Standardisation and orthography of Balochi

24 Feb

By: Professor Carina Jahani
Uppsala University,Sweden

There is no standard orthography for the Balochi language, and there is much debate among Baloch intellectuals about the creation of a standard literary language. Balochi is currently written in the Arabic/Urdu script in Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, although many scholars outside of Balochistan use Roman script.

Those in favour of the Roman script point to several facts in its support: the Roman script more accurately represents the sounds of Balochi; there does not currently exist a universally-accepted orghography in the Arabic script; the Roman script is more useful in the modern world and is more widely used than the Arabic; the Roman script is easier to learn.

Balochi is spoken in several different countries (Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan and the Arab Gulf States). It neither enjoys official status nor is used in the education system of any of these countries. For both these reasons, creating and enforcing a single standard language for all Baloch is problematic.

The media makes an important contribution to the standardisation of a language. In the case of Balochi, radio at least has played an important role in increasing the ease of understanding between the various dialects. (for more information on the role of radio in the development of Balochi, click here).

Those Baloch involved in literary activities are keen to create one standard literary language, and there has been much discussion in literary circles on which dialect, or dialects, should constitute the basis for such a standard language. There has also been much debate over which script should be used for Balochi. Balochi writers use the Arabic/Persian script, which is advocated by many for historical, political and religious reasons. However, among those writers there is no final agreement on several orthographic points, in particular the representation of letters and sounds that are not able to be represented by the Arabic/Persian script. For this reason, others have advocated changing to the Roman script. Although many academics in Europe use the Roman script in their work on Balochi, most Baloch involved in literary activities feel it is impossible to change the orthography at present because neighbouring languages use the Arabic script, and because of the lack of authority to enforce any such reform.

While there a strongly felt need to create a standard literary language with a fixed orthography, and to be able to introduce the teaching of Balochi into the primary education in Pakistani Balochistan, there is also the danger that the standardisation will proceed too quickly. Many people feel that each writer has the rifght to use his or her own dialect when writing, and that a standard literary language will develop naturally as the written form of Balochi is used more and more.


  1. Jahani, C.,”Language standardisation and orthography in Balochi” in Newsletter of Baluchistan Studies (No. 5, Fall 1988)
  2. Slimbach, Richard “Ethnic Binds and Pedagogies of Resistance: Baloch nationalism and educational innovation in Karachi”, Marginality and Modernity: Ethnicity and Change in Post-Colonial Balochistan, Titus, Paul (ed.), Oxford University Press (1996)


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