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Lesser Known Tribes of Indus Kohistan

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Shina Language

By Dr. R. L. Schmidt & razwal Kohistani

Distribution and genetic affiliation of Shina

 Shina is an Indo-Aryan language of the Dardic group, spoken in Gilgit, Hunza, the Astor valley, the Tangir-Darel Valleys, Chilas, Indus Kohistan, and also in the upper Neelam valley and Dras. Outliers of Shina are found in Ladakh (Brokskat), Chitral (Palula and Sawi) and Swat (Ushojo). (Bashir 2003: 878)

         In pre-Islamic times the region was an important center of Buddhism. The famous Gilgit manuscripts were found here, and there are inscriptions in Kharosthi, Sogdian, Prakrit, an undeciphered language which is probably Aramaic, and old Chinese. There is evidence that the Indus River was a better route of communication during those times. In recent centuries, the tribes living on both sides of the Indus have aggressively asserted their autonomy, thus discouraging travel along this route -- a situation prevailing until the opening of the Karakoram Highway in the late 1970’s.

         In the 19th and 20th centuries, many Shina-speaking communities were conquered by the Maharaja of Kashmir, and thus came indirectly under British influence. Today, Pakistan administers the Shina-speaking communities of the Gilgit, lower Hunza, Tangir-Darel, Astor and Chilas valleys, as well as those in Indus Kohistan, while India administers the Shina-speaking communities in the Neelam/Kishenganga drainage, the Gures and Tilel valleys, the Dras plain and Ladakh. (Schmidt 1984: 678-9)

          Bailey 1924: xiii divides Shina into three dialect groups: (a) Gilgit, (b) Astor, Gures and Dras and (c) Kohistan and Chilas. Strand (2001) classifies the Shina dialects into two main groups:

 The dialect around Chilâs in the east-west portion of the Indus valley above Indus Kohistan is probably the source of the speech that spread upstream along the Indus basis to form the Eastern Shina dialects and downstream to form the kohistyő dialect of Indus Kohistan. Another dialect centers on Gilgit, with an outlying Tibetanized offshoot (Brokskat) in Ladakh. In addition there are dispersed dialect enclaves to the west of the Indus: usuj’u, spoken beside Torwâli in the Chail Valley of upper Swat, the archaic dialects palôlâ’ and Sâwi, spoken in enclaves off the Kunar-Chitral River, and perhaps KalkoTi, spoken in one part of KalkoT in Dir Kohistan.

 Schmidt 2004: 52 finds that the center of the Shina speech zone appears to be Gilgit, with Guresi more conservative in terms of phonology, third person pronouns, and the treatment of the auxiliary verb. Only the Gilgiti dialect, however, preserves the absolutive stem in perfective tenses. The Kohistani and Drasi dialects present different and unique innovations not shared by the others: the development of a synthetic future tense in Kohistani, and the grammaticalization of ‘come’ in Drasi (instead of ‘go’ as in the others). However both Kohistani and Drasi preserve the old agent case which marks subjects of transitive verbs: -e ~ -i, -o. Schmidt 2004 presents a hypotheses that Kohistani, together with Guresi and Drasi, separated from Gilgiti before they separated from each other; and that Guresi/Drasi subsequently separated from Kohistani.

         Features common to all Shina dialects are: three contrasting sibilants, retroflex fricatives, and contrasting tones or pitch accent (attested in the Gilgiti, Kohistani, Astori, Gultari and Guresi dialects) (Bashir 2003: 878) as well as in Drasi. (Schmidt 2004: 36-7.)

Only Brokskat shows no trace of this tonal system. (Schmidt 1998b: 4)  Another common feature is deictic systems of three or more terms.

         Estimates of the total number of Shina speakers in Pakistan vary widely, from over three million (Schmidt 1988c: 107-8) to about half a million. Radloff (1992: 93) Present linguistic interactions involve Balti and Kashmiri with the eastern dialects, Burushaski and Khowar with the Gilgit dialect, and Pashto and Indus Kohistani with the Kohistani dialect, all in addition to Urdu (Bashir 2003: 878).