Would you like to know which languages are spoken in Pakistan? Then read our guide for more facts and information…
There are many languages spoken in Pakistan including provincial and regional languages which are unique to those areas as well as many other languages are spoken. Urdu and English are the official languages of Pakistan while Punjabi, Sindhi, Balochi and Pashto are among the common provincial languages.
Urdu is the national and the official language of Pakistan which is used to promote national unity yet it is used as the first language only by 8% of the population while it is accepted as a second language by all Pakistanis. It is compulsory in all primary and secondary schools across Pakistan and is used widely in media and the literary circle.
Urdu has borrowed from other languages including Arabic, Persian, and Turkish while today it is influenced by regional languages as well. Historians believe that it was the language used around Delhi and is the ancestor of the modern day Urdu and Hindi. The word ‘Zubun-e-Urdu-e-Mualla’ meaning the language of the exalted city was shortened to Urdu which was Persianized in the 18th century to make it distinct from Hindi.
Provincial languages of Pakistan
Punjabi is spoken by more than half of the Pakistanis mostly living in Punjab. There are many dialects including Saraiki and Hindko which some consider as part of the language while others regard them as separate languages. Punjabi literature has a rich oral tradition and the famous folklore of Heer Ranjha, a love story was written by Waris Shah in Punjabi which is still loved today.
Pashto is spoken by almost 29 million Pakistanis mainly in the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the areas where the ethnic Pashtun communities reside across the country. Karachi is known to be the biggest city where Pashto is spoken.
The language has a history of oral and literary traditions which continue to grow today. Pashto is also the official language of Afghanistan which is a neighboring country of Pakistan.
Sindhi is the first language of 53.4 million or 15.5% Pakistanis and is spoken mainly in the province of Singh and some areas of Balochistan. It is the official language of the province of Sindh and has six dialects. The largest Sindhi speaking cities include Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur.
Balochi is the first language of 4 % of the population residing mainly in the province of Balochistan. Historians believe that the language was brought down from the Kurdistan area of Iraq. Balochi comes with different dialects and became known after the 10th Century. The Balochi language is very similar to Persian which is why Balochi poets are known to be able to do poetry in Urdu and Persian.
Regional languages of Pakistan
Kashmiri is spoken by more than 2 million Pakistanis and is common in Azad Kashmir, Gilgit area and the province of Punjab. The speakers are mostly refugees and their descendants from Kashmir.
Brahui is a regional language spoken by 1% population in province of Balochistan. It has been influenced by Balochi as well as Sindhi and Pashto. Pakistan has nine distinguished language and Brahui is one of them. It is believed that Brahui had migrated by the province to India after 1000 CE.
Shina or Tshina is spoken in the Gilgit Baltistan area of Pakistan which includes the valleys and some areas of Kohistan. It is approximately spoken by 600,000 people.
Saraiki is spoken across the different cities of Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. In Pakistan there are over17 million Saraiki people and more than 100 thousand in countries including UAE, Saudi and India.
Hindko is known as the language of the mountains and is spoken in many dialects. It is mainly spoken in the Hazara area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as well in cities across Punjab and Azad Kashmir by more than 3 million people.
Other languages spoken in Pakistan
English is also the official language along with Urdu and is extensively used in all the executive, legislative and judicial branches and the armed forces of Pakistan. In addition the Constitution and laws of Pakistan are also written in English.
It is the medium of instruction is most schools, colleges and universities and is commonly spoken in the upper class social circles. It is being understood as the language which provides upward mobility in careers and education.
Arabic is the religious language of the Pakistani and is used to read and recite the Quran, Sunnah, Hadith and Muslim history which is taught in Arabic. It is taught in the mosques, madarssahs and the schools across the country so that the students can read the Holy religious book. This is why the majority population has some form of formal or informal education in the Arabic language as part of their religious education.
Persian is a cultural language spoken in Pakistan which was the language of Muslims in before the advent of the British. It was also the official language of the Mughal Empire. Today it is spoken and understood by very few as a literary language.
Turkish is another cultural language spoken by the refugees from Uzbekistan and Afghanistan who are settled in Pakistan. The word Urdu comes from the Turkish language and it is believed that most speakers are settled in the valleys of the northern areas of Pakistan which is adjacent to Central Asia.
The history and the use of the different and unique languages in Pakistan is not known to many yet the diversity across the country is the root of all Pakistani languages.