Saraiki language


Spoken in Pakistan
Total speakers 13.9 million in Pakistan (1998 Population and Housing Census, Pakistan),
68,000 in India (Census of India, 2001) (combined figure for persons claiming either the Multani dialect or the Bahawalpuri dialect)
Language family Indo-European

Writing system Extended-Arabic scriptGurmukhi script,Devanagari script
Language codes
ISO 639-1 None
ISO 639-2 inc
ISO 639-3 skr

Sarāikī (Extended-Arabic: سرائیکی, Gurmukhi: ਸਰਾਇਕੀ, Devanagari: सराइकी), sometimes spelled Siraiki and Seraiki, is a standardized written language of Pakistan belonging to the Indo-Aryan (Indic)languages. Sarāikī is based on a group of vernacular, historically unwritten dialects spoken by over 40 million people across the southern more than half of Punjab Province, the adjacent border region of Sindh Province, and the northwest of Punjab Province,southern districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank of North West Frontier Province as well as by nearly 70,000 emigrants and their descendants in India.[1] The development of the standard written language, a process which began after the founding of Pakistan in 1947, has been driven by a regionalist political movement.[2][3] The national census of Pakistan has tabulated the prevalence of Sarāikī speakers since 1981.[4]:46 Sarāikī is the fourth most widely spoken language in Pakistan, behind Punjabi, Pushto (Pashto), and Sindhi; and within Punjab Province it is one of the two major languages.

The standard English language spelling of the name (at least de facto) is “Saraiki”. However, into the new millennium, “Saraiki”, “Siraiki”, and “Seraiki” have all been used in academia and among promoters of Saraiki ethnic consciousness. The language name (in whichever of these spellings) was adopted in the 1960s by regional social and political leaders.

On the origin and spelling of the language name

Historically, the speakers of dialects now recognized as belonging to Sarāikī did not hold the belief that they constituted a cohesive language community or a distinct ethnicity. This consciousness developed among local elites in the years after the founding of Pakistan in 1947 in response to the social and political upheaval caused by the mass immigration of Urdu speaking refugee Muslims from India. Traditionally, the dialects were designated by any of a number of areal or demographic names (see table below), e.g. “Multani” for the dialect spoken around Multan, which has been the largest city in the “Sarāikī” speaking area for centuries. The name “Sarāikī” (or variant spellings) was adopted in the 1960s by regional social and political leaders who undertook to promote Sarāikī ethnic consciousness and to develop the vernaculars into a standardized written language.[2][3] The word “Sarāiki” originated from the wordسوویرا “Sauvirā” [5], a state name in old India . By adding adjectival suffix “-ki” to the word “Sauvirā” it became “Sauvirāki”. The consonant ‘v’ with its neighboring vowels was dropped for simplification and hence the name became “Sarāiki”. Although Grierson reported that “Sirāiki” (that was the spelling he used) is from a Sindhi word sirō,[3]:388 meaning ‘of the north, northern’, Shackle asserts that this etymology is unverified and is merely the most plausible one advanced.

The standard Roman script spelling of the Saraiki language name (at least de facto) is “Saraiki”; this is the spelling used by two universities of Pakistan with departments of Saraiki (the Islamia University of Bahawalpur, department established 1989,[6] and Bahauddin Zakariya University, in Multan, department established 2006)[7], and by the district governments of Bahawalpur [8] and Multan [9], as well as by the federal institutions of the Government of Pakistan like Population Census Organization [10] and Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation [11]. Two of the native scripts, Gurmukhi and Devanagari, use the ‘a’ spelling (or rather, its native equivalent), which indicates that the vowel of the first syllable is a short /a/. In the Gurmukhi and Devanagari spellings given above, this is manifested by the lack of any vowel diacritic. As is standard for native Indo-Aryan orthographies, the absence of any diacritic over a consonant indicates that a short /a/ is spoken after that consonant.

Saraiki (regional language)

Saraiki is closely related to Punjabi (See Classification, below). Many argue that it is merely a regional dialect of Punjabi. It is spoken as a first language by 10% of Pakistanis, mostly in the southern districts of Punjab, Pakistan (see Saraikis). Dialects tend to blend into each other, with Punjabi to the east, and Sindhi to the south. Until recently it was considered to be a dialect of Punajbi. The Saraiki language has an 85% lexical similarity with Sindhi and 68% similarity with Odki and Sansi. Dialects are Derawali, Khatki, Jangli or Jatki and Riasti or Bahawalpuri. Saraiki or Multani (also Lehndi by some) differs from Punjabi more than any other dialect. Multani becomes more and more different as you move down south, as the influence of Sindhi increases, it is also known as Saraiki there. Saraiki itself is Sindhi word and means northern.

Geographic distribution and number of speakers

The vernacular dialects on which Sarāikī is based are native to what is now the southwestern half of Punjab Province in Pakistan, south of theSalt Range of mountains. Sarāikī is also spoken in the north of the neighboring Sindh Province and by a tiny, recent diaspora in north India. According to the Indian census of 2001, Sarāikī is spoken in urban areas throughout northwest and north central India by a total of about 70,000 people, the descendants of emigrants from western Punjab after the partition of India in 1947.[1] In AfghanistanKandahari, a dialect of Multani/Saraiki is a mother tongue of Afghan Hindus.[12]

Classification within Indo-Aryan

Punjabi, Sarāikī, and Sindhi are all members of the Indo-Aryan subdivision of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. Although Punjabi and Sarāikī are mutually intelligible, they differ in consonant inventory and in the structure of the verb.

In 1919, Grierson maintained that the dialects of what is now the southwest of Punjab Province in Pakistan constitute a dialect cluster, which he designated “Southern Lahnda” within a putative “Lahnda language”. Subsequent Indo-Aryanist linguists have confirmed the reality of this dialect cluster, even while rejecting the name “Southern Lahnda” along with the entity “Lahnda” itself.[13][14] However, outside of Indo-Aryanist circles, the concept of “Lahnda” is still found in compilations of the world’s languages (e.g., Ethnologue).

There is a tendency for some discussions of the Sarāikī dialects and their emerging standard literary language to incorrectly include dialects or languages spoken farther north, in particular Hindko and Modern Panjistani. This error is due to confusing Sarāikī (Grierson’s “Southern Lahnda”) with Grierson’s larger category of Lahnda, within which Grierson included dialects spoken north of the Salt Range. While the more northerly dialects are considerably similar to Sarāikī in linguistic structure, starting with Grierson they have been recognised as definitely distinct from the dialect cluster spoken south of the Salt Range.

Dialects of Saraiki

Problems in nomenclature

The historical inventory of names for the dialects now called Sarāikī is a confusion of overlapping or conflicting ethnic, local, and regional designations. “Hindki” and “Hindko” — which means merely “of India” — refer to various Sarāikī and even non-Sarāikī dialects in Punjab Province and farther north within the country, due to the fact they were applied by invaders from Afghanistan or Persia. One historical name for Sarāikī, Jaṭki, means “of the Jaṭṭs“, a northern South Asian ethnic group; but Jaṭṭs speak the Indo-Aryan dialect of whatever region they live in. Only a small minority of Sarāikī speakers are Jaṭṭs, and not all Sarāikī speaking Jaṭṭs necessarily speak the same dialect of Sarāikī. Conversely, several Sarāikī dialects have multiple names corresponding to different locales or demographic groups. When consulting sources before 2000, it is important to know that Pakistani administrative boundaries have been altered frequently. Provinces in Pakistan are divided into districts, and sources on “Sarāikī” often describe the territory of a dialect or dialect group according to the districts. Since the founding of Pakistan in 1947, several of these districts have been subdivided, some multiple times. Until 2001, the territorial structure of Pakistan included a layer of Divisions between a Province and its Districts. The name dialect name “Ḍerawali” is used to refer to the local dialects of both Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan, but “Ḍerawali” in the former is the Multani dialect and “Ḍerawali” in the latter is the Thaḷi dialect.[15][16]

Tabulation of dialects

Shackle 1976 has proposed a tentative classification of Sarāikī dialects into six “varieties”, wherein variety is defined as a group of dialects. (Shackle’s scheme really involves just five “varieties”, since he himself observes that Shahpuri, spoken in Sargodha District and parts of neighboring districts, is in truth not a kind of Sarāikī, but instead a dialect of Punjabi with Saraiki features.) The precise geographical distribution of these dialect groups is unknown. The six are dubbed Central (i.e., Multani); Southern (i.e., Bahawalpuri, spoken primarily in Rahim Yar Khandistrict and in Bahawalpur District south of the city of Bahawalpur); Sindhi (spoken in Sindh province by emigrants); Northern (Thaḷi); Jhang; and Shahpuri.

A list of names in use at one or another time during the 20th century for Sarāikī dialects and dialect groups is compiled in the table below.[17][18] The dialect names are spelled in the standard Anglicized spelling. ‘C’ and ‘ch’ both resemble English ‘ch’; ‘c’ represents an unaspirated sound, ‘ch’ an aspirated. A macron over a vowel indicates a long vowel.

Dialect group Subdialect Where spoken Alternate names Notes
Mūltānī Multan, Bahawalpur, Muzaffargaṛh, Rahim Yar Khan Districts Bahāwalpurī/Riyāsatī, both names in use in Bahawalpur District. According to Masica, the two names Bahāwalpurī and Riyāsatī are locally specific names for the Mūltānī dialect group, possibly specific dialects within the group. According to Shackle, they instead denote a distinct dialect group. Also according to Shackle, the Bahawalpur District of Punjab Province (i.e., within its 1976 boundaries) is split between Multani in the north and Bahawalpuri in the south, with the dialect of Bahawalpur city being of blend of these two.
Ḍerāwālī[19] Dera Ghazi Khan District, Rajanpur District, Derawal Nagar (Delhi) According to Masica, this use of the name Ḍerāwāl is to be distinguished from its use as an alternate name for a different dialect group (see following row).
Thaḷī Jhang, Sargodha, Muzaffargarh Districts (Punjab Province); Mianwali, Bannu Districts (North-West Frontier Province) Thaḷochṛi in Jhang District; Jaṭkī;Hindkō, Hindkī, Ḍerāwāl west of the Indus River, the last referring to the vicinity of Dera Ismail Khan Named after the Thaḷ, a region bordered by the Indus River to the west and the Jhelum and Chenab Rivers to the east.
Sindhī Sarāikī northern part of Sindh Province Sirāikī dialect which has some features of the Sindhī language
Jhangī Jhang, Faisalabad, Gujrat, Gujranwala Districts Cināwaṛī, Cinhāwaṛī(from the name of an area on the right bank of the Chenab River) Jhangī may actually be closer to the Punjabi language. Gujrat District is not to be confused with Gujarat State in India.
Jāng(a)lī Jangal Bar tract of Faisalabad District
Kacchṛī Kacchṛī is named for alluvial desert plain of Kacchī, SW of Jhang town
Niswānī North Jhang District Subdialect or local name of Jhangī as spoken by a tribe, the Niswānā, as of 1919.

Number of speakers of Sarāikī Language

The first national census of Pakistan to gather data on the prevalence of Sarāikī was the census of 1981.[citation needed] In that year, the percentage of respondents nationwide reporting Sarāikī as their mother tongue was 9.83. In the census of 1998, it was 10.53 out of a national population of 132 million, for a figure of 13.9 million Saraiki speakers resident in Pakistan. Also according to the 1998 census, 12.8 million of those, or 92%, lived in the Province of Punjab.[20] The next census of Pakistan will be conducted in October 2008.[citation needed]

In India, Sarāikī is spoken by 56,096 persons who report their dialect as Mūltānī and by 11,873 individuals who report their dialect as Bahāwalpurī.[1] Other dialects of Saraiki that are spoken by Indian Saraikis include Derawali[21] JafriSiraiki HindkiThali, and Jatki.[22]


Sarāikī and Sindhi both have somewhat similar consonant inventories.[23] This inventory includes phonemically distinctive implosive consonants, which makes Sindhi and Saraiki unusual among the Indo-European languages (and not just among the Indo-Aryan languages).



Saraiki has three short vowels, seven long vowels and six nasal vowels.


Bilabial Labiodental Dental Alveolar Retroflex Palatal Velar Glottal
Stops and
Voiceless p pʰ t̪ t̪ʰ t tʰ t͡ʃ t͡ʃʰ k kʰ ʔ
Voiced b bʱ d̪ d̪ʱ d dʱ d͡ʒ d͡ʒʱ ɡ ɡʱ
Implosives ɓ ɗ ʄ ɠ
Nasals m mʱ n nʱ ɳ ɲ ŋ
Fricatives Voiceless f s ʃ x h
Voiced v z ʒ ɣ
Trills r rʱ
Flaps ɽ ɽʱ
Laterals l lʱ
Semivowel j

Writing system

There are three writing systems for Sarāikī, though very vew Sarāikī speakers—even those literate in other languages—are able to read or write their own language in either writing system. The most common Sarāikī writing system today is the Extended-Arabic script, which has also been adapted for use on computers. The Devanagari and Gurmukhi scripts, written from left to right, were used by Hindus. Though not used present day Pakistan, there are still emigrant speakers in India who know the Devanagari or Gurmukhi scripts for Sarāikī.[24][25] Traders or bookkeepers wrote in a script known as Langdi, although use of this script has been significantly reduced in recent times. The transliteration from and to Extended-Arabic and Devanagri scripts for Saraiki language can be made online.[26]

In the process of creating a distinct Sarāikī written language, activists have paid attention to creating a standard script and orthographic norms. Orthographic and linguistic standardization of Sarāikī seems more connected with the politics of identity. Although Saraiki shares four implosive sounds with Sindhi, care was taken so that the Seraiki script and the representation of these symbols should be different from that of Sindhi so that the Sindhis should not lay any claims over Saraiki literature as theirs.


  1. a b c Abstract of speakers’ strength of languages and mother tongues – 2001Census of India (retrieved 19 March 2008)
  2. a b Rahman 1997:838
  3. a b c Shackle 1977
  4. ^ Javaid 2004
  5. ^ A.H. Dani, Sindhu-Sauvira: A glimpse into the early history of Sind In Hameeda Khusro (ed), Sind Through The Centuries (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 1981) pp. 35-42
  6. ^ Department of Saraiki, IUB
  7. ^ Department of Saraiki, BZU
  8. ^ District Government, Bahawalpur
  9. ^ District Government, Multan
  10. ^ Population by Mother Tongue, Website of the Population Census organization of Pakistan
  11. ^ Broadcasts in Different Languages, Website of Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation
  12. ^ “Introduction”. Afghan Hindu. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  13. ^ Masica 1991:18, 20
  14. ^ Grierson 1904-1928, volume of 1919. “Lahnda” was his novel designation for various dialects up to then called “Western Punjabi”, spoken north, west, and south of Lahore. The local dialect of Lahore is the Majhi dialect of Punjabi, which has long been the basis of standard literary Punjabi.
  15. ^ Grierson 1919:239ff.
  16. ^ Masica 1991, Appendix I:220-245
  17. ^ Grierson 1919:239ff.
  18. ^ Masica 1991, Appendix I:220-245
  19. ^ The spelling with retroflex ‘Ḍ’ instead of ‘D’ is according to Masica 1991.
  20. ^ Pakistan census 1998
  21. ^ “Colonies, posh and model in name only!”. NCR Tribune. Retrieved 2007-12-16.
  22. ^ “Seraiki”. Ethnologue. Retrieved 2007-07-14.
  23. ^ Masica 1991
  24. ^ “Multani poets relive memories of struggle”. Indian Express. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
  25. ^ Balfour 1885: 1095
  26. ^ Saraiki Online Transliteration


  • Asif, Saiqa Imtiaz. 2005. Saraiki Language and Ethnic Identity Journal of Research (Faculty of Languages and Islamic Studies), 7: 9-17.Multan (Pakistan): Bahauddin Zakariya University.
  • Balfour, Edward. 1885. The cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia: commercial, industrial and scientific, products of the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms, useful arts and manufactures. Volume 3; Entry on “Multani Writing”. London: B. Quaritch. Google Books view.
  • Grierson, George A. 1919. Linguistic survey of India. vol. VIII, Part 1. Calcutta. Reprinted 1968 by Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi.
  • Javaid, Umbreen. 2004. Saraiki political movement: its impact in south PunjabJournal of Research (Humanities), 40(2): 55–65. Lahore: Faculty of Arts and Humanities, University of the Punjab. (This PDF contains multiple articles from the same issue.)
  • Masica, Colin. 1991. The Indo-Aryan languages. Cambridge University Press.
  • Pakistan. 1998. Population and Housing Census of Pakistan.
  • Rahman, Tariq. 1997. Language and Ethnicity in Pakistan. Asian Survey, 1997 Sep., 37(9):833-839.
  • Shackle, C. 1976. The Saraiki language of central Pakistan: a reference grammar. London:School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
  • Shackle, C. 1977. Saraiki: A Language Movement in Pakistan. Modern Asian Studies, 11(3):379-403.

Further reading



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