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Languages of Pakistan
Official language(s) English, Urdu
Main language(s) Punjabi (44.15%), Pashto (15.42%), Sindhi (14.1%), Saraiki (10.53%), Urdu (7.57%), Balochi (3.57%)
Regional language(s) Kashmiri; Saraiki; Potwari;
Minority language(s) Burushaski; Kalash; Khowar; Shina; Balti; Brahui; Hindko.
Sign language(s) Indo-Pakistani Sign Language
Common keyboard layout(s)
Urdu keyboard

Pakistan has two official languages: Urdu (which is also the national language) and English. In addition there are five major regional languages: Punjabi, Pashto, Saraiki, Sindhi, and Balochi.

These and almost all of the other languages spoken in Pakistan belong to the Indo-Iranic language group. Some have a speaking population of hundreds of thousands, while others have only a few thousand or a few hundred speakers. These languages have been in contact with each other for many centuries, with a lot of borrowing, so the distinction between language and dialect is not sharply drawn, resulting in a complex language situation.

Languages spoken in Pakistan



Urdu was chosen as a national language of Pakistan to act as a lingua franca amongst the various ethnic/cultural groups and has historical significance as the language developed during the Islamic conquests in the subcontinent during the Mughal Empire. It was chosen as the neutral language to unite various groups of Pakistan although only 8% of people in Pakistan speak Urdu as a first language. However, Urdu is, increasingly, being adopted and spoken as a first language by a new generation of urbanized Pakistanis.

Many regional languages are spoken in Pakistan and the major ones according to the number of native speakers are Punjabi (44%), Pashto (15%), Sindhi (14%), Saraiki (10%), Baluchi (4%). Pakistan has about 1 million native speakers of Persian. Persian continues to be an important literary language in Pakistan. Arabic is popular due to religious significance. Most Pakistanis understand at least two languages.


Pakistan has about 99% of languages spoken are in the Indo-Iranian (sub-branches: 75% of the Indo-Aryan and 24% Iranian), a branch of Indo-European family of languages. All languages of Pakistan are written in the Perso-Arabic script, with significant vocabulary derived from Arabic and Persian. Punjabi, Saraiki, Sindhi, Pashto (Iranian), Urdu, Balochi (Iranian), Kashmiri (Dardic/eastern Iranian), etc., are the languages spoken in Pakistan. In the case of Urdu/Hindi, while Hindi is the mother-tongue of 40% of the population in the Republic of India, Urdu is the mother-tongue of only 8% Pakistanis. Urdu and Hindi are considered by most linguists to be the same language; differing only in script, and formal vocabulary; in which Urdu favours words of Perso-Arabic origin whereas Hindi tends to use Sanskrit words. Colloquial Hindi and Urdu, however, are completely indistinguishable - and as such, were referred to as Hindustani in all of India before the 1947 partition.

Census History of Major Languages (present-day Pakistan)
Rank Language 1951 1961 1982 1998
1 Punjabi 67.08% 66.39% 48.17% 44.15%
2 Pashto 8.16% 8.47% 13.15% 15.42%
3 Sindhi 12.85% 12.59% 11.7% 14.1%
4 Saraiki --  --  9.54% 10.53%
5 Urdu 7.05% 7.57% 7.60% 7.57%
6 Balochi 3.04% 2.49% 3.02% 3.57%

Following are the major languages spoken in Pakistan. The percentage of Pakistanis who are native speakers of that language is also given.

Numbers of speakers of larger languages
Language 1998 census 2008 estimate Main areas spoken
1 Punjabi 58,433,431 44.15% 76,367,360 44.17% Punjab
2 Pashto 20,408,621 15.42% 26,692,890 15.44% NWFP
3 Sindhi 18,661,571 14.10% 24,410,910 14.12% Sindh
4 Saraiki 13,936,594 10.53% 18,019,610 10.42% South Punjab & Sindh
5 Urdu 10,019,576 7.57% 13,120,540 7.59% Karachi
6 Balochi 4,724,871 3.57% 6,204,540 3.59% Balochistan
7 Others 6,167,515 4.66% 8,089,150 3.59%
Total 132,352,279 100% 172,900,000 100% Pakistan

Urdu: the national language

Urdu (اردو) is Pakistan's national language (قومی زبان) and has been promoted as a token of national unity. More than 95% of Pakistanis can speak or understand Urdu as their second or third language in many cases, though only about 8% of the population of Pakistan has Urdu as its mother tongue. It is written in a modified form of the Arabic alphabet. The first recorded poetry in Urdu was by the Persian poet Amir Khusro (امیر خسرو) (1253–1325), the first published Urdu book, Dah Majlis, was written in 1728. The first time the word "Urdu" was used was in 1751, by Sirajuddin Arzoo (سراج الدین آرزو).

English: the official language

English is Pakistan's official language and is widely used in the government, the judiciary, the legislature and in educational institutes. Pakistan's Constitution and its laws are written in English. It is also widely used in business.

Major provincial languages


Punjabi (پنجابی) is spoken as first language by 44% of Pakistanis. It is an important language as about 70% of Pakistanis can speak or understand it. However, Punjabi does not have any official status in Pakistan. Punjabi lineage can be traced through Lahori and Multani during Muslim period (700 to 1860).

Punjabi dialects include:


Pashto (پشتو) is spoken as a first language by 15% of Pakistanis, mostly in the North-West Frontier Province, the Federally Administered Tribal Areas and in northern part of Balochistan Province. Pashto has no written literary traditions although it has a rich oral tradition. There are two major dialect patterns within which the various individual dialects may be classified; these are Pakhto, which is the northern (Peshawar) variety, and the Pashto spoken in southern areas around Quetta. Khushal Khan Khatak (1613–1689) and Rehman Baba (1633–1708) were two important poets in the Pashto language.


Sindhi (سنڌي ) is spoken as a first language by about 14% of Pakistanis, mostly in the Province of Sindh and the southeastern parts of the Province of Balochistan. Sindhi is known for its very rich literature and is taught in schools in the province of Sindh. The largest Sindhi-speaking city is Hyderabad, Pakistan.


The Saraiki language (Perso-Arabic: سرائیکی sometimes spelled Siraiki and Seraiki) has a substantial literature dating back a thousand years and including myriad proverbs. It was the language of Raja Dahar and its fellows, and according to Aslam Rasool Puri "the language which was effected by Daraveriens not other than Saraiki". It is spoken by 30 million Pakistanis, mostly in the southern part of the Province of the Punjab and in adjacent parts of Sindh, Balochistan and North-West Frontier Provinces. Saraiki , belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of Indo-European.


Balochi (بلوچی) is spoken as a first language by about 4% of Pakistanis, mostly in the Province of Balochistan. The name Balochi is not found before the tenth century. It is believed that the language was brought to its present location in a series of migrations from Northern Iran, near the Caspian Shores. Rakshani is the major dialect group in terms of numbers. Sarhaddi, is a sub-dialect of Rakshani. Other sub-dialects are Qalati, Chagai-kharani, Panjguri. Eastern Hill Balochi or Northern Balochi is very different from the rest.

Persian: the state language

There are an estimated one million native Persian (Farsi, or Dari) speakers in Pakistan.[1]. The philosopher poet Allama Iqbal, who pioneered the movement for the creation of Pakistan, was a noted Persian poet. Persian was the lingua franca of the Mughal Empire of India (and the region that is now Pakistan) since the time of the Persian Empire until its use was abolished by the British. After the annexation of Sindh (in 1843) and of Punjab (in 1849), the British changed the official language to Urdu.[2].

Other languages

Other languages include Aer, Badeshi, Bagri, Balti, Bateri, Bhaya, Brahui, Burushaski, Chilisso, Dameli, Dehwari, Dhatki, Domaaki, Farsi (Dari), Gawar-Bati, Ghera, Goaria, Gowro, Gujarati, Gujari, Gurgula, Hazaragi, Hindko (two varieties), Jadgali, Jandavra, Kabutra, Kachchi (Kutchi), Kalami, Kalasha, Kalkoti, Kamviri, Kashmiri, Kati, Khetrani, Khowar, Indus Kohistani, Koli (three varieties), Lasi, Loarki, Marwari, Memoni, Od, Ormuri, Pahari-Potwari, Pakistan Sign Language, Palula (Phalura), Sansi, Savi, Shina (two varieties), Torwali, Ushojo, Vaghri, Wakhi, Waneci, and Yidgha.[3] Some of these have a relatively small number of speakers, while others have hundreds of thousands of speakers. A few are highly endangered languages that may soon have no speakers at all.



Most of the languages of Pakistan belong to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. They are divided between two major groups of that branch: Indo-Aryan (the majority, including Urdu, Punjabi, Sindhi, Hindko, and Saraiki, among others), and Iranian (including Pashto, Balochi, and Farsi, among others).

Indo-Aryan and Iranian languages are further divided into groups of languages, although the reasons for the divisions are not always well-documented. Indo-Aryan languages all belong to the same language genus (Indic), and Iranian languages all belong to a different language genus (Iranian).[4]

Some of the important groups in the Indo-Aryan group have been referred to by some as macrolanguages. One of these has been given the name Lahnda,[5] and includes Western Panjabi (but not Eastern Panjabi of India), Northern Hindko, Southern Hindko, Khetrani, Saraiki, and Pahari-Potwari, plus two more languages outside of Pakistan. The other is called Marwari, and includes Marwari of Pakistan and several languages of India (Dhundari, Marwari, Merwari, Mewari, and Shekhawati).[6] A third is called Rajasthani (from India), and comprises Bagri, Gujari (of present-day Pakistan), and the rest from India: Gade Lohar,[7] Harauti (Hadothi), Malvi, and Wagdi (of India).

Three groups in the Iranian group likewise have been called macrolanguages. One is Baluchi; it includes Eastern, Western and Southern Balochi.[8] Another is called Pushto, and includes Northern, Central, and Southern Pashto.[9] The third is called Persian, and includes Western Farsi (spoken in Iran) and Eastern Farsi (spoken in Pakistan and Afghanistan).


Four languages of Pakistan are not in the Indo-European language family.


See also

External links

Simple English

English is the official language of Pakistan while Urdu is the national language despite not being a native language or being the mother tongue of any native group in the country. There are also four provincial languages: Balochi language, Pashto, Saraiki, Sindhi and Punjabi and one state language (Kashmiri language). Pakistan is heir to one of the most ancient civilzations in the world along with Iraq and Egypt, and it is only to be expected that its languages, too, have ancient roots. These primary languages have not been used in the domains of power because the rulers of these regions were generally foreigners. But the foreigners, whether Iranians, Greeks, Arabs, Turks as well as the British, have all enriched the indigenous languages so that their vocabulary is multilingual and varied. As the people of these areas converted to Islam, Arabic and Persian words influenced and became part of their identity, and remain so. In a sense, it is their very presence, as well as the Arabic-based scripts of all 75 Pakistani languages, which gave them a cultural unity. Linguistically, Pakistan faces two directions: India, because the roots of its languages are Dravidian as well as Indo-Aryan; and the Middle East, because its scripture and vocabulary owe very much so to Arabic and Farsi.

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