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Balti language

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Title: Balti language  
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Subject: Tibetan alphabet, K2, Kharmang, Ethnic groups in Pakistan, Balti
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Balti language

Native to Baltistan, Ladakh
Region Pakistan (Kashmir, Gilgit–Baltistan), Kargil, India and small pockets in Karachi, Rawalpindi, Islamabad & Lahore
Native speakers
290,000  (1992–2001)[1]
Urdu script and modified Tibetan script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bft
Glottolog balt1258[2]

Balti (Urdu: بلتی‎; Tibetan: སྦལ་ཏིའི་སྐད་Wylie: sbal-ti-skad ) is a Tibetic language spoken in Baltistan division in Gilgit–Baltistan of Pakistan and adjoining parts of Ladakh. Baltistan and Ladakh were part of each other before 1948, . Many of the written consonants that are silent in Standard Tibetan are pronounced in the Balti language.


All people living in Ptolemy, also a general in the army of Alexander the Great, had named the region "Byaltae" in his book. In fact, Baltistan is the Persian translation of Baltiyul, "the homeland of Balti." People of Balti ethnicity 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. The Balti ethnicity is primarily Tibetan in origin, with some Dardic admixture. However people migrated to this area in different periods of ancient times for different reasons, and after merging in the prevailing Tibetan society, gave birth to a new civilization. All these multi-racial groups speak Balti language, which is a branch of ancient Tibetan. However in some rural areas, the Sheen people still speak Shina language. To develop the Balti language literally, local intellectuals like Yusuf Hussain Abadi has worked on Balti language. He discovered history and script of Balti language and revived the Tibetan script in Baltistan after six centuries (1980). He wrote the book 'Balti Zabaan' in 1990 which was the first book on Balti language. Yousuf Hussainabadi did the translation of the Quran into Balti Language (1995), Later on many people inspired by Yousuf Hussainabadi started their work on Balti Language. Ghulam Hassan Lobsang wrote a book 'Balti Grammar' in both English and Urdu versions, i.e. "Balti Grammar" and "Balti English Grammar". The latter was published by Bern University Switzerland in 1995. The Balti have a reputation for being very forbearing, cheerful, and hospitable people. During the Rmakpon dynasty (from the 12th century to 1840) the Balti invaded Ladakh and Tibet in the east and Gilgit and Chitral many times, thus making these people acknowledge the martial abilities of the Balti.

The modern population of Baltistan is a heterogeneous mixture of ethnic groups. Tibetans form the principal ethnic group in the area accounting for 60 percent of the population. Outside Baltistan, there are several Balti communities located in Pakistan's urban and rural areas.


Tournadre (2005)[3] considers Balti, Ladakhi, and Purik to be distinct languages on the basis of mutual intelligibility. As a group they are termed Ladakhi–Balti or Western Archaic Tibetan, as opposed to Western Innovative Tibetan languages such as Spiti Bhoti.


The main is script for writing Balti is the Tibetan Balti script, however, it is often written in the Persian script (especially within Pakistan). The Persian script was introduced to the Balti people in the 17th century by Mir Sham ud-Din Iraqi (Muslim Preacher) when he came to Baltistan to preach Islam . The language spoken by the entire population of Baltistan is called Balti, an archaic dialect of Tibetan language. At present Balti has been heavily influenced by Turkish and Urdu, and affected by Islamic literature in Persian. As a result, Balti has deviated from the original Tibetan language.

The language spoken in Baltistan, generally known as Balti, was 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 language has all the linguistic characteristics and roots from the Tibetan language. According to his initial survey Balti resembles more the Kham dialect than other Tibetan dialects of U and Thsang, Amdo, and others. 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, retaining many features of archaic Tibetan pronunciation. The missionary, orientalist and linguist Heinrich August Jäschke (1817–1883) classified Balti as one of the westernmost Tibetan dialects. In his Tibetan–English Dictionary 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

In 1985 Mr. Yusuf Hussain Abadi added four new letters to the Tibetan script and seven new letters to the Persian script to adapt both of them according to the need of Balti language, the far western Tibetan dialect. Two of the four added letters now stand included in the Tibetan Unicode alphabet. The Tibetan script had been in vogue in Baltistan until the last quarter of the 14th century when the Baltis converted to Islam. Since then Persian script replaced the Tibetan script, but the Persian script had no letters for seven Balti sounds and has been in vogue in spite of the fact that it didn't fulfill the whole requirement. Addition of the seven new letters has now made it a complete script for Balti language.

And recently a number of Balti scholars and social activists have tried to promote the use of the Tibetan Balti script, Yige, with the aim of helping to preserve indigenous Balti and Ladakhi culture and ethnic identity. Following a request from this community, the September 2006 Tokyo meeting of ISO/IEC 10646 WG2 agreed to encode two characters which are invented by Mr. Yusuf Hussain Abadi (U+0F6B TIBETAN LETTER KKA and TIBETAN U+0F6C LETTER RRA) in the ISO 10646 and Unicode standards in order to support rendering Urdu loanwords present in modern Balti using Yige script.

Like other Tibetan dialects, Balti had no script of its own until Tibetans created a script for their language, introducing it through Tibetan Lamas and other learned people. In 727, when King Khri Lde-gTsug-Brtan conquered Baltistan and annexed it to his state, the Tibetan script was formally introduced as the official script through government 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, is one of the best examples of these efforts. Until 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.

Before the invasion of Tibetans in 727, the official language of both the Palola shahis and the clergy was Brahmi, brought into the area after the 4th legendary Buddhist Conference in Jalandhar. There are still many rock-inscriptions from the 5th and 6th centuries in the Brahmi script. The Tibetans spread their own script with all their zest and zeal. The Tibetan script remained in use among the Balti until the 16th century when the Mullahs persuaded the Balti masses to use the Persian script for Balti. However, there was no endeavour to form fully corresponding Persian letters for Balti. Moreover, when the Rmakpon dynasty rose to its climax in the 16th century, it developed a strong political and cultural relationship with the Moghuls of India and used Persian instead of Balti as its official language. With this, the Balti language, including its script, lost its strongest patron. The Dogras of Jammu conquered Baltistan in 1840 and annexed it to their state. Since Pakistan gained control of the region in 1948, Urdu words have been introduced into local dialects and languages, including Balti. In modem times Balti has no names or vocabulary for dozens of newly invented and introduced things; instead, Urdu and English words are being used in Balti.


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


The Balti language has always been at a disadvantage. Its original Tibetan script was changed to an artificial one based on Persian which never corresponded with the letters and requirements of the Balti, and as a result it lost its standard and Tibetan originality. Its folk-literature is not yet available in written form, but continues to be orally transmitted. On the contrary the Balti have been quite promising in the sense of literature in category, aptitude and profundity. Despite all handicaps the Balti language has retained many honorific words characteristic of the Tibetan dialects and many other languages. The first Balti grammar was written in Urdu version by Ghulam Hassan Lobsang, a milestone for the Balti language. Below are a few examples:

Ordinary Balti Honorific Ladakhi Meaning
Ata Baba Aba Father
kho kho - he
gashay liakhmo liakhmo Beautiful
paynay khumul painay Money
bila Bila bilo Cat
su su sou Who
Ano/Amo Zizi Ama Mother
Kaka Kacho Acho Brother (elder)
Bustring Zung Nama Woman / Wife
Momo Jangmocho Ajang Maternal uncle
Nene Nenecho Ane Aunt
Bu Bucho Tugu Son
Fru Nono Busa Boy
Apo Apocho Meme Grandfather
Api Apicho Abi Grandmother
Ashe Ashcho Singmo Sister (elder)
Zo bjes Zo Eat
Thung bjes Thung Drink
Ong Shokhs Yong Come
Song Shokhs Song Go
Zer Kasal-byung Zer Speak/Say
Ngid tong gZim tong Ngid tong Sleep (go to)
Lagpa Phyaq-laq/g Lagpa Hand/Arm
Khyang Yang/Yari-phyaqpo Khyorang You
Kamo gzok-po Leg


Though Balti has remained under adverse conditions, it has proved to be a very fertile language capable of creating several genres of folk and classical literature. We do not find any prose except proverbs (in hundreds) and some epics and sagas (such as those of King Kesar/Gesar, Rgyalucho-Lo-bZang and Rgyalu-Srasbu and some others), all in oral tradition. All other literature is in verse. Balti literature has adopted numerous Persian styles of verse and vocables which amplify the beauty and melody of its poetry.

Nearly all the languages and dialects of the mountain region in the north of Pakistan including Pashto, Khowar and Shina belong to the Indo-Aryan or Iranian language groups, but Balti belongs to the Tibetic branch of the Sino-Tibetan languages. As such, it has nothing in common with neighboring languages except some loanwords absorbed as a result of linguistic contact. Although Balti is, at the moment, cut off from its sister languages of Ladakh, they have 80–90% of nouns, pronouns, verbs and other literary and grammatical character in common. Balti and Bodhi of Ladakh can be termed as separate dialects, but not separate languages.

The major issue facing the development of Balti literature is its centuries-long isolation from Tibet, owing to political divisions and strong religious differences and even from its immediate neighbor Ladakh for the last 50 years. Separated from its linguistic kin, Balti is under pressure from more dominant languages such as Urdu. This is compounded by the lack of a suitable means of transcribing the language following the abandonment of its original Tibetan script. 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. Even if the script is revived, it would need modification to express certain Persian and Urdu phonemes that occur in common loanwords within Balti.

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, historical events, and the like.
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, and the like 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, and the like.
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.


The Balti language shares up to 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 Arabic and Persian with the process of Islamization.


  1. ^ Balti at Ethnologue (17th ed., 2013)
  2. ^ Nordhoff, Sebastian; Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2013). "Balti". Glottolog 2.2. Leipzig: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. 
  3. ^ *N. Tournadre (2005) "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes." Lalies, 2005, n°25, p. 7–56 [1]


  • Muhammad Yousuf Hussainabadi, 'Baltistan per aik Nazar'. 1984.
  • Hussainabadi, Mohamad Yusuf. Balti Zaban. 1990.
  • Muhammad Yousuf Hussainabadi, 'Tareekh-e-Baltistan'. 2003.
  • "A Short Sketch of Balti English Grammar" by Ghulam Hassan Lobsang, 1995.
  • 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
  • Read, A.F.C. Balti grammar.London:The Royal Asiatic society, 1934.
  • Sprigg, Richard Keith. Balti-English English-Balti dictionary. Richmond: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002.
  • Backstrom, Peter C. Languages of Northern Areas (Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan, 2), 1992. 417 pp. ISBN 969-8023-12-7.

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
  • Andrew West, Tibetan Extensions 2 : Balti
  • Pakistan's Northern Areas dilemma
  • Northern Areas Development Gateway
  • Pakistan's Northern Areas
  • [2]
  • A Bibliography of Tibetan Linguistics
  • [3]
  • [4]
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