By Prof. Carina Jahani
The Balochi language is spoken in the province of Balochistan in south-western Pakistan, and in the province of Sistan and Balochistan in south-eastern Iran. It is also spoken by smaller populations in Punjab and Sindh and by a large number of people in Karachi, as well as by Baloch who have settled in the north-eastern provinces of Iran, including Khorasan and Golestan.
It is also the language of smaller communities in Afghanistan (particularly in the province ofNimruz), in the Gulf States (especially in Oman and the United Arab Emirates), in the Mari region of Turkmenistan, in India, in East Africa, and nowadays also in North America, Europe and Australia.
It is difficult to estimate the total number of Balochi speakers. Many Baloch, particularly in areas bordering Indian languages (in Punjab and Sindh) and Persian (in the western parts of the Balochi-speaking areas in Iran and in Khorasan and Golestan), identify themselves as Baloch but no longer speak the language. The same is true of many Baloch in East Africa and on the Arabian Peninsula, particularly after having lived there for generations. The Baloch in Turkmenistan,however, have retained their language well, mainly owing to the fact that they have maintained a traditional lifestyle of agriculture and pastoralism and have, on the whole, a low level of education.
Another reason that it is difficult to give any certain figures for Balochi speakers is that first and second languages are not always recorded in censuses carried out in the countries where Balochi is spoken. A serious attempt at estimating the total number of Balochi speakers was done in the mid-1980s11 with about 5 million as an approximate grand total. This figure has been questioned by some Baloch as unreasonably low.
There is, indeed, a tendency on the part of central authorities to underestimate the number of members of ethnic minorities, and this may show up in any figures based on official statistics. The total number ofspeakers of Balochi, as estimated in the Ethnologue12 (divided between Eastern,Southern and Western Balochi speakers) amounts to 7 million. In view of all this, and the fact that the birth rate in the province of Sistan and Balochistan in Iranis the highest in the country, and in Pakistan about average, the total number of Balochi speakers probably amounts to between 8 and 10 million, or even more.
Balochi is neither an official language nor a language of education in any of the countries where it is spoken. This is reflected, for example, in the lack of a standard written norm for Balochi.
There is also a dispute about which dialect, or dialects, ought to be the basis of a literary language. On the whole, writing and reading Balochi is at the moment an exclusive activity carried out by a small number of persons belonging to the Balochi literary elite, mainly in Pakistan.
Thus, Balochi is, as a minority language, largely restricted to traditional and informal domains such as the family, the neighbourhood, and traditional occupations (e.g. pastoralism and agriculture). A career outside these traditional sectors is linked to a great extent to higher education and a good command of
the national language. Efforts to preserve and promote the Balochi language are mainly of an unofficial character and based on private initiatives.
However, there is a growing concern among the Baloch that their language may well be lost within a few generations if it does not develop a written standard.
[To read full text of Prof. Carina Jahani’s presentation at a conference in London organized by the Baloch Cultural Society, please click here.]