Ashok R. Kelkar Pran Nath Trisal





0.                  Introduction

1.            The inventory of phonemes

2.            The contrasts illustrated

3.            Noteworthy phonetic correlations

4.            Some noteworthy distributional limitations

5.            Orthographic recommendations

0.      Kashmiri is an Indo-Iranian language2 spoken by about 1.5 million persons3 in the Kashmir Valley area of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.

At various times it has been reduced to writing in the Śāradā, the Devānagarī the Gurumukth, and the Perso-Arabic scripts (the first three being closely related). Today Kashmiri stands recognized in the language schedule of the Constitution of India and is gradually coming into its own. It is being used on the radio, from the platform, and on the stage. It can boast of an earlier literature, and even today books of fiction and poetry and magazines (though no newspapers) are being published in the Perso-Arabic script. However, Kashmiri speakers still favour Urdu as a language of literary and public life: it is the official language of the State.

Although quite a few modern descriptions of Kashmiri phonology and phonetics4 are available, it was decided that this study is best presented as a fresh start for what it is worth. So no attempt will be made to correlate our findings with the previous results and explain the differences.

The variety of Kashmiri described here is the one used at the present by educated people in Srinagar, the capital city.5 To its speakers the language is known as /kә:ur/. The description is confined to the phonologic word bounded by what will presumably turn out to be pus junctures in the framework of the analysis of the complete utterance.6

1. Kashmiri has the following segmental phonemes.


The vowel list should be augmented with /:/ which does not fit in and which occurs as a free variant of / ә: / in English loanwords.

In addition, we have a co articulation phoneme, nasalization /~/, which occurs with vowels. There are no accentual contrasts within a phonologic word. Phonetically, the accent always falls on the first syllable.7




Apical retroflex

Alveolar aibilant

Palatal sibilant



Plosive voiceless unaspirated





















Voiced unasp.

Nasal voiced















Fricative vls

Lateral voiced

Tremulant voiced

Friction vocoid
















Note that / c ch З/ and /č čh ǯ / are all affricates homorganic with /s/ and / / respectively.

Semivowels and vowels:



Front unrounded

Non-front unrounded

Back rounded

Semi vowel


























2. The following sets cover most initial contrasts involving consonants and semivowels:

/par/ mallet used by a woodcutter, /phar/ steal (vb.), 8 /bar/ door, /mar/ die (vb.)

/tar/ seedling, sprout, /thar/ back (of the body), /dar/ quantity weighed at a time, /nar/ male; male human being.

/lar/ strand of the Hindu sacred thread; side (of the body), Hindi karat, /ral/ mix (vb. intransitive)

/tar/ idle talk, boast, /thari/ drink made from bhang, dar fear (vb.).


/car/ bedbug, /čhal/ trick (sb.), /zar/ deafness, /sar/ lake (used especially with proper names)

/čar/ prattle (sb.), /čhar/ urinate, defecate (vb.), /ǯal/ quick, /ar/ longing, wish; despair.

/kar/ do (vb.) ; trunk (of an elephant), /khar/ ass; be unpleasant (vb.).

/gar/ inflammatory swelling of a lymph gland.

/har/ quarrel (sb.), /ial/ feminine gesture of turning the head as a sign of disapproval, copyness, etc., /ar/ sate of being twisted, /al/ gourd, pumpkin.

Similarly, for contrasts in the final position:

/kap/ cup, / kaph / foam at the lips; cuff (of a shirt), /tab/ chronic fever, /tam/ asthma.

/kat/ spin (vb). (thread), /kath / thing being talked or thought about, Hindi bāt, /

/kad / mans stature, height, /kan/ ear.

/kal/ yearing, / kar / do (vb.) : trunk (of an elephant),

/hat/ move aside or back (vb.), / kath / sheep / ka / take out (vb.)

/pac/ believe (vb) /kach / armpit, /haЗ / term of respectful address to a Muslim, /kas/ tighten (vb.)

khač/ crowd (sb.), / kačh/ wild weed, /haǯ/ pilgrimage to Mecca, / ka / draw (in smoking tobacco) (sb.); distance to which something is thrown.

/thank/ become tired (vb.), thakh/ pause for taking rest (sb.), /chag/ drive away (vb.) (crowd, cattle).

/ka:h. / eleven. / na / pipe of a hookah, na/ nine,/ ma: / dont : Hindi mat.

To the foregoing we may add the following airs; /ci̯aph/ evade (vb.). /čaph/ a telling upon, Hindi cuglī. / pәci / they believed. / pәč / she walked, / maci / mad (fem. sg. dative), / mači / earthen pots.

The following set covers vowel contrasts in final closed syllables:

/khir/ sweetened and thickened milk, /ti:r/ feather; arrow, / kir/ cracking sound, / k ɨ:r/ wicked (fem. sg.), / khur / tangle (sb.), / ku:r / daughter, / khe / bundle (of wool, currency notes), / khe:1 / play (sb.), /kar / beam, (of a house). / kә:r / nape, / kor / bracelet, /ko:r/ where?

/kar/ do (vb.); trunk (of an elephant), / ka:r / work (Sb.), / ba:1/ ball (for playing), be: ~th ba:h / bat (for playing).

The following set covers contrasts between semivowels and high vowels finally after a consonant; /guri̯/ horses, /guri/ mares, /guri:/ horses alone, gurɨ:/ mare,/ house,anu: / tell (2nd masc. fem,. pl imperative), / nečuṷ/ son. / gur / horse.

Finally, contrasts involving nasalization may be illustrated in: / : / the cry of a cow or a calf, /pa:m/ taunt (sb.), /pa:n / body, / pata: / knowledge; whereabouts, address, / k:h / someone, /ka:h / eleven.

3. All consonants (especially /nlr/) are palatalized before / ̯ i: e e:/ (especially before /, in wHich case after vowels they also have a patal vocalic on-glide), as in: / mec̯/ earth clay (ablative), /maci/ mad (fem. sg. dative). čəni/ your (masc. pl. concord), /ča:ni/ your (fem. pl. concord) čə:ni/ your (fem. sg. concord) alone, /neču/son/ ane:/ tell (2 nd fem. sg. imperative).


/The palatal sibilants (/č čh /) invariably have a palatal vocalic off-glide.

All consonants (especially / k, kh g/) are labiovelarized before / u u: / a, as in: /khar/ foot, /gur / horse, /gu:r / milkman.

All aspirated consonants are slightly pre aspirated finally. The phoneme /ph/ has a variant (f) in all positions in affected speech; the variant is considered substandard.

The consonants /h / is (h ) (voiceless then voiced) initially, fully voiced elsewhere. Between a vowel and a consonant (/V-C/) or finally after a vowel ( / V - #), / h / is very lenis often nothing more than a glottal constructions or a murmured, breathy quality of the preceding vowel; / həhə:r/ wifes brother, / ma:hra: / term of respectful address to a Hindu, / teh / family pride of glory.

The Consonants /ḍ/ is rather lenis and flap-like (but never as much as, say, Hindi // ) finally medially or before a non retroflex consonant. (In either case the rule does not apply, if a nasalized vowel precedes.) Thus, lenis in kad, take out (vb.) / gani:/ at first. But not in : /md / widow.

The tremulant /r/ is a minimual trill. (The cotrast / r / involving a trilled and a flapped tremulant and a plosive is delidedly substandard).


While the apical plosives are dental, / n l r / are apical alveolar.


The semi vowel / ̯ / is a (a) more consonant like when adjacent to a vowel, but (b) more of an extra sort vowel that done not count phonemically as a syllable elsewhere. The semi vowel ɨ/ occurs in positions of type (b) alone and is normally an extra short vowel. When preceded by / m n l r h/, however, it is signaled solely or chiefly as the [ɨ]) like resonance of the preceding consonant? The semi vowel // occurs in positions of type (a) alone and is normally a monosyllabic back rounded vocoid. Initially, intervocalic ally, or finally, however, it is a labiodentals extra-lenis fricative. (For illustrations, see. 4, below).

A long vowel in a non-final position is phonetically the corresponding short vowel prolonged by an off-glide in the direction of the mid central vowel ungrounded or rounded as the case may be. Finally it is a long monophthong. (For illustrations, see 2 and 4 respectively.)

The high vowels are somewhat lowered finally. The mid vowels are phonetically high-mid. The vowel // is low vowel / a/ is somewhat raised if preceded by /c ̯ c/.

The non-front unrounded vowels / ɨ ɨ: ə ə: / are midway between central and back. The vowels / a a: / are normally central. All vowels other than the front ones are some what fronted whine preceded by / ̯ / cr followed by / ̯ C ̯ Ci/ the in fronting is more pronounced in the sequence / C̯̯a/ The vowel /a:/ are back and rounded, when preceded by /C/ / ̯ a:r/ friend, /d̯a:r / money, / gurmare alone, / ur̯/ children, / /gobis/ heavy (masc. sg. Dative).

Note particularly the sequences /C ̯ a/ [Cj >] and /Ca: /[Cwb^:], as in: /kh ̯ al / lotus leaf, /rial / strip (of cloth, paper/land) : kal / rivulet, /dad / milk, sa:d. one-and-a-guarder.


All vowels are slightly nasalized when followed by a nasal consonant. Between a vowel accompanied by /~/ and a following plosive there is inserted a short nasal consonant homorganic with the plosive.10 The nasal is especially short when the nasalised vowel is long. / b/ mango, / :b/ pretence, excuse, /st/ saint, /dd/ tooth, /d :d/ bull, / m / widow / ch:th / skill in swimming, / p ə̃:ch / five, / l : / stigma, / r g / color, / e:kh / conch shell, /b:k ~ b ə̃ :k / bank (financial establishment).

4. All consonants can occur initially before a vowel, intervocalic ally, and finally after a vowel. No consonant is geminated. Initial and final consonant clusters are not unknown but rare: / tre: / thirst, / bram / illusion, /host ~ hos / elephant.

The contrast between unaspirated and aspirated voiceless plosives is not very stable in the final position. The aspirates tend to very with the corresponding unaspirted plosives in rapid familiar style: / tap ~ taph / religious penance, Skt. tapas, / taph - tap / fever. Consonants and semivowels in consonant like positions are never followed by /h/ (It is consequently possible to interpret the unit phonemes / ph th h ch čh kh / of the present analysis as clusters respectively of /p/ etc., and /h/.)

The privileges of occurrence of the semivowels are as follows: /̯ / in V- /, /-V/ and /C-C/, /C-/, /C-#/; /ɨ / in /C-##/; / / in /V-/, /-V/, /- ̯ V/ illustrations follow arranged according to positions: /V-#/ : me I / me (dative) alone, /gur ɨ i/ mare alone, / a: ̯ / place, /bo: ̯/ brother; /kəri / do (2nd honorific imperative), / ka: / crow, /ne ču / son.

/V-C / : / ̯ ṷnuk / firstborn (not many examples can be found).

/V-V/ : / ər ̯ ɨ /year (ablative), /siri ̯ ̯i/ sun. / la: ̯ un/ to strike; / m ̯ a: ɨ i/ fruit (sg. pl.), / a: a:3/ voice.

/# - V/ : / ̯ i / you (masc. sg.) come / ̯ e:r/ wool for knitting, / ̯ am /Yama, the Hindu god of death; / ath /path, /och / calf. / o:t/ he came.

/C-V/ : b̯eni / sister, / dar̯akar / director, / b ̯ o:1/ seed; / k al / rivulet, / sur un/ to scour (pots) with ash, g abi / heavy fem, pl.).

/ ̯ V / : pək ɨ / you (masc. pl.) went.

/ -V / : oh / fat (masc. sg.)

/ _ iV/ : ṷ̯oth / fat (masc. sg.)

/C-/ : /gur̯/ horses, gur̯/ mare

/C-C/: buibab / grandfather.

/C- / : pə k̯ṷu ɨ / you (masc. pl.) went.


In certain environments there is no contrast between the semivowel and its absence: (a) a vowel is never followed by /i i:/ or / u u: / without an intervening / ̯ / or / / respectively; (b) initially the pairs / o o /, /o o: /contrast frequently, but i: ̯i:̯/ ,/ e ̯e/,/e: ̯e:/,/ /u: u:/ only rarely so (initial /e e:/ being very rare and with the other pairs free variation being the normal rule); (c) out of these eight pairs only / u u/, / e ̯ e/ contrast after a consonant, the second member being missing with the rest; (d) in the final position /i ̯ i: ̯ u:/ do not occur, but / u / does in contrast with u: / : (e) the palatal sibilants (/č čh ̯ /) are never followed by / ̯ ɨ / ; (f) the sequence eC*# / never occurs, but eC* i#/ does (where Ĉ*? stands for a consonant other than a palatal sibilant or / h /). Illustrations follow:

(a)    / b ̯ e ̯ i / again, / than / to put, place.


(b) / on / blind /masc. s./, / onun / he told; /o:r/ thither, /o:r/ prattle (vb); / istər̯̯ / flatiror / ̯i/ you masc. sg) come, / t: rar ~ ̯insain / human being ; /i a:c / invention, / ̯i:run / to float, / i:rar ̯i:ar / God : / ečkan ačkan / kind of close-collared coat, Hindi ackan, / ̯eti / here / e:s ̯ +te:s ̯ ~e:si + te: si/ so so. /̯e:r / wool for knitting, ukɨ +/ one (as a count in certain childrens games, /ur/ eat gluttonously (vb. ), /uh / lip; / u:r ̯ / thither, /u:r/ T-shaped cast used in making a double clha, / ũ:h ũ:h / camel.


(c) Parun / to read, / surun /to scour (pots) with ash; / neču/ son, /b̯̯eni / sister.


(d) /anu : / tell (2nd masc. fem. pl. impertive), / neču / son.


(e) Thus, / gob / heavy (masc. sg.), / gob̯̯ / heavy (masc. pl.)/ gob ̯ɨ / heavy (fem.sg. ) are all matched paradigmatically by / boačh / hungry, gluttonous (masc. sg. pl. and fem. sg.).


(f) khel̯ flock (of sheep), but khe / bundle (of wool, currency notes), / tech / family pride or glory.


The vowels / ɨ ɨ: / never occur initially; /e e:/ rarely so.

In the final position, only the following vowels occur - /i i: ɨ: u:e:o:a:/ ( note that there is only one contrast of length), as in : / guri / horses, /guri : / horses alone. /garɨ/ house, /anu : / tell (2nd masc. fem. pl. imperative), /kere:/ he who may do, /pako: walk (vb.), /pata:/ knowledge; whereabouts, address.


There is no contrast of vowel length before / h / with one exception - /a a:/ contrast in / - hV/. Hus : kih / tangle of hair separated from the head, / khih / scratch, (sb.). uh / ache (sb.)s / the / family pride or glory, /kəh / touchstone, /koh / mountain, /ka:h / eleven, /kathnɨ ̯ / eleven (dative) alone; but : / ahar ~ aha:r / city, /ka:han/ eleven (dative).


A vowel accompanied by / ~ / is never followed by a nasal consonant any of the fifteen vowels may be accompanied by /~./.

There is no contrast between / ̀Ṽgˋ/ and /Vn/ before a plosive the latter does not occur in that position. Thus, apparent contrasts between / Ṽgˋ/ and /Vng/ turn put to be contrasts between /Vg/ and /Vn+g/ :/ ka:glr/ small earthern brazier carried in a willow frame. / anan+gər/ woman who is paid to sing at weddings, etc. / a:n+ ga/ better will be.

5. Byway of concluding, we should like to propose the following rendering of Kashmiri into Roman and Devanagari for everyday purposes.


(Compare these tables with those in 1)














































































Note that the use of sh for // will not lead to any ambiguity.

Semi vowels and vowels:













































The two forms of the semi vowel /̯/ are to be used respectively in positions adjacent to a vowel and elsewhere. The vowel / :/ will be rendered as :

Nazalisation will be rendered as m# ˙ respectively following and above the vowel symbol.

The virāma (-) may be used with a consonant letter or in Devanagari only when followed by another consonant letter or . Word final no syllabics followed by space or hyphen need not take it, since a phonologic word will never end with /a/

Whenever there is a free variation initially between / i, ̯ i/. Etc the variant without the semivowel will be preferred.

Some examples follow:

/ kach / kac΄h armpit,

/ kačh / kach wild weed

/gur / gur horse,

/gur̯ / gurĭ ׸ horses

/ gurɨ / gurŭ mare

/ guri / gurĭ: ׸ mares

/ gari: / gari hourses alone

/ gar ɨ / gar house

/ neču / necuv son

/gur̯e ̯ / gurvey mars alone

/ siri̯i / siriyi ׸׵ sun.

/ pək ̯ṷɨ / pkĭv ׍ you (masc. pl) went

/ ũ:h ũ:h / u:h camel

/bi:k b ə̃:k/ b:mk ~ ba: mk bank

/ sie : san / site : shan ֭֙ railway sation

/ i̭ e; has: / ye:hea:n ֭ favor, good turn

/ie:haa: n / shabud _ֲ word

/d: +kuth+ / da:m - kurthu_- paddy store

/ kesi:r / kashi:r _ӿ߸ Kashmir

/ ke: ur / ka : shur ӿ Kashmiri (language, male person)

/ nəhə:r / naha: r̯ ׸ the family name Nehru

/trɨchɨl/tr chl ͻ the family name Trisal

/ siriɨ:nagar / siri :-nagar _-֐ָ Srinagar

This writing system can be used, for example, in teaching Hindi speakers to speak Kashmiri, in rendering Kashmiri proper names into Roman or Devanagari, in the publications of Sahitya Akademi. If ever, Devanagiri or Roman wereto be used as a regular script for Kashmiri. Then possibly some adjustments may have to be made to its complicated morphophonemic.


1. This paper is based on work preparatory to PNTs projected Ph.D. thesis on Kashmiri morphology. ARK is chiefly responsible for the formulation and PNT. Who is a native speaker of Kashmiri, for the preliminary sifting of the data. The authors are grateful to the Hindi Institute for this opportunity for collaborative work. Since the writing of this paper. ARK has changed his affiliation to Deccan College and University of Poona, Poona, Maharashtra , India.

2. In Hindi-Urdu the name of the language is kāśmīrī ~ kāsmīrī. In calling it Indo-Iranian, we are simply bypassing the controversy, not relavant to our present purpose, as to whether the so-called Dardic grou formed by Kashmiri and a few other obviously closely related languages is a division of Indo-Iranian coordinate with Iranian and Indo-Aryan (indic) or whether it is only a subdivision of the latter.

3. No authoritative and at the same time sufficiently recent figures are available. For the estimate given here, we are indebted to professors Prithvi Nath Pushp, who was also kind enough to read an earlier draft of this paper and offer many helpful comments.

4.The following list is probably exhaustive:

G. A. Grierson, A manual of the Kāshmīrī language comprising grammar, phrasebook and vocabulatries, in 2 vols. Oxford Oxford University Press, 1911 especially vol. I, ch. 1 (pp. 14-2) Grierson uses a slightly different vowel system in his A dictionary of the Kashmiri language, Bibliotheca Indica, 229, in 4 parts, Calcutta: Asiatic Society of Bengal, 1916-32. The findings of the Manual are summarized in his Linguistic survey of India, vol. 8, pt.2 Specimens of the Dardic or Piśacha languages (including Kāshīmīr_), Calcutta, Government of India, 1919. Section on Kashmir (pp 233-341), especially Pronounciation, pp. 257-68).


T. Grahame Bailey. The fourfold consonant system in kashmiri, Proc. Of the 2nd internat. Congr, of phonet, sec. London, 1935 (Cambridge: Cambridge University press, 1936), pp. 182-84. Discusses the four-way contrast /-C C ̯ C ɨ C ɨ -C / ( see in 9 below).

T. Grahame Balliery, The pronunciation of Kashmiri: Kashmiri sounds, how to make them and how to transcribe them, James G. Forlong Fund series, 16, London: Royal Asiatic Society, 1937, especially part I Description of the sounds (pp. 1-14).

J.R. Firth, (SpecimenJ Kashmiri (kr ur), Le matr phontique, N. 68. 67-8 (Oct. Dec. 1939). Transcribes a Kashmiri rendering of the story of the North Wind and the Sun, with an all too brief note based on a tentative analysis.

Georg Morgenstierne, The phonology of Kashmiri, Acta orientalia (Leiden: Bril) 19. 79-99 (1943). Has benefited from Roman Jakobsons many valuable suggestions; something intermediate in purpose between a fresh analysis based on work with an informant and a phonematic restatement of Grierson.

Grierson mixed up transliteration of conventional orthographies, honetic transcription, phonology, and morphophonemics, Bailey is the strongest of the four in phonetics and occasionally makes distributional statements, Firth probably ignores some contrasts; even the phonetic identifications are not consistent: he says that h and h are distinctive. Moregenstierne has a phonemic approach, but his study is marred by an uncertainty of purpose and an unsure hold over the data in its phonetic and distributional aspects. Altogether none of these studies is easy to interpret.

5. Colloquial speech is, of course, to be understood here. PNT and his wife, Mrs. Jaikishori Shivpuri, whose speech was analyzed, are both Hindu and residents of Srinagar. It is claimed, however, that at the phonologic level there are no serious difference between educated Hindu and educated Muslims, if one leaves aside the speech of some scholars of Sanskrit and of Arabic and Persian.

6. In the words of A, E, Sharp, the first sketch is simply an analysis of one-word utterances as a small-scale preliminary try-out in preparation for an attach on full-grown sentences (Stress and juncture in English, Trans. Of the Philol. Soc. London 1960 (1961) 104-35, p. 107)

7. More accurately, when a single phonologic word along with the intonation of neutral statement constitutes the complete utterance, most of the fall in pitch seems to take place during the first vowel phoneme in the word. Presumably the phonetic correlates of other intonation contours are similarly referable to the first syllable and longer utterances do not bring in contrasts depending on the position of accent within a phonologic word.

8. All forms marked (vb.) represent the 2nd, masc. fem., sg. Of the imperative unless otherwise described.


9. The readers should perhaps be warned at this point that for a non native listener it is rather difficult to hear /-C/ and /-Cɨ̭ /.) apart, and that more work in the field and the laboratory is called for in order to investigate the three-way contrast / -C Ci̭, -Cɨ̭ /) (A two way pair test was administered to the two informants (fn. 5) and the results left no doubt that the contrast exists.) Traditionally / i̭ ɨ̭ / (and also / / in their syllabic allophones (as extra short vowels) have been called mātrā vowels. (Syllabic / u / does not survive in the variety described in this paper.)


10. The decision to treat the nasalization as phonemic and the homorganic nasal as its predictable consequence may have to be reversed in view of items like (garge ɨ̭) headgear used by married or widowed Kashmiri women (which can them to phonemicized as/ targngɨ̭ / by the side of / amb sant mand pə;nch rang / and the like).


This was published in Anthropological linguistics 6: 1: 13-22, January 1964.