Languages Of Punjab


Punjab, northwestern India, is bounded on the west by Pakistan, on the north by Jammu and Kashmir, on the north east by Himachal Pradesh and on the south by Haryana and Rajasthan. Physically, the state may be divided into two parts, sub Shivalik strip and Sutlej-Ghaggar Plain. The sub-Shivalik strip covers the upper portion of Ropar, Hoshiarpur and Gurdaspur districts. The Sutlej-Ghaggar Plain embraces the other districts of the Punjab. Most of the Punjab is an alluvial plain, bounded by mountains to the North. Despite its dry conditions, it is a rich agricultural area due to the extensive irrigation made possible by the great rivers. The Indian Punjab is the wealthiest state in the country per capita, with most of the revenue generated from agriculture.

The name “Punjab” means “land of five rivers” and derives from the Persian words ‘panj,’ meaning five, and ‘aab,’ meaning water. The rivers, tributaries of the Indus River, are the Beas, Chenab, Jhelum, Ravi, and Sutlej. The five rivers, now divided between India and Pakistan. Area of Punjab that is between rivers of Beas and Satluj is called Doaba, major cities in this part of punjab are Jalandhar, Hoshiarpur and Nawan Shahr. Majha is between Beus and Chenab and on both sides of Ravi, this part is called the heart of Punjab and cities include Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Faridkot and Ferozepur. Area of Malwa is southern Punjab facing Rajasthan and East of river Beus, cities include Ludhiana, Patiala, Ambala, Karnal, Sangrur, Malerkotla, Shahabad, and Abohar.


Punjabi is a language so deeply enriched with elegance that it has earned the status of eleventh most popular language of the world. It is also considered to be an integral part of Indo-Aryan language family. Quite expectedly, Punjabi has the official language status in Punjab while the other northern India states such as Haryana and Delhi give it the rank of second official language. In addition, there are multitudes of Punjabi speakers in adjoining regions like Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, and Rajasthan etc. who use it to converse in their own dialect, so beautifully that you are left mesmerized.

Punjabi, being rich in literature, has gained plenty of acknowledgements in the world arena too. Most of the religious and spiritual literary works are being translated in Punjabi language, which has about 30 million speakers in India. Like any other Indian language, its dialect also changes every few hundred kilometers. Some commonly known dialects include

  • Majhi: The principle dialect of Punjabi, it originated from the Majha region of the Punjab. Most people living in the central part of Pakistani Punjab district and around Amritsar and Gurdaspur district of India speak Majhi and are referred as Majhis. This dialect in itself has been around since centuries and those who speak it, take pride in their conversation.
  • Doabi: Another popular Punjabi dialect, Doabi is spoken in Doab region of India. The actual meaning of the word “Do Aabi” is “the land between two rivers” and quite expectedly, it is spoken as a place that falls between two rivers – Beas and Satluj. Kapurthala, Jalandhar, Nawanshahr and Hoshiarpur are the main districts where Doabi is regularly spoken.
  • Malwai: Lying in the west-central northern India, the Malwa region occupies a special place in the heart of every Punjabi. Malwai is a local dialect that has evolved over the centuries to the point today that most folk songs are sung in this dialect of Punjabi.
  • Powadhi: Another regular dialect spoken in Eastern Punjab
  • Pahari: Spoken in the hilly region of the Indian sub-continent. Pahari is widely spoken in Nepal, India and Pakistan. This is the Punjabi dialect of the people of the Mountains.
  • Kangri: Another language of people from mountains, this along with Dogri has long been made part of the Pahari Group.
  • Dogri: A very melodious localization of Punjabi language, Dogri is spoken by the Dogras in India and Pakistan.
  • Wajeerawadi: Common in Pakistan.
  • Multani: Language of the traders from Eastern Punjab of Pakistan.
  • Baar di Boli: Implying foreign influence on language, which has evolved mostly at the regions of United Kingdom and Canada. Though it has numerous foreign words, the essence of the language keeps it ever sweet and lovely.
  • Bhawalpuri: Widely accepted local dialect in Bhawalpur and adjoining areas. It sounds highly similar to Jangli.
  • Thali: Adopted by the people living in deserts of southern Punjab.
  • Thalochri: Another favorite dialect of the desert people from southern Punjab.
  • Chakwali:  Finds users in the Chakwal and adjoin area. This dialect is spoken by very few people in Sahiwal region.

Only few linguists are now available all across India claiming to understand various dialects such as Multani, Dogri, Hindko, Kangri, Awankari, Doabi, Malwai, Lahori, Malwai , , Baar di Boli, Bhawalpuri, Bherochi, Rathi, Pahari, Powadhi, Doabi, Chambiali, Chenavri, Chakwali, Chacchi, Dhani, Kangri, Dogri, Ghebi , Lahore-gujranwala, Wajeerawadi, Jangli, Jatki, Multani, Thalochri, Thali, Kachi , Lubanki, Hindko, Swaen , Punchi Gojri, and Pothohari/Pindiwali and Siraiki in their purest forms.

Punjabi is widely considered to be a `sister language` of Sindhi. It employs numerous pitch variants that are highly distinguishable with similar words used in Sindhi. Derived from the state’s name of Punjab, its history goes back as far as 2500 years. However, the language spoken and understood today is the fusion of what its ancient counterparts looked like. There aren’t many places left in cities where you’ll find people conversing completely in Punjabi. Like any other language, it has also become a mix of convenience and trendiness. Children today take much pride in learning foreign languages rather than their own mother tongue and had it not been made compulsory in schools to keep Punjabi as a regular subject, many wouldn’t have learnt to write it also.

In fact immigrants staying at countries like Canada, USA, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Singapore speak it much better than those living in India. Though number of people speaking Punjabi as a second language is relatively small, most who speak Hindi or Urdu can understand the common dialects of Punjabi without much effort.

Punjabi Language History

Punjabi is considered to be an ancient language. The exact date when it started cannot be estimated but the ancestors of the Punjabis have been known to have inhabited the Indus Valley as far back as 2500 BC.

Punjabi or Panjabi  in Gurmukhi,  پنجابی  in Shahmukhi, Pañjābī in transliteration) is an Indo-Aryan language spoken or understood by the Punjabi people in India, Pakistan and other parts of the world by over 150 million people.

It is an Indo-European language within the Indic branch of the Indo-Iranian subfamily. The language , in its structure, shows sign of dravadian and proto dravadian influences and also seems to be a sister language to Sindhi and Serieki. Unusually for an Indo-European language, Punjabi is tonal; the tones arose as a reinterpretation of different consonant series in terms of pitch. In terms of morphological complexity, it is an agglutinative language (also very unusual for an Indo-European language, most of which are inflecting) and words are usually ordered ‘Subject Object Verb’.

Western and Eastern Punjabi

Many sources subdivide the Punjabi language into Western Punjabi or Lahndi, and Eastern Punjabi. They tend to do so based on GA Grierson’s Linguistic Survey of India. The decision to divide the language has been controversial. The exact division of the language and even the legitimacy of such a division is disputed.

The dialect spoken in central Punjab — on both the Indian and Pakistani side — is Majhi. Grierson defined Western Punjabi as being west of a line running north-south from Montgomery and Gujranwala districts. This is well within present day Pakistan. Contrary to this, Ethnologue has come to classify Lahndi as the dialect of Punjabi spoken in all of Pakistan.


Modern Punjabi vocabulary has been influenced by other languages, including Urdu, Hindi, Persian, Arabic, Sanskrit and English.

Much like English, Punjabi has moved around the world and developed local forms by integrating local vocabulary. While most loanwords come from Urdu, Hindi, Persian and English, Punjabi emigrants around the world have integrated terms from such languages as Spanish and Dutch. A distinctive “Diaspora Punjabi” is thus emerging. As there is no formal consensus over vocabulary and spelling in Punjabi, it is likely that Diaspora Punjabi will increasingly deviate from the forms found on the Indian Subcontinent in the future.

Writing system

There are several different scripts used for writing the Punjabi language, depending on the region and the dialect spoken, as well as the religion of the speaker. The script used for writing Punjabi in the Punjab province of Pakistan is known as Shahmukhi (from the mouth of the Kings) which is a modified version of Persian-Nasta’liq script. Sikhs and others in the Indian state of Punjab tend to use the Gurmukhi (from the mouth of the Gurus) script. Hindus, and those living in neighboring states such as Haryana and Himachal Pradesh sometimes use the Devanagari script. Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi scripts are the most commonly used for writing Punjabi and are considered the official scripts of the language.