Asia

Badeshi: Only three people speak this 'extinct' language

The three speakers of Badeshi
Image caption The men believe the language will end when they die

Would you like to learn a few words of a language only three people in the world speak?

Badeshi used to be spoken widely in a remote snow-clad valley, deep in the mountains of northern Pakistan.

But it is now considered extinct.

Ethnologue, which lists all of the world's languages, says it has had no known speakers for three or more generations.

But in the Bishigram Valley, we found three old men who can still speak in Badeshi. You can hear them in the video below.

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Media captionThe dying language only three people can speak

"A generation ago, Badeshi was spoken in the entire village", says Rahim Gul. He doesn't know how old he is, but looks over 70.

"But then we brought women from other villages [for marriage] who spoke Torwali language. Their children spoke in their mother tongue, so our language started dying out."

Torwali is the dominant language in the area, which is itself under pressure from Pashto, but has pushed Badeshi to the brink in this valley.

"Now our children and their children speak Torwali," said Said Gul, Rahim Gul's first cousin. "So who should we speak our own language with?"

Said Gul also doesn't know his own age. When he said he was 40, somebody corrected him. "It's more like 80!" Said Gul quickly shot back, "No, may be 50, but not 80!"

There are no job opportunities in the area, so these men have spent a lot of time in touristy Swat District, where they have picked up the Pashto language, and that is mainly how they communicate.

'I do regret it'

Because of a lack of opportunities to use Badeshi, over the decades even these three men have started forgetting the language.

While they were talking in Badeshi, Rahim Gul and Said Gul regularly forgot a word or two, and could only remember after prodding from the others.

Rahim Gul has a son, who has five children of his own, but all of them speak Torwali.

"My mother was a Torwali speaker, so my parents didn't speak any Badeshi in the house. I didn't get a chance to pick it up in childhood. I know a few words, but don't know the language. All my children speak Torwali.

"I do regret it, but now that I'm 32 there is no chance I can learn Badeshi. I'm very sad at the prospect that this language will die out with my father."

Sagar Zaman is a linguist affiliated with the Forum for Language Initiative, a non-governmental organisation dedicated to the promotion and preservation of endangered languages of Pakistan.

"I travelled to this valley three times, but the inhabitants were reluctant to speak this language in front of me," he says.

"Other linguists and I were able to collect a hundred or so words which suggested that this language belongs to Indo-Aryan sub family of languages."

Zaman Sagar says Torwali and Pashto speakers look down upon Badeshi, so there is a stigma attached to speaking it.

Perhaps it's too late to save Badeshi, but at the very least, you can learn a few words to keep the memory of the language alive:

  • Meen naao Rahim Gul thi - My name is Rahim Gul
  • Meen Badeshi jibe aasa - I speak Badeshi
  • Theen haal khale thi? - How do you do?
  • May grot khekti - I have eaten
  • Ishu kaale heem kam ikthi - There is not much snowfall this year

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