About the Project

Dr. Sadaf Munshi recording traditional songs in Hundur (Pakistan)
Dr. Sadaf Munshi recording traditional songs in Hundur (Pakistan)

This is an ongoing project which is being conducted by Dr. Sadaf Munshi of the University of North Texas. The project aims to create a linguistically analysed and searchable archive of annotated Burushaski texts. Burushaski is a linguistic isolate (i.e., it is unrelated to or unlike any known language of the world), spoken in the Hunza, Nagar and Yasin valleys in the Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan, and (by a small number of people) in Srinagar, the summer capital of the Indian administered state of Jammu & Kashmir. The language is primarily preserved orally and literacy in the first language is practically non-existent. Because the speakers are largely multilingual, rapidly shifting to other dominant languages, such as Urdu, the survival of the different varieties of Burushaski, therefore, is greatly threatened. The language has a very rich story-telling tradition which is yet to be fully explored.

Naseema Ali and Sadaf Munshi
Naseema Ali (R) with Sadaf Munshi

Burushaski has been a language of great fascination for many linguists and scholars across the world. Despite being a relatively small number of speakers, the Burushos (members of the Burushaski speech community) of Srinagar constitute a sociolinguistic community that fulfills all contemporary definitions of a “speech community” maintaining a separate identity – social and linguistic within the broad Kashmiri speaking community. My first fieldtrip to Srinagar was in summer 2003 as a doctoral student conducting a pilot study which was supported by a $3000 fellowship from the University of Texas at Austin. I received a $12,000 NSF Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant which helped me conduct my next, eight-month long fieldtrip to Srinagar in May 2004. During these two fieldtrips I collected a large corpus of data in Srinagar. With the help of Raja Majid, I was able to meet Raja Safdar Ali Khan (‘Masterji’) who proved to be one of the most important contributors to my work on Burushaski, especially in those earlier years of my work when I was a stranger to the community, and a liaison to link me with some of the best speakers of the language in Srinagar.