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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Estimated by experts to be the thirteenth most spoken language on the planet, Punjabi is currently considered to have more than 90 million native speakers. It is the official language of the Sikhs, a monotheistic religion popular on the Indian subcontinent, and all official Sikh rituals and ceremonies are conducted in Punjabi. It is also generally estimated to be the most popularly spoken language in Pakistan where native speakers number more than 70 million. In India, although Punjabi is less popular due to the huge diversification of both cultures and religions there, censuses show more than 30 million native speakers of Punjabi.

Punjabi Language

It is also spoken internationally in countries such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia, as well as other countries where large amounts of Punjabi speakers have emigrated. Punjabi is spoken in these countries for the most part only by descendants of actual Punjabis. In the United Kingdom, Punjabi has been surprisingly estimated to be the second most popular language in the country. It is also enjoying immense and rapidly growing popularity in Canada where it has just recently been ranked as the fourth most commonly spoken language (after English, French, and Chinese).

Punjabi is a tonal language, using pitch, much like Chinese, to not only convey emotion and emphasis, but actual grammatical or lexical meaning. In Persian, the word "Punjabi" originally meant “five waters,” referring to the five major rivers found in the region where the language of Punjabi originated. The majority of the rivers are currently located in Pakistan but a few also extend to India.

The History of Punjabi
In medieval times, Punjabi was the main language of northern India. It descended from an ancient tongue known as Sauraseni Prakrit.

In the 11th century, Punjabi began to distinguish itself from this ancient tongue as a separate language, mostly through the writings and literature of various Sikh poets and mystics. The first guru of Sikhism wrote in Punjabi and, following his tradition, almost all early Punjabi literature was richly spiritual.

As the language evolved, Muslim and Hindu writers began to also compose in Punjabi taking advantage of the luxurious oral traditions of the language. Along with the original Sikh poetry and literature, these works have given the Punjabi language a wide folkloric base and a deep and loving literary history that today’s native speakers draw heavily from.

Although Punjabi is heavily associated with the Sikh religion, it is not even the main language of the Sikh holy books. Punjabi is used regularly in the Sikh scriptures but many other languages are also used including both Persian and Sanskrit. It was only during the 20th century when staunch Sikhs that spoke Punjabi began to promote the individuality of the Punjabi portions of their scriptures. This sentiment soon caught on wildly in the Sikh community and Punjabi was quickly adopted as an official Sikh language to be preserved and revered by all its disciples.

When Pakistan gained its independence from India, although Punjabi was the second most spoken language in the region after Bengali, a third language, Urdu, was declared the official language of the country. Due to political and religious reasons, Punjabi was not given any official standing as a language. It remains to this day, however, the most spoken language in the country of Pakistan.

Punjabi is one of the 22 official languages of India. It has official status in two Indian states and remains as the second official language in three more. Although it is considered a mother tongue of only about three percent of Indians, many more can speak it as a second or third language.

In the Punjabi language, dialects are rarely very clearly formed and distinguished. There are a lot of what are considered transitional dialects and the language as a whole has evolved only slightly over time and distance. The core regions where the Punjabi language began and proliferated have been easy to identify and have not changed or expanded very much over the history of the language. In India today, many states are only considered separate states from those around them because of the language differences. Therefore the Indian state of Punjab is the main state in which Punjabi is spoken in India, although it is also spoken irregularly amongst some of the neighboring states.

In Pakistan, the province of Punjab also constitutes the major center for the Punjabi speaking population of that country. Its capital, Lahore, is considered the biggest city in the world where Punjabi is spoken by a majority of the population.

This general stagnation of the geographic expansion of the Punjabi speaking population of the world is a major contributor to the fact that, although there are many diverse ways of speaking the language, Punjabi dialects are quite similar and tend to mirror each other both in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar with only subtle differences.

The main dialect of Punjabi is known as Majhi. This is considered to be the prestige dialect of Punjabi and is spoken by a majority of the Punjabi population. Besides Majhi there are ten other Punjabi dialects with various grades of differences. Pothowari, for instance, which is spoken in the north of the Pakistani province of Punjab has so many similarities to Majhi that it is a stretch to even call it a separate dialect. Other dialects such as Shahpuri and Dhani are only spoken in one town or metropolitan region.

Jhangochi, the most ancient dialect of Punjabi, is spoken by a great many Punjabis and has been classified as one of the oldest Punjabi dialects. Due to its age, the Jhangochi dialect has a rich heritage of culture, literature, and customs, and it is considered by many Punjabis to be the most eccentric dialect.

The Dogri dialect is considered by some experts to be a separate language altogether due to its many differences from the rest of the Punjabi dialects. It is a popular dialect, however, and is spoken by almost four million people in India.




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