Balti language

Last updated
Native to Baltistan and Ladakh
Region Pakistan, India
Ethnicity Balti
Native speakers
(379,000 in Pakistan (2016) Total users in all countries: 491,000. (including Purgi speakers) [1] cited 1992–2001) [2]
Perso-Arabic script and Tibetan script
Language codes
ISO 639-3 bft
Glottolog balt1258
ELP Balti
Rizwan, a speaker of Balti

Balti (Nastaʿlīq script: بلتی, Tibetan script: སྦལ་ཏི།, Wylie : sbal ti) is a Tibetic language natively spoken by the ethnic Balti people in the Baltistan region of Gilgit−Baltistan, Pakistan,Nubra Valley of the Leh district and in the Kargil district of Ladakh, India. [3] The language differs from Standard Tibetan; many sounds of Old Tibetan that were lost in Standard Tibetan are retained in the Balti language. It also has a simple pitch accent system only in multi-syllabic words [4] while Standard Tibetan has a complex and distinct pitch system that includes tone contour.


Demographics and distribution

Balti is spoken in most parts of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan, Kargil and Nubra Ladakh in India. According to the Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts, Balti is mostly spoken in Skardu, Shigar, Gultari, Ghanche, Roundu and Kharmang parts of Gilgit-Baltistan. [5] In the twin districts of Ladakh region (Kargil and Leh) it is spoken in Kargil city and its surrounding villages like Hardass, Lato, Karkitchhoo and Balti Bazar and in Leh – Turtuk, Bogdang, Tyakshi including Leh city and nearby villages. Balti language is also spoken by Balti immigrants in Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Quetta and other cities of Pakistan. In India it is spoken in Dehradun, Nainital, Ambari, Shimla and other cities of Northern India by immigrants who have migrated from Baltistan, Kargil, and Nubra before the partition of India and Pakistan. [6]

Classification and Dialects

Historically, Buddhists in Leh refer to all Muslims in Ladakh as Balti. Balti language has four variants or dialects. Despite differentiation in pronunciation of vocabularies they are mutually intelligible for example Yuq is pronounced as Juq in the Purgi dialect of Kharmang and Kargil. Similarly for Milk Oma is pronounced in eastern Chorbat Nubra and Khaplu and Kharmang Kargil's Purgi dialect while Ona is pronounced in the western dialect of Skardu, Shigar and Rondu valley. Four variants or dialects of Balti language are:

  1. Eastern dialect of Chorbat and Nubra valley
  2. Central dialect of Khaplu valley
  3. Western dialect of Skardu, Shigar and Rondu.
  4. Southern dialect of Upper Kharmang and Kargil also called Purgi dialect.

[7] [8]

Caption text
EnglishEastern Nubra/Chorbat DialectCentral Khaplu DialectWestern Skardu DialectSouthern Purgi Dialect



Labial Dental/
Retroflex Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Stop voiceless ptʈckq
aspirated ʈʰ
voiced bdɖɟɡɢ
Affricate voiceless t͡ʃ
aspirated t͡ʃʰ
voiced d͡ʒ
Fricative voiceless s(ʂ)ʃχh
voiced zʒ
Nasal mnɲŋ
Tap ɽ
Lateral plainl(ɭ)
murmured ()
Approximant wj


Front Central Back
Close iu
Mid eəo
Open (a)ɑ


The predominant writing system currently in use for Balti is the Perso-Arabic script, although there have been attempts to revive the Tibetan script, which was used between the 8th and the 16th centuries. [10] Additionally, there are two, nowadays possibly extinct, indigenous writing systems [11] and there have been proposals for the adoption of Roman [12] as well as Devanagari-based orthographies [13] that were adjusted for writing Balti by the Central Institute of Indian Languages in the 1970s. [14]

The main script for writing Balti is the local adaptation of the Tibetan script which is called Yige in Baltiyul Baltistan,[ contradictory ] but it is often written in the Persian alphabet, especially within Pakistan.

In 1985, Abadi added four new letters to the Tibetan script and seven new letters to the Persian script to adapt both of them according to the need of the Balti language. Two of the four added letters now stand included in the Tibetan Unicode alphabet.

Balti was written with a version of the Tibetan script from 727 AD, when Baltistan was conquered by Tibetans, until the last quarter of the 14th century, when the Baltis converted to Islam. [14] Since then, Persian script replaced the Tibetan script, but the former had no letters for seven Balti sounds and was in vogue in spite of the fact that it was defective. Adding the seven new letters has now made it a complete script for Balti.

Recently, a number of Balti scholars and social activists have attempted to promote the use of the Tibetan Balti or "Yige" alphabet [14] with the aim of helping to preserve indigenous Balti and Ladakhi culture and ethnic identity. Following a request from this community, the September 2006 Tokyo meeting of ISO/IEC 10646 WG2 agreed to encode two characters which are invented by Abadi (U+0F6B TIBETAN LETTER KKA and TIBETAN U+0F6C LETTER RRA) in the ISO 10646 and Unicode standards in order to support rendering Urdu loanwords present in modern Balti using the Yige alphabet.

Yige Alphabet

Additional Balti Yige LetterRomanization IPA
q /q/
ɽ /ɽ/
ཁ༹x /χ/
ག༹ɣ /ʁ/

Perso-Arabic Alphabet

Additional Balti Perso-Arabic Letter IPA
ڃ /ʒ/
ڇ /ʈʂ/
ژ /ts/
ڗ /dz/
ݜ /ʂ/
کٔ /ɕ/
ݨ /ŋ/
ݩ /ɲ/


Since Pakistan gained control of the region in 1948, Urdu words have been introduced into local dialects and languages, including Balti. In modern times, Balti has no native names or vocabulary for dozens of newly invented and introduced things; instead, Urdu and English words are being used in Balti.

Balti has retained many honorific words that are characteristic of Tibetan dialects and many other languages.

Below are a few examples:

Ordinary BaltiText WritingHonorificLadakhiMeaning
KakaککاKachoAchoBrother (elder)
BustringبُسترنگZungNamaWoman / Wife
MomoموموJangmochoAjangMaternal uncle
AsheاشےAshchoSingmoSister (elder)
Ngid tongنِت تونگghzim tongNgid tongSleep (go to)


No prose literature except proverb collections have been found written in Balti.[ citation needed ] Some epics and sagas appear in oral literature such as the Epic of King Gesar , and the stories of rgya lu cho lo bzang and rgya lu sras bu. All other literature is in verse. Balti literature has adopted numerous Persian styles of verse and vocables which amplify the beauty and melody of its poetry.

Nearly all the languages and dialects of the mountain region in the north of Pakistan such as Pashto, Khowar and Shina are Indo-Aryan or Iranic languages, but Balti is one of the Sino-Tibetan languages. As such, it has nothing in common with neighboring languages except some loanwords absorbed as a result of linguistic contact. Balti and Ladakhi are closely related.

The major issue facing the development of Balti literature is its centuries-long isolation from Tibet, owing to political divisions and strong religious differences and even from its immediate neighbor Ladakh for the last 50 years. Separated from its linguistic kin, Balti is under pressure from more dominant languages such as Urdu. This is compounded by the lack of a suitable means of transcribing the language following the abandonment of its original Tibetan script. The Baltis do not have the awareness to revive their original script and there is no institution that could restore it and persuade the people to use it again.[ citation needed ] Even if the script is revived, it would need modification to express certain Urdu phonemes that occur in common loanwords within Balti.

Examples of poetry:

Youq fangsay thalang paqzi na mandoq na mabour na
Na drolbi laming yani si soq fangse chi thobtook
Nasir Karimi

See also

Related Research Articles

Baltistan Region of Pakistani-administered Kashmir

Baltistan, also known as Baltiyul or Little Tibet, is a mountainous region in Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan-administered Kashmir. It is located near the Karakoram mountains just south of K2, and borders Gilgit to the west, China's Xinjiang to the north, Ladakh to the southeast, and the Kashmir Valley to the southwest. Its average altitude is over 3,350 metres (10,990 ft).

Kargil district District of Ladakh in India

Kargil district is a district in Ladakh, a region administered by India as a union territory. It spans the entire length of Ladakh in the north–south direction, with Jammu and Kashmir to the west, the Leh district to the east, the Pakistan-administered region of Gilgit–Baltistan to the north and Himachal Pradesh to the south. Encompassing two historical regions known as Purig and Zanskar, the district lies to the northwest of the Great Himalayan range and encompasses the majority of the Zanskar Range. Its population inhabits the river valleys of the Dras, Suru, Kartse, Wakha, and Zanskar rivers.

Ladakhi language Tibetic language spoken in the Ladakh, India

The Ladakhi language is a Tibetic language spoken in Ladakh, a region administered by India as a union territory. It is the predominant language in the Buddhist-dominated district of Leh. Though a member of the Tibetic family, Ladakhi is not mutually intelligible with Standard Tibetan.

Skardu City in Gilgit−Baltistan, Pakistan

Skardu is a city located in Gilgit−Baltistan, Pakistan, and serves as the capital of the Skardu District. Skardu is situated at an elevation of nearly 2,500 metres in the Skardu Valley, at the confluence of the Indus and Shigar Rivers. The city is an important gateway to the eight-thousanders of the nearby Karakoram mountain range. The Indus River running through the region separates the Karakoram from the Himalayas.

Balti people Ethnic group in Pakistan and India

The Balti people or Baltis are an ethnic group of Dardic-admixed Tibetan descent who are native to the Pakistani-administered territory of Gilgit−Baltistan. They are also found in the Indian-administered territory of Ladakh—predominantly in the Kargil district with smaller concentrations present in the Leh district. Outside of the greater Kashmir region, Baltis are scattered throughout Pakistan, with the majority inhabiting prominent urban centres such as Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Purgi is the southern dialect of Balti language. Balti is a Tibetic language spoken in parts of the Indian union territory of Ladakh, Baltistan of Pakistan's Gilgit-Baltistan territory. Most of them are Shia Muslims by religion although significant Sunni Muslims and a small minority of Buddhists and Bön followers reside in areas like Fokar valley, Mulbekh, Wakha. Like the Balti, they speak an archaic Tibetan dialect closely related to Balti and Ladakhi. Purki is more close to Balti than Ladakhi, so there are different opinions among linguists in considering Purki and Balti as different languages or simply different varieties of the same language.

Shina language Language from the Dardic sub-group of the Indo-Aryan languages family spoken by the Shina people, living in Kashmir region in Pakistan and India

Shina is a language from the Dardic sub-group of the Indo-Aryan family spoken by the Shina people, a plurality of the people in Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral of Pakistan and a number of people in Ladakh, India, as well as in pockets in Jammu and Kashmir, India, such as in Gurez and Chanderkot.

Kargil Town in Ladakh, India

Kargil is a town in Kargil district and the joint capital of the union territory of Ladakh. Kargil is the second largest town in Ladakh after Leh. It is located 204 km to the east of Srinagar and 234 km west of Leh to the east. Kargil is the centre of the Suru River valley, historically known as Purig.

Ghanche District District of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan

The Ghanche District is the easternmost district of the 14 districts of Pakistan-administered terrirory of Gilgit-Baltistan. Pakistan Army's brigade headquarters is located at Goma, Ghanche district. Pakistan Army's Gayari Sector Battalion Headquarters is 20 miles (32 km) west of Siachen Glacier. With its administrative headquarters in the historic city of Khaplu, the Ghanche District is famous as a tourist destination for its outstanding scenery and high altitude landscapes.

Shingo River River in Pakistan

The Shingo River is a tributary of the Indus River, and flows through Gilgit-Baltistan and Kargil regions.

Gilgit-Baltistan Region administered by Pakistan

Gilgit-Baltistan, formerly known as the Northern Areas, is a region administered by Pakistan as an administrative territory, and constitutes the northern portion of the larger Kashmir region, which has been the subject of a dispute between India and Pakistan since 1947, and between India and China since somewhat later. It is the northernmost area administered by Pakistan. It borders Azad Kashmir to the south, the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to the west, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan to the north, the Xinjiang region of China, to the east and northeast, and the Indian-administered union territories Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh to the southeast.

Turtuk Village in Ladakh, India

Turtuk is a village in the union territory of Ladakh, India. One of the northernmost villages in the country, Turtuk is situated in the Leh district of the Nubra Valley. It is 205 km from Leh, the district headquarters, and 2.5 km from the Line of Control between India and Pakistan. Turtuk is also the headquarters of the eponymous community development block.

Hassanabad, Chorbat Place in Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan

Hassanabad is a village in Sub-Division Chorbat, Ghangche District of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, lying 141 kilometres (88 mi) east of Skardu, near the border of India.

Chorbat Valley Valley in Gilgit-Baltistan & Ladakh, Pakistan & India

Chorbat Valley is a section of the Shyok river valley divided between Pakistan-administered Gilgit-Baltistan and Indian-administered Ladakh. The Pakistan-administered portion is in the Khaplu tehsil, Ghanche District of Gilgit–Baltistan and the Indian-administered portion is in the Nubra tehsil, Leh district of Ladakh. Chorbat stretches from the abandoned village of Khaplu to the Bogdang village of Nubra.

Ali Sher Khan Anchan Balti king

Ali Sher Khan Anchan (1590-1625) was a famous Balti king. He was a Maqpon dynasty king who unified Baltistan and expanded its frontiers to Ladakh and western Tibet in the east, and in the west to the borders of Ghizar and Chitral.

Kharmang Valley Place in Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan

The Kharmang Valley, also known as Kartaksho is one of five main valleys in the Gilgit Baltistan region of Pakistan. The area became a district in 2015, with temporary headquarters at Tolti. The valley sits about 120 kilometres (75 mi) from Skardu.

Kharmang District Administrative unit of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan

The Kharmang District is one of the 14 districts of Pakistan-administered territory of Gilgit-Baltistan, bounded on the north by the Skardu District, on the north-east by the Ghanche District, on the south by the Kargil District and the Leh District of Indian-administered Ladakh, and on the west by the Astore District. Its district headquarters is at Tolti. Located in the district is the Kharmang Valley, which is one of the five main valleys in the Baltistan Division.

Skardu–Kargil Road

The Skardu–Kargil Road is 126 km provincial highway in the Pakistan-administered region of Gilgit-Baltistan running from Skardu, via Kharmang, to the Line of Control with Indian-administered Kashmir. The original road continued on to Kargil, but has been closed down since 1948.

The Ladakhi–Balti languages or Western Archaic Tibetan languages are a subgroup of the Tibetic languages spoken in the Ladakh region of India and in the Gilgit-Baltistan territory of Pakistan. Except Balti and Purgi others lack mutual intelligibility and are considered separate languages by their speakers. The group includes:

Siksa, Chorbat Village in Gilgit Baltistan, Pakistan

Siksa is a village in the Chorbat Valley, Ghanche District of Gilgit-Baltistan, Pakistan, lying 150 kilometres (93 mi) east of Skardu, near the border of Pakistan and India at an elevation of 2,725 metres (8,940 ft).


  1. "ethnologies of world language".
  2. Balti at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
  3. Census of India, 1961: Jammu and Kashmir. Registrar General and Census Commissioner of India. 1961. p. 357.
  4. Sprigg, R. K. (1966). "Lepcha and Balti Tibetan: Tonal or Non-Tonal Languages?". Asia Major. 12: 185–201.
  5. . Retrieved 2021-03-17.Missing or empty |title= (help)
  6. "The Curious Case Of The Baltis Of Dehradun" . Retrieved 22 March 2021.
  7. "Balti: Protecting the language".
  8. "Politicisation of Balti Language in Kargil".
  9. 1 2 Sharma, D. D. (2004). Balti. Tribal Languages of Ladakh Part III: A descriptive Grammar of Purki and Balti: New Delhi, India: Mittal Publications. pp. 141–243.
  10. Bashir 2016, pp. 808–09.
  11. Pandey 2010.
  12. Bashir 2016, p. 808.
  13. Pandey 2010, p. 1.
  14. 1 2 3 Füstumum, Michael Peter. "Balti". Omniglot: The online encyclopedia of writing systems and languages. Retrieved 2020-05-23.