Naming conventions in Chitral

.. by A.M. Khan

Two years ago, we were four friends, having tea at Gulabad (Peshawar) went to a traditional teashop. For taking our order a young boy came, one of us who clearly explained the tea formula. He went back to an octogenarian with a surprise, sitting in the place of tea making, and told in Pashto that they ask for black tea, instead of sugar they asked for salt added on it. (تُروپ چائے) With a grin, looks back then he responded to the boy in Pashto “Qashqariaan di”— means they have come from Qashqaar.

Taking the names of torikhov and mulikhov in today’s Upper Chitral, John Biddulph, in his book notes that ‘these valleys form the region known as Kashkar bala’. Here the word Kashkar (Qashqaar) should not be confused with Kashghar of China.

The word Qashqaar, said to be used for the ‘geography of Chitral’ for being rugged, hard and unproductive. Arguing further on the word ‘Chitral’ the writer says that among the people of Kashkar there is a ‘curious inability to distinguish between the letters r and l’ as they pronounce and write the word either ‘Chitrar and Chitlal’. This curious inability might come to forth of no knowledge between the phonetics of Khowar and English at that time. It is settled about the region now became Chitral, which had been famous with the name of Qashqaar once in earlier part of history.

Interestingly, John Biddulph has even not tried to argue the diction and phonetics of the language which is called Khowar. There is as such no word in English sounds “ݯ” in Khowar. Still there is a deficit of this sort in natives. As some locals want to revert to pristine use of the words Chetrar or Chitrar instead of Chitral—as a colonial hangover. The fact is that both words che (in Chetrar) or chi (in Chitrar) don’t convey the sound of Khowar letter “ݯ” in no way, thus this paradox hinges on phonetics of Khowar and English.

From the same line of argument, the people living in this geographical region, now called Chitral, said to be Kho people and the language they use or speak in is Khowar— as the language of Kho people. It could be premised from the argument that Khowar is the language of the people predominate the region especially in torikhov, mulikhov, lotkhov and other parts of Qashqaar but not entirely in the whole region where about 11 other tongues are used as mother tongues as well as vehicles of communication. Indeed, Khowar is the lingue franca in Chitral. Thus, we may not name all the people living in Chitral Kho people in sociolinguistic naming perspective because it seems likely to have it comes from linguistic naming convention, and has been used for the people they used to speak in Khowar language.

There has also been a discussion in the past about the name of Chitral with reference to the word Khoistan and Kohistan. It was argued that Chitral being the living place of Kho people it is Khoistan— ‘land of Kho people’. (Hindukush Study Series., Vol.1, p.7) In contrast to this argument it was also said that Kohistan means a place of mountains, as meant to be the abode of mountainous people, not the land of Kho people. In fact, the former follows sociolinguistic naming convention and latter as a toponym. Both words represent the whole region not as a representative unit of people living in different geographical units or valleys and having different faiths, cultures, customs, festivities, languages.

Having been in the region inhabited by Dard people—said to be of Aryan origin, Chitral also continued to be called Dardistan. As G.S. Chhabra in his book “Advance Study in the History of Modern India” also includes Chitral in the region. On the other hand, Algernon Durand in his book writes that it is ‘misleading to call the area Dardistan for there is no race the title can be given’ falls short of the fact that it has been and continued to be called as Dardistan.

Research findings describe that the naming of a language or people has not been neutral as there always “exists a dialectical relationship with social cognition and social behavior” in which different (socio-economic, political and geostrategic) situations interplay to generate and designate a name for a place, language or people. As the case, may be of different varieties of local and colonial designations in Chitral including the word Chitral, Khowar and Kafirs. It could be a better proposition to understand this puzzle in this perspective also.

Both Major J. Biddulph and Colonel A. Durand were British agents and soldiers-turned authors have had their own (non-native) perspectives of naming seems to have without taking into account socially constitutive nature of naming convention, those of linguists and native perspective at the time in Chitral while writing the names of different places and languages.

The linguistic repertoires of the people, rather very few people at that time in Chitral were educated, and what non-natives had the view of them and the situation before them, whatsoever, were great catalyst in terms of whatever representation they made in their writings; and the social factors and natural conditions in different places or valleys where different linguistic communities may have had assigned something different to the linguistic productions at that time. As the case may be with what is now called Kho-war.

In fact, English language has no such dictions in phonetics to sound like the special alphabets in Khowar. It appears that this sound diction in naming the places and languages in Chitral, as standard, followed in which among others Kashkar and Chitral may have likely been named.

There is a barrier even now while writing the khowar word ݯھترار in English language as written Chitral—that we use a settled word, while writing in both English and Urdu. This mountainous region where mountain communities with different geographical region or valleys, faiths, cultures, customs, festivities, food, dress and living styles partly conditioned by environmental and topographic conditions and partly by non-native productions and representations. This is how demographic shift in the region and the valleys of Chitral evolves and diversity unfolds without indigenous wisdom.

The diversity of Chitral continues to making it a unique place where one can see natural beauty, different languages/tongues, cultures, music, and history of political economy before and after the partition of India. As a state, in the tribal belt, Chitral acceded with Pakistan in 1969. Chitral is rich differently to diverse people of interests in arts, literature, sociology, anthropology, politics and history.

This situation requires a reset and an attention on the linguistic and historical complexities in naming, generating and designating languages, people and places in Chitral independent from non-native, and linguistic tropes continued to unfold over the course of time in this mountainous region.  .. A.M Khan, Chitral, 10 Jun 2021
The writer is a researcher and critic, has an interest in the culture and history of Chitral    

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