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Saraiki in Shahmukhi script (Nastaʿlīq style)
Native to Pakistan
Region Punjab and Sindh
Ethnicity Saraiki
Native speakers 26 million  (2017)
Language family
Writing system Perso-Arabic (Saraiki alphabet)
Official status
Regulated by No official regulation
Distribution of Pakistanis speaking Saraiki as a first language in 1998.png
Distribution of Pakistanis who spoke Saraiki as their mother tongue at the time of the 1998 Pakistan Census

Saraiki ( سرائیکی Sarā'īkī, also spelt Siraiki, or Seraiki) is an Indo-Aryan language of the Lahnda group, spoken in the south-western half of the province of Punjab in Pakistan. It was previously known as Multani, after its main dialect.

Saraiki is to a high degree mutually intelligible with Standard Punjabi and shares with it a large portion of its vocabulary and morphology. At the same time in its phonology it is radically different (particularly in the lack of tones, the preservation of the voiced aspirates and the development of implosive consonants), and has important grammatical features in common with the Sindhi language spoken to the south.

Saraiki is the language of 25.9 million people in Pakistan, ranging across southern Punjab, southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, and border regions of northern Sindh and eastern Balochistan.

The Saraiki language identity arose in the 1960s, encompassing more narrow local earlier identities (like Multani or Riasati), and distinguishing itself from broader ones like that of Punjabi.


The present extent of the meaning of Sirāikī is a recent development, and the term most probably gained its currency during the nationalist movement of the 1960s. It has been in use for much longer in Sindh to refer to the speech of the immigrants from the north, principally Siraiki-speaking Baloch tribes who settled there between the 16th and the 19th centuries. In this context, the term can most plausibly be explained as originally having had the meaning "the language of the north", from the Sindhi word siro 'up-river, north'. This name can ambiguously refer to the northern dialects of Sindhi, but these are nowadays more commonly known as "Siroli" or "Sireli".

An alternative hypothesis is that Sarākī originated in the word sauvīrā, or Sauvira, an ancient kingdom which was also mentioned in the Sanskrit epic Mahabharata.

Currently, the most common rendering of the name is Saraiki. However, Seraiki and Siraiki have also been used in academia until recently. Precise spelling aside, the name was first adopted in the 1960s by regional social and political leaders.

Classification and related languages

Saraiki is a member of the Indo-Aryan subdivision of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family.

In 1919, Grierson maintained that the dialects of what is now the southwest of Punjab Province in Pakistan constitute a dialect cluster, which he designated "Southern Lahnda" within a putative "Lahnda language". Subsequent Indo-Aryanist linguists have confirmed the reality of this dialect cluster, even while rejecting the name "Southern Lahnda" along with the entity "Lahnda" itself. Grierson also maintained that "Lahnda" was his novel designation for various dialects up to then called "Western Punjabi", spoken north, west, and south of Lahore. The local dialect of Lahore is the Majhi dialect of Punjabi, which has long been the basis of standard literary Punjabi. However, outside of Indo-Aryanist circles, the concept of "Lahnda" is still found in compilations of the world's languages (e.g. Ethnologue).


The following dialects have been tentatively proposed for Saraiki:

  • Central Saraiki, including Multani: spoken in the districts of Dera Ghazi Khan, Muzaffargarh, Leiah, Multan and Bahawalpur.
  • Southern Saraiki: prevalent in the districts of Rajanpur and Rahimyar Khan.
  • Sindhi Saraiki: dispersed throughout the province of Sindh.
  • Northern Saraiki, or Thali: spoken in the district of Dera Ismail Khan and the northern parts of the Thal region, including Mianwali District and Bhakkar District
  • Eastern Saraiki: transitional to Punjabi and spoken in the Bar region along the boundary with the eastern Majhi dialect. This group includes the dialects of Jhangi and Shahpuri. Most speakers of those dialects, however, tend to identify with Punjabi rather than Saraiki.

The historical inventory of names for the dialects now called Saraiki is a confusion of overlapping or conflicting ethnic, local, and regional designations. One historical name for Saraiki, Jaṭki, means "of the Jaṭṭs", a northern South Asian ethnic group. Only a small minority of Saraiki speakers are Jaṭṭs, and not all Saraiki speaking Jaṭṭs necessarily speak the same dialect of Saraiki. However, these people usually call their traditions as well as language as Jataki. Conversely, several Saraiki dialects have multiple names corresponding to different locales or demographic groups. The name "Derawali" is used to refer to the local dialects of both Dera Ghazi Khan and Dera Ismail Khan, but "Ḍerawali" in the former is the Multani dialect and "Derawali" in the latter is the Thaḷi dialect.

When consulting sources before 2000, it is important to know that Pakistani administrative boundaries have been altered frequently. Provinces in Pakistan are divided into districts, and sources on "Saraiki" often describe the territory of a dialect or dialect group according to the districts. Since the founding of Pakistan in 1947, several of these districts have been subdivided, some multiple times.

Status of language or dialect

In the context of South Asia, the choice between the appellations "language" and "dialect" is a difficult one, and any distinction made using these terms is obscured by their ambiguity. In a sense both Siraiki and Standard Panjabi are "dialects" of a "Greater Punjabi" macrolanguage.

Saraiki was considered a dialect of Punjabi by most British colonial administrators, and is still seen as such by many Punjabis. Saraikis, however, consider it a language in its own right and see the use of the term "dialect" as stigmatising. A language movement was started in the 1960s to standardise a script and promote the language. The national census of Pakistan has tabulated the prevalence of Saraiki speakers since 1981.

Geographical distribution

Saraiki Poet and intellectual
Dr. Ashu Lal, A Saraiki poet and intellectual

Saraiki is primarily spoken in the south-western part of the province of Punjab, in an area that broadly coincides with the extent of the proposed Saraikistan province. To the west, it is set off from the Pashto- and Balochi-speaking areas by the Suleiman Range, while to the south-east the Thar desert divides it from the Marwari language. Its other boundaries are less well-defined: Punjabi is spoken to the east; Sindhi is found to the south, after the border with Sindh province; to the north, the southern edge of the Salt Range is the rough divide with the northern varieties of Lahnda.


Today, 25.9 million people from North Sindh, South Punjab, South Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Eastern Balochistan province speak Saraiki.

The first national census of Pakistan to gather data on the prevalence of Saraiki was the census of 1981. In that year, the percentage of respondents nationwide reporting Saraiki as their native language was 9.83. In the census of 1998, it was 10.53 out of a national population of 132 million, for a figure of 13.9 million Saraiki speakers resident in Pakistan. Also according to the 1998 census, 12.8 million of those, or 92%, lived in the province of Punjab.


As of 2011 census of India, Saraiki is spoken by 109,000 people in India. According to the Indian national census of 2001, it is spoken in urban areas throughout northwest and north central India, mainly by the descendants of migrants from western Punjab after the independence of Pakistan in 1947. Some of these speakers went to Andhra Pradesh and settled there before the independence movement because of their pastoral and nomadic way of life, and these are Muslims. 56,000 persons report their dialect as Mūltānī and 12,000 individuals report their dialect as Bahāwalpurī.


Saraiki's consonant inventory is similar to that of neighbouring Sindhi. It includes phonemically distinctive implosive consonants, which are unusual among the Indo-European languages. In Christopher Shackle's analysis, Saraiki distinguishes up to 48 consonants and 9 monophthong vowels.


The "centralised" vowels /ɪ ʊ ə/ tend to be shorter than the "peripheral" vowels /i ɛ a o u/. The central vowel / is more open and back than the corresponding vowel in neighbouring varieties.Vowel nasalisation is distinctive: /'ʈuɾẽ/ 'may you go' vs. /'ʈuɾe/ 'may he go'.Before /ɦ/, the contrast between /a/ and /ə/ is neutralised. There is a high number of vowel sequences, some of which can be analysed as diphthongs.

Front Central Back
Close i u
ɪ ʊ
Mid e o
ɛ ə
Open a


Saraiki possesses a large inventory of consonants:

Labial Dental/
Retroflex Post-alv./
Velar Glottal
voiced aspirated
Nasal plain
Fricative voiceless
voiced aspirated
Tap plain
Approximant plain

In its stop consonants, Saraiki has the typical for Indo-Aryan four-fold contrast between voiced and voiceless, and aspirated and unaspirated. In parallel to Sindhi it has additionally developed a set of implosives, so that for each place of articulation there are up to five contrasting stops, for example: voiceless 'custom' ∼ aspirated 'blister' ∼ implosive 'cobweb' ∼ voiced 'niche' ∼ voiced aspirate 'foam'.

There are five contrasting places of articulation for the stops: velar, palatal, retroflex, dental and bilabial. The dentals are articulated with the blade of the tongue against the surface behind the teeth. The retroflex stops are post-alveolar, the articulator being the tip of the tongue or sometimes the underside. There is no dental implosive, partly due to the lesser retroflexion with which the retroflex implosive is pronounced. The palatal stops are here somewhat arbitrarily represented with and. In casual speech some of the stops, especially and are frequently rendered as fricatives – respectively and.

Of the nasals, only and are found at the start of a word, but in other phonetic environments there is a full set of contrasts in the place of articulation:. The retroflex is a realised as a true nasal only if adjacent to a retroflex stop, elsewhere it is a nasalised retroflex flap. The contrasts ∼ and ∼ are weak; the single nasal is more common in southern varieties, and the nasal + stop cluster is prevalent in central dialects. Three nasals have aspirated counterparts.

The realisation of the alveolar tap varies with the phonetic environment. It is trilled if geminated to and weakly trilled if preceded by or. It contrasts with the retroflex flap ( 'wire' ∼ 'watching'), except in the variety spoken by Hindus. The fricatives are labio-dental. The glottal fricative is voiced and affects the voice quality of a preceding vowel.

Phonotactics and stress

There are no tones in Saraiki. All consonants except can be geminated ("doubled"). Geminates occur only after stressed centralised vowels, and are phonetically realised much less markedly than in the rest of the Punjabi area.

A stressed syllable is distinguished primarily by its length: if the vowel is peripheral then it is lengthened, and if it is a "centralised vowel" then the consonant following it is geminated. Stress normally falls on the first syllable of a word. The stress will, however, fall on the second syllable of a two-syllable word if the vowel in the first syllable is centralised, and the second syllable contains either a diphthong, or a peripheral vowel followed by a consonant, for example 'carpenter'. Three-syllable words are stressed on the second syllable if the first syllable contains a centralised vowel, and the second syllable has either a peripheral vowel, or a centralised vowel + geminate, for example 'seventy-four'. There are exceptions to these rules and they account for minimal pairs like 'informing' and 'so much'.


Unusually for South Asian languages, implosive consonants are found in Sindhi, possibly some Rajasthani dialects, and Saraiki, which has the following series: //.

The "palatal" is denti-alveolar and laminal, articulated further forward than most other palatals.

The "retroflex" is articulated with the tip or the underside of the tongue, further forward in the mouth than the plain retroflex stops. It has been described as post-alveolar, pre-palatal or pre-retroflex. Bahl (1936, p. 30) reports that this sound is unique in Indo-Aryan and that speakers of Multani take pride in its distinctiveness. The plain voiced and the implosive are mostly in complementary distribution although there are a few minimal pairs, like 'doctor' ∼ 'mail'. The retroflex implosive alternates with the plain voiced dental stop in the genitive postposition/suffix which takes the form of when combined with 1st or 2nd person pronouns: 'my' 'your'.

A dental implosive is found in the northeastern Jhangi dialect, which is characterised by a lack of phonemic contrast between implosives and plain stops, and a preference for implosives even in words where Saraiki has a plain stop. The dental implosive in Jhangi is articulated with the tongue completely covering the upper teeth. It is not present in Saraiki, although Bahl (1936, p. 29) contends that it should be reconstructed for the earlier language. Its absence has been attributed to structural factors: the forward articulation of and the lesser retroflexion of.

Aspirated (breathy voiced) implosives occur word-initially, where they contrast with aspirated plain stops: ' 'sit' ~ ' 'fear'. The aspiration is not phonemic; it is phonetically realised on the whole syllable, and results from an underlying that follows the vowel, thus is phonemically.

The historical origin of the Saraiki implosives has been on the whole the same as in Sindhi. Their source has generally been the older language's series of plain voiced stops, thus Sanskrit janayati > Saraiki ' 'be born'. New plain voiced stops have in turn arisen out of certain consonants and consonant clusters (for example, yava > ' 'barley'), or have been introduced in loanwords from Sanskrit, Hindi, Persian or English (' 'throat', ' 'bus'). The following table illustrates some of the major developments:

Saraiki example word
b- ɓ bahu > ' 'many'
dv- dvitiya- > ' 'another'
v- vṛddhā > ' 'old'
b vaṇa- > ' 'forest'
v vartman- > ' 'path'
j ʄ jihvā > ' 'tongue'
jy- jyeṣṭhā > ' 'husband's elder brother'
-jy- ʄʄ rajyate > ' 'to satisfy'
-dy- adya > əʄʄə 'today'
y- yadi > ' 'if'
ḍ- Pk. gaḍḍaha- > ' 'donkey'
d- duḥkha > ᶑʊkkʰə 'sorrow'
-rd- ᶑᶑ kūrdati > ' 'to jump'
-dāt- *kadātana > ' 'when'
-bdh- ɖɖ stabdha > ' 'cold'
-ṇḍ- ɳɖ ḍaṇḍaka > ' 'stick'
g ɠ gāva- > ' 'cow'
gr- grantha > ' 'knot'
ɡ grāma > ' 'village'

Within South Asia, implosives were first described for Sindhi by Stake in 1855. Later authors have noted their existence in Multani and have variously called them "recursives" or "injectives", while Grierson incorrectly treated them as "double consonants".

Writing system

See also: Saraiki alphabet

In the province of Punjab, Saraiki is written using the Arabic-derived Urdu alphabet with the addition of seven diacritically modified letters to represent the implosives and the extra nasals. In Sindh the Sindhi alphabet is used. The calligraphic styles used are Naskh and Nastaʿlīq.

Historically, traders or bookkeepers wrote in a script known as kiṛakkī or laṇḍā, although use of this script has been significantly reduced in recent times. Likewise, a script related to the Landa scripts family, known as Multani, was previously used to write Saraiki. A preliminary proposal to encode the Multani script in ISO/IEC 10646 was submitted in 2011. Saraiki Unicode has been approved in 2005. The Khojiki script has also been in use, whereas Devanagari and Gurmukhi are not employed anymore.

Here is an example of Saraiki poetry by Khwaja Ghulam Farid: اپڑیں ملک کوں آپ وسا توں ۔ پٹ انگریزی تھانے

Language use

In academia

The Department of Saraiki, Islamia University, Bahawalpur was established in 1989 and the Department of Saraiki, Bahauddin Zakariya University, Multan was established in 2006. Saraiki is taught as a subject in schools and colleges at higher secondary, intermediate and degree level. The Allama Iqbal Open University at Islamabad, and the Al-Khair University at Bhimbir have Pakistani Linguistics Departments. They offer M.Phil. and Ph.D in Saraiki. The Associated Press of Pakistan has launched a Saraiki version of its site, as well.

Arts and literature

See also: Saraiki culture
Khawaja Ghulam Farid tomb at Kot Mithan
Tomb of Sufi poet Khwaja Ghulam Farid

Khawaja Ghulam Farid (1845–1901; his famous collection is Deewan-e-Farid) and Sachal Sar Mast (1739–1829) are the most celebrated Sufi poets in Saraiki and their poems known as Kafi are still famous.

The beloved's intense glances call for blood
The dark hair wildly flows The Kohl of the eyes is fiercely black
And slays the lovers with no excuse
My appearance in ruins, I sit and wait
While the beloved has settled in Malheer I feel the sting of the cruel dart
My heart the, abode of pain and grief A life of tears, I have led Farid

Shakir Shujabadi (Kalam-e-Shakir, Khuda Janey, Shakir Diyan Ghazlan, Peelay Patr, Munafqan Tu Khuda Bachaway, and Shakir De Dohray are his famous books) is a very well recognized modern poet.

Famous singers who have performed in Saraiki include Attaullah Khan Essa Khailwi, Pathanay Khan, Abida Parveen, Ustad Muhammad Juman, Mansoor Malangi, Talib Hussain Dard, Kamal Mahsud, and The Sketches. Many modern Pakistan singers such as Hadiqa Kiyani and Ali Zafar have also sung Saraiki folk songs.


Television channels

See also: Television in Pakistan

Former Pakistan Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani had said southern Punjab is rich in cultural heritage which needs to be promoted for next generations. In a message on the launch of Saraiki channel by Pakistan Television (PTV) in Multan, he is reported to have said that the step would help promote the rich heritage of 'Saraiki Belt'.

TV Channel Genre Founded
Waseb TV (وسیب ٹی وی) Entertainment
Kook TV (کوک ٹی وی) Entertainment
Rohi TV (روہی ٹی وی) Entertainment
PTV MULTAN (پی ٹی وی ملتان) Entertainment
PTV National (پی ٹی وی نیشنل) Entertainment


These are not dedicated Saraiki channels but most play programmes in Saraiki.

See also: Pakistan Broadcasting Corporation
Radio Channel Genre Founded
Radio Pakistan AM1035 Multan Entertainment
Radio Pakistan AM1341 Bahawalpur Entertainment
Radio Pakistan AM1400 Dera ismaeel khan Entertainment
FM101 Multan Entertainment
FM93 Multan Entertainment
FM96.4 Multan Entertainment
FM103 Multan Entertainment
FM106 Khanpr Entertainment
FM98 Lodhran Entertainment
FM105 Bahawalpur Entertainment
FM105 Saraiki Awaz Sadiq Abad Entertainment
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