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Ethnicity  Burusho people
Language family  Language isolate
Native to  Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan
Region  Hunza-Nagar, northern Ghizer, northern Gilgit
Native speakers  87,000 in Pakistan (2000)
Dialects  Burushaski proper (Hunza-Nagar) Wershikwar (Yasin)

Burushaski /bʊrʊˈʃæski/ (Burushaski: burū́šaskī / بروشسکی‎) is a language isolate spoken by Burusho people in northern Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan. As of 2000, Burushaski was spoken by some 87,000 people in Hunza-Nagar District, northern Gilgit District, and in the Yasin and Ishkoman valleys of northern Ghizer District. Their native region is located in northern Gilgit–Baltistan and borders with Pamir corridor to the north. Burushaski is also spoken by about 300 people in Srinagar in Jammu and Kashmir. Other names for the language are Biltum, Khajuna, Kunjut, Brushaski, Burucaki, Burucaski, Burushaki, Burushki, Brugaski, Brushas, Werchikwar and Miśa:ski.


Today, Burushaski contains numerous loanwords from Urdu (including English and Persian words received via Urdu), and from the neighbouring Dardic languages such as Shina and Khowar, as well as a few from Turkic languages, from the neighboring Sino-Tibetan language Balti, and from the neighboring Eastern Iranian Wakhi and Pashto. However, the original vocabulary remains largely intact. The Dardic languages also contain large numbers of loanwords from Burushaski.


Attempts have been made to establish links between Burushaski and several different language families, although none has been accepted by a majority of linguists.

Following Berger (1956), the American Heritage dictionaries suggested that the word *abel ‘apple’, the only name for a fruit (tree) reconstructed for Proto-Indo-European, may have been borrowed from a language ancestral to Burushaski. ("Apple" and "apple tree" are báalt in modern Burushaski.)

Other hypotheses posit a genealogical relationship between Burushaski and the North Caucasian languages, Kartvelian languages, Yeniseian languages and/or Indo-European languages, usually in proposed macrofamilies.

  • The proposed "Dené–Caucasian" macrofamily includes Burushaski as a primary branch alongside North Caucasian and Yeniseian.
  • A proposed macrofamily, known as "Karasuk", includes Burushaski as part of a branch with North Caucasian, with both linked more distantly to Yeniseian.
  • Some kind of relationship to the proposed "Indo-Hittite" macrofamily has been suggested by Eric P. Hamp.
  • There have also been proposals that Burushaski constitutes, or is descended from, a primary branch of Indo-European, albeit one not closely related to its present neighbors in the Indo-Iranian languages. In particular, Ilija Casule has proposed similarities between Burushaski and the extinct Phrygian languages.
  • (Burushaski was not included in a 2008 attempt by Edward Vajda, to revive Merritt Ruhlen's proposed "Dené–Yeniseian macrofamily", which linked Yeniseian and Na-Dene.)


    Burushaski is spoken in main valleys: Hunza, Nagar, and Yasin. The varieties of Hunza and Nagar diverge slightly, but are clearly dialects of a single language. The Yasin variety, also known by the Khowar exonym Werchikwar, is much more divergent. Intelligibility between Hunza-Nagar and Yasin is difficult, and Yasin is sometimes considered a distinct language. Yasin is the least affected by contact with neighboring languages, though speakers are bilingual in Khowar. Yasin is spoken by a quarter of speakers.

    Writing system

    Burushaski is a predominantly spoken rather than written language. Occasionally the Urdu alphabet is used, but no fixed orthography exists. Adu Wazir Shafi wrote a book Burushaski Razon using a Latin script.

    Tibetan sources record a Bru-śa language of the Gilgit valley, which appears to have been Burushaski, whose script was one of five scripts used to write the extinct Zhang-Zhung language. Although Burushaski may once have been a significant literary language, no Bru-śa manuscripts are known to have survived.

    Linguists working on Burushaski use various makeshift transcriptions based on the Latin alphabet, most commonly that by Berger (see below), in their publications.


    Burushaski primarily has five vowels, /i e a o u/. Various contractions result in long vowels; stressed vowels (marked with acute accents in Berger's transcription) tend to be longer and less "open" than unstressed ones ([i e a o u] as opposed to [ɪ ɛ ʌ ɔ ʊ]). Long vowels also occur in loans and in a few onomatopoeic words (Grune 1998). All vowels have nasal counterparts in Hunza (in some expressive words) and in Nager (also in proper names and a few other words).

    Berger (1998) finds the following consonants to be phonemic, shown below in his transcription and in the IPA:



    Burushaski is a double-marking language and word order is generally subject–object–verb.

    Nouns in Burushaski are divided into four genders: human masculine, human feminine, countable objects, and uncountable ones (similar to mass nouns). The assignment of a noun to a particular gender is largely predictable. Some words can belong both to the countable and to the uncountable class, producing differences in meaning. For example, when countable, báalt means ‘apple’ but when uncountable, it means ‘apple tree’ (Grune 1998).

    Noun morphology consists of the noun stem, a possessive prefix (mandatory for some nouns, and thus an example of inherent possession), and number and case suffixes. Distinctions in number are singular, plural, indefinite, and grouped. Cases include absolutive, ergative/oblique, genitive, and several locatives; the latter indicate both location and direction and may be compounded.

    Burushaski verbs have three basic stems: past tense, present tense, and consecutive. The past stem is the citation form and is also used for imperatives and nominalization; the consecutive stem is similar to a past participle and is used for coordination. Agreement on the verb has both nominative and ergative features: transitive verbs mark both the subject and the object of a clause, while intransitive verbs mark their sole argument as both a subject and an object. Altogether, a verb can take up to four prefixes and six suffixes.

    Noun classes

    In Burushaski, there are four noun classes, similar to declensional classes in Indo-European languages, but unlike Indo-European, the nominal classes in Burushaski are associated with four grammatical "genders":

  • m = male human beings, gods and spirits
  • f = female human beings and spirits
  • x = animals, countable nouns
  • y = abstract concepts, fluids, uncountable nouns
  • Below, the abbreviation "h" will stand for the combination of the m- and f-classes, while "hx" will stand for the combination of the m-, f- and x-classes. Nouns in the x-class typically refer to countable, non-human beings or things, for example animals, fruit, stones, eggs, or coins; conversely, nouns in the y-class are as a rule uncountable abstractions or mass nouns, such as rice, fire, water, snow, wool, etc.

    However, these rules are not universal – countable objects in the y-class are sometimes encountered, e.g. ha, 'house'. Related words can subtly change their meanings when used in different classes – for example, bayú, when a member of the x-class, means salt in clumps, but when in the y-class, it means powdered salt. Fruit trees are understood collectively and placed in the y-class, but their individual fruits belong to the x-class. Objects made of particular materials can belong to either the x- or the y- class: stone and wood are in the x-class, but metal and leather in the y-class. The article, adjectives, numerals and other attributes must be in agreement with the noun class of their subject.


    There are two numbers in Burushaski: singular and plural. The singular is unmarked, while the plural is expressed by means of suffix, which vary depending on the class of the noun:

  • h-class: possible suffixes -ting, -aro, -daro, -taro, -tsaro
  • h- and x-class: possible suffixes -o, -išo, -ko, -iko, -juko; -ono, -u; -i, -ai; -ts, -uts, -muts, -umuts; -nts, -ants, -ints, -iants, -ingants, -ents, -onts
  • y-class: possible suffixes -ng, -ang, -ing, -iang; -eng, -ong, -ongo; -ming, -čing, -ičing, -mičing, -ičang (Nagar dialect)
  • Some nouns admit two or three different prefixes, while others have no distinctive suffix, and occur only in the plural, e.g. bras 'rice', gur 'wheat', bishké, 'fur', (cf. plurale tantum). On the other hand, there are also nouns which have identical forms in the singular and plural, e.g. hagúr 'horse(s)'. Adjectives have a unique plural suffix, whose form depends on the class of the noun they modify, e.g. burúm 'white' gives the x-class plural burum-išo and the y-class plural burúm-ing.

    Examples of pluralisation in Burushaski:

  • wazíir (m), pl. wazíirishu 'vizier, minister'
  • hir (m), pl. huri 'man' (stress shifts)
  • gus (f), pl. gushínga 'woman' (stress shifts)
  • dasín (f), pl. daseyoo 'girl', 'unmarried woman'
  • huk (x), pl. huká 'dog'
  • thely (x), pl. tilí 'walnut'
  • thely (y), pl. theleng 'walnut tree'
  • Declension

    Burushaski is an ergative language. It has five primary cases.

    The case suffixes are appended to the plural suffix, e.g. Huséiniukutse, 'the people of Hussein' (ergative plural). The genitive ending is irregular, /mo/, for singular f-class nouns, but /-e/ in all others (identical to the ergative ending). The dative ending, /-ar/, /-r/ is attached to the genitive ending for singular f-class nouns, but to the stem for all others. Examples:

  • hir-e 'the man's', gus-mo 'the woman's' (gen.)
  • hir-ar 'to the man', gus-mu-r 'to the woman' (dat.)
  • The genitive is placed before the thing possessed: Hunzue tham, 'the Emir of Hunza.'

    The endings of the secondary cases are formed from a secondary case suffix (or infix) and one of the primary endings /-e/, /-ar/ or /-um/. These endings are directional, /-e/ being locative (answering 'where?'), /-ar/ being terminative (answering 'where to?'), and /-um/ being ablative (answering 'where from?'). The infixes, and their basic meanings, are as follows:

    1. -ts- 'at'
    2. -ul- 'in'
    3. -aṭ- 'on; with'
    4. -al- 'near' (only in the Hunza dialect)

    From these, the following secondary or compound cases are formed:

    The regular endings /-ul-e/ and /-ul-ar/ are archaic and are now replaced by /-ul-o/ and /-ar-ulo/ respectively.

    Pronouns and pronominal prefixes

    Nouns indicating parts of the body and kinship terms are accompanied by an obligatory pronominal prefix. Thus, one cannot simply say 'mother' or 'arm' in Burushaski, but only 'my arm', 'your mother', 'his father', etc. For example, the root mi 'mother', is never found in isolation, instead one finds:

  • i-mi 'his mother', mu-mi 'their mother' (3f sg.), u-mi 'your mother' (3h pl.), u-mi-tsaro 'their mothers'(3h pl.).
  • The pronominal, or personal, prefixes agree with the person, number and – in the third person, the class of their noun. A summary of the basic forms is given in the following table:

    Personal pronouns in Burushaski distinguish proximal and distal forms, e.g. khin 'he, this one here', but in, 'he, that one there'. In the oblique, there are additional abbreviated forms.


    The Burushaski number system is vigesimal, i.e. based on the number 20. For example, 20 altar, 40 alto-altar (2 times 20), 60 iski-altar (3 times 20) etc. The base numerals are:

  • 1 han (or hen, hak)
  • 2 altó (or altán)
  • 3 isko (or Iskey)
  • 4 wálto
  • 5 čindó
  • 6 mishíndo
  • 7 thaló
  • 8 altámbo
  • 9 hunchó
  • 10 tóorumo' (also toorimi and turma)
  • 100 tha
  • Examples of compound numerals:

    11 turma-han, 12 turma-alto, 13 turma-isko, ..., 19 turma-hunti; 20 altar, 30 altar-toorumo, 40 alto-altar, 50 alto-altar-toorumo, 60 iski-altar and so on; 21 altar-hak, 22 altar-alto, 23 altar-isko and so on.


    The verbal morphology of Burushaski is extremely complicated and rich in forms. Many sound changes can take place, including assimilation, deletion and accent shift, which are unique for almost every verb. Here, we can only specify certain basic principles.

    The Burushaski finite verb falls into the following categories:

    For many transitive verbs, in addition to the subject, the (direct) object is also indicated, also by pronomimal prefixes which vary according to person, number and class. All verbs have negative forms, and many intransitive verbs also have derived transitive forms. The infinitive forms – which in Burushaski are the absolutives of the past and present, the perfect participle, and two infinitives – admit all the finite variations except tense and mood. Infinitive forms are made together with auxiliary verbs and periphrastic forms.

    The 11 positions of the finite verb

    All verb forms can be constructed according to a complex but regular position system. Berger describes a total of 11 possible positions, or slots, although not all of these will be filled in any given verb form. Many positions also have several alternative contents (indicated by A/B/C below). The verb stem is in position 5, preceded by four possible prefixes and followed by seven possible suffixes. The following table gives an overview of the positions and their functions

  • The positions of Burushaski finite verbs
  • Formation of tenses and moods

    The formation of the tenses and moods involves the use of several positions, or slots, in complicated ways. The preterite, perfect, pluperfect and conative are formed from the 'simple stem,' whereas the present, imperfect, future and conditional are formed from the 'present stem,' which is itself formed from the simple stem by placing -č- in position 7. The optative and imperative are derived directly from the stem. Altogether, the schema is as follows:

    The formation of the tenses and moods of the verb her 'to cry', without prefixes:

  • Simple stem tenses
  • Present stem tenses
  • Optatives and Imperative
  • Indication of the subject and object

    The subject and object of the verb are indicated by the use of personal prefixes and suffixes in positions 3, 8 and 10 as follows:

    The personal prefixes are identical to the pronominal prefixes of nouns (mandatory with body parts and kinship terms, as above). A simplified overview of the forms of the affixes is given in the following table:

  • Personal prefix (Position 3)
  • Personal suffixes (Positions 8 and 10)
  • For example, the construction of the preterite of the transitive verb phus 'to tie', with prefixes and suffixes separated by hyphens, is as follows :

  • i-phus-i-m-i "he ties him" (filled positions: 3-5-8-9-10)
  • mu-phus-i-m-i "he ties her (f)"
  • u-phus-i-m-i "he ties them (pl. hx)"
  • mi-phus-i-m-i "he ties us"
  • i-phus-i-m-an "we/you/they tie him"
  • mi-phus-i-m-an "you/they tie us"
  • i-phus-i-m-a "I tie it"
  • gu-phus-i-m-a "I tie you"
  • The personal affixes are also used when the noun occupies the role of the subject or the object, e.g. hir i-ír-i-mi 'the man died'. With intransitive verbs, the subject function is indicated by both a prefix and a suffix, as in:

  • gu-ir-č-u-m-a "you will die" (future)
  • i-ghurts-i-m-i "he sank" (preterite)
  • Personal prefixes do not occur in all verbs and all tenses. Some verbs do not admit personal prefixes, others still do so only under certain circumstances. Personal prefixes used with intransitive verbs often express a volitional function, with prefixed forms indicating an action contrary to the intention of the subject. For example:

  • hurúţ-i-m-i "he sat down" (volitional action without prefix)
  • i-ír-i-m-i "he died" (involuntary action with prefix)
  • ghurts-i-mi "he went willingly underwater", "he dove" (without prefix)
  • i-ghurts-i-m-i "he went unwillingly underwater", "he sank" (with prefix)
  • The d-prefix

    A number of verbs – mostly according to their root form – are found with the d-prefix in position 2, which occurs before a consonant according to vowel harmony. The precise semantic function of the d-prefix is unclear. With primary transitive verbs the d-prefix, always without personal prefixes, forms regular intransitives. Examples:

  • i-phalt-i-mi 'he breaks it open' (transitive)
  • du-phalt-as 'to break open, to explode' (intransitive)
  • A master's thesis research work of a native speaker of Burushaski: Middle Voice Construction in Burushaski: From the Perspective of a Native Speaker of the Hunza Dialect claims that the [dd-] verbal prefix is an overt morphological middle marker for MV constructions, while the [n-] verbal prefixis a morphological marker for passive voice. The data primarily come from the Hunza dialect of Burushaski, but analogous phenomena can be observed in otherdialects. This research is based on a corpus of 120 dd-prefix verbs. This research has showed that position {-2} on the verb template is occupied by voice-marker in Burushaski. The author argues that the middle marker is a semantic category of its own and that it is clearly distinguished from the reflexive marker in this language. The middle marker (MM) means the grammatical device used to “indicate that the two semantic roles of Initiator and Endpoint refer to a single holistic entity” (Kemmer 1993: 47). In the view of that definition,I look at a middle marked verb in Burushaski and illustration follows the example

  • hiles dd-i-il-imi 'the boy soaked'
  • Literature

  • Anderson, Gregory D. S. 1997. Burushaski Morphology. In Morphologies of Asia and Africa, ed. by Alan Kaye. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
  • Anderson, Gregory D. S. 1997. Burushaski Phonology. In Phonologies of Asia and Africa, ed. by Alan Kaye. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns.
  • Anderson, Gregory D. S. 1999. M. Witzel’s "South Asian Substrate Languages" from a Burushaski Perspective. Mother Tongue (Special Issue, October 1999).
  • Anderson, Gregory D. S. forthcoming b. Burushaski. In Language Islands: Isolates and Microfamilies of Eurasia, ed. by D.A. Abondolo. London: Curzon Press.
  • Backstrom, Peter C. Burushaski in Backstrom and Radloff (eds.), Languages of northern areas, Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan, 2. Islamabad, National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Qaid-i-Azam University and Summer Institute of Linguistics (1992), 31-54.
  • Bashir, Elena. 2000. A Thematic Survey of Burushaski Research. History of Language 6.1: 1–14.
  • Berger, Hermann. 1956. Mittelmeerische Kulturpflanzennamen aus dem Burušaski [Names of Mediterranean cultured plants from B.]. Münchener Studien zur Sprachwissenschaft 9: 4-33.
  • Berger, Hermann. 1959. Die Burušaski-Lehnwörter in der Zigeunersprache [The B. loanwords in the Gypsy language]. Indo-Iranian Journal 3.1: 17-43.
  • Berger, Hermann. 1974. Das Yasin-Burushaski (Werchikwar). Volume 3 of Neuindische Studien, ed. by Hermann Berger, Lothar Lutze and Günther Sontheimer. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz.
  • Berger, Hermann. 1998. Die Burushaski-Sprache von Hunza und Nager [The B. language of H. and N.]. Three volumes: Grammatik [grammar], Texte mit Übersetzungen [texts with translations], Wörterbuch [dictionary]. Altogether Volume 13 of Neuindische Studien (ed. by Hermann Berger, Heidrun Brückner and Lothar Lutze). Wiesbaden: Otto Harassowitz.
  • Grune, Dick. 1998. Burushaski – An Extraordinary Language in the Karakoram Mountains.
  • Holst, Jan Henrik. 2014. Advances in Burushaski linguistics. Tübingen: Narr.
  • Karim, Piar. 2013. Middle Voice Construction in Burushaski: From the Perspective of a Native Speaker of the Hunza Dialect. Unpublished MA Thesis. Denton: University of North Texas. Department of Linguistics.
  • Lorimer, D. L. R. 1935–1938. The Burushaski Language (3 vols.). Oslo: Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning.
  • Morgenstierne, Georg. 1945. Notes on Burushaski Phonology. Norsk Tidsskrift for Sprogvidenskap 13: 61–95.
  • Munshi, Sadaf. 2006. Jammu and Kashmir Burushaski: Language, language contact, and change. Unpublished Ph.D. Dissertation. Austin: University of Texas at Austin, Department of Linguistics.
  • van Skyhawk, Hugh. 1996. Libi Kisar. Ein Volksepos im Burushaski von Nager. Asiatische Studien 133. ISBN 3-447-03849-7.
  • van Skyhawk, Hugh. 2003. Burushaski-Texte aus Hispar. Materialien zum Verständnis einer archaischen Bergkultur in Nordpakistan. Beiträge zur Indologie 38. ISBN 3-447-04645-7.
  • Tiffou, Étienne. 1993. Hunza Proverbs. University of Calgary Press. ISBN 1-895176-29-8
  • Tiffou, Étienne. 1999. Parlons Bourouchaski. Paris: L'Harmattan. ISBN 2-7384-7967-7
  • Tiffou, Étienne. 2000. Current Research in Burushaski: A Survey. History of Language 6(1): 15–20.
  • Tikkanen, Bertil. 1988. On Burushaski and other ancient substrata in northwest South Asia. Studia Orientalia 64: 303–325.
  • Varma, Siddheshwar. 1941. Studies in Burushaski Dialectology. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Letters 7: 133–173.
  • References

    Burushaski Wikipedia

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