کھووار زبان
Khowar written in the Khowar alphabet in Nastaliq style.
Native toPakistan
RegionChitral District
Native speakers
580,000 (2020)[1]
Khowar alphabet (In Nastaliq style.)
Official status
Regulated byAssociation for the Promotion of Khowar[2]
Language codes
ISO 639-3khw
Khowar is a minor language of Pakistan which is mainly spoken in Chitral, it is given a space in this map.
Areas where Khowar is spoken.

Khowar (Khowar: کھووار زبان, romanized: khowār, IPA: [kʰɔːwaːr]), or Chitrali, is a Dardic language of the Indo-Aryan language family primarily spoken in Chitral and surrounding areas in Pakistan.[3]

Khowar is the lingua franca of Chitral,[3] and it is also spoken in the Gupis-Yasin and Ghizer districts of Gilgit-Baltistan, as well in the Upper Swat district.[4]

Speakers of Khowar have also migrated heavily to Pakistan's major urban centres, with Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi having significant populations. It is also spoken as a second language by the Kalash people.[5] It has close relationship with other Indo-Aryan languages, especially Standard Punjabi, Western Punjabi, Sindhi, and the dialects of Western Pahari.[6]


The native name of the language is Khō-wār,[7] meaning "language" (wār) of the Kho people. The word Khō-wār is a cognate with the Serbian and Bulgarian говор (pronounced "govor," meaning "speech"), with the unstable "г" subject to palatalization (as in other related languages, such as the Chech cognate hovor). During the British Raj it was known to the English as Chitrālī (a derived adjective from the name of the Chitral region) or Qāshqārī.[7] Among the Pashtuns and Badakhshanis it is known as Kashkār.[8] Another name, used by Leitner in 1880, is Arnyiá[9] or Arniya, derived from the Shina language name for the part of the Yasin (a valley in Gilgit-Baltistan) where Khowar is spoken.[7]


The Khowar language expanded throughout Chitral from the northern part of the region, specifically from the Mulkhow and Torkhow Valley.[10][11] According to Morgenstierne, the original abode of the Khowar language was northern Chitral in the valleys around Mastuj.[10] The Khowar language started expanding into southern Chitral around the early 14th century.[10]

Khowar shares a great number of morphological characteristics with neighbouring Iranian languages of Badakhshan, pointing to a very early location of proto-Khowar in its original abode in Upper Chitral, although from its links with the Gandhari language, it likely came from further south in the first millennium BC, possibly through Swat and Dir.[11]

Georg Morgenstierne noted, "Khowar, in many respects [is] the most archaic of all modern Indian languages, retaining a great part of Sanskrit case inflexion, and retaining many words in a nearly Sanskritic form".[12]: 3 


Khowar has a variety of dialects, which may vary phonemically.[13] The following tables lay out the basic phonology of Khowar.[14][15][16]


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid ɛ ɔ
Open ɑ

Khowar may also have nasalized vowels and a series of long vowels /ɑː/, /ɛː/, /iː/, /ɔː/, and /uː/. Sources are inconsistent on whether length is phonemic, with one author stating "vowel-length is observed mainly as a substitute one. The vowel-length of phonological value is noted far more rarely."[13] Unlike the neighboring and related Kalasha language, Khowar does not have retroflex vowels.[14]


Labial Coronal Retroflex Palatal Velar Post-
Nasal m n
Stop voiceless p t ʈ k q
voiced b d ɖ g
aspirated ʈʰ
Affricate voiceless ts ʈʂ
voiced dz ɖʐ
aspirated tsʰ ʈʂʰ tɕʰ
Fricative voiceless f s ʂ ɕ x h
voiced z ʐ ʑ ɣ
Approximant ʋ l(ʲ) ɫ j (w)
Rhotic ɾ

Allophones of /x ɣ h ʋ ɾ/ are heard as sounds ʁ ɦ w ɹ].[16] /q x ɣ f/ are restricted to Perso-Arabic loanwords in most IA languages but they occur natively in Khowar.[17]


Khowar, like many Dardic languages, has either phonemic tone or stress distinctions.[18]


Main article: Khowar alphabet

Khowar orthography is derived from Urdu alphabet, with additional letters created to represent sounds unique to Khowar. Similar to Urdu, Khowar is typically written in the calligraphic Nastaʿlīq script.

From the end of the 19th century onwards, literaturists and rulers of Chitral princely state have put in much effort to popularize literacy, reading, and writing in Khowar. Initially, Mirza Muhammad Shakur and Prince Tajumal Shah Mohfi adopted Persian alphabet, used in neighbouring Afghanistan. However, Persian alphabet did not have letters for many unique sounds in Khowar. By the early 20th century, as under British Colonial rule, Urdu education and literacy became ever more popular among Indian Muslims (see Hindi–Urdu controversy),[19] Chitrali literaturists, namely Sir Nasir ul-Mulk and Mirza Muhammad Ghafran saw Urdu script as a better fit for Khowar. Nonetheless, Urdu also lacked sounds that existed in Chitrali. Thus, new letters were proposed and created. But the process of settling on a standard Khowar script continued for decades into the 1970s. This process was not without controversy either. Some literaturists were advocating for keeping the number of letters to a minimum, or in other words removing Arabic letters that do not represent distinct sounds in Khowar and are homophone with other letters (for example ث، ذ، ص‎, being homophone with س، ز، س‎ respectively). In total, 6 new letters were added to the 37-letter Urdu Alphabet, to create the 43-letter Khowar script.[20]

Further reading

  • Liljegren, Henrik; Khan, Afsar Ali (2017). "Khowar". Illustrations of the IPA. Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 47 (2): 219–229. doi:10.1017/S0025100316000220, with supplementary sound recordings.


  1. ^ Khowar at Ethnologue (26th ed., 2023) Closed access icon
  2. ^ Faizi, Inayatullah. "Development of Khowar as a Literacy Language, Results of interaction between linguists and language community: Case study in Chitral, Northern Pakistan" (PDF). NWFP-Pakistan: Govt Degree College Chitral.
  3. ^ a b Jain, Danesh; Cardona, George (26 July 2007). The Indo-Aryan Languages. Routledge. p. 843. ISBN 978-1-135-79711-9.
  4. ^ Cardona, George (2007). The Indo-Aryan Languages. p. 843.
  5. ^ Heegård Petersen, Jan (30 September 2015). "Kalasha texts – With introductory grammar". Acta Linguistica Hafniensia. 47 (sup1): 1–275. doi:10.1080/03740463.2015.1069049. ISSN 0374-0463. S2CID 218660179.
  6. ^ M. Oranskij, “Indo-Iranica IV. Tadjik (Régional) Buruǰ ‘Bouleau,’” in Mélanges linguistiques offerts à Émile Benveniste, Paris, 1975, pp. 435–40.
  7. ^ a b c Grierson, George A. (1919). Linguistic Survey of India. Vol. VIII, Part 2, Indo-Aryan family. North-western group. Specimens of the Dardic or Piśācha languages (including Kāshmiri). Calcutta: Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing, India. p. 133.
  8. ^ O'Brien, Donatus James Thomond (1895). Grammar and vocabulary of the K̲h̲owâr dialect (Chitrâli). Lahore: Civil and military gazette press. p. i.
  9. ^ Leitner, Gottlieb William (1880). Kafiristan. Section 1: the Bashgeli Kafirs and their language. Lahore: Dilbagroy. p. 43. Retrieved 6 June 2016.
  10. ^ a b c Rensch, Calvin Ross (1992). Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan: Languages of Chitral (PDF). National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University. pp. 28–29, 98–99.
  11. ^ a b Dani, Ahmad Hasan (2001). History of Northern Areas of Pakistan: Upto 2000 A.D. Sang-e-Meel Publications. p. 66. ISBN 978-969-35-1231-1.
  12. ^ Morgenstierne, Georg (1974). "Languages of Nuristan and surrounding regions". In Jettmar, Karl; Edelberg, Lennart (eds.). Cultures of the Hindukush: selected papers from the Hindu-Kush Cultural Conference held at Moesgård 1970. Beiträge zur Südasienforschung, Südasien-Institut Universität Heidelberg. Vol. 1. Wiesbaden: Franz Steiner. pp. 1–10. ISBN 978-3-515-01217-1. The main language of Chitral is Khowar, in many respects the most archaic of all modern Indian languages, retaining a great part of Sanskrit case inflexion, and retaining many words in a nearly Sanskritic form.
  13. ^ a b Edelman, D. I. (1983). The Dardic and Nuristani Languages. Moscow: Institut vostokovedenii︠a︡ (Akademii︠a︡ nauk SSSR). p. 210.
  14. ^ a b Bashir, Elena L. (1988), "Topics in Kalasha Syntax: An areal and typological perspective" (PDF), Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Michigan: 37–40
  15. ^ Bashir, Elena L.; Nigah, Maula; Baig, Rahmat Karim (2004), A Digital Khowar-English Dictionary with Audio
  16. ^ a b Liljegren, H.; Khan, A. (2017). "Khowar". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 47 (2): 219–229. doi:10.1017/S0025100316000220. S2CID 232348235.
  17. ^ Cardona, George; Jain, Dhanesh, eds. (2003). "The historical context and development of Indo-Aryan". The Indo-Aryan Languages. Routledge language family series. London: Routledge. p. 932. ISBN 0-7007-1130-9.
  18. ^ Baart, Joan L. G. (2003), Tonal features in languages of northern Pakistan (PDF), National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University and Summer Institute of Linguistics, pp. 3, 6
  19. ^ Hutchinson, John; Smith, Anthony D. (2000). Nationalism: Critical Concepts in Political Science. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 978-0-415-20112-4. In the nineteenth century in north India, before the extension of the British system of government schools, Urdu was not used in its written form as a medium of instruction in traditional Islamic schools, where Muslim children were taught Persian and Arabic, the traditional languages of Islam and Muslim culture. It was only when the Muslim elites of north India and the British decided that Muslims were backward in education in relation to Hindus and should be encouraged to attend government schools that it was felt necessary to offer Urdu in the Persian-Arabic script as an inducement to Muslims to attend the schools. And it was only after the Hindi-Urdu controversy developed that Urdu, once disdained by Muslim elites in north India and not even taught in the Muslim religious schools in the early nineteenth century, became a symbol of Muslim identity second to Islam itself. A second point revealed by the Hindi-Urdu controversy in north India is how symbols may be used to separate peoples who, in fact, share aspects of culture. It is well known that ordinary Muslims and Hindus alike spoke the same language in the United Provinces in the nineteenth century, namely Hindustani, whether called by that name or whether called Hindi, Urdu, or one of the regional dialects such as Braj or Awadhi. Although a variety of styles of Hindi-Urdu were in use in the nineteenth century among different social classes and status groups, the legal and administrative elites in courts and government offices, Hindus and Muslims alike, used Urdu in the Persian-Arabic script.
  20. ^ Ahmadriza, Fareed. Hussain, Mumtaz. کھوار حروف تہجی کی تاریخ History of the Khowar Alphabet

Additional references