By Fazal Amin Beg
Wakhi is one of the Pamiri languages within the Indo-Iranian branch of Indo-European languages family. Although, its written tradition sounds very recent/young, the related linguists consider Wakhi as one of the old Eastern Iranian languages having over four thousand years of age so far. Indigenously, this language is never named as Wakhi but rather termed as Wuk̃hikwor (that’s the language of Wakhan). In the same manner, Wuk̃h is the indigenous term for the homeland itself (which in distortion by the non-natives has become Wakhan). The dwellers of Wuk̃h (Wakhan) are called as Wuk̃hik and the suffix of -wor at the end refers to the language speakers itself.
The Wakhi communities live indigenously in the four contiguous countries: south-western China (Xinjiang Region), northern Pakistan (Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral Region), north-eastern Afghanistan (Badakhshan province), and south-eastern Tajikistan (Gorno-Badakhshan Region). Besides, the Wakhi communities also live in the city centers of their respective provinces and countries. In addition, out-migration of the Wakhi people could also be evidenced on permanent basis other countries and continents such as Russia, Turkey, United States, Canada, Australia and so on.
Although, many Oriental and Occidental linguists from different universities have studied various aspects of Wakhi language from scientific perspectives that include the sound system, grammar, verbs and infinitives and so on, study of the language by the indigenous researchers and scholars themselves could be termed very recent phenomenon that goes back to the last few decades. As part of their academic and scholarly requirements, the Western and Eastern linguists and anthropologists documented their scientific work based on IPA or Latino-Greek alphabet to be at par with the globally standardized tradition of documentation and analysis. However, with the course of time, the mass education or mother tongue literacy for the common native people remained a big question mark so that every indigenous people (whether literate or non-literate or semi-literate in other languages of their schooling, young or old) should enthusiastically read and write his or her mother tongue with a great pride, while it also contributes to the children’s cognitive development.
As a whole, the related indigenous organizations, scholars, poets, writers, artists and other activists of the concerned languages like Wakhi in this case, have a great stake and contributions towards promotion of the indigenous languages. In such circumstances, different native researchers and poets or activists ventured to develop writing systems for their native languages and Wakhi is one of the good examples in such connections. In result of such endeavors and initiatives, three main categories of contributors emerged in promoting Wakhi writing system. Although, in small group, one of them could be identified in line with Arabicized tradition in Afghanistan and in Pakistan. The second groups of them (also in small quantity but more than Arabicized) are within Cyrillic tradition and they are in Tajikistan and Russia. The third groups of them are majority native Wakhi speakers and social media users who feel Anglicized/Latinate orthographic tradition (based on English/Latin alphabet) is more user friendly and useful for international communication between native Wakhis. Besides, there is another very small activist group, particularly in Pakistan who advocate for the IPA based scholarly alphabet out of Latino-Greek used for scientific work by the international linguists mainly Grunberg/Kamensky, Budrus and some American linguists. This group needs to realize and distinguish between orthography for mass literacy of native people and IPA based writing system for scholarly studies and contributions.
However, besides these internal developments, in many instances, the national and sub national laws and policies with respect to development of languages of small populations also matters significantly in providing enabling or disabling environment for the indigenous peope to promote their languages. Despite the fact that those modern states are signatories to the charter and many conventions of UN and its affiliated agencies related to human rights and protection and preservation of cultural heritage of indigenous and smaller populations, in many cases the modern states fail to protect the human and lingual rights of the respective communities whose only aspiration is to live with an honor and dignity, develop their own creative cultural expressions and sustain their own cultural identities within the national boundaries they reside for centuries, as global citizens.
In short, this contribution is based on English writing system (termed as Anglicized or Latinate, which was actually envisioned, idealized and proposed by late professor, Dr. Boghsho Lashkarbekov (a native Tajik Wakhi linguist and Senior Scholar of Wakhi Pamiri language at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow). His scholastic pursuits kept in mind the long term future prospects of English language on the one hand and the growing trend of the youth, coming generations and nation states towards teaching and learning English language on the other hand. Although since 2001, I also started using Latino-Greek alphabet based on computer software (with the help of Keyman 3.2 and 7.0 versions for my scientific work) for more than ten years, yet after meeting and discussing with Professor Lashkarbekov, I realized and materialized his vision and idea (with little improvement in presentation of a couple of sounds with his consent in his lifetime) of Anglicized orthography for mass education without wasting further time in 2012.
Based on series of experimentation for over six years in the field among hundreds of diverse Wakhi audience in Pakistan (from Karachi to Hunza and Ghizer districts in Gilgit-Baltistan Region), I’m thus going to share the Anglicized writing system as it proved to be highly productive for the mass education in Wakhi with a quick learning and friendly manner without involvement of any type of special software or font. Instead, it’s written like English using MS Office word (by getting a tilde sign ( ̃) that is taken in shortcut from the Symbol Box within Insert in the Menu Bar. English-based writing thus proved highly effective without involvement of any kind of issues of writing or illustration on the Internet in addition with its diversity in options for attractive demonstration and presentation.
Composition of Anglicized Wakhi Letters
There are in total 43 sounds in Wakhi Pamiri language (six main vowels plus one short vowel and 36 consonants). All these sounds are represented or symbolized by 25 Anglicized or Latinate letters . Besides their own individual sounds of the 25 letters, other sounds (which are normally considered softer or relatively normal) are represented in combination of the respective letters with “h” such as ch, dh, gh, kh, sh, th and zh. Among these relatively soft sounds exist their harder sounds, too and they are symbolized with the sign of tilde ( ̃) that appears on top of most of them on the first letter that include c̃h, g̃h, k̃h, s̃h and z̃h. There are still some other letter sounds they carry the sign of tilde ( ̃) on their top individually without getting together with “h” to have thee respective sounds. These special letters include d̃, ẽ, t̃, ũ and z̃. It should be noted that the letter sound in Wakhi haven’t the same sound as in English for “k” or “s” as in c (k), ca, co (ko), cu (ku), ce (se) and ci (si). Ce in Wakhi will always be pronounced like ts.
The Wakhi Vowels: A Point of Deliberation
There are basically six main vowels in Wakhi. The first five vowels (a, e, i, o, u) generally share similarity with other languages within the region and at international scales. The sixth vowel (ũ) cannot be found within the indigenous languages of the region and country. It rather is completely or partially with its Pamiri branches of languages, Turkic, Greek, Russian, Chinese, German, French and the like. Besides, there is also a semi vowel [ẽ] that emerges mostly in result of contraction of the six vowels mostly at first syllable of a word and gets stress on second or third syllables.
The vowel letters are highly friendly and fair for the learners to learn as they are fixed for the respective vowel sounds and other sounds cannot be anticipated as in English, French and Russian the vowel letters sometimes pushes the learners towards complexities.
For instance, “A” would always be “a” as it sounds in “arm”; or as “a” in “car” and never “a” in care.”
“E” will always be “e” in “egg” or “exit”, or “edge” and never “e” in “English.”
“I” will always be “I” in “ink”, “in”, “input” or “inn” and never as “I” in “idol”, “idle”, or “idea.”
“O” will always be “o” in “orange”, “old” and “or” and can never be “o” in “color”, “conquer”, “come”, and so on.
“U” will always be “u” in “put” and could never be pronounced like “u” in “but.”
The Wakhi Vowels and Words Formation
1. A: As mentioned above, it’s always pronounced like English “a” in arm, car or far. But it should be noted that “a” in Wakhi can never be pronounced like “a” in care or fare. Examples in Wakhi: aram (lever), arzon (plenty), arbob (headman), angũr (grapes)
2. E: It’s always pronounced as “e” in egg, elephant, energy, and exit or emit. Examples in Wakhi: et (and), ep (future marker for “shall” or “will), yem (this), shepk (stick), thetk (burnt).
3. Ẽ: ẽbrat (vengeous), kẽndak (to smile), khẽmak (to descend), kẽsak (to thresh)
4. I: It’s always pronounced like English “I” in ink, inch, or image. But it should be strictly noted that “I” in Wakhi can never be pronounced like “I” in ibex, idea, or ice. Examples in Wakhi: istin (pillar), imon (faith), inson (human), inot/yinot (dream), isp (shoulder)
5. O: It’s always pronounced like English “o” in orange, oak, obedient, organize or okay. But it should be noted that “o” can never be pronounced like American open “o” ox, pot, or shop. Examples in Wakhi: osmon (sky), orom (peace), oston (shrine), odat (habit), obota (confused)
6. U: It’s always pronounced like English “u” in, put and never “u” in but, or umbrella. Examples in Wakhi: (w)uc̃h (bullet/arrow), uz̃hu (tortoise), uk̃h (moan or make a sigh ; an expression of pain by a person)
7. Ũ: This vowel sound is similar in the same way with Shughnoni Pomiri as in khũlũvd. It also resembles with German Examples in Wakhi: ũs̃htũr (camel), ũmr (age)
8. B: It is the same English sound as “b” in baby or balloon. Examples in Wakhi: buy (two), band (close), bech (uncle), baf (good/ok)
9. C: This sound as per se does not exist in English, Urdu, Farsi or Arabic. Within the indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan Region, “c” [ts] exists and is similar with Wakhi. For instance, cat̃ (stop) in S̃hina and Burushaski; celbu (cage) in Balti, Coq (to search out) in D̃umaki; and “ceq” (“small”) in Khowar. Besides, within international languages, “c” is also found in Cehn (ten in German), co (go) in Chinese), mac (mother) in Russian. Examples in Wakhi: cereng (how), cumer (how much/many), cat̃ (stop), cul (stroll)
10. Ch: it’s the same regular or soft sound in Wakhi as in English it’s in chair, cheese, chore, charm and so on. But it should be seriously noted that “ch” in Wakhi will never represent any other sounds as in English it can also be “k” as in archive, archaeology, or in chemistry. It should also be taken into account that “ch” never has the sounds of “ch” in German (as in Ich or buch) or “ch” of French in chercher (to search). Examples in Wakhi: chiz (what), chat̃ (cattle), cherm (enter), chang (claw)
11. C̃h: It’s the hard sound of “ch” and shares its similarity with the indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan Region such as c̃ham (dig or pierce) in Burushaski; c̃halo (light) in S̃hina. Examples in Wakhi: c̃haw (carry on), c̃hez̃hm (eye),), c̃hun (capable/smart), c̃hũpn (to cut in to pieces).
12. D: Its sound is not the same as in English rather it is lighter than English. D has the same sound as pronounced 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 in Wakhi: dam (back), dur (belly), dard (pain), dust (friend), da (take)
13. D̃: It’s pronounced like the normal English “d” as in “dog”, as well as “d” in “dann” (then) in German. Within Gilgit-Baltistan, “d̃” is pronounced in all native languages but in a retroflexed manner. Examples in Wakhi: d̃am (idle), d̃ul (rounded), d̃os (collide), d̃um (blacksmith)
14. Dh: It’s an inter-dental sound as exists in English like “th” in this, these, that and those. Besides, “dh” sound can also be found in Greek as in “dhen” (don’t); and also in Arabic such as “dhalika” (that). Within Gilgit-Baltistan, this sound exists only in Wakhi language and not among other native languages. Examples in Wakhi: dhast (hand), dhart (fertilizer), dheng (grain), dhas (ten), dhũs (dough)
15. F: It’s the same regular sound as in English, Persian, German, Greek, Russian, Urdu, and Arabic and so on. Examples in Wakhi: fand (cheat), fuks (snake), firbi (fatty), fan (a lie), fard (individual)
16. G: It’s always pronounced in Wakhi like “g” in English as it’s in goose, gallop, gall, govern and glow. But it should be strictly noted that it can never be pronounced like “g” in geo, geology, geography, or gel. Within the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan, this sound exists among all indigenous languages. Examples in Wakhi: garm (warm), gew (close), gũp (gap), gur (grave), gach (kidding)
17. Gh: 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, Persian and Turkic languages, “gh” also exists almost in all languages of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. Examples in Wakhi: ghafch (a lot), ghelch (sorrow), ghet̃ (mud), ghal (still), gham (misery)
18. G̃h: It’s a unique palatal sound (voiced) that does not exist among all languages of the world but rather it has its place within some selective languages such as Pamiri languages including Wakhi, Shughni, Rushoni, Bartangi, Rini, Sariqoli and the like. Besides, “g̃h” can also be found in Greek, Russian and some aboriginal languages of the world, although within Burushaski it can be traced implicitly as in ag̃ha (father), kag̃h (river bank) or bepag̃h (yak). In Greek, the “g̃h” sound can be found in eg̃ho (I), lig̃ho (a little) or sig̃hnomi (excuse me).Examples in Wakhi: g̃has̃h (mouth), g̃his̃h (ear), g̃hun (lap), g̃har (stone), g̃hir (encircle)
19. H: It’s the same sound as in English for hen, house, hall, or hawk. In German, “h” sound is in haben (to have), Haus (house). But it should be noted that “h” has to be always pronounced in Wakhi and there is no exception of keeping it silent in some cases. Examples in Wakhi: hazor (thousand), hamro (companion), hũb (seven), hat (eight)
20. J: It’s the same letter sound as in English j for June, July, jet or just. It should be noted that “j” can never be pronounced like “y” as in German for jetz (now); or “j” should never be pronounced like “zh” in French as it has in je (I). Examples in Wakhi: jang (war), jeft (even/couple), jush (emotion), kingal (forest), jon (soul)
21. J̃: It’s the retroflexed (or hard sound) of “j” and does not exist in English and other languages in Pakistan except for few native languages in Gilgit-Baltistan Region. Examples in Wakhi: j̃ang (position), j̃akh (playing Music), j̃us̃h (boil), j̃ũmbes̃h (movement by heat up)
22. K: It’s the same sound as in English for kite, king and kin or as “k” in German for kind (child). Examples in Wakhi: kand (smile), kar (deaf), kur (blind), kup (fish), kaf (cuff), kez̃h (knife)
23. Kh: It’s no more present in modern English (though existed in the middle and old English). It’s however found in Scotish as in loch and in German such as in buch (book as well as in Turkic languages as “kh” in Khan). Like Arabic and Persian, “kh” is also found in the languages of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. Examples in Wakhi: khuy (reaction), khuz̃hg (sweet), khun (house), khũn (blood).
24. K̃h: It’s another unique palatal sound (voiceless) in Wakhi and does not seem to 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. Instances in Greek include the k̃h sounds in K̃hiyerete (hello), ok̃hi (no) or nik̃hta (night); and in Russian, the k̃h sound can be found in K̃haras̃ho (thanks).Examples in Wakhi: k̃hũy (sister), k̃hurs (father-in-law), k̃has̃h (mother-in-law), k̃hũn (one’s own), k̃han (say), k̃hech (meal/bread)
25. L: It’s the same regular or normal sound as in English for light, lion or lamb. Examples in Wakhi: lup (big/elder), lunjg (cheek), lew (mad), lash (clean), lol (elder brother)
26. M: It’s the same regular or normal sound as “l” in English for mother, mild, or monkey. Examples in Wakhi: mum (grandmother), mur (rain), merz (hungry), mulun (of the same age)
27. N: It’s the same normal or regular sound as “n” in English for noon, nine, no or net. Examples in Wakhi: nan (mother), nof (belly button), nung (name), narm (wait/pause)
28. P: It’s the same regular sound as in English such as people, pupil, public or patridge. Examples in Wakhi: pup (grandfather), pũrz (evening), palch (leaf), pun (palm), panz̃ (five)
29. Q: It’s not the same sound in Wakhi as pronounced in English or French like “k” as appears in queen, quality or quantity. Q is rather a pharyngeal sound pronounced like the Arabic words such as qalam (pen), Qur’an (the Scripture) and qadam (step). “Q” is also found in the Turkic and Balti languages in high frequency. Examples in Wakhi: qaq (dried apricot), qẽnda (mulberry jam), qẽrgha (crow), qar (anger), qũt̃ (sip), qardang (seesaw), qat̃ (blowing nose).
30. R: It’s always pronounced the same as in English for rabbit, run, rat or rose. However, it should be noted that “r” can never be pronounced like German or French “r” as “gh; or cannot be pronounced either with rolling like Italian, Spanish or Greek.” Examples in Wakhi: rost (right), rakht (color), rung (abuse), rand (give), rum (clan), redh (run)
31. S: It’s always pronounced like the normal English “s” in sun, sparrow, summer, and send. But “s” can never be pronounced like “z” in English as we do follow in the cases of please, organize, Chinese or in the plural forms. In the same manner, “s” should never be pronounced in Wakhi like “z” in German as it’s a convention to read senden as zenden (i.e., to send), sommer as zommer (i.e., summer), selb as zelb (i.e., self). Examples in Wakhi: san (ascend), sol (year), sũr (cold), sur (turn), sar (head), sam (brink)
32. Sh: It’s the same normal sound pronounced completely in the same way as in English for sheep, shore, ship and shame. Examples in Wakhi: sher (lion), shur (noise), sharm (shy), shum (commiseration), shot (supper)
33. S̃h: It’s the retroflexed (fricative) or hard sound of “sh” and does not exist in English and mmost of Pakistani languages. This sound however do exist internationally with Mandarin Chinese and Russian (e.g., s̃hto meaning “what); and in the regional context it is found in the indigenous languages of Northern Pakistan. Some examples are s̃hapik (bread/meal) in Burushaski; s̃his̃h (head) in S̃hina; s̃hayoz (glacier) in Khowar; s̃hrag (wisdom) in Balti; and s̃has̃har (breathing out fastly) in D̃umaki. Examples in Wakhi: s̃hapt (wolf), s̃hur (salty), s̃hafs̃h (hair), s̃hum (dark).
34. T: It should never be pronounced like English “t” but rather it is the softer form as is found with regularity in French, Italian, Spanish, and Russian as well as in Arabic, Farsi, Turkic and Indo-Pakistani languages. Examples in Wakhi: tat (father), tang (narrow), tirich (dark), tor (scalp), tiz (sharp), tap (wing).
35. T̃: It’s pronounced like the regular “t” of English as in tomato, territory, turn or travel. This sound as retroflex exists in urdu and Hindi (e.g., t̃amãt̃ar for tomato) as well as other Indic languages in addition with all the indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan. Examples in Wakhi: t̃az (bald), t̃or (walnut), t̃ot̃os (crude), t̃akh (strike), t̃ok (slow), t̃ung (hard).
36. Th: It’s an inter-dental sound in Wakhi as is exactly the same in English, too. The “th”. In English stands for thick, thin, thank, think, theology, thirsty, throne or thumb. This inter-dental sound cannot be found in the languages of Pakistan (except for Wakhi) and it does exist in Arabic, Greek and Spanish. Examples in Wakhi: thin (hot), thũw (set on fire), and thot̃ (lizard).
37. V: It is pronounced in Wakhi in the same manner as “v” in English for van, volunteer, and voyage. Except for few languages like Wakhi and Kh̃owar, this sound does not exist commonly in all languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. Within International context, the sound of “v” exists in different languages and as could be evidenced as vada (water) in Russian. Examples in Wakhi: voch (aunt), voyn (light), vand (tie), vul (smell), var (abuse), vaz (vibration)
38. W: It’s pronounced in Wakhi as a regular sound like English “w” which exists in the words like way, wave, was and were. It does exist in all languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. Examples in Wakhi: woz (and), waz (fall), win (see), wushk (calf), wa (bad smell), wir (alone).
39. Y: It’s pronounced as a regular sound in Wakhi in the same manner as in English for yesterday, yes, yell and yoke. This sound does exist in all languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. Examples in Wakhi: yan (yes), yund (carry), yinot (dream), yarz (juniper), yaz (glacier).
40. Z: It’s pronounced as a regular sound as “z” in English for zoo, zebra, zip and zoom. It does exist in the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan. Examples in Wakhi: zart (yellow), zik (language), zur (difficult), zem (snow), zar (pain).
41. Z̃: This sound in Wakhi is not regular in English and is somehow like a combination of “dz” as in adze. Z̃ thus is uncommon or may not be found within all languages of Pakistan. Examples in Wakhi: z̃ug̃h (yak), z̃aq (young), z̃akhm (wound), z̃aqlay (small), z̃el (sew).
42. Zh: This is a regular sound found frequently in English (but the same letters (zh) are not used for the purpose., It should be noted that this sound in English doesn’t appear in the beginning of a word rather appears in the middle or last syllable of the word such as in -sion in decision [deci-sion],” vision [vi-sion], -sure” in treasure and measure. Unknowingly, most of Pakistanis mispronounce this sound as “y.” the aforesaid words measure or treasure” are thus pronounced as “mayor” or “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 some native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan. Examples in Wakhi: zharzh (milk), zhaw (grain), zhindag (story), zhet (get away), zhũp (spin).
43. Z̃h: This is a retroflexed (fricative) or hard sound of “zh” and does not exist in English as well as most of the Pakistani languages. It rather has its place internationally within Russian (as in Moz̃hna meaning “can or may”) and Chinese language. Contextually within Gilgit-Baltistan, this retroflexed sound is found among the native languages. Examples in Wakhi: z̃hũmak (moon), z̃hũnen (mine), z̃hang (lice eggs), z̃hẽvor (gift), z̃hũmũr (count).
I owe my indebtedness to my brother Ghulam Amin Beg for his overall support towards such academic rendering in addition to his intellectual inputs.
My special affections and gratitude goes to both of my sweet daughters, Fazila Roshan Beg and Surush Ayman Beg, for their ever help and facilitation pertaining to my research work and studies, even during the time of developing this important linguistic write-up on Wakhi.
I’m so grateful to Mr. Abidullah Baig son of Muhammadullah Baig of Sharisabz Chipursan valley of Hunza, for sparing time out of his online professional engagements in Calibreon International (www.calibreon.com.pk). He was so kind to proof read this article and correcting typos and helped in formatting issues.