Language variegation across the Pamir-Hindukush-Karakoram – perceptions and mobilities

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Language variegation across the Pamir-Hindukush-Karakoram – perceptions and mobilities 


The Pamirian mountainous interface between South and Central Asia is characterised by a huge variegation of languages belonging to Indo-Iranian, Altaic, Sino-Tibetan and isolated language groups. In different historical contexts reaching from colonial/imperial times to postcolonial nation-building and the age of globalisation the use of local vernaculars has been challenged by a multilingual landscape.  In our setting English, Russian and Chinese have functioned as outclassing and suppressing languages. The dominant colonial languages have represented administration, bureaucracy and external powers. While the leading role of these languages can be attributed to boundary-making and the reaches of colonial empires and subsequent nation states it needs to be acknowledged that local vernaculars are distributed across such borders and have functioned in those borderlands as bridges in communication and trade. A borderland can be perceived as a region

[…] bisected by the boundary line between states, which in comparative perspective is presumed to encapsulate a variety of identities, social networks and formal and informal, legal and illegal relationships which tie together people in the areas contiguous to the borderline on both of its sides.” (Wilson and Donnan 2012: 9).

Consequently, language use, commonalities and distinctions in its communities should play a major role. Allochthonous languages such as English, Russian and Chinese served colonial purposes; and still most administrative and census reports are written in those languages. It might be attributed to an absence of a dominant lingua franca that in the Karakoram and Eastern Hindukush English still supersedes Urdu or any widespread vernacular in Pakistan (Kreutzmann 1995, 2005). In the Pamirian interface the colonial separation into Eastern and Western Turkestan marks the boundary of Chinese in Xinjiang and Russian in Tajikistan respectively. The Map illustrating the languages spoken beyond the North-Western Frontier of British India from the year 1900 (Figure 1) depicts Iranian, Indo-Aryan and Non-Aryan languages with giving appellations and distribution of local vernaculars. It suggests congruence between language distribution and territory in a period of the Great Game when imperial desires were aiming to claim territories in order to establish ‘scientific’ and/or ‘natural’ boundaries (Kreutzmann 2013a, b). In an arena of high population mobility – settlement, trade and refugee movements – the search for stable and stagnant parameters was strongly linked to language boundaries. The outcome of imperial boundary-making has created borderlands that are mainly characterised by territorial division rather than by ethno-linguistic distinction. Present-day boundaries clearly separate territories of colonial languages and divide community spaces in which vernaculars have developed on their own.

Being aware of dynamic socioeconomic processes and fluid behavioural patterns it can be observed that more than twenty different languages are spoken within the area then and today. Without essentialising and constituting communities on certain traits and practices, certain group constellations fill the local arena, led by dominant and well-connected leadership (Vertovec 1999). Difference, multiplicity and patterns of heterogeneity are common features in the Pamir-Hindukush-Karakoram and elsewhere. On the mountain scene local communities that identify themselves as members sharing the same vernaculars appear that are representing certain claims and interests against the dominant external and authoritative language users from the urban centres and capital regions. Being insiders and outsiders in a world of cosmopolitanism and globalisation becomes a blurred feature given the dimension of flows and variations in mobility. The contradictions of self-definition and external labelling become obvious when conflicting interests and demands for linguistic representation are negotiated. Neil Brenner has stated that

“globalization researchers have begun to deploy a barrage of distinctively geographical prefixes – e.g. ‘sub-’, ‘supra-’, ‘trans-’, ‘meso-’, and ‘inter-’, — to describe various emergent social processes that appear to operate below, above, beyond, or between entrenched geopolitical boundaries.” Neil Brenner (1999: 40)

By overcoming a state-centrist perspective, he argues that a new global perspective leads to “the production of new configurations of territoriality on both sub- and supra-national geographical scales” (Brenner 1999: 41). The same applies for studying language communities that have encountered a re-scaling of their supra-local relations in the age of migration and enhanced telecommunication. The cases presented here are examples from remote mountain areas representing a complexity in local settings that is embedded in trans-regional networks and communication structures. Approaching such variegation, a historical interpretation of migration and mobility could form the basis for an analysis of contemporary patterns of highly dynamic speech communities in multi-local settings that have achieved a communication practice crossing political boundaries, which is enabled by globalised media and mobile phones.

The positioning of small languages challenged by globalisation, language and minority policies

A survey of comparatively small languages in remote regions poses a great challenge when mobility in all directions is a common feature. Remoteness is a relative category as these languages are centred in state peripheries. Members of small language groups are very often neglected and excluded by national census authorities, which concentrate on majority groups and omit minorities that are labelled as ‘others’ only in a residual grouping (see for the Pakistan case Tariq Rahman 1996: 210). A multitude of languages remain unrecorded and/or are hidden in areas of ambiguity. Comparisons with historical language descriptions and colonial records reveal a peculiar dynamism in terms of mobility in those regions, which is regularly denied. Migration processes can often be linked to linguistic groups and have resulted in peculiar cultivation and settlement patterns. Present-day multi-locality, schooling and in-migration add to a growing language complexity that is aggravated by restructurings through governmental changes and the impact of development organisations sponsored by Europe, North America and the Arab World. The Hindukush-Karakoram was classified as a big ‘linguistic museum’ by the nestor of language studies Georg Buddruss (1993: 39) who continues as follows: “But the Northern Areas are not only a museum of languages now extinct but also of living vernaculars hitherto very imperfectly known to the linguistic world.” Addressing ethno-linguistic variations Harald Haarmann (1986: 11-16) attempted an ecological approach to language classification with a multidimensional set of variables that took into account a wide range such as contact, culture, demography, education, multi-nationality, politics and society. Such a complex classificatory exercise is not attempted here. In order to deepen the insight into the polyglot communities of the Pamirian interface (Table 1) and their distinctions a selective approach is applied. Six attributions related to migration processes will be distinguished of which the first four are related to historical mobility that help scholars understand settlement processes, immigration and mobility within the mountain area. The latter two more recent developments focus on an enhanced process of intra-mountainous migration within the Pamir-Hindukush-Karakoram-Himalaya interface on the one hand and mobility between the predominantly rural high mountain areas and the urban centres in the forelands. Thus, mobility in a multitude of migration corridors connects the region to a globalised world and enhances its importance as located at the hinge within Crossroads Asia.

Little information may be derived from official statistics when the complex linguistic pattern of the Hindukush, Karakoram and Pamirs is at stake; e.g. the Tajikistan Republic law on language only acknowledged in 1989 the existence and special status of Pamir languages, but did not give “official permission for writing” (Edelman and Dodykhudoeva 2009: 773-774). The Population Census Organization of Pakistan includes in their questionnaire a column in which eight language options are given for the selection of the respondents. The “mother tongue” is asked for as the “language spoken in the household” (Government of Pakistan 1984: 5). The eight stated languages are qualified as national idioms as they are representing the majority of speakers. Identifying a single idiom in Gilgit-Baltistan as a regional language significantly differs from mainstream Pakistan where each province features at least one or two of those with a significant share. In Gilgit-Baltistan and in Chitral only 3-5% of all households stated one of those highlighted national idioms as their mother tongue during the last census while above 95% belonged to the category of “others”. The application of this term sheds some light on the distinctiveness of the concerned region. In recent years, various activities to initiate a legislative process for a new language bill in Pakistan can be observed. The Shina Language and Culture Promotion Society has taken the lead in Gilgit-Baltistan (Shabbir Mir 2011). Although suggestions were made to include Balti and Shina in the list of national languages along with Baluchi, Brahui, Hindko, Pashto, Punjabi, Seraiki, Sindhi and Urdu none of the recent amendments of the constitution have implemented the move yet. The quest for languages of Gilgit-Baltistan to be recognised is part of a movement to broaden the category of official languages beyond English and Urdu as was fixed in article 251 of the Constitution of Pakistan since 1973. The article claimed that Urdu will have replaced English “for official and other purposes within fifteen years” which would have been by 1988 (Government of Pakistan 1990: 182). Other languages that are mentioned are only the national language Urdu; and Provincial Assemblies were allowed to “prescribe measures for the teaching, promotion and use of provincial language in addition to national language” (Government of Pakistan 1990: 182). For Gilgit-Baltistan – which does not enjoy a provincial status to date – English has remained an important language in administration, development and education although Urdu is quite prominent as well in the army, bureaucracy, and in schools. Local vernaculars have retained their respective importance for individual speech communities.

At the same time the prevalent census category “other” disguises a substantial number of languages not to be found in other parts of Pakistan; e.g. Burushaski, Shina and Balti. Nevertheless, some are the lingua franca of formerly independent principalities – such is the case in Chitral, Gilgit, Hunza, Nager and Shigar – or of the regional bazaar towns such as Khowar, Shina, Burushaski and Balti (Figure 2). Despite the neglect in official statistics, a number of linguists have devoted their interest to a constellation, which is unique due to its high degree of linguistic diversity (cf. Buddruss 2006). These patterns do not stop at borders. Similarly the minority nationalities’ (minzu) languages of the neighbouring Uigur Autonomous Region Xinjiang within the People’s Republic of China are comparatively small with less than 50,000 speakers such as in the case of Tajik (Office for the Population Census of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region 2012: 1-6). The Eastern Iranian languages that are incorporated in the “Tajik” minzu belong to the Pamirian group, as it would be distinguished in neighbouring Tajikistan. Tajik in the Chinese context includes Pamirian/Eastern Iranian vernaculars such as Sariqoli, Shughni and Wakhi (Pakhalina 1960; Kreutzmann 2015: 137, 2016: 25, 2017a). These would not be identified as Tajik in Tajikistan, a term, which is exclusively reserved for Western Iranian languages. Here the distinction as Pamirian languages is important (Monogarova 1989, Kreutzmann 2017b). In both countries Pamirian language speakers are mainly to be found in autonomous districts with distinct legislative frameworks: Gorno-Badakhshan in Tajikistan and Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County within Xinjiang. In both areas we find Kirghiz as a Turkic language as well for which in Xinjiang a separate Kizilsu Kirghiz Autonomous Prefecture was created 60 years ago. All languages are excluded as media of instruction from schools and institutions of higher learning. The applied concepts of regional autonomy had a spatialisation of ethno-linguistic affiliation and territorial distribution in mind.

Figure 2: Comparison of major language groups. Source: Modified after Kreutzmann (2005: 9)

Language survey in the Eastern Hindukush, Karakoram and Pamirian interface

In order to establish spatial variation patterns of the prevalent languages in Northern Pakistan and adjacent regions a survey was conducted in 500 villages with a population of approximately more than half a million inhabitants (Figure 3). The unit of reference was the household, being well aware of the fact that in many households more than one mother tongue is spoken (Kreutzmann 1995, 2005). Spatial patterns emerged on a first level of abstraction within the surveyed region in the early 1990s: The westernmost part is the transition zone between the Nuristani – most prominent in the Afghan Hindukush – and Indic languages. The western and central part is dominated by Indic languages such as Khowar in Chitral and Ghizer, and Shina in Gilgit and adjacent regions. In the centre two valleys occupy prominent positions – Yasin and Hunza-Nager – where the only dialects of the isolated Burushaski language are found. The eastern part is dominated by the Sino-Tibetan Balti language. Speakers from the Altaic and Iranian language groups are found in the northern border areas to Afghani­stan, Tajikistan and Xinjiang (China). More than 25 distinct languages belonging to the six above-mentioned groups were recorded in the Eastern Hindukush, Karakoram and Pamirs.

Figure 3: The Pamir-Hindukush-Karakoram interface: Linguistic diversity and regional patterns. Source: Modified after Kreutzmann (2005: 4)

Autochthonous languages in compact settlement areas

The mountain exceptionalism is represented by the isolated language of Burushaski which is not linked to any of the neighbouring language families and is confined to the concerned mountainous interface. For Karl Jettmar (1977: 429) there was ample evidence “[…] suggesting that this other group [the Burusho] goes back to an antecedent stratum of immigrants or even the original inhabitants.” While the meaning of original might be doubted or accepted as a relative category,  nevertheless it is quite probable that the two Burushaski-speaking valleys of today – Hunza-Nager and Ya­sin – were once connected via the Gilgit Valley and that Shina has superseded and replaced Burushaski there (Berger 1960; Jettmar 1975: 190). In this category of autochthonous languages, a similar role can be attributed to the Nuristani idioms, which are mainly to be found in a compact area of diffusion in the Eastern Hindukush (Morgenstierne 1932). Likewise, Balti has to be added as the dominant language of Baltistan, which together with Purik and Ladakhi forms the westernmost exponent of an archaic dialect of Tibetan (Bielmeier 1985; Lobsang 1995). Traces suggesting an expansion, contraction or displacement of the distribution areas of these language groups have been presented from a limited data set of toponymic incongruences and from narratives describing migration processes. In the group of autochthonous languages the Pamirian languages should be mentioned including the dominant ones of Shughni, Roshani and Wakhi. In the Pamirian core, the languages carrying the name of the mountains occupy a contiguous area that is mainly divided between Afghanistan and Tajikistan (Morgenstierne 1938, Gryunberg and Stéblin-Kamensky 1976). The autochthonous languages are still characterised by a rather compact and easily identifiable regional segment of spatial pockets.

Indic languages of early migrants

Scattered information is available about the initial immigration of Prakrit speakers. Evidence is based on oral traditions and linguistic analysis (Bakker and Daval-Markussen 2016, Fussmann 1972: 31; Sloan 1981). Most probably, the immigration started about a millennium ago and resulted in a process of occupying the lower parts of the valleys by the ancestors of the present-day Khowar, Maiyã and Shina speakers. The area of their distribution is bordered in the south by Pashto immigrants in Indus Kohistan, and by Pashto speakers in the Dir-Swat area. Gilgit and Chitral became their political centres from which further settlements spread into the side val­leys. Kho people are spread over a wide territory in Chitral and Ghizer. It was suggested that the Kalasha  speakers previously dominated a much wider area in Chitral into which the Kho immigrated “submerging the indigenous Kalasha language in all but a few side valleys” (Strand 2001: 255). Along with these migrants, Domaaki speakers have arrived in the mountain belt and became prominent as the professional groups of musicians and blacksmiths (Weinreich 2010). As professionals providing services they have been mainly settling with Khowar, Shina and Burushaski speaking groups. Their own language has been replenished with loan words from the prevalent vernaculars. As the Dom are a minority in every village where they settle they are very often neglected in perception although they provide vital services to the respective communities.

Later immigrants and refugees from Eastern Iranian and Altaic language groups

During the last two centuries scattered groups of refugees and migrants settled in various valleys of the Hindukush-Karakoram. In general, they were allocated cultivable land at the upper limit of settlements and have been instrumental in the expansion of the ecumene by converting pastures into cropped land. From Badakhshan speakers of Iranian idioms such as Munji, Madaghlashti, and Wakhi have to be mentioned as well as Turk refugees from the northern fringes such as Uigur and Kirghiz who found a temporary or permanent abode in those valleys (Bülbül 2014; Kreutzmann 2007). The flow of immigrants was not necessarily uni-directional; depending on economic and political conditions in the respective countries there were quite some movements backwards and forward.

Immigration of Gujur nomads from the Indus Basin

Following the transformation of vast areas in the Punjab into canal colonies and controlled areas by the British colonial power the grazing grounds of Gujur nomads shrank. A significant number of Gujur nomads migrated to the mountain rim in search for new abodes and pastures in consequence of these developments which commenced in the second half of the 19th century in a big scale. This process of lowland-highland migration has continued until today. Some Gujur settled in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan. In Ishkoman an oral version of local memory could be recorded which traces the migration history of Gujurs back to an event in which a Syed Ismail Shaheed was defeated by a Sikh army under the leadership of the famous Punjabi ruler Ranjit Singh at Balakot in 1840. In the aftermath the defeated Gujurs dispersed themselves and sought refuge in the mountains. According to this account the Gujur settlers of Chilas and Gilgit are descendants of those refu­gees. From there new grazing grounds were occupied in neighbouring valleys such as Ishkoman and Yasin. The original name of Sultanabad in the Hunza Valley is Gujurdas, their winter station on their cyclical migration to the high-lying summer pastures in the Naltar Valley.

The classification applied here is based on some historical depth of the migration processes of speakers of established language groups in the Pamirian interface and distinguishes autochthonous settlers and extra-mountainous/extra-territorial immigrants. In addition to those the regional distribution pattern has been modified by more recent phenomena of spatial mobility. Two more groups should be mentioned which have been important for recent migration processes:

Intra-montane migration

The pressure on land resources and the availability of cultivable land in certain parts of the mountain valleys has motivated a number of people to search for land to be developed and new grazing grounds. A significant migration within the mountain belt has taken place during the twentieth century and lasting on. New settlements were established in previously unoccupied territory either on barren ter­races through irrigation or by converting temporary pasture settlements into permanent villages. Shina and Burushaski speakers from the Hunza valley migrated down the river. Nowadays irrigation colonies are to be found in the vicinity of Gilgit Town and as far away as in Punial, Ishkoman, and Yasin. Refugees escaping sectarian tensions have found new abodes in former barren lands to which they brought irrigation. A comparatively recent development is the migration of households to the commercial and administrative centres of Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan in search for off-farm employment or in search for places where their children could enjoy a better education in schools that are not accessible from their traditional villages.

Temporary population exchange between lowland and highlands

Persian and Urdu had entered the mountainous regions as court and legal languages. Urdu replaced Persian in the Kashmiri court administration around the same time in the late 19th century when Kashmiri influence was more strongly felt. This shift had an impact on very few local residents as schooling was a privilege of the elite. Schools were in their infancy and mainly based on Persian as the medium of instruction. Talking about contemporary Urdu speakers, we are faced with quite a different development of temporary migration. Pashto would be the only down country language that has a longer and continuous tradition from the time of some ambulant traders and a few settlers in the second half of the 19th century until today (Biddulph 1880; Weinreich 2009: 22-23). Today the quota of Urdu, Punjabi, and Pashto becomes statistically significant only in the few urban centres of Northern Pakistan. There the percentage of households can rise up to 15% of the resident population while in the average of the rural areas only two percent stated one of those languages as their mother tongues during the last census (Kreutzmann 2012: 238-239). Most of those temporary immigrants are officers either on duty, posted bureaucrats or entrepreneurs in the bazaars. In the other direction an increasing number of out-migrants seeks education, employment and business opportunities in the urban centres of down country Pakistan. Taking into account the seasonal or temporary character of these migrations the unique and persistent position of this linguistic region is under­lined.

The classification based on vernacular affiliation and migration history has produced a community stratification that appears quite often as a distinctive measure when competition, resource distribution and access to resources are at stake. Linguistic, denominational and regional ascriptions play a dominant role in everyday life although quite a substantial share of people speak more than one or two languages and are part of distinctive networks. The retracing of the meaning of language community affiliation has shown the range of different communities of speech and their dominant areas of distribution as a result of settlement history. A quantitative analysis (see Kreutzmann 1995, 2005) is avoided here in order to pay attention to language perseverance. Most of the unwritten vernaculars have often been described as ‘language remnant’, dying languages and soon to be extinct languages (Berger 2008; Weinreich 2010). Various investigations were directed towards those endangered languages of rather limited speakers because they were regarded as remains of a past without any future (Brenzinger 2007; Edelman and Dodykhudoeva 2009; Elnazarov 2010). One of those languages is Domaaki for which not only a limited number of less than 500 speakers was estimated, but as well a severe language shift was observed towards Shina and Burushaski (Weinreich 2010). Domaaki is listed with some Nuristani and Pamirian languages as “definitely endangered” in the Atlas of World’s languages in danger while Balti, Burushaski, Khowar and Maiyã are only termed “vulnerable” (Moseley 2010). Shina is somehow missing in the map, but Elnazarov (2010: 47) made sure that Shina and Kashmiri could be considered as not endangered (see as well Schmidt and Kaur 2008). He opines that the rescue operations seem to be feasible only from outside and concludes:

Given the current geopolitical interests of the countries of Central and South Asia and the instability in some regions, the reinvigoration of endangered languages is unlikely to be a priority. The efforts of international organizations to increase awareness of endangered languages as part of human rights initiatives seem to be the best option in the current situation. (Elnazarov 2010: 47)

 He and others are not convinced that local efforts and access to new media could stabilize the “survival” of local vernaculars. The US-American faith-based, missionary-inspired Summer Institute of Linguistics paired with the National Institute of Pakistan Studies of Quaid-e Azam University in Islamabad to publish a five volume Sociolinguistic survey of Northern Pakistan in 1992, the first endeavour of its kind since the colonial enterprise of George Abraham Grierson who edited an eleven-volume Linguistic Survey of India with two volumes covering most of the concerned area by providing a summary of the contemporary state of the art (Grierson 1908-1928; O’Leary 1992). Surprisingly, most languages are very much “alive” and in daily use by growing speech communities. The range of language use can be quite selective and be varying from person to person. A decade ago the senior librarian of Gilgit’s Municipal Library, Sherbaz Ali Khan Barcha, put language use as follows

Shina is used for speaking with parents and family; Urdu is used for communication in public, outside the family; English is used for employment in private and government sectors; Arabic is used for religious rituals.” (quoted after Kohistani and Schmidt 2006: 143)

The list could be expanded and modified for individuals in different contexts by adding for ritual use of Persian and by replacing Shina by one or even more languages spoken in households. Mobile telephone communication, internet publishing, document repositories and easier access to information technology have supported a move to expand the language use of Shina and its application in daily routines.

Vernaculars in new media

One of the major challenges for the use of local vernaculars in modern forms of publishing and printing is the missing script for most of the languages. Consequently, all of the printed media started-off and still function as Urdu and English medium daily newspapers and weeklies (Table 2). Nowadays the majority is electronically accessible through internet providers as well. The Pamir Media Group pioneered the publication of Wakhi poems in a Wakhi script adapted from linguistic writing systems and modified for their purposes (Bülbül 2014: 11).

Burushaski, Shina and Wakhi were the first vernaculars that were given radio time for local languages’ broadcasting from Gilgit Town. The programming for a thirty-minute-long broadcast required some structuring based on script. Consequently, different versions of local scripts were used that are – as in the case of Wakhi – either based on the phonetic scripts applied by language researchers such as Gryunberg and Stéblin-Kamensky (1976) or that are derived from the Urdu script and were individually adapted for the purpose. During the first and founding meeting of the Wakhi-Tajik Culture Association (WTCA) in Gulmit in 1990 a dispute immediately arose which would be the ‘appropriate script’ for Wakhi language. No agreement and no single script were agreed upon. Shortly after the WTCA started operating the Bam-e Dunya radio programme; their presenters do use scripts on personal preference for their preparation of broadcasts. The Bam-e Dunya radio programme is a good example for cross-boundary communication as it can be received in neighbouring Afghanistan, China and Tajikistan by Wakhi speakers there. Radio transmission has enhanced communication and supported a tendency towards preserved texts and recordings in adapted art forms which Georg Buddruss and Almuth Degener (2012) called the “meeting place”, a collection of radio features in Gilgit’s Shina language by Mohammad Amin Zia. Shina broadcasting already began in 1949 from Rawalpindi, since 1979 it operated from Gilgit. A Khowar programme has been transmitted since the mid-1960s, a Burushaski programme since the mid-1980s. All those programmes require scripts. A pioneer was Shahzada Hussam-ul-Mulk who founded in 1956 in Drosh (Chitral) the Anjuman-e-Taraqqi Khowar, who developed a textbook for instruction and published Khowar texts since 1967 (Shahzad 1990). For the purpose of preparation radio manuscripts a non-standardised writing system was derived from a modified Arabo-Persian alphabet which is used by Shina literati and poets who are organised in the Gilgit-based ‘Karakoram Writers Forum’ (Kohistani and Schmidt 2006: 140). The latter organisation acts as an umbrella institution of the above-mentioned regional representations of vernaculars and includes as well the ‘Balti Culture Aca­demy’ in Skardu. Such institutions prepared the ground for the adoption of new media. By now there are 35 years of experience in radio broadcasting from Gilgit using local vernaculars.

Radio was a pioneering technology in electronic communication, which has been followed by television, internet newspapers and blogs (Table 2). In its initial phase the internet offered services in English only representing different speech communities. By the passage of time and as a result of its success story the different news services that are carrying the label ‘Times’ have introduced additional language services. They serve the purpose for articulating regionalised interests such as Ghizer Times, and political thrusts. The Gilgit-Baltistan Tribune is utilized as a distribution forum or the views of the ‘Balawaristan National Front’ (BNF). Urdu was added as a second language in order to reach more people. The spectrum of users is supposedly expanded again by the most recently opening of Burushaski and Wakhi blogs. It seems to be only a question of time to reach the stage that blogs in a variety of vernaculars are accessible. These have become useful sources of information and act as exchange networks for migrants who work in the urban centres outside the mountain regions or abroad. The significant number of international migrants enjoys these platforms besides the usual mobile telephone communication and skype services.


The analysis of geo-linguistic diversity and its impact in the Pamir-Hindukush-Karakoram has revealed a variety of classificatory interests that range from colonial endeavours of knowledge gathering and social control to proselytizer’s zeal in approaching remote communities for particular purposes. Language research and geography have followed-up the initial analytical experiments in attributing ethno-linguistic characteristics to certain speech communities and/or have been searching for centres of language plurality and multifariousness. At the same time, distinguished vernaculars do play a role in local practices of boundary-making, resource control and territorial inclusion that are superimposed by migratory processes of mobile groups that have been performing immigration from the lowlands to the mountains or intra-mountainous migration. High degrees of mobility among the mountain dwellers and their access to latest communication technology have transformed exchange patterns and knowledge systems leading to “a reconfiguration of superimposed social spaces that unfolds simultaneously upon multiple geographical scales” (Brenner 1999: 42). The accessible media offer to their consumers a wide variety of languages in which their information is embedded. While printed newspapers and internet-based news media are mainly written in English and Urdu there are a growing number of information sources that communicate in vernaculars. Radio has been the pioneering technology, which recently has been followed by television channels and blogs. The latter have been instrumental for a revival of local vernaculars. But the process continues; the demand of the Shina Language and Culture Promotion Society that local vernaculars should be regarded and respected as “national languages”, taught from primary to university level, and that a Shinalogy department should be established at the Karakoram International University (Pamir Times 21 February 2014) is prominent on the agenda.


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Kreutzmann, Hermann. 1995. Sprachenvielfalt und regionale Differenzierung von Glaubensge­meinschaften im Hindukusch-Karakorum. Die Rolle von Minderhei­ten im Konfliktfeld Nordpakistans. Erdkunde 49(1), pp. 106-121.

Kreutzmann, Hermann. 2005. Linguistic diversity in space and time: a survey in the Eastern Hindukush and Karakoram. Himalayan Linguistics 4, pp. 1-24. (; accessed 10 June 2014).

Kreutzmann, Hermann. 2007. The Wakhi and Kirghiz in the Pamirian Knot. In: Barbara Brower & Barbara Rose Johnston, eds. Disappearing peoples? Indigenous groups and ethnic minorities in South and Central Asia. Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press, pp. 169-186.

Kreutzmann, Hermann. 2012. Democracy for Gilgit-Baltistan? Kashmir’s legacy and administrative challenges on route to equal rights within Pakistan. In: Hermann Kreutzmann & Talat Mahmood, eds. Understanding Pakistan, 211-245. Berlin: Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Berlin, pp. 211-245.

Kreutzmann, Hermann. 2013a. Boundary-making as a strategy for risk reduction in conflict-prone spaces. In:  Detlef Müller-Mahn, ed. The spatial dimension of risk. How geography shapes the emergence of riskscapes. Milton Park: Routledge, pp. 154-171.

Kreutzmann, Hermann 2013b: The significance of geopolitical issues for internal development and intervention in mountainous areas of Crossroads Asia. Crossroads Asia Working Paper Series 7, pp. 1-31.

Kreutzmann, Hermann. 2015. Pamirian crossroads. Kirghiz and Wakhi of High Asia. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

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Kreutzmann, Hermann. 2017a. Wakhan Quadrangle. Exploration and espionage during and after the Great Game. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz.

Kreutzmann, Hermann 2017b: Historical geography of the Pamirs. In: David Ludden, ed. Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Asian History. New York: Oxford University Press (published online June 2017.

Kreutzmann, Hermann 2017c: Iranische Gemeinschaften in der Pamirregion. In: Ludwig Paul, ed. Handbuch der Iranistik 2. Wiesbaden: Reichert, pp. 225-229.

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Professor Dr Hermann KreutzmannChair of Human Geography, Department of Geography, Freie Universität Berlin
Professor Kreutzmann’s research focuses on politi-cal geography, development, sustainable ressource management and migration in the mountainous regions of Central and South Asia. His work covers diverse geographical areas ranging from the pas-toral economies of China, the High Pamirs and Pakistan to sedentary communities in post-Soviet Central Asia. In addition to his interests in ongoing socio-economic transformations and human adaptations to ecological challenges, Kreutzmann has also published extensively on cartography and more specifically on the the colonial history of the Wakhi and Kyrgyz of the High Pamirs.

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