Punjab is a region straddling the border between India and Pakistan. Punjab has a long history and rich cultural heritage. The people of the Punjab are called Punjabis and they speak a language called Punjabi. Punjabi is an ancient language, but like Punjabi, started its literary career pretty late. The script is Gurmukhi based on Devanagri.

Punjabi is an ancient language, but like Punjabi, started its literary career pretty late. The script is Gurmukhi based on Devanagri. This Eastern Punjab dialect developed into a literary language around the beginning of the 17th century whereas Hindki still remains a group of dialects. During medieval times, Punjab repeatedly bore the brunt of Afghan invaders and internal battles, and these warring times were not exactly feasible for any sort of literary or cultural expansion. Punjabi literature as such came into existence only from the end of the 16th century when Punjabi was already in its Middle Period. In Indian Punjab, Gurmukhi script, created from the Nagari script, is the official script for Punjabi and in Pakistani Punjab, Shahmukhi is the official script. Punjabi was evolving and Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion, gave a new lease of life to the language although it was still not in its pure form. The fifth Guru, Arjun Dev compiled the Sikh scripture, the Adi Grantha or Guru Granth Sahib, but this again was not strictly in Punjabi. Guru Govind Singh (1666-1708), the tenth and last Guru, wrote a number of religious works mainly in Old Hindi with the exception of Chandi di Var which is in Punjabi.

“Learn to Handwrite Punjabi Alphabets”

Languages in the Indian subcontinent belong to four language families: Indo-European, Dravidian, Mon-Khmer and Sino-Tibetan. Indo-European and Dravidian languages are used by a large majority of India’s population. The language families map roughly over geographic areas; languages of the Indo-European group are spoken mainly in northern and central regions. The languages of southern India are mainly of the Dravidian family. Some ethnic groups in Assam and other parts of eastern India speak languages of the Mon-Khmer group. People in the northern Himalayan region and near the Burmese border speak Sino-Tibetan languages.

Punjabi is one of India’s 22 official languages. The Punjabi language is spoken by over 100 million people worldwide; about 90 million in the larger Punjab, a territory that was divided between India and Pakistan by the British during the 1947 partition. Another 10 million Punjabi speaking communities are spread throughout Canada, United Kingdom, the United States, Malaysia, South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and elsewhere.
In linguistic terms, Punjabi language is classified as a member of the Indo-Aryan subgroup of the prehistoric Proto-Indo-European family of languages (See attached “Roots of World Languages Chart”).

Indo-Aryan languages, also called “Indic” languages, are a subgroup of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. In the early 21st century, Indic languages and their dialects were spoken by more than a billion people, primarily in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.Linguists agree that all languages within the Indic family developed in three major stages: Old Indo-Aryan or Sanskrit; Middle Indo-Aryan, consisting of Prakrit and Apabhramsha stages; and New or Modern Indo-Aryan.

Prakrit” is derived from the Sanskrit term “Prakrta,” which implies original, natural, or primary, in contrast with “Samskrta,” which means refined or secondary. A few language experts believe Prakrits are older than Sanskrit due to their originality factor – however, since Sanskrit, especially Vedic Sanskrit, is closer to Proto-Indo-European than are the Prakrits, it places Sanskrit to an earlier stage of linguistic history.

The Punjabi language is a descendent of the Shauraseni Prakrit, a language of medieval northern India that was used primarily in drama and plays during the 3rd to 10th centuries. It is believed Punjabi developed as an evolution from the Shauraseni-Prakrit-Apabhramsha languages around the 11th century, with some influence from the pre-Indo-Aryan languages on its phonology and morphology.

Punjabi’s uniqueness lies in the use of tones by which words are differentiated that are otherwise the same. The language uses three contour tones; these tones change over the course of a word. Tones in Punjabi are realized over two successive syllables and are expressed phonetically as high rising-falling, mid rising-falling and very low rising.

Dialects of Punjabi
The key dialects of Punjabi in India include: Majhi, Doabi, Malwai and Powadhi that have regional Hindi/Sanskrit influence on the main Punjabi language. In Pakistan, the regional Sindhi language influences the main Punjabi language resulting in dialects such as Majhi, Pothohari, Hindko and Multani. Pakistani Punjabi also has Persian, Central Asian and Arabic vocabulary influences.

To write Punjabi, one can use three alphabets – namely, Gurmukhi, Shahmukhi and Devanagri to a lesser extent. The name Gurmukhi means “from the mouth of the Guru,” Shahmukhi translates to “from King’s mouth” and Devanagri implies “The container of divine light.”

Almost all the modern alphabets of Asia appear to be descendants of the Aramaic alphabet, which evolved from the Phoenician in the 7th century B.C. as the official alphabet of the Persian Empire. By the 5th and 6th century B.C., the Persian Empire (Cyrus and Darius the Greats) extended its rule into India’s Indus Valley, before the Greek Emperor Alexander the Great conquered that part of the world in the 4th century B.C.

Brahmi is thought to have been derived from the Aramaic or Phoenician alphabets; however, a few linguists have linked its roots to Indus and Harappa alphabets back to 2000 B.C. The earliest known inscriptions showing Brahmi alphabet are those from King Asoka time (about 300 B.C.); it was used by a number of languages, including Sanskrit and Prakrit.

Enriched by various local and neighborly influences, including the Kharosthi alphabet, Brahmi in due course replaced Kharosthi and became the single most important alphabet. The golden period of literary and cultural activity during the Gupta dynasty (4th and 5th century) further improved the Brahmi alphabet, making it more extensive and common throughout the Indian Subcontinent.

he Gurmukhi alphabet is derived from the Landa alphabet that has roots in the Brahmi alphabet. Punjabi is not the only language used in Sikh scriptures; the GGS has several other languages interspersed with Punjabi, including – Persian, Sanskrit, Brajbhasha and Khariboli – all written using the Gurmukhi alphabet though.

“Learn to Handwrite Punjabi Alphabets”

Modern Gurmukhi has 41 consonants (vianjan), nine vowel symbols (lāga mātrā), two symbols for nasal sounds (bindī and ṭippī), and one symbol which duplicates the sound of any consonant (addak). In addition, four conjuncts are used: three subjoined forms of the consonants Rara, Haha and Vava, and one half-form of Yayya. Use of the conjunct forms of Vava and Yayya is increasingly scarce in modern literature.

Pakistani Punjabis have been using the Shahmukhi alphabet from the times of the Muslim and later Mughal Empires in the region and thus the term “from King’s mouth.” Shahmukhi is a modification of the Persian-Nasta’liq alphabet – meaning, the direction of writing is right to left, while that for Gurmukhi is left to right.

Devanagri alphabet for Punjabi language is mostly used by Hindus living in the neighboring states of India’s Punjab, which include Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and parts of Rajasthan.

Modern Punjabi
Majhi dialect of Punjabi is common to both Pakistan and India and it is the basis for the bulk of spoken and written language since the 10th century. From the mid-19th century and to the more recent times, Punjabi, much like English, has spread around the world and incorporated/integrated local vocabulary of the regions where Punjabi emigrants have established themselves. While the language borrows heavily from Urdu, Hindi, Sanskrit, Persian and English, there are loanwords from Spanish and Dutch in the evolving Modern Punjabi. It is expected that the “Diaspora Punjabi” of the future will increasingly deviate from the Punjabi found on the Indian Subcontinent.