has been influenced by Sanskrit, Punjabi and Persian languages extensively. Kashmir is a land where Kashmiri, Ladakhi, Dogri, Hindi, Urdu and even English are spoken in different perspectives, specifically for religious views.

People who belong to Kashmir Valley mostly speak Kashmiri, but in the same region nearby, in Ladakh, people speak Ladakhi, whereas people in Jammu mostly speak Dogri. Hindi is also spoken but it is mostly used by the Kashmiri Pandits and the Gujjar people of the state. Urdu, which sounds fairly similar to Hindi, is spoken by the Muslim population in Kashmir. As the British colonized it, English is spoken too, but it is mostly used by the educated people and travel guides in the state.

Religious perspective is an important factor in picking up an appropriate dialect or even a different language for expressing the thoughts in Kashmir. The diction, along with the vocabulary and choice of the alphabet are two major facts to deal with this in different circumstances.

Muslims, according to their religious perspective, spontaneously use Persian and Arabic words in their verbal communication; they also use the Persian alphabet to write Kashmiri, although the Persian alphabet is not actually apposite to the task, because of it deficiencies signs for the many Kashmiri vowel sounds.

On the other hand, selective Sanskrit words are chosen in verbal communication by Kashmiri Hindus, because they believe that there must be a connection of the Hindu religion with the Sanskrit and they also write Kashmiri in the Sarada alphabet which is a script of Indian derivation. In written books, the Devanagari character is used and there is a small amount of Kashmiri works as well. The only significant spoken dialects are Kishtwari, Poguli, and Rambani.

'The World's Writing Systems' by Daniels & Bright (1996) found that among languages written in the Perso-Arabic script, Kashmiri is one of the scripts that regularly designates all vowel sounds. "The Kashmiri Perso-Arabic writing has come to be connected with Kashmiri Muslims, while the Kashmiri Devanagari writing has come to be related to the Kashmiri Hindu community," said the 'Kashmiri Overseas Association'.

A research paper titled 'Kashmiri: A Language of India' revealed that most Kashmiri speakers use Urdu or English as their second language. Since November 2008, the Kashmiri language has been made a compulsory subject in all government schools in the valley up to the secondary level.

Christopher Snedden is an Australian politico-strategic analyst who visited Jammu and Kashmir often and interviewed many elder statesmen involved in the Kashmir dispute. He is the author of 'The Untold Story of the People of Azad Kashmir'. He did a research in 2015 and published a paper in the title, 'Understanding Kashmir and Kashmiris' where he stapled his finding in this way, "There are also about 130,000 speakers in the Pakistani territory of Azad Kashmir, primarily concentrated in the Neelam and Leepa valleys, and in the district of Haveli."

An International Handbook of the Science of Language and Society described that there are three orthographical systems used to write the Kashmiri language: the Sharada script, the Devanagari script and the Perso-Arabic script. The Roman script is also sometimes informally used to write Kashmiri, especially online.

'The Sharada Script: Origin and Development' by B. K. Kaul Deambi discovered that the Kashmi ri language is traditionally written in the Sharada script after the 8th Century A.D. This script, however, is not in common use today, except for religious ceremonies of the Kashmiri Pandits. Another publication "Kashmiri" by Omniglot mentioned that today it is written in Perso-Arabic and Devanagari scripts with some modifications.

Let's turn to the grammatical issue. 'Koshur: An Introduction to Spoken Kashmiri (2002)' stated that Kashmiri is a fusional language with verb-second (V2) word order. According to 'Modern Kashmiri Grammar' by Omkar N Koul and Kashi Wali, Kashmiri nouns are inflected according to gender, number, and case. Neither there are articles, nor is there any grammatical distinction for definiteness. The Kashmiri gender system is divided into masculine and feminine. Feminine forms are typically generated by the addition of a suffix to a masculine noun.

Also, the grammar book depicted that Kashmiri verbs are declined according to tense and person, and to a lesser extent, gender. The present tense in Kashmiri is an auxiliary construction formed by a combination of the copula and the imperfective suffix -?n added to the verb stem. Pronouns are declined according to person, gender, number, and case, although only third-person pronouns are overtly gendered. Also, in the third person, a distinction is made between three degrees of proximity, called proximate, remote I and remote II.

There are two kinds of adjectives in Kashmiri, those that agree with their referent noun and those that are not declined at all (Koshur 2002). Most adjectives are declined, and generally, take the same endings and gender-specific stem changes as nouns (Wade 1888).

However, let me conclude by saying that, Kashmir is going through many obstacles, problems, and dominance by India right now. Being located between two rival countries, India and Pakistan, Kashmir is somehow influenced by their languages and bound to share some common vocabulary with other Indo-Aryan languages such as Hindi, Urdu, and Punjabi. Yet, perhaps due to its distinctive protectionist landscape and antiquity, the Kashmiri language has established features of its own and still flowing like a river giving its sweet water to its thirsty community.

 The writer is a Fulbright TEA Fellow, Fall 2018, Montana State University, USA. He writes on contemporary issues, education, and literature

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