Structural Typology of Khowar Language

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Structural Typology of Khowar Language

Farid Ahmad Raza

Khowar, also known as Chitrali, is an Indo-Aryan language of the Dardic group, spoken by over 400,000 people in Chitral in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in the Ghizer District of Gilgit-Baltistan (the Yasin, Phandar Ishkoman and Punial valleys), and in parts of Upper Swat, in two villages of Kalam area: Ushu and Matiltan. Speakers of Khowar have also migrated heavily to Pakistan's major urban centers e.g. Peshawar, Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi, having sizeable populations there. The Khowar language shares common characteristics with other languages, but some features of Khowar are different from the other languages of the region.


Plural marking is an intriguing feature of Khowar morphology. Most nouns remain in fact unmarked for plurality in the direct case, but there are certain groups of nouns where plural is marked explicitly, e.g human relations. Five kinds of case markers occur with nouns showing location and directions. A characteristic feature of the Khowar language is that it uses sher and asur thus differentiating inanimate from animate. Khowar (like Kalasha) has no grammatical gender. The Khowar language has participant (verb) agreement (person agreement) but no gender agreement. Khowar has two kinds of aspect, perfective and imperfective. Here are some of these features.

Nouns Denoting Human Beings (Nominative Case)

Khowar Sing English Khowar Plural English Plural Plural Marker
ɖaq Boy ɖaqan Boys -an
kimeri Woman kimerjan Women -an
moʃ Man moʃan Men -an
kumoru Girl kumoran Girls -an
dost Friend dostan Friends -an
nan Mother nanɡini Mothers -ɡini
tat Father tatɡini Fathers -ɡini
kaj Sister kajɡini Sisters -ɡini
brar Brother brarɡini Brothers -ɡini
mik Uncle mikɡini Uncles -ɡini
tseq Child tsitseq Children tsi-
phuk Child phuphuk Children phu-
loʈ Elder liloʈ Elders li-
moʃ Man moʃara Man ara-

The above examples show that, in the nominative case, only humans can have plural marks in the Khowar language. Animals and inanimate things have no plural marks in the nominative case:

Animals and Insects:

Khowar Sing: English Sing: Khowar Plural English Plural:
reni Dog reni Dogs
puʃi Cat puʃi Cats
istor Horse istor Horses
ɡordoɣ Donkey ɡord̪oɣ Donkeys
kahak Hen kahak Hens
ɡoɣ Insect ɡoɣ Insects
leʃu Cow leʃu Cows
reʂu Bullock reʃu Bullocks
kelˠi Sheep kelˠi Sheep
bojik Bird bojik Birds

The above examples show there is a distintion between 'human' and 'inhuman' in the language. The human terms have plural markers (regular –an; -gini for humans only, and reduplication). The 'inhuman' animate forms have no plural marker in the nominative case.


Sing Khowar Sing English Plural Khowar Plural English
buʈ Shoe buʈ Shoes
boxt Stone boxt Stones
ʈʂaːn Leaf ʈʂa:n Leaves
qalam Pen qalam Pens
ɡilaːs Glass ɡila:s Glasses
kursi Chair kursi Chairs
uʃʈu Brick uʃʈu Bricks
paloɣ Apple paloɣ Apples
ʈonɡ Pear ʈonɡ Pears
buthal Bottle buthal Bottles

Mass Nouns (Uncountable, No Plural Marking):

Singular Singular
ʈʂuti Mud
boʂik Rain
him Snow
ʃuɣur Sand

The above examples show that mass nouns have no plural marker in Khowar.


Oblique Case:
Singular Plural Plural Singular Oblique Plural Oblique
kitab kitabo kitaban o an
buʈ buʈo buʈan o an
leʃu leʃo leʃan o an
reni renjo renjan o an
uʃʈu uʃʈuo-/ʋo uʃʈuan o an

The above examples show that in Khowar there are oblique case markers -o and -an. For more information see below sentences:

Human beings.

Singular Plural
moʃ kura asur ? moʃ-an kura asuni ?
man where is man-PL where are
Where is the man? Where are the men?


Singular Plural
reni kura asur? reni kura asuni?
dog where is dog where are
Where is the Dog? Where are the Dogs?


Singular Plural
boxt kura ʃer ? boxt kura ʃeni?
stone where is stones where are
Where is the Stone? Where are the Stones?

Above all examples show nominative plural markers are only found with humans. There is no nominative plural marking for other living beings and inanimate things. Some researcher (mistakenly) mention oblique plural case marking in Khowar as plural markers.

In Khowar the special oblique occurs with nouns It seems that it occurs with definite objects (nouns), but not with unspecified nouns:

For example:
Kitabo anɡje. ---- 'Bring the book'
Kitaban anɡje. --- 'Bring the books.'
kitab anɡjy ------- 'Bring a book.'

Singular Plural *Sentence
boxt̪ kura ʃer bɔxt̪ kʊra ʃɛni bɔxt̪-an Kʊra ʃɛni
stone where is
'Where is the stone?
stone where are
Where are the stones?
lɛʃʊ kʊra asʊr lɛʃʊ kʊra asʊni leʃ-an kʊra asʊni
cow where is
Where is the cow?
cow where are
Where are the Cows
qalam kʊra ʃɛr qalam kʊra ʃɛni qalam-an kʊra ʃɛni
pen where is
Where is the pen?
pen where are
Where are the pens?

Case marking:

Five kinds of case markers occur with nouns showing location and directions.

aʋa piʃaʋur-ar anɡom.
i Peshawar-from will bring ------ I will bring it from Peshawar.
azan-o ʈema
azan-of time in ------------------ the time of Azan
piʃaʋur-a ɡanis
peshawar-in take --------------- you take it from Peshawar?
Noun case Word Meaning
Door/house a dur-a On the house (in the house)
- i dur-i In the house
- tu dur-to to the house (on the house?)
- ot dur-ot to the house
- ar dur-ar From the house

Grammatical Gender

The languages of the area have grammatical gender. Khowar language is unique that has no grammatical gender. You cannot differentiate Masculine and famine through the grammar. It is uses the same word for both genders.

Khowar English
moʃ ɡojan
man coming
A man is coming
kimeri ɡojan
women coming
A woman is coming
hes ɡojan
he/she comming
He/she is coming
uɣ ɡojan
water coming
Water is coming
ɖaq/komoru ɡojan
boy/girl coming
A boy/girl is coming
hes durote baɣaj
he/she home went
He/she went to their home.

Animate and inanimate:

There is a unique feature of Khowar language which uses sher and asur thus differentiating inanimate from animate. A mention befor Kalasha, too, has this feture.

Animate Inanimate
Asur Sher
bojik mez-o ʈeka asur
bird table-OBL on is ANIMATE
kitab mez-o ʈeka ʃer
book table-OBL on is INANIMATE
A bird is on the wall A book is on the table
kura asur?
where is ANIMATE
kura ʃer?
Where is he/she? Where is it?
kjaɣ asur
what is ANIMATE
kjaɣ ʃer
What is there What is there

Verb Agreement

Khowar language has participant (verb) agreement (person agreement), but no gender agreement.

moʃ ɖaq-o iʃtikʰetaj ɖaq moʃo iʃtikʰetaj
man boy-OBL praised boy man-OBL praised.
'The man praised the boy.' 'The boy praised the person.'
ajmal hato dojan ajmal him is beating hase ajmalo dojan he ajmal-OBL is beating
'Ajmal is beating him.' 'He is beating Ajmal.'
hase hato ɡani alaj hase hato ɡani alaj
he him/her having taken brought. he/she him/her having taken brought
'He/She brought her with him.' She/'He brought her with him.'

Aspect in Khowar Language:

Khowar has two kinds of aspect, perfective and imperfective. One shows that an activity is not complete yet and the second shows completeness.

Imperfective Perfective
ava ʂapik ʐibav oʃtam ava ʂapik ʐuti hatam
i food eating was I food having.eaten came
'I was eating food.' 'Having eaten food I came.'

Postposition in Khowar language

Postposition is a word used to show the relationship of a noun to something else, usually a location in space or time. The below examples show that just like the other languages of the area the Khowar language has postpositions. Here also the Khowar language has a unique feature in that it is used as case and postposition at the same time.

Khowar English
kitab mez-o ʈeka sher
book table-OBL on is.INANIMATE
The book is on the table.
qalam mez-o sora sher
The pen is on the table
bojik kan-o mulˠa asur
bird tree-OBL under is ANIMATE.
The bird is under the tree
his house my house-OBL close is.INANIMATE. His house situated is very close to my house

The above example show that just like the other languages of the area Khowar language has also postpositions.

Appendix: List of Standard Abbreviations:

* : Incorrect
SG : Singular
SBJ : Subject
IPFV : Imperfective
PFV : Perfective
N- : Neuter


Decker, Kendall D. (1992) Languages of Chitral
Baig, Rahmat Karim. Chitral a Study in State Craft Vol. I & II
: Faizi, Dr. Inayatullah. Development of Khowar as Literacy Language, Results of interaction between linguists and language Community.
Bukhari, Badesha Munir. Urdu aur Khowar Ke Lisani Ravabiṭ
Israr Ud Din and Elina Bashir. Proceedings of the Second International Hindu Kush Cultural Conference
Muhammad Naqibullah Razi, Khowar Zubān va Adāb (Urdu:) “Khowar) language) and literature” Anjuman Traqi Khowar.

farid raza Farid Ahmad Raza, President Mother-tongue Institute for Education and research (MIER) is a linguist and researcher, working on language and culture promotion and documentation and multilingual education in District Chitral.
Editor in chief a journal Khowar Nama for Khowar language.
Contact: Email:
Khowar Language On Computer

A Website on the Culture, History and Languages of Chitral.