Sindhi Language and its history

Research: Sindhi language and its history

Research
Sindhi Language and its history
Illustration Courtesy: Social Media

Sindhi language has evolved over a period of two millennia with many waves of invasions by Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Mughals and so on. Sindh, on the north west of undivided India, had always been the first to bear the onslaught of the never-ending invaders, and as such absorbed Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, English and even Portuguese.

By Sibasis Mukherjee

Language Division, Kolkata

Sindhi language evolved over a period of 2400 years. This language has a solid base of Prakrit as well as Sanskrit with vocabulary from Arabic, Persian, and some Dravidian descendants from Mediterranean sub-continent, also known as Mohen-jo-Daro civilization.

Sindhi language has evolved over a period of two millennia with many waves of invasions by Greeks, Arabs, Turks, Mughals and so on. Sindh, on the north west of undivided India, had always been the first to bear the onslaught of the never-ending invaders, and as such absorbed Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Turkish, English and even Portuguese. This was also the seat of the ancient Indus valley civilization during the 3rd millennium BC as discovered from the Moen-jo-Daro excavation. The pictographic seals and clay tablets obtained from these excavations still await proper decipherment by epigraphists.  Facts and discoveries over the years have launched a debate about the Sindhi language being a derivative of the ancient Sanskrit dialect and there a few historians who believe that it’s the other way round. Dr. Ernest Trumpp was the pioneer of the theory that Sindhi is a derivative of Sanskrit language. Judging from its vocabulary and roots of verbs, Dr. Trumpp came to the conclusion that “Sindhi is a pure Sanskritized language, more free from foreign elements than any of the North Indian vernaculars.”

The language of the people of Sindh has a solid base of Prakrit and Sanskrit, showing great susceptibility towards borrowings from Arabic, Persian, and Dravidian (such as Brahui in Baluchistan). Sindhi’s history dates back to long before colonial rule, however, as the roots of the Sindhi language can be traced as far back as 1500 BC. That gives Sindhi a rich cultural, literary and historical tradition well worth exploring.

The Sindhi language is classified as a member of the Indo-Aryan linguistic group, part of the Indo-European family of languages. Languages of the Indo-Aryan family can be classified in three major stages of development: Old Indo-Aryan, or Sanskrit; Middle Indo-Aryan, consisting of Prakrit and Apabhramsha stages; and New Indo-Aryan, which dates from circa the 10th century CE. Sindhi is believed to have developed specifically from the Vrachada dialect of the Prakrit language. Hints of this dialect can be seen in certain passages of hymns found in the Rigveda.

Sir George Grierson too places Sindhi as a near relative of the Dardic languages. (Dardistan is a region near Kashmir). The first evidence of written Sindhi can be traced back to circa the 8th century CE in a Sindhi language version of the Mahabharata. The Sindhi language is written primarily in two scripts: Arabic-Sindhi and Devanagari-Sindhi (Kacchi variety mainly spoken in the Kutch district of Gujarat is written in the Devanagari script). Although the Arabic-Sindhi and Devanagari-Sindhi are the most popular, other scripts also can be used to write the Sindhi language, including Brahmi, the Gurmukhi alphabet, and an indigenous script simply known as Sindhi.

With the partition of British India in 1947, many Sindhi language speakers in Pakistan fled to India. The effects of this migration are still evident, as the Sindhi language in India is found primarily in the Kutch district of Gujarat, an area bordering the modern Pakistani Sindh province where many Pakistani Sindhi language speakers fled after the partition. Today the Sindhi language is officially recognized by the Constitution of India. After the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, Sindhi language literature of the two countries began to diverge significantly; Sindhi authors from Pakistan turned to Persian and Arabic sources for inspiration while Indian Sindhi language writers were more heavily influenced by Hindi literatures.

During long period of history, after the Arab conquest Sindhi borrowed plenty of words from their language, which became the official as well as the religious language of Sindh. Current Sindhi morphological, phonological and phonetic structures show clear impact by these ancient languages like Vrachada, Dardic, Sanskrit and Prakrit. It has clearly taken voiced implosives from Paishacha (Dardic) language. Much borrowed words from Urdu in common use are an eloquent testimony to this fact that there are some words in Sindhi that cannot be found in Sanskrit. Besides, the suffixes added to the pronouns in Sindhi suggest its relation with Semitic languages. The word ‘Sanskrit’ itself denotes that it is a polished or refined form of a language that was already prevalent. The grammarians Patanjali and Panini formed rules and regulations, which came to be necessarily and compulsorily followed by writers and poets of those days. Thus, Sanskrit was only the language of literature as is evident from works of classical writers. Khubchandani states:”Sindhi is an ancient Indo-Aryan language, probably having its origin in a pre-Sanskrit Indo-Aryan Indus Valley language. The Lahnda and Kashmiri appear to be its cognate sisters with a common Dardic element in them all.”

Sindh has varied cultural values and has remained the seat of civilization and meeting point of diverse cultures from time to time. Sindh’s cultural life has been shaped, to a large extent, by its comparative isolation in the past from the rest of the subcontinent. A long stretch of desert to its east and a mountainous terrain to the west served as barriers, while the Arabian Sea in the south and the Indus in the north prevented easy access.  As a result, the people of Sindh developed their own exclusive artistic tradition. Their arts and craft, music and literature, games and sports have retained their original flavour. Sindh is rich in exquisite pottery, glazed tiles, leather and straw products, needlework, quilts, embroidery, hand print making and textile design. Sindhis had not only contributed to literature but also to astronomy, medicine, philosophy, dialectics and similar subjects.

Sindhi is the language of the Sindh region of South Asia, which is now a province of Pakistan. Most Sindhi speakers in Pakistan are concentrated in Sindh. The remaining speakers are found spread throughout the many areas of the world (mainly other parts of India) to which members of an ethnic group migrated when Sindh became a part of Pakistan during the partition of British India in 1947.

Sindhi speech is generally classified into six major dialects:

  1. Siraiki, spoken in Siro, i.e. Upper Sindh.

Siraiki sometimes spelled Saraiki and Seraiki, is a standardized written language of Pakistan belonging to the Indo-Aryan (Indic) languages. Siraiki is based on a group of vernacular, historically unwritten dialects spoken across the southern more half of Punjab Province, the adjacent border region of Sindh Province, and the northwest of Punjab Province.

  1. Vicholi, in Vicholo, Central part of Sindh Province

iii. Lari, in Laru, i.e. Lower part of Sindh Province

  1. Lasi, in Lasa, a part of Kohistan in Baluchistan on the western side of Sindh Province
  2. Thari or Thareli, in Tharu, the desert region on the southeast border of Sindh and a part of the Jaisalmer district in Rajasthan
  3. Kutchi, in the Kutch region and in a part of Kathiawar in Gujarat, on the southern side of Sindh. Kutchi is related to Sindhi, spoken in neighbouring Sindh, Pakistan and parts of India (Gujarat) because the Kutch District is geographically in the Gujarat state adjacent to Sindh Province of Pakistan.

Kutchi is often thought to be a mixture of Sindhi, Gujarati and Rajasthani. Its lexical content shows the very large extent to which the language is a complex combination of Sindhi and Gujarati. It is likely that such linguistic similarities are the result of migrations over the centuries across the desert stretching from present-day Sindh to Saurashtra and Kutch to the east, and Rajasthan. Most Kutchis living in India are bilingual or trilingual, due to exposure to closely-related neighbouring languages such as Gujarati. Many Pakistanis are also bilingual or trilingual; many residents of Karachi speak Kutchi. Kutchi cannot be written in Urdu script but it can be written in Sindhi or Gujarati scripts.

Sindhi is one of the major literary languages of India recognized in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution. It is spoken by a large number of people who, after migration from Sindhi due to partition of the country in 1947 have settled mainly in Gujarat, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi. Significant number of Sindhi speaking people resides in South India and in some other regions of the country.

Among the modern Indian language, Sindhi is the only language which is not an official language of any particular state. Hence being a stateless language, special efforts are required for its growth and preservation of its literary heritage.

References:

Grierson, G.A. (1919). Linguistic Survey of India. Vol.8, Part.I. Motilal Banarasidass, New Delhi.

Khubchandani, Lachman M (2003). “Sindhi”. In Cardona, George; Jain, Dhanesh. The Indo-Aryan Languages. Routledge.

Trumpp, E. (1872). Grammar of the Sindhi Language. London: Trübner and Co.

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Courtesy: ResearchGate (Published online in May 2020)

 

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