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Kalash or Kalasha (also known as Kalasha-mun) is an Indo-European language in the Indo-Iranian branch, further classified as a Dardic language in the Chitralmarker Group. Georg Morgenstierne maintains that "The Kalash do not belong to the special Kafir branch of Indo-Iranian but speak a true Indo-Aryan language." The Kalash language is phonologically atypical because it contrasts plain, long, nasal, and retroflex vowels as well as combinations of these (Heegård & Mørch 2004).

Kalash is spoken by the Kalasha people who reside in the remote valleys of Bumboret, Birir and Rumbur, which are west of Ayun, which is ten miles down the river from Chitralmarker Town, high in the Hindu Kushmarker mountains in the North-West Frontier Provincemarker of Pakistanmarker. The Kalash have their own religion, with gods and goddesses, although it is estimated that half of the Kalash have converted to Islam. There are an estimated 6,000 speakers of Kalash, of which 3,000 still follow the Kalash religion and the other 3,000 have converted to Islam.

According to Badshah Munir Bukhari, one of the world's leading authorities on this subject, "Kalasha" is the ethnic name for the Nuristani inhabitants of a region southwest of the Kalash Valleys, in the Waygal and middle Pech Valleys of Afghanistan's Nuristan Province. The term "Kalasha" seems to have been adopted by the Kalasha speakers of Chitral from the Nuristanis of Waygal, who for a time expanded up to southern Chitral several centuries ago. However, there is no close connection between the Indo-Aryan language Kalasha-mun and the Nuristani language Kalasha-ala, which descend from different branches of the Indo-Iranian languages.

Until the latter 20th century, Kalasha was an undocumented language. More recently, through the work of a Greek NGO and local Kalash elders seeking to preserve their oral traditions, a new Kalasha alphabet has been created. Working in close collaboration with various international researchers and linguists, Kalash linguist Taj Khan Kalash organized first "Kalasha Orthography Conference" in Islamabad Pakistan. Having moved to Thessalonikimarker, Greecemarker, to study linguistics in the Aristotle Universitymarker, he and the Greek NGO Mesogaia took on the task of compiling the script and creating The Alphabet Book, a primer used to teach the alphabet to the Kalash children. In 2004 he was able to raise funds to publish first alphabet book of Kalasha language based on Roman script designed by an Australian linguist Gregory R. Cooper.

Of all the languages in the subcontinent, Kalash preserves its Old Indo-Aryan basis best, next to the western Dardic Khowar . Some of the typical retentions of sounds and clusters (and meanings) are seen in the following list. However, note some common New Indo-Aryan and Dardic features as well. .

English Kalash Old Indo-Aryan New Indo-Aryan
bone athi, aṭhí asthi Hindi -; Nepali ā̃ṭh ‘the ribs'
urine mutra, mútra mūtra H. mūt
village grom grama H. gā̃u;Sanskrit gramam
rope rajuk, raĵhú-k rajju H. lej, lejur
smoke thum dhūma H. dhūā̃, dhuwā̃
meat mos maṃsa H. mā̃s, mās, māsā
dog shua, śõ.'a śvan H. -; Sinhal. suvan
ant pililak,pilílak pipīla, pippīlika H. pipṛā
son put, putr putra H. pūt
long driga, dríga dīrgha H. dīha
eight asht, aṣṭ aṣṭā H. āṭh
broken china, čhína chinna H. chīn-nā 'to snatch'; Telugu chinagatam
kill nash nash, naś, naśyati H. nā̆s-nā ‘to be lost'

History contains references to "Siah-Posh Kafirs". Timur fought with them. Babur advised not to tangle with them. Alexander the Great encountered them. Genghis Khan passed by them. However, there is a question whether these were the Red or the Black Kafirs, or both. It has been widely assumed that these were the Red Kafirs who were thought of as fierce and independent, as opposed to the Black Kafirs, who were somewhat subservient to the King of Chitral. On the other hand, the word "Siah-Posh Kafirs" translates to mean "Black Robed Kafirs", as the word "siah" means "black", so it seems possible that it was the Black and not the Red Kafirs who fought against and defeated Tamurlane.


  • Bashir, Elena L. (1988) Topics in Kalasha Syntax: An Areal and Typological Perspective. Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Michigan.
  • Cacopardo, Alberto M., and Augusto S. Cacopardo (2001) Gates of Peristan: History, Religion, and Society in the Hindu Kush. Rome: Instituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente.
  • Decker, Kendall D. (1992) Languages of Chitral
  • "Atlas Linguistique Des Parles Dardes Et Kafirs" by Gerard Fussman (two volumes). Maps showing distribution of words among people of Kafiristan.
  • Heegård, Jan & Ida Elisabeth Mørch, 2004, "Retroflex vowels and other peculiarities in Kalasha sound system". In: Anju Saxena and Jadranka Gvozdanovic (eds.), Synchronic and Diachronic Aspects of Himalayan Linguistics, Selected Proceedings of the 7th Himalayan Languages Symposium held in Uppsala, Sweden. The Hague: Mouton.
  • Jettmar, Karl (1985) Religions of the Hindu Kush ISBN 0-85668-163-6
  • Kalasha. Retrieved July 19, 2006, from Ethnologue: Languages of the World, fifteenth edition. SIL International. Online version.
  • Morgenstierne, Georg (1926) Report on a Linguistic Mission to Afghanistan. Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning, Serie C I-2. Oslo. ISBN 0-923891-09-9
  • Georg Morgenstierne. Indo-Iranian Frontier Languages, Vol. IV: The Kalasha Language & Notes on Kalasha. Oslo1973
  • The Kafirs of the Hindukush (1896) Sir George Scott Robertson.
  • Strand, Richard F. (1973) "Notes on the Nûristânî and Dardic Languages." Journal of the American Oriental Society, 93.3: 297-305.
  • Strand, Richard F. (2001) "The Tongues of Peristân," in Gates of Peristan: History, Religion and Society in the Hindu Kush, by Alberto M. Cacopardo and Augusto S. Cacopardo, 251-259. Rome: Instituto Italiano per l'Africa e l'Oriente.
  • Trail, Ronald L. and Gregory R. Cooper, compilers. Kalasha dictionary—with English and Urdu. Studies in Languages of Northern Pakistan, 7 (1999). Islamabad: National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University and Summer Institute of Linguistics.

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