Balti Language
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Balti Language
Native toBaltistan and Ladakh
RegionPakistan, India
Native speakers
(379,000 in Pakistan (2016) Total users in all countries: 392,800. (not counting Purigi speakers)[1] cited 1992-2001)[2]
Perso-Arabic script and Tibetan script
Language codes
Rizwan, a speaker of Balti

Balti (Nasta?l?q script: ?, Tibetan script, Wylie: sbal ti) is a Tibetic language spoken by the Balti people in the Baltistan region of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, the Nubra Valley of Leh district and in the Kargil district of Ladakh, India.[3] It is quite different from Standard Tibetan. Many sounds of Old Tibetan that were lost in Standard Tibetan are retained in the Balti language. It also has a simple pitch accent system only in multi-syllabic words[4] while Standard Tibetan has a complex and distinct pitch system that includes tone contour.

Demographics and distribution

Balti is spoken in the whole of Baltistan in the northern Pakistan and some parts of Northern India in Ladakh as well as Jammu and Kashmir. It is said that Purki dialect of Purgi and Suru-Kartse valleys come into the Balti group linguistically to some extent. However, Balti is spoken by people living in Baltistan (Pakistan), different parts of the states of northern India like Dehradun, Masoorie, Kalsigate, Chakrotta, Ambadi in Uttrakhand and parts of Jammu and Kashmir like Jammu and Ramban in Jammu region, Hariparbat, Dalgate and Tral in Kashmir region. In the twin districts of Ladakh region (Kargil and Leh) it is spoken in Kargil city and its surrounding villages like Hardass, Lato, Karkitchhoo and Balti Bazar and in Leh - Turtuk, Bogdang, Tyakshi including Leh city and nearby villages.

In some rural areas, the Shina people still speak the Shina language but they are very few in number. Also, their language has many loanwords from Balti, as Balti is the majority language in Baltistan.


Tournadre (2005)[5] considers Balti, Ladakhi and Purgi to be distinct languages because they do not have mutual intelligibility. As a group, they are termed Ladakhi-Balti or Western Archaic Tibetan, as opposed to Western Innovative Tibetan languages, such as Lahuli-Spiti.

Geographical distribution of Balti language speaking area (including Purigi dialect, sometimes considered as different from Balti language)

The missionary, orientalist and linguist Heinrich August Jäschke (1817-1883) classified Balti as one of the westernmost Tibetic languages. In his Tibetan-English Dictionary, he defines it as "Bal (Balti), the most westerly of the districts in which the Tibetan language is spoken".[6]



  • /l/ can have allophones heard as [l?], [?].
  • /?/ can have an allophone heard as [?].
  • /s/ can have an allophone heard as [?].[7]


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ? o
Open (a) ?
  • An allophone of /?/ is heard as [a].[7]


The predominant writing system currently in use for Balti is the Perso-Arabic script, although there have been attempts to revive the Tibetan script, which was used between the 8th and the 16th centuries.[8] Additionally, there are two, nowadays possibly extinct, indigenous writing systems[9] and there have been proposals for the adoption of Roman-[10] as well as Devanagari-based orthographies[11] that were adjusted for writing Balti by the Central Institute of Indian Languages in the 1970s.[12]

The main script for writing Balti is the local adaptation of the Tibetan script which is called Yige in Baltiyul Baltistan,[contradictory] but it is often written in the Persian alphabet, especially within Pakistan.

In 1985, Abadi added four new letters to the Tibetan script and seven new letters to the Persian script to adapt both of them according to the need of Balti language. Two of the four added letters now stand included in the Tibetan Unicode alphabet.

Balti was written with a version of the Tibetan script from 727 AD, when Baltistan was conquered by Tibetans, until the last quarter of the 14th century, when the Baltis converted to Islam.[12] Since then, Persian script replaced the Tibetan script, but the former had no letters for seven Balti sounds and was in vogue in spite of the fact that it was defective. Adding the seven new letters has now made it a complete script for Balti.

Recently, a number of Balti scholars and social activists have attempted to promote the use of the Tibetan Balti or "Yige" alphabet[12] with the aim of helping to preserve indigenous Balti and Ladakhi culture and ethnic identity. Following a request from this community, the September 2006 Tokyo meeting of ISO/IEC 10646 WG2 agreed to encode two characters which are invented by Abadi (U+0F6B TIBETAN LETTER KKA and TIBETAN U+0F6C LETTER RRA) in the ISO 10646 and Unicode standards in order to support rendering Urdu loanwords present in modern Balti using the Yige alphabet.

Yige Alphabet

Additional Balti Yige Letter Romanization IPA
? q /q/
? ? /?/
x /?/
? /?/

Perso-Arabic Alphabet

Additional Balti Perso-Arabic Letter IPA
? /?/
? //
? /ts/
? /dz/
? /?/
? /?/
? /?/


Since Pakistan gained control of the region in 1948, Urdu words have been introduced into local dialects and languages, including Balti. In modern times, Balti has no native names or vocabulary for dozens of newly invented and introduced things; instead, Urdu and English words are being used in Balti.

Balti has retained many honorific words that are characteristic of Tibetan dialects and many other languages.

Below are a few examples:

Ordinary Balti Text Writing Honorific Ladakhi Meaning
Ata Bawa/buwa/Baba Aba Father
kho kho - he
gashay liakhmo liakhmo Beautiful
paynay ? khumul painay Money
bila Bila bilo Cat
su su sou Who
Ano/Amo / Zizi Ama Mother
Kaka Kacho Acho Brother (elder)
Bustring ? Zung Nama Woman / Wife
Momo ? Jangmocho Ajang Maternal uncle
Nene ? Nenecho Ane Aunt
Bu Bucho Tugu Son
Fru ? Nono Busa Boy
Apo Apocho Meme Grandfather
Api Apicho Abi Grandmother
Ashe Ashcho Singmo Sister (elder)
Zo bjes Zo Eat
Thung bjes Thung Drink
Ong ? Shokhs Yong Come
Song ? Shokhs Song Go
Zair Kasal-byung Zer Speak/Say
Ngid tong ? ghzim tong Ngid tong Sleep (go to)
Lagpa ? Phyaq-laq/g Lagpa Hand/Arm
Khyang Yang/Yari-phyaqpo Khyorang You
Kangma gzok-po kang Leg


No prose literature except proverb collections have been found written in Balti.[] Some epics and sagas appear in oral literature such as the Epic of King Gesar, and the stories of rgya lu cho lo bzang and rgya lu sras bu. All other literature is in verse. Balti literature has adopted numerous Persian styles of verse and vocables which amplify the beauty and melody of its poetry.

Nearly all the languages and dialects of the mountain region in the north of Pakistan such as Pashto, Khowar and Shina are Indo-Aryan or Iranic languages, but Balti is one of the Sino-Tibetan languages. As such, it has nothing in common with neighboring languages except some loanwords absorbed as a result of linguistic contact. Balti and Ladakhi are closely related.

The major issue facing the development of Balti literature is its centuries-long isolation from Tibet, owing to political divisions and strong religious differences and even from its immediate neighbor Ladakh for the last 50 years. Separated from its linguistic kin, Balti is under pressure from more dominant languages such as Urdu. This is compounded by the lack of a suitable means of transcribing the language following the abandonment of its original Tibetan script. The Baltis do not have the awareness to revive their original script and there is no institution that could restore it and persuade the people to use it again.[] Even if the script is revived, it would need modification to express certain Urdu phonemes that occur in common loanwords within Balti.

Examples of poetry:

Youq fangsay thalang paqzi na mandoq na mabour na
Na drolbi laming yani si soq fangse chi thobtook
Nasir Karimi

See also


  1. ^ "ethnologies of world language".
  2. ^ Balti at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. ^ Census of India, 1961: Jammu and Kashmir. Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. 1961. p. 357.
  4. ^ Sprigg, R. K. (1966). "Lepcha and Balti Tibetan: Tonal or Non-Tonal Languages?". Asia Major. 12: 185-201.
  5. ^ *N. Tournadre (2005) "L'aire linguistique tibétaine et ses divers dialectes." Lalies, 2005, n°25, p. 7-56 [1]
  6. ^ Jäschke, Heinrich August (1881). A Tibetan-English Dictionary, with Special Reference to the Prevailing Dialects: To which is Added an English-Tibetan Vocabulary. Unger Brothers (T. Grimm).
  7. ^ a b Sharma, D. D. (2004). Balti. Tribal Languages of Ladakh Part III: A descriptive Grammar of Purki and Balti: New Delhi, India: Mittal Publications. pp. 141-243.
  8. ^ Bashir 2016, pp. 808-09.
  9. ^ Pandey 2010.
  10. ^ Bashir 2016, p. 808.
  11. ^ Pandey 2010, p. 1.
  12. ^ a b c Füstumum, Michael Peter. "Balti". Omniglot: The online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. Retrieved .


  • Bashir, Elena L. (2016). "Perso-Arabic adaptions for South Asian languages". In Hock, Hans Henrich; Bashir, Elena L. (eds.). The languages and linguistics of South Asia: a comprehensive guide. World of Linguistics. Berlin: De Gruyter Mouton. pp. 803-9. ISBN 978-3-11-042715-8.
  • Pandey, Anshuman (2010). Introducing Another Script for Writing Balti (PDF) (Report).
  • Rangan, K (1975). Balti Phonetic Reader. Central institute of Indian languages.
  • Muhammad Yousuf Hussainabadi, 'Baltistan per aik Nazar'. 1984.
  • Hussainabadi, Mohamad Yusuf. Balti Zaban. 1990.
  • Muhammad Hassan Hasrat, 'Tareekh-e-Adbiat;.
  • Muhammad Hassan Hasrat, Baltistan Tehzeebo Saqafat.
  • Muhammad Yousuf Hussainabadi, 'Tareekh-e-Baltistan'. 2003.
  • Engineer Wazir Qalbi Ali, 'Qadam Qadam Baltistan'. 2006.
  • "A Short Sketch of Balti English Grammar" by Ghulam Hassan Lobsang, 1995.
  • Everson, Michael. ISO/IEC JTC1/SC2/WG2 N2985: Proposal to add four Tibetan characters for Balti to the BMP of the UCS. 2005-09-05
  • Read, A.F.C. Balti grammar.London:The Royal Asiatic society, 1934.
  • Sprigg, Richard Keith. Balti-English English-Balti dictionary. Richmond: RoutledgeCurzon, 2002.
  • Backstrom, Peter C. Languages of Northern Areas (Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan, 2), 1992. 417 pp. ISBN 969-8023-12-7.

External links

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