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Hidayat ur Rehman, Jughur, Chitral

Kalashamun, the Language

There are more than 3,000 languages currently included in the UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Endangered Languages. The Atlas sites external forces like military, economic, religious, educational and cultural subjugation, as the main culprit for the killing of languages. Add to this, the menace of globalization, and it would seem that time is running short for many world. Linguists have long been battling to preserve and revitalize these vanishing languages, and are using new technologies and media to safeguard the cultural identity and knowledge contained in them. Kalashamun or the Language of the Kalash People is one of these endangered languages of the World.

Kalashamun is an Indo-European language, in the Indo-Arian branch, further classified as a Dardic language in the Chitrali Group. Norwegian linguist George Morgenstierne maintains that “Kashamun does not belong to the special Kafir branch of the Indo-Iranian languages, but speaks it as a true Indo-Arian language. The Kalasha Language is phonologically atypical because it contrasts plain, long, nasal and retroflex vowels, as well as combinations of these (Heegard& Morch, 2004). Of all the languages of the South Asia, Kalashamun is likely to be the most conservative, along with its sister language Khowar. .

Kalashamun is spoken by the Kalash people, who live in the three remote side valleys of Chitral, named Bumburet, Birir and Rumbur. The valleys are situated to the West of Ayun village, which is ten miles downward from the Chitral Town. The Kalash People have their own religion, with gods and goddesses, beliefs and custom. However the number of the followers of this religion is rapidly diminishing due to conversion. It is estimated that half of them have been converted to Islam. There are some 6,000 speakers of Kalashamun, of which 3,000 still follow their old faith. .

Effort to Save Kalashamun

Until the later half of the 20th century, Kalashamun was an undocumented language. During the last century,the Kalash people have been the subject of many studies conducted by scholars like, Snoy(1962), Siiger(1963 and 1967), Darling(1973), Wutt(1976), Parkes(1983), Jettmar(1975), Loude and Lievre(1980) and Cacopardo and Cacopardo(1973,1996, 2001 and 2008). Among the earliest linguistic works on Kalashamun are leinter’s sketches (1880), upon which the Linguistic survey of India (1919) drew heavily. Another important work was Morgenstern’s “Notes on Kalasha”. More recently, a Greek NGO, with the help of local community, has developed a new Kalasha Alphabet. A Kalash linguist, Taj Khan Kalash, in collaboration with international researchers and linguists, has organized the first Kalasha Orthography Conference in Islamabad. Having moved to Thessalonica, Greek, to study linguistics in the Aristotle University, he and the Greek NGO Mesogaia, took on the task of completing the script, and creating the “Alphabet Book, a premier for the Kalash children. In 2004 he was able to raise fund to publish first Kalshamun Alphabet book based on Roman Script, designed by an Australian linguist, Gregory R. Cooper.

What to Be Done

Once a language is determined to be endangered, there two basic steps, that need to be taken, in order to stabilize or rescue the language. The first is documentation, and the second is revitalization of the language. .

Language documentation is the process by which a language’s grammar, lexicon and oral traditions (stories, songs and religious texts) are preserved. On the other hand, revitalization is the process, by which a language community attempts to increase the number of active speakers, through political, social and educational means. This process is sometimes referred to, as language revival or reversing language shift. Another option is “Post-Vernacular Maintenance”. This is teaching of some words or concept related to the lost language, rather than complete revival. .

There are different opinions as to what will be the best method for the preservation of Kalashamun. One way is to encourage the younger generation speak their own language. However this option was nearly impossible in the case of converted Kalashas. .

Conventional technologies like audio/video recording, as well as the emerging one like Pod cast can be used to store spoken versions of the language for the future. Technology can also preserve the integrity of the spoken versions. Many of the technologies have been successfully used to preserve oral history. The same can be done to preserve spoken language. .

Print and electronic media, including Internet, can be utilized to raise awareness about the issue of language extinction. We can translate, catalogue, and store texts and other material related to the language on the internet. .

The language can be taught in the elementary levels of formal education. If it is not possible to make this language part of the school curriculum, at least, some pre-school teaching of the language can be arranged for the children. This method has been successfully adopted in the neighboring Palua speaking people. .

Kalashamun can be used as medium for religious education of the Kalasha children. This will not only help preserving the language, but also the religious traditions of the people as well.

One major problem with the Kalashamun is that, speaking this language is considered synonymous to be a Kalash religiously. A converted Kalash considered speaking Khowar, necessary for completion of his conversion. The Kalash community needs to be assured that conversion to other religion does not require giving up your language.

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