Balti language

Balti language.png
Native toBaltistan and Ladakh
RegionPakistan, India
Native speakers
425,000 in Pakistan (2018) Total users in all countries: 438,800 (2018)[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3bft
Rizwan, a speaker of Balti

Balti (Nastaʿlīq script: بلتی, Tibetan script: སྦལ་ཏི།, Wylie: sbal ti) is a Tibetic language natively spoken by the ethnic Balti people in the Baltistan region of Gilgit−Baltistan, Pakistan, Nubra Valley of the Leh district and in the Kargil district of Ladakh, India.[2] The language differs 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[3] while Standard Tibetan has a complex and distinct pitch system that includes tone contour.

Demographics and distribution

Balti is spoken in most parts of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan, Kargil and Nubra Ladakh in India. According to the Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts, Balti is mostly spoken in Skardu, Shigar, Gultari, Ghanche, Roundu and Kharmang parts of Gilgit-Baltistan.[4] 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 LehTurtuk, Bogdang, Tyakshi including Leh city and nearby villages. Balti language is also spoken by Balti immigrants in Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Islamabad, Quetta and other cities of Pakistan. In India it is spoken in Dehradun, Nainital, Ambari, Shimla and other cities of Northern India by immigrants who have migrated from Baltistan, Kargil, and Nubra before the partition of India and Pakistan.[5]

Classification and dialects

Historically, Buddhists in Leh refer to all Muslims in Ladakh as Balti. Balti language has four variants or dialects. Despite differentiation in pronunciation of vocabularies they are mutually intelligible for example Yuq is pronounced as Juq in the Purgi dialect of Kharmang and Kargil. Similarly for Milk Oma is pronounced in eastern Chorbat Nubra and Khaplu and Kharmang Kargil's Purgi dialect while Ona is pronounced in the western dialect of Skardu, Shigar and Rondu valley. Four variants or dialects of Balti language are:

  1. Eastern dialect of Chorbat and Nubra valley
  2. Central dialect of Khaplu valley
  3. Western dialect of Skardu, Shigar and Rondu.
  4. Southern dialect of Upper Kharmang and Kargil also called Purgi dialect.


Caption text
English Eastern Nubra/Chorbat Dialect Central Khaplu Dialect Western Skardu Dialect Southern Purgi Dialect
Milk Oma Oma Ona Oma
Keep Yuq Yuq Yuq Juq
Girl Bono Bono Bono Bomo
Mountain Braq Braq Blaq Braq



Labial Dental/
Retroflex Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stop voiceless p t ʈ k q
aspirated ʈʰ
voiced b d ɖ ɡ ɢ
Affricate voiceless t͡s t͡ʃ
aspirated t͡sʰ t͡ʃʰ
voiced d͡z d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless s (ʂ) ʃ χ h
voiced z ʒ ʁ
Nasal m n ɲ ŋ
Tap ɾ (ɽ)
Lateral plain l (ɭ)
murmured ()
Approximant w j
  • Allophones of /l/ include [lʱ], [ɭ] and [ɫ̥].
  • /ɖ/ can be realized as a flap [ɽ].
  • /s/ can be retroflex [ʂ].[8]


Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ə o
Open ɑ
  • /ɑ/ varies between an open back [ɑ], an open-mid back [ʌ] and an open central [ä].[8]
  • The mid /e o/ can be as low as open-mid ([ɛ, ɔ]).[9]


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.[10] Additionally, there are two, nowadays possibly extinct, indigenous writing systems[11] and there have been proposals for the adoption of Roman[12] as well as Devanagari-based orthographies[13] that were adjusted for writing Balti by the Central Institute of Indian Languages in the 1970s.[14]

In 1985, Yousuf Hussainabadi 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 the 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.[14] 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[14] 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.

Perso-Arabic alphabet

Letter Romanization IPA
ا ā, a, (e), o, - /ɑ/, /ə/, /e/, /o/, /∅/
ب b /b/
پ p /p/
ت t /t/
ٹ /ʈ/
ث (s) /s/
ج j /d͡ʒ/
ڃ ž /ʒ/
چ č /t͡ʃ/
ڇ č̣ /ʈ͡ʂ/
ح (h) /h/
خ x /x/
د d /d/
ڈ /ɖ/
ذ (z) /z/
ر r /ɾ/
ڑ /ɽ/
ز z /z/
ڗ đ/dz /d͡z/
ژ c/ts /t͡s/
س s /s/
ش š /ʃ/
ݜ /ʂ/
ص (s) /s/
ض (z) /z/
ط (t) /t/
ظ (z) /z/
ع (ā), (a), (e), (o), (-) /ɑ/, /ə/, /e/, /o/, /∅/
غ ǧ /ʁ~ɢ/
ف f /pʰ~f/
ق q /q/
ک k /k/
کٔ ǩ/ṡ /ɕ/
گ g /ɡ/
ل l /l/, (/ɭ/), (/ɫ/)
م m /m/
ن n /n/
ݨ ŋ/ng /ŋ/
ݩ ň/ny /ɲ/
و w, u /w/, /u/
ہ h /h/
ھ _h /◌ʰ/, /◌ʱ/
ی y, i /j/, /i/
ے e/ay /e/

Yige alphabet

Additional Balti Yige Letter Romanization IPA
q /q/
ɽ /ɽ/
ཁ༹ x /χ/
ག༹ ɣ /ʁ/

Basic alphabets

Letter IPA Letter IPA Letter IPA Letter IPA
Guttural /ka/ /kʰa/ /ɡa*/ /ŋa/
Palatal /tʃa/ /tʃʰa/ /dʒa*/ /ɲa/
Dental /ta/ /tʰa/ /da*/ /na/
/tsa/ /tsʰa/ /dza*/ /wa/
Labial /pa/ /pʰa/ /ba*/ /ma/
low /ʒa*/ /za*/ /a/ ⟨ʼa⟩ /ja/
medium /ra/ /la/ /ʃa/ /sa/
high /ha/ /a/ ⟨ꞏa⟩
* – Only in loanwords


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 اتا Bawa/buwa/Baba Aba Father
kho کھو kho kho he
gashay گشے liakhmo liakhmo Beautiful
paynay پینے khumul paynay Money
bila بلا Bila bila Cat
su سُو su su Who
Ano/Amo انو/امو Zizi Ama Mother
Kaka ککا Kacho Acho Brother (elder)
Bustring بُسترنگ Zung Nama Woman / Wife
Momo مومو Jangmocho Ajang Maternal uncle
Nene نےنے Nenecho Anay Aunt
Bu بُو Bucho butsha Son
Fru فُرو Nono thugu Boy
Apo اپو Apocho Meme Grandfather
Api اپی Apicho Abi Grandmother
Ashe اشے Ashcho achay Sister (elder)
Zo زو bjes Zo Eat
Thung تُھونگ bjes Thung Drink
Ong اونگ Shokhs Yong Come
Song سونگ Shokhs Song Go
Zair زیر Kasal-byung Zer Speak/Say
Ngid tong نِت تونگ ghzim tong Ngid tong Sleep (go to)
Lagpa لقپا Phyaq-laq/g Lagpa Hand/Arm
Khyang کھیانگ Yang/Yari-phyaqpo Khyorang You
Kangma کنگما gzok-po kangba Leg


No prose literature except proverb collections have been found written in Balti.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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. ^ Balti at Ethnologue (24th ed., 2021) closed access
  2. ^ Census of India, 1961: Jammu and Kashmir. Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. 1961. p. 357.
  3. ^ Sprigg, R. K. (1966). "Lepcha and Balti Tibetan: Tonal or Non-Tonal Languages?". Asia Major. 12: 185–201.
  4. ^ Retrieved 2021-03-17. {{cite web}}: Missing or empty |title= (help)
  5. ^ "The Curious Case Of The Baltis Of Dehradun". Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  6. ^ "Balti: Protecting the language".
  7. ^ "Politicisation of Balti Language in Kargil".
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ Rangan, K. (1975). Balti Phonetic Reader. Central Institute of Indian Languages.
  10. ^ Bashir 2016, pp. 808–09.
  11. ^ Pandey 2010.
  12. ^ Bashir 2016, p. 808.
  13. ^ Pandey 2010, p. 1.
  14. ^ a b c Füstumum, Michael Peter. "Balti". Omniglot: The online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. Retrieved 2020-05-23.


  • Bashir, Elena L. (2016). "Perso-Arabic adaptions for South Asian languages". In Hock, Hans Henrich; Bashir, Elena (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

  • Balti Language Textbook for Class4
  • Unicode
  • Koshur: The Balti Language
  • The Balti School
  • Tibetan script makes a comeback in Pakistan
  • Proposal to add four Tibetan characters for Balti to the BMP of the UCS
  • Andrew West, Tibetan Extensions 2 : Balti
  • Pakistan's Northern Areas dilemma
  • Northern Areas Development Gateway
  • Pakistan's Northern Areas
  • [1]
  • A Bibliography of Tibetan Linguistics
  • [2]
  • [3]
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