Mother Tongue Literacy

Anglicized Writing System for the S̃hina Language of the Northern Pakistan

December 31, 2018

Like Kh̃howar and Kashmiri, S̃hina is a Dardic language of the Indo-Iranian branches within the broader Indo-European languages family. It’s spoken mainly in the Northern Pakistan, although a sizeable number of speakers also live in North-western India and a small population of them also reportedly live in Eastern Afghanistan. It has been a lingua franca of Gilgit Region within Gilgit-Baltistan. But at present, Urdu (an Indic language) coupled with more English vocabularies is seen to be a lingua franca among all people of Gilgit-Baltistan Region , though English is commonly well understood and spoken with a pride among the youth, children and educated people of the area.
S̃hina is predominantly spoken in the districts of Gilgit, Ghizer, Astor, Dimar and Kohistan; while a significant number of the speakers also live in other districts such as Hunza, Nagar, Skardu, Kh̃armang and Chitral.
Many non-native speakers from abroad and at home have been studying and contributing towards S̃hina language in scientific realms from thee historical to contemporary contexts but the initiatives of writing S̃hina by the indigenous people cannot be termed so old and until recently it remained an oral language.
It’s noteworthy that besides some native teachers, linguists as well as few university students, some poets of the area are witnessed taking a proactive role initially in promoting their respective poetries and few of them could be seen emerging and trying to show themselves as experts on the respective languages. And this also holds true in the case of S̃hina.
There remained no consensus regarding S̃hina orthography. Although, the international scientific experts on S̃hina have been using the Latinized or IPA -based alphabet for documentation of the language, the native speakers are evidenced scattered alongside their personal endeavors, particularly around their Arabicized transcription styles that evolved into a Unicode Arabicized writing system for them. Although, it’s reported that the local authors/poets on S̃hina have reached a consensus on Unicode Arabicized, there still remains heated questions and debates about S̃hina orthography. Various books have been published by the native linguists like Shakil Ahmad and Ishtiyaq Yaad plus other distinguished authors, but understanding of S̃hina for the native youth and young students themselves is a great challenge as Arabic itself and Arabicized letters are based mainly on consonants and it has little involvement of vowels. Unlike English or Latinate/Roman tradition, the students therefor have to memorize a lot as they have to do so with regard to Urdu and thus face high difficulty in learning and understanding effectively to read and write in the native language.
This little contribution of mine (which will always possess room for improvement) on S̃hina language with Anglicized orthography thus invites and offers thee native speakers, particularly the visionary leaders, competent professionals, the sober youth, young students and coming generations to look into the future that how the languages of small population such as S̃hina could effectively be safeguarded and promoted within the global contexts and arena while running under the lights and shades of global languages such as English with diverse and universal discoveries and innovations. In this regard, Anglicized writing system for S̃hina and other languages of small population in the region and across the borders will be the only effective solution to protect and sustain their survival. The Anglicized (or can also be termed as Latinate) orthography will ease the children in schools to quicken their learning of their mother tongues and they won’t be under pressure, rather alongside English in their educational institution, they would be capable enough to better comprehend both languages simultaneously.
In conclusion, we need to understand that we are not supposed to make all native speakers of thee indigenous languages as linguists but rather the purpose of such initiatives for mother tongue or language literacy means to promote better and effective communication at general mass level where a non-literate and semi-literate person (even an adult) could also easily express himself or herself in his or her mother tongue with a great pride and honor without getting any significant mental pressure. Orthography should stimulate thee native speakers to learn their mother tongue voluntarily and with a great enthusiasm. At the end, I’ll be grateful to if the respected readers provide their thoughtful suggestion with regard to this Anglicized orthography for S̃hina.

Vowel Sounds of S̃hina Language:
1. A: It’s always pronounced like English “a” in apple or arm. It should be noted that “a” in S̃hina can never be pronounced like “a” in care or fare. Examples: Aji (mother), ash (today), as̃h (eight), ashpo (horse).
2. Ã: It’s always pronounced as a long “a” as we can find it in “father.” Examples: ãl (there), ãlu (reached). Instead of usage of tilde in vowel sounds, there is still another option to keep in mind for à which can also be symbolized with ã and the same examples can be written with āl (there), and ãlu (reached).
3. E: It is always pronounced as “e” in egg, elephant, energy, and exit or emit. Examples: ek (one), ekãy (eleven),ey (they).
4. I: It’s always pronounced like English “I” in ink, inch, or image. But it should be strictly noted that “I” in S̃hina can never be pronounced like “I” in ibex, idea, or ice. Examples: inc̃h (bear), is̃hqãr (bee), ispawo (delicious)
5. Ĩ: It’s always pronounced as a long “I” in S̃hina as in English we can find the same sound in feed, seed or creed. Examples: ic̃hĩ (eye)ĩl (channel). This same long vowel can also be symbolized with ī (as an option if one wishes) and the examples will follow then as ic̃hī (eye) and īl (channel).
6. O: It’s always pronounced like English “o” in orange, oak, obedient, organize or okay. Examples: oñt̃i (lip), oñs (smile), õq (vomiting),, oshi (wind)
7. U: It’s always pronounced like “u” in put and never as “u” in but or umbrella. Examples: urk (wolf), us̃h (A sigh)paju (salt)
8. Ũ:It’s the long sound of “u” in S̃hina; and is different from that of Wakhi ũ. Example: ũs̃h loan), or the same “U” word can also be symbolized with ūs̃h

Consonant Sounds:
9. B: It is the same English sound as “b” in book or bend.Examples in S̃hina: bãbo (father), bãl (boy), bãy (twelve), birdi (earth), bãn (plowing)
10. C: 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. Examples in S̃hina: Canduro (Monday), cat̃ (stop), cĩr (line)
11. Ch: Always pronounced like English as the sound of “ch” in “chair”, “cheese”, “chain” and “chart”; but never pronounced like “ch” in “chemistry”, or “archive.” Examples in S̃hina: chãr (four), chatak (floor), chuno(small), char (grass), chukunãr (peach)
12. Ch̃: This is the stressed sound of “ch” (ch+h) and exists in Urdu as in ch̃atri (means umbrella). It also exists in Burushaski, Balti and Khowar.Examples in S̃hina: ch̃ãl (baby goat), ch̃ãr (rock), ch̃amus (apricot juice)
13. C̃h: This is a retroflexed sound (hard sound of “ch”) and exists among all native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral Region. Examples in S̃hina: c̃halo (light), c̃he (go), c̃hey (three ), c̃hakey (look), c̃hoy (thirteen), c̃hoko (physically disabled .
14. C̃h̃: It’s a strong aspirated sound of c̃h and can also be found in S̃hina, Burushaski and Khowar. Examples in S̃hina: c̃h̃ar (fountain), ch̃anum (I’ll send), c̃h̃onu (thick stick) c̃h̃oni (light stick)
15. D: It’s 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. Examples in S̃hina: dado (grandfather), don (tooth/flock), dãs (barren-land), dãy (ten), dadĩ (grandmother), diwana (mad), de (give) , dono (ox), darĩ (hole)
16. D̃: It’s pronounced like the normal English “d” as in “dog”, as well as “d” in “dann” (then) in German. Examples in S̃hina: d̃imm (body/blasting sound), d̃ad̃ang (a music drum), d̃ak (strike), d̃awd̃o (soup)
17. G: It’s always pronounced like “g” in English as in “goose”, “gallop”, “gall”, “govern” and “glow” but it it should be noted that it can never be pronounced like “g” in “geo”, “geology”,, “geography”, “gel.” Examples in S̃hina: ga (also), gunagãr (sinful), go (cow), Goñ (gone), gonn ( bad smell; knot).
18. Gh: This sound is not present in English to make the readers understand but it does exist in standard French (as in parler) and standard German (as reise or reich). In addition to Arabic, Farsi and Turkic languages, “gh” also exists almost in all languages of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. However, it should be noted that among the native S̃hina people (like the Hindi speakers) “gh” becomes hard for them to pronounce as it sounds to have entered in S̃hina via Farsi and Arabic. Anyway, for the S̃hina speakers of Ghizer or Hunza (for instance), gh sound may not be difficult as compared to the S̃hina speakers of Gilgit and Diamar districts. Examples in S̃hina: ghut̃umo (deep), ghass (slide), gharam (collapse), gham (misery), ghalat (wrong), ghãfil (insensitive)
19. H: It’s the same as “h” in English “hen”, “house”, “hall”, and “hawk” or as the “h” sound in German “habe” (I have), “Haus (house). Examples in S̃hina: hiyo (heart), hawa (air), han (is/present), het̃ (small dwelling area), hãye (smile)
20. J: It’s the same letter sound as in English like “June”, “July” and “jet.” Examples in S̃hina: jeyk (what), jat̃e (where), jãlo (net /rafter), jĩl (life), jakur (hair) jaro (old man), jari (old woman), jon (snake)
21. K: It’s the same sound as in English words for “kite”, “king” and “kin” or as in German “kind” (child). Examples in S̃hina: Kaka (elder brother) kaki (elder sister), kachãk (how much), kom (work), konn (ear)
22. Kh: This sound is no more present in modern English (though existed in the middle and old English). Kh sound is thus found in Scotish loch and German buch (book). Like Arabic and Farsi, “kh” is also found among the indigenous languages of Pakistan and Gilgit-Baltistan. However, it should be noted again that like “gh”, “kh” becomes hard for thee S̃hina speakers of the districts of Gilgit, Dimar and the like but for the S̃hina speeakers of Ghizer and Hunza, kh sound may not be difficult to pronounce. Kh sound seems to have entered into S̃hina via Farsi and Arabic. Examples in S̃hina: khushbu (good smell), khushi (happiness)
23. Kh̃: This is the aspirated sound of “k” (k+h+h) and exists in Urdu (as in kh̃ãna means feast or meal). Kh̃ also exists in Balti, Burushaski , D̃umaaki and Kh̃owar languages. Th S̃hina speakers of Gilgit and Diamar cannot make that much distinction between kh and kh̃ but for the same speakers in Hunza and Ghizer, distinction between both phonemes may not be an issue. Examples in S̃hina: kh̃a (at), kh̃ajon (snake).
24. L: It is the same regular sound as in the English words such as light, like, lion and late. Examples in S̃hina: layok (to receive), lel (blood), lus̃htak (tomorrow), lupijan (glowing; suitable),loy (fox)
25. M: It’s the same regular English sound as “m” in mother, mild, or mama. Examples in s̃hina: Mãlo (uncle), mulãy (girl), muto (other), manuz̃ho (human), musha (man), Munn (a truncated branch of a tree),
26. N: It’s the same regular sound as found in English like noon, nine, no or number. Examples in S̃hina: naw/nu (nine), nush (not), nañi (eyeball), nanni (naked), nom (name), norro (nail), nato (nose), nilaw (forehead)
27. P: It is the same regular sound as in English such as people, pupil, public or patridge. Examples in S̃hina: piyok (to drink), payok (to cook), paju (salt), posh (five), põn (generation), ponn (path), prone (old), puc̃h (son)
28. Ph: It’s an aspirated sound of “p” (p+h) but in the case of few native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan (such as S̃hina, Balti, Burushaski and D̃umaaki) , “ph” can not be pronounced like “f” or the Greek “ph” for “f” as in “phone’ or “photo” but rather it is strongly aspirated “p.” Examples Examples in S̃hina: phu (blow ; swelling), phat (leave/keep), phunar (flower), phatu (later/after), phat̃alo (thigh)
29. Q: It’s not the same sound as pronounced in English like “k” as in “queen”, or quality or quantity. It is rather a sound that’s pronounced from one’s throat pronounced like the Arabic words qalam (pen), Qur’an (the Scripture) or qadam (step). “Q” is also found in the Turkic and some indigenous languages of Gilgit-Baltistan Region (such as Wakhi, Balti, Kh̃owar and Burushaski). Among many S̃hina speakers (e.g., Gilgit or Diamar) like gh or kh, “q” also becomes difficult to be pronounced properly and theey perceive it as normal “k”; while among thee S̃hina speakers of Hunza and Ghizer, such issues may not exist. Examples in S̃hina: quss (cought), qurbani (sacrifice), qarz (loan), qenchi (scissors)
30. R: It’s always pronounced the same as in English such as “r” in rabbit, run, rat or rose; but it can never be pronounced like German or French “r” as “gh.” It can also not bee pronounced like Italian or Spanish “r” with more vibration or multiplicity. Examples in S̃hina: rã (raja/ruler), ra (tell), roshani (light), radon (experienced in hardship), rishta (relation), rahm (mercy), rãn ( speak)
31. R̃: It’s not the regular “r” but rather is a combination of “r” and “d” and this sound (r̃) resembles the same r̃ in Urdu for pahar̃ (mountain), gh̃ar̃i (watch) or gãr̃i (vehicle). However, r̃ may not frequently appear in S̃hina and like Urdu, it will appear in the middle or last of a word and never in the beginning. Examples in S̃hina: jar̃i (rainy season)
32. S: It’s always pronounced like English “s” in sun, sparrow, summer, or send. But “s” can never be pronounced like “z” as in the plural forms of English or in the words like please or organise or organization or Chinese. Examples in S̃hina: Sa (sister), sat (seven), suri (Sun), sar (lake), sum (soil)
33. Sh: It’s pronounced in the same way as in English, as in thee words such as sheep, shore, ship and shame. Examples in S̃hina: shãm (evening), shatilo (strong), shut̃uko ( small, little), shidalo ( cold), sharabi (drunker), shãl (fever), shas̃h (mother-in-law), shayur (father-in-law)
34. 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 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 in S̃hina: s̃ha (six), s̃hak (neck), S̃hina (shina), s̃his̃h (head), s̃hiyeli (beautiful), s̃hot̃o (throat), s̃hoy (sixteen).
35. T: It can never be pronounced like English “t” in tomato, turn or other similar words but rather It’s the softer form as is found with regularity and is thee same in French, Italian, Spanish, Russian as well as in Arabic, Farsi, Turkic and Pakistani languages. Examples in S̃hina: tal (ceiling), tesh (roof), tato (hot), tuno (belly button), tom (tree), tanuliye (thin),.
36. Th̃: Examples in S̃hina: th̃ok (to do), th̃é (do)
37. T̃: It’s pronounced like the regular “t” of English as in tomato, territory, turn or travel. “T̃” is however a more retroflex sound and found in all the native languages of Gilgit-Baltistan. Examples in S̃hina: t̃ak (button), t̃ong (pear).
38. T̃h: It’s the aspirated t̃ (t̃+h) as is also found in Urdu and Hindi. Examples in S̃hina: t̃hik (good/appropriate), t̃hari (polo ball), t̃hang (push),
39. W: It’s pronounced in the same way as a regular sound like English “w” in way, wave, was or were. Examples in S̃hina: wey (water), weyran (ruined), wa (come), wayok (to come)
40. Y: It is pronounced as a regular sound in the same manner as in English for “y” in yesterday, yes, yell or yoke. Examples in S̃hina: yum (liver), yarkamas (first of all)
41. Z: It’s pronounced as a regular sound as “z” in English for zoo, zebra, zip or zoom. Examples in S̃hina: zindagi (life), zehr (poison), zamin (land)
42. Z̃h: It’s a retroflexed (fricative) or hard sound of “zh” as zh sound is found in in English word like measure (mezhar), treasure (trezhar), vision (vizhan) or dicision (disizhan). Z̃h doesn’t exist in English as well as most of the Pakistani languages. z̃h sound is rather found internationally within the Russian and Chinese languages. Examples in S̃hina: Z̃har (brother), z̃hap (bride/wealth), z̃hakun (donkey), z̃huke (kidney)

Important Notes:
It should particularly be noted that some consonant sounds in S̃hina language, which are normal to other language communities of Gilgit-Baltistan, do not exist or cannot be pronounced clearly. Those absent or difficult sounds for the indigenous S̃hina people are f, gh, j̃, kh and q. These sounds the indigenous people would pronounce in this fashon: f as p or ph; gh as g; j̃ as z̃h; kh and q as aspirated k. In addition, like Urdu, r̃ also exists in S̃hina but is not that much in prominence. Howeverit was observed that among the S̃hina speakers of Hunza and Ghizer, the phoneme “q” is properly pronounced unlike other S̃hina speakers. I therefore opted to keep the /q/ sound for those who could pronounce the Arabic and Turkic “q” within their mother tongue so that they could at least keep the distinctive feature of the phonmeme, although for those unable to pronounce it can pronounce it as “k” as in the same fashon we can find “q” also in English.
Second, in S̃hina, like French, different types of nasalized vowel sounds are also prevalent such as eñ, eng, oñ, ong and the like.
Third, it should be kept in mind that thee sign of tilde ( ̃) refers to thee sounds that are not in English and symbolizes the hard sounds within the family of the normal sounds.
Fourth, it needs to bee taken into accounts that thee retroflex (j̃) exist among the Shina speakers of Hunza, although among other native speakers out of Hunza, j̃ is pronounced as retroflexed zh (i.e., z̃h).
I’m so grateful to all my S̃hina speaking friends, colleagues and many respondents for sharing their deep thoghts on the subject matter.
My deep gratitude goes to Mr. Shakil Ahmad (a humble and deeply rooted S̃hina linguist) for sharing different aspects of S̃hina language with me in December 2014 in Skardu while both of us were in a conference on Regional Languages organized by the Department of Modern Languages, Karakoram International University (KIU), Gilgit and The British Council, Islamabad.

In the same manner, I’m indebted to Engineer Sadruddin son of Dr. Naik Alam Rashid of Khanabad (Lower Hunza) for sparing some time out of his important engagements in Calibreeon International ( who reviewed this littlee contribution with more enthusiasm as he himself has already written something on S̃hina orthography.

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