By Fazal Amin Beg
Gilgit-Baltistan in the Northern Pakistan is blessed not only with its beauty and enriched natural resources but rather also cherishes the old age languages representing their respective cultures dating back to thousands of years in the space of immemorial time. The more diverse valleys, the more enriched cultural resources could be found if dedicatedly explored the region in an anthropological, linguistic and other academic domains in the Karakoram, Himalay, Hindukush and Pamir mountain areas.
There are at present over a dozen language communities live in different valleys of the region within its ten distrits such as Gilgit, Ghizer, Nagar, Hunza, Astor, Diamar, Skardu, Shigar, Kh̃armang and Ganche, but the focus of this note targets the six indigenous languages that alphabetically include Balti (Balucwor), Burushaski (Virchikwor), D̃umaki (D̃umwor), Khowar (Kiwiwor), S̃hina (S̃henwor)and Wakhi (Wuk̃hikwor). Wakhi, S̃hina, Khowar and D̃umaki fall within the Indo-Iranian family of languages. Being a member of Tibeto-Barman languages group, Balti belongs to the wider Sino-Tibetan languages family. Burushaski is among those unique languages of the world that is termed as a language isolate as its language family cannot be determined yet by the linguists and related scholars.
In a priority, I thus first opted to explore, understand, and explain the sound system of the indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan Region in a cross-cultural context and also looked them across the borders with other language communities. It’s thus not only understanding the sound systems of these native languages but rather I propose and offer an impressive writing system for them based on Anglicized script (that is, based on English) to preserve them easily without any political motives and promote them at mass level, particularly at the level of the young and upcoming generations.
Besides a general similarity of the soft sounds with other Pakistani languages, we can also find special commonality of almost all retroflexed sounds in these native languages.In contrast, we can also find some differences among the sounds both in the vowel and consonant categories.
Hereunder, I am now going to illustrate and explain the overall sounds of the targeted languages by keeping in view the mass level literacy (particularly for the young native speakers and upcoming generations) so that the readers of their mother tongues could better measure the similarities and differences. The sounds relationship with international languages would also be referred in order to make it easy for effective and inclusive purpose for international audience interested in thse languages.
Description of the Sound System of the Indigenous Languages of Gilgit-Baltistan Region on Anglicized Orthography 
From the outset, I’d like to clarify that the overall sounds of the indigenous languages (though are Latnized or more specifically Anglicized), illustration of the vowel sounds are so easy as they are totally fixed and have no confusion at all to be feared that if they have any other sounds (as in English we can face such instances of confusion such as between “put” and “but”; “far” and fare”; “bit” and bite”; “egg” and “ego”). Depiction of vowel sounds for the indigenous languages is therefore not in confusion like English and is a very good news for the readers. In the same manner, with regard to the consonant sounds, they are also highly easy as we could find the vowel sounds symbolization. You will never come across any type of difficulty or confusion as sometimes we evidence in English in the case of consonants.
A a Always pronounced like the sound of “a” in “arm”, “art”, “car” and “far.” It is to be noted that “a” can never be pronounced like “a” in “care”, “fare”, “rare”, “rate.”
E e Always pronounced like the sound of “e” in “egg”, “elephant”, “emission” “edit”, and “energy.” It can never be pronounced like “e” in “deed”, “feed”, “seed.”
I I Always pronounced like “I” in “ink”, “INCH”, “index”, “image”, “ignition”, “illustrate”, and “illumination” but never pronounced like “i” in “idea”, “ibex”, “ice”, “icon”, “idle”, “idol”, and “ideal.”
O o Always pronounced like “o” in “or”, “okay”, “oak”, “obedient”, “objective”, “objection”; but never pronounced like “o” in “button”, or “cow.”
U u Always pronounced like “u” in “put” but never ever pronounced like “u” in “but” or “upper”, “up”, “udder”, “ugly”,
Ũ ũ Among the languages of Gilgit-Baltistan, this vowel sound exists only in Wakhi and not in other languages of Gilgit-Baltistan (not even other Pakistani languages). Across the border, “ũ” exists among some Pamiri languages like Shughni, Roshoni and Sariqoli. Besides, “ũ” resembles relatively in Russian [ы], German [ü], French [u], Spanish and Turkic languages.
Ẽ ẽ: This is a very minute vowel sound within Wakhi that results after contraction of the six vowl sounds, particularly in more than two syllable words wherever stress appears. Examples: kand (smile), kẽndak (to smile). Likewise, in non-Wakhi or borrowed words such as maktab pronounced as mẽktabl and the like.
B b Bilabial sound (stop). It is the same as in English “b” for “book” or “bend”, . This sound is similar among the languages of Gilgit- Baltistan and Pakistan. Examples: bar (door/outside) in Wakhi; bar (idiom/proverb),in Burushaski; boboq (shin) in D̃umaki; bãl (boy in S̃hina); bo (very or a lot) in Khowar; and bu (calf) in balti.
C c Dental/alveolar sound. This sound is not the same as in English rather it does not exist in English, Urdu, Persian or Arabic. “C” rather resembles with German (as “c” in cehn” for “ten”; “cz” or “ts” in “Czar” or “Tsar” in Russian; and “co” (go) in Chinese. Internally, “c” is shared by the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan. For example, find the “c” sound of celbu (meaning “cage”) in Balti; “cat̃” (meaning “stop”) in Burushaski; “Canduro” (meaning Monday”“) in S̃hina; “cereng” (meaning “how) in Wakhi; Coq (to search out) in D̃umaki; and “ceq” (meaning “small”) inKhowar .
Ch Palato-alveolar sound (affricate). Always pronounced like English as the sound of “ch” in “chair”, “cheese”, “chain” and “chart”; but never pronounced like “ch” in “chemistry”, or “archive” or “archeology.” “Ch” doesn’t exist in Arabic at all. Examples: “chiz” (what) in Wakhi; chā (why) in Balti; chodo (insult) in Burushaski; chako (arm) in S̃hina; chamot̃ (finger) in Khowar; and chorit̃o (thief) in D̃umaki.
Ch̃ This is the stressed sound of “ch” (ch+h) and exists in Urdu, Burushaski, S̃hina, Balti and Khowar; and is not prominent in Wakhi. It doesn’t exist as a separate phoneme in Persian while in Arabic there is no “ch” sound at all. Examples are ch̃uri (knife) in Urdu; ch̃ap ( meat) in Burushaski); and ch̃anni (baby goat) in Khowar.
C̃h Retroflex sound (affricate).This is a retroflexed sound (hard sound of “ch”) and exists among the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral Region. Examples follow as c̃hez̃hm (eye) in Wakhi; “c̃ham” (dig or pierce) in Burushaski; c̃halo (light) in S̃hina; and s̃hrag (wisdom) in Balti; and c̃honc̃h (moon).
D d Dental/alveolar sound. This is not the same sound as in English rather it is lighter than English “d.” this sound is the same as found in French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, Persian, Arabic and Turkic languages. Within Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan, this sound exists in all languages in addition with Farsi and Arabic. Examples: don (tooth) in S̃hina; darba (butter-milk) in Balti; das̃ht (barren-land) in Wakhi; das (barren-land) in S̃hina and Burushaski; and droc̃h (grapes) in Khowar; and don (tooth) in D̃umaki.
D̃ d̃ Retroflexed sound (stop). This is pronounced like the normal English “d” as in “dog”, as well as “d” in “dann” (then) in German. Within Gilgit-Baltistan, “d̃” is found in all native languages, although there may not be available that much words from this sound. Examples are “”d̃um” (blacksmith) in Wakhi; d̃aq (boy) in Khowar; d̃od̃o (throat) in S̃hina; d̃om (run away/flee); and d̃ong (cliff) in Balti; and d̃od̃o (throat) in D̃umaki.
Dh This is an inter-dental sound (fricative) as found in English words like “this”, “these”, “that” and “those.” Besides English, this inter-dental sound also exists in Arabic language (as in dhalika (that). Within Gilgit-Baltistan, this sound exists only in Wakhi language an no other native languages possess it. Examples of words with this sound in Wakhi are dheng (grain), dhast (hand), dhart (fertilizer) and dhir (far).
F f Labio-dental sound (fricative). It is the same sound as in English. It does exist distinctively in Wakhi (and Khowar but needs to be verified with other indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan, especially in Balti and Burushaski as we observe confusion of words from “f” pronounced sometimes as “p”). examples: fuks (snake), Fas̃h (to explore or search) in Burushaski and D̃umaki.
G g Velar sound (stop). Always pronounced like “g” in English as in “goose”, “gallop”, “gall”, “govern” and “glow” but it can never be pronounced like “g” in “geo”, “geology”,, “geography”, “gel.” Within the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan, this sound exists in all of them and pronounced as mentioned above. Examples: gur (grave) in Wakhi, gann (way), gamburi (flower) in Khowar and S̃hina; gom (stairs) in Balti; and gor (house) in D̃umaki.
Gh Velar sound. This sound is not present in English but does exist in standard French and standard German (excluding Bavarian pronunciation of “r” like English) as reise (travel) and reich (rich). In addition to Arabic, Farsi and Turkic languages, “gh” also exists almost in all languages of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. Examples: ghar (song) in Burushaski; ghafch (very) in Wakhi; ghech (eye)in Khowar; gha (five) in Balti.
G̃h Palatal sound ( fricative voiced). This is a unique palatal sound (voiced) that does not exist in all languages of the world but rather it has its place within some Pamiri languages including Wakhi, Shughni, Rushoni, Bartangi, Rini and Sariqoli. Besides, “g̃h” could also be traced in Greek, Russian and some aboriginal languages of the world. Examples in Wakhi are “gh̃as̃h” (mouth), “gh̃is̃h” (ear), “gh̃ar” (stone), “g̃hun” (lap), and “g̃her” (wool).
H h Glottal sound. This sound is always pronounced in the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is the same as in English words like “hen”, “house”, “hall”, and “hawk” or as the “h” sound in German “habe” (I have), “Haus (house). Sample words of the sound in native languages are “han” (one) in Burushaski; “hat” (eight) in Wakhi; “hiyo (heart)” in S̃hina; and “hārdi” (heart) in Khowar; and halkis̃h (stomach) in D̃umaki.
J j Palate-alveolar sound (affricate). The same letter sound as in English words like “June”, “July” and “jet.” Examples in the native languages of GB are “jaw” (weld) in Wakhi; Je (I) in Burushaski; “jam” (fine or okay) in Khowar; “jip” (tongue) in S̃hina; and “jus” (frankness) in Balti; and jurka (storm) in Dumaki.
J̃ j̃ This is the retroflexed (hard sound) of “j” and does not exist in English and other languages in Pakistan except for few native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan. Examples follow as “j̃u” (apricot) in Burushaski; “j̃us̃h (boil) in Wakhi; j̃uke (kidney) in S̃hina; and j̃awo (nephew) in D̃umaki.
K k Velar sound (stop). The same sound as in English words for “kite”, “king” and “kin” or as in German “kind” (child). Examples in the native languages are “konn” (ear) in S̃hina; “kos” (listen) in Balti; “kan” (tree) in Khowar; “kand” (smile); and “kuyoch” (public) in Burushaski; and Karat̃ (break) in D̃umaki.
Kh Velar sound (fricative). This sound is no more present in modern English (though existed in the middle and old English). Rather it’s found in Scotish loch and German buch (book). Like Arabic and Farsi, “kh” is also found in the languages of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. Examples are “khatān (traditional Khowar house) in Khowar; “khom” (depth) in Balti; and “khashch” (wet) in Wakhi.
K̃h This is another unique palatal sound (voiceless) and do not exist in all languages of the world rather it has its place particularly within some Pamiri languages including Wakhi, Shughni, Rushoni, Rini and Sariqoli. In addition, k̃h sound can also be found in the same or slightly different forms in Greek, Russian, German, Ugric and some aboriginal languages of the world. Examples in Wakhi follow as “k̃hũy” (sister), “k̃hat” (self), and “k̃hech” (bread/meal).
Kh̃ This is the aspirated sound of “k” (k+h+h) and exists in few native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan. It is not normally present in Wakhi. Examples go on as “kh̃asman” (helpless) in Balti; “kh̃am” (palate) in Khowar; “kh̃ulto (today) in Burushaski.
L l Dental/alveolar sound (lateral). It is the same sound as found in the English words such as “light”, “lion” and “late.” Examples in the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan include “las̃h” (flooded or ruined) in Burushaski; “lot̃” (big) in Khowar; “lup” (big) in Wakhi; “las” (work) in Balti; and loy (fox) in D̃umaki.
M m Bilabial sound.(nasal).Same regular sound as found in the English words such as “mother”, “mild”, and “mama.” The sounds in the native languages are “mama” (mama) in Burushaski; “mat̃” (to me) in S̃hina; “mosh” (husband) in Khowar; and “mum” (grandma) in Wakhi; “manish” (man), in D̃umaki; and in Balti.
N n Dental/alveolar sound (nasal). Same regular sound as found in English like “noon”, “nine”, “no” and “number.” Examples in the native languages are “nan’ (mother) in both Wakhi and Khowar; “nush” (not) in S̃hina; “nang” (house in Balti; and “nana” in Burushaski; and Nawra (nail) in D̃umaki.
P pBilabial sound (stop). It is the same regular sound as in English such as “people”, “pupil”, “public” and “patridge.” Examples in the native languages are “parcin” (cap) in Burushaski; “polo” (polo) in Balti; “puc̃h (son) in S̃hina; peter (son) in Wakhi; “palókh” (apple) in Khowar; and piyya (father) in D̃umaki.
Ph This is an aspirate sound of “p” (p+h) but in the case of few native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan, “ph” can not be pronounced like the Greek deriven “ph” for “f” as in “phone’ or “photo” but rather it is strongly aspirated “p.” Examples are “phann” (palm) in Khowar; and “phat̃ālo” (thigh) in S̃hina.
Q q Uvular sound (stop). This is not the same sound as pronounced in English like “k” as in “queen”, or quality or quantity. It is rather a pharyngeal sound pronounced like the Arabic words “qalam” (pen), “Qur’an” (the Scripture) and “qadam” (step). “Q” is also found in the Turkic and indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan Region. Examples in the native languages are mostly borrowed or derived from Arabic via Qur’anic teaching, although there seems some indigenous terms retained by the native languages as well. Examples follow as “qarqamuc” (hen) in Burushaski; “qap” (bite) in Wakhi; “qalaq” (mud) in Balti; and Qarap (bended back of an old person) in D̃umaki.
R r Dental/alveolar sound (flap). It is always pronounced the same as in English such as “rabbit”, “run”, “rat” and “rose”; but it can never be pronounced like German or French “r” as “gh.” This sound exists in all native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and examples follow as “rés̃hu” (ox) in Khowar; “rand” (give) in Wakhi; “rajaki” (communal laboring) in both Burushaski and S̃hina; “ra” (goat) in Balti; and ram (to fall) in D̃umaki.
S s Dental/alveolar sound. It is always pronounced like English “s” in “sun”, “sparrow”, “summer”, and “send.” But “s” can never be pronounced like “z” as in “please” or “organise” or “organisation.” Examples in the native languages are “savz” (blue or green) in Wakhi; “sa” (sun) in Burushaski; “suri” (sun) in S̃hina; “sa” (land),in Balti; “sawz” (green) in Khowar; and son (gold) in D̃umaki.
Sh Palato-alveolar sound. It is pronounced in the same way as in English words such as “sheep”, “shore”, “ship” and “shame.” Examples in the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan are “shangur” (intestine) in Khowar; “shinger” (intestine) in Wakhi; “Shimsher (Saturday) in S̃hina, Burushaski and Balti; and Shen (garden) in D̃umaki.
S̃h It is the retroflexed (fricative) or hard sound of “sh” and does not exist in English and mmost of Pakistani languages. This sound however do exist internally with Mandarine Chinese and Russian and in the regional context it is found in all native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan, Chitral and Kohistan. Examples are “s̃hapik” (bread/meal) in Burushaski; “s̃hur” (salty) in Wakhi; “s̃his̃h” (head) in S̃hina; “s̃hayoz” (glacier) in Khowar; “s̃hrag” (wisdom) in Balti; and “s̃has̃har” (breathing out fastly) in D̃umaki.
T t Dental/alveolar sound (sop). It can never be pronounced like English “t” but rather it is the softer form as are found with regularity in French, Italian, Spanish, Russian as well as in Arabic, Farsi, Turkic and Pakistani languages. Examples in the native languags of Gilgit-Baltistan are “tam” (speech) in Balti; “tesh” (roof) in Burushaski; “tun” (belly button) in S̃hina; “tat” (father) both in Khowar and Wakhi; and taq (breakage) in D̃umaki, Wakhi and Burushaski.
T̃ t̃ Retroflex sound (stop). It is pronounced like the regular “t” of English as in “tomato”, “territory”, “turn” and “travel.” “T̃” is found in all the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and examples follow as “t̃or” (walnut) in Wakhi; t̃ong (pear) in Khowar; “t̃ak” (button) in S̃hina; “t̃ong” (tin) in Balti; and T̃ut̃ang (dark) in Burushaski and D̃umaki.
Th This is an inter-dental sound in Wakhi as is interdental in English as we could evidence “th”. In “thick”, “thin”, “thank”, “think”, “theology”, “thirsty”, “throne” or “thumb.” Being a “inter-dental sound possessing language, few examples of the Wakhi synonymous “th”-sound words are mentioned as “thin” (hot), “thũw” (burn), “thot̃ (lizard). This inter-dental sound cannot be found in the languages of Pakistan and it does exist in Arabic, greek and Spanish. It should be noted that dispossessing the “th” sound as an inter-dental in Gilgit-Baltistan, “th” will function as an aspirated “t.”Examples follow as “thap” (night/dark) in Burushaski; “then” (to do) in S̃hina; and so on.
T̃h̃: It’s the same retroflex “t̃” but with more hissing and stressed phoneme before the native speakers. Examples in D̃umaki are T̃h̃ar (breakage of welding or falling down), t̃h̃ot̃ (pitk̃horm),
V v Labio-dentals sound (fricative). It is pronounced in the same manner as “v” in English for “van”, “volunteer”, and “voyage.” Except for Wakhi, this sound does not exist in the languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. Examples in Wakhi are “voyn” (light), “voch” (aunty), “vand” (tie) and “vul” (good smell).
W w Bilabial sound (semi-vowel). It is pronounced as a regular sound like English “w” as found in the words like “way”, “wave”, “was” and “were.” It does exist in all languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. Examples in the native languages are “wa” (fox) in Balti; “wa” (bad smell) in Wakhi; “wa” (come) in S̃hina; “walto” (four) in Burushaski; and “waw” (grandmother) in Khowar.
Y y It is pronounced as a regular sound in the same manner as in English words for “y” in “yesterday”, “yes”, “yell” and “yoke.” This sound does exist in all languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. Examples in the native languages follow as “yir” (sun) in Wakhi; yurj (falcon) in Khowar; “yum” (liver) in S̃hina; “yang” (you) in Balti; “ya” (no) in Burushaski;and “Yoqa (beautiful) in D̃umaki. .
Z z Dental/alveolar sound (fricative). It is pronounced as a regular sound as “z” in English for the words like “zoo”, “zebra”, “zip” and “zoom.” It does exist in the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. Examples follow as “zun” (catch) in Balti; “zaq” (elder/big) in Khowar; and “zart” (yellow) in Wakhi;
Z̃ z̃ Dental/alveolar sound (affricate). It is not a regular sound in English. The sound is somehow like a combination of “dz” as in “adz.” This sound (z̃) is uncommon or may not be found within the languages of Pakistan. “Z̃” however exists in the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan. Examples follow as “z̃aq” (small/young) in Wakhi; “z̃erch” (yellow) in Khowar; “z̃abar” (stony place) in Balti;and Z̃arap (to pinch) in D̃umaki.
Zh Palate-alveolar sound (fricative). This is a regular sound found frequently in English, though this sound does not appear in the beginning of an English word rather present in the middle syllable like “-sion” in “ decision”,” –sure” in “treasure” and “measure.” Unknowiningly, majority oo Pakistanis mispronounce this sound as “y”: these words “measure” or “treasure”, are pronounced as “mayor” and “treyor” instead of pronouncing them as “mezher” or “trezher” despite the fact this same sound (zh) exists in Farsi and Urdu as in “muzhda” (good news) and “zhalabari.” It exists in the native languages of Gilgit-Baltisan. Examples are “zhaw” (grain) in Wakhi; “zhaw” (son) in Khowar; “zharba” (blind) in Balti;
Z̃h This is a retroflexed (fricative) or hard sound of “zh” and does not exist in English asss well as most of the Pakistani languages. It rather has its place internationally within the Russian and Chinese languages. Contextually within Gilgit-Baltistan, this retroflexed sound is found among all the native languages. Examples are “z̃how” (rotten milk) in Balti; “z̃hank” (high); “z̃hũmak (moon) in Wakhi;