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The linguistic identity of the Greater Hindu Kush, a transit zone between South and Central Asia
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Linguistics, General Linguistics.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3907-0930
2012 (English)In: 45th Annual Meeting of the Societas Linguistica Europaea: Book of Abstracts / [ed] Bert Cornillie and María Sol Sansiñena Pascual, Stockholm, 2012, 187-188 p.Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Regardless of the particular view one takes on areality, there are a number of reasons for trying to characterize the accumulation of languages in the highland region between, or simultaneously belonging to, South Asia (or the Indian subcontinent) and Central Asia.  This region is, to borrow the words of one of the foremost experts on South Asian linguistics, “where conflicting areal patterns meet and interact, and many peculiar languages (‘Dardic’, Burushaski [a language isolate], the Pamir group of Eastern Iranian), at once archaic and innovating, find their home” (Masica 2001:225). To the aforementioned mix should be added Tibeto-Burman Balti, spoken in the eastern part of this region, and the Nuristani languages in the border region between northern Pakistan and Afghanistan, the latter now considered a third branch of Indo-Iranian (on par with Indo-Aryan and Iranian). Historically we will have to assume several layers of settlement and highly complex patterns of language contact in this extremely mountainous region, and there are strong indications that several ancient substrata (the proto-language of Burushaski most likely one of them) have made important contributions to the resulting typologies (Tikkanen 1988:304).

In the present study a substantial number of features (phonological, morphological, syntactic, and lexical) are taken into account in order to arrive at a non-speculative typological profile of the region. The author draws from his own fieldwork in the region, collaborating with several native-speaker consultants,  as well as from language-specific studies carried out by other researchers. In an initial stage, an intragenealogical typology of the Indo-Aryan cluster, native to and linguistically dominant in the region (often, although controversially, referred to as ‘Dardic’, see Bashir 2003:822; Strand 2001:258; Zoller 2005:10–11), is established, by investigating a sample representing each of the tentatively classified subgroups of ‘Dardic’. This is meant to shed further light on the still ongoing but very challenging classification work. This is projected to be followed up by a more extensive cross-genera comparison of the same features.

A number of convergence features that are of particular relevance to this region have been identified (many of them confirming suggestions made by Bashir (Bashir 2003:821–823) and Tikkanen (1999; 2008). Some of those are macroareal features that either characterize South Asia at large (or the larger part of it), such as the presence of retroflex stops and non-nominative experiencers, or large parts of Central Asia, such as a contrast between velar and uvular stops and the presence of a vigesimal numeral system. Other features are better described as subareal, some covering a substantial part of the region, such as a the presence of retroflex affricates as well as fricatives, contrasting with corresponding dental and palatal sounds, and the optionality of copula verbs in nominal and adjectival predication, other features characterizing more limited subsets of (often geographically adjacent) languages, such as grammaticalization of evidentiality and animacy distinctions, multi-differentiating deictic systems, a preferred order subordinate clause followed by main clause, the development of tonal/accentual systems, the use of co-lexicalized intensifiers, and a great variety in alignment patterns and in the display and degree of ergativity.


Bashir, Elena L. 2003. “Dardic.” Pp. 818-894 in The Indo-Aryan Languages, edited by George Cardona and Danesh Jain. London: Routledge.

Masica. 2001. “The definition and significance of linguistic areas: Methods, pitfalls, and possibilities (with special reference to the validity of South Asia as a linguistic area).” Pp. 205-267 in The yearbook of South Asian languages and linguistics 2001. London: SAGE.

Strand, Richard F. 2001. “The tongues of Peristân. Appendix 1.” in Gates of Peristan: History, Religion and Society in the Hindu Kush, Reports and memoirs, edited by Alberto M Cacopardo and Augusto S Cacopardo. Rome: IsIAO.

Tikkanen, Bertil. 1988. “On Burushaski and other ancient substrata in northwestern South Asia.” Studia Orientalia 64:3030-325. Retrieved January 4, 2012.

Tikkanen, Bertil. 1999. “Archaeological-linguistic correlations in the formation of retroflex typologies and correlating areal features in South Asia.” Pp. 138-148 in Archaeology and language. London: Routledge.

Tikkanen, Bertil. 2008. “Some areal phonological isoglosses in the transit zone between South and Central Asia.” Pp. 250-262 in Proceedings of the third International Hindu Kush Cultural Conference. Karachi: Oxford University Press.

Zoller, Claus Peter. 2005. A Grammar and Dictionary of Indus Kohistani: Volume 1, Dictionary. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm, 2012. 187-188 p.
Keyword [en]
typology, Hindu Kush, Dardic, Indo-Aryan, areal
National Category
General Language Studies and Linguistics
Research subject
General Linguistics
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-82018OAI: diva2:565092
Societas Linguistica Europaea 2012
A typological profile of “Dardic”
Available from: 2012-11-09 Created: 2012-11-06 Last updated: 2013-09-25Bibliographically approved

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