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Punjabi (also known as Pañjābī) is a member of the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family. Eastern Punjabi is spoken as a first language primarily in the state of Punjab of India by 27 million people (Ethnologue). Western Punjabi (also known as Lahnda) is spoken by 60 million people in the Punjab province of Pakistan (Ethnologue). There are also speakers of these dialects in a number of other countries, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, United Kingdom, the U.S., and Canada. In Canada, Punjabi is spoken by over 250,000 people, making it the country’s sixth largest language.

Ancestors of the Punjabis are thought to have inhabited the Indus Valley at least as far back as 2,500 BC. The area suffered numerous invasions by Indo-Aryan, Persian, Greek, Arab, Afghan, and British invaders. Indo-Aryan invasions impacted the language of the ancient Punjabis with the result that, like other Indo-Aryan languages, Punjabi evolved from Sanskrit through Prakrit, a large group of ancient Indic languages spoken some time between the 6th and the 13th centuries AD.


  • Eastern Punjabi is one of the 22 official languages and 14 regional languages of India. It is the medium of everyday communication in the Indian state of Punjab and is also used in education, government, business and in the media.
  • Western Punjabi has no official status in Pakistan. Punjabi speakers in Pakistan tend to use Urdu and English in government administration, the media, and education, as well as in most writing.
  • Punjabi is the religious language of the Sikhs. It is also the language of the popular Bhangra folk dance and singing.



There are up to thirty varieties of Punjabi, forming a continuum between Western and Eastern Punjabi. For the most part, the dialects are mutually intelligible, even though there are differences in pronunciation and vocabulary among them. The main dialects of Punjabi are as follows:

  • India
    Majhi (standard written form of Punjabi used in both Amritsar and Lahore
  • Pakistan 

Punjabi expatriates around the world speak a creolized form of the language that is increasingly deviating from the norms of Punjabi spoken in India and Pakistan.


Sound system 
Although the Punjabi sound system is similar to those of other Indo-Aryan languages, it has the distinction of being the only tonal Indo-European language.

Punjabi has ten vowel phonemes, i.e., sounds that make a difference in word meaning. Vowels can be short or long. Vowel length is marked by a macron (ā). Vowels can also be oral or nasal. Nasalization distinguishes word meaning. It is usually marked by a tilde over the vowel (ã).


Like all Indo-Aryan languages, Punjabi has a rich system of consonants. Consonant clusters are permitted mostly in medial and final positions. Initial clusters are infrequent and, for the most part, consist of a consonant + /r/. Most consonants can be geminated (doubled). Some consonants (in parentheses in the table below) occur only in loanwords.

Stops unaspirated voiceless
aspirated voiceless
Fricatives voiceless
s (z)
Affricates unaspirated voiceless
aspirated voiceless
Flap or trill
  • There is a contrast between aspirated vs. unaspirated voiceless stops and affricates, e.g., p—pʰ, t—tʰ, k—kʰ, tʃ – tʃʰ. Aspirated consonants are produced with a strong puff of air.
  • There is a contrast between and apical vs. retroflex consonants, e.g., /t/ – /ʈ/, /d/ – /ɖ/, /n/ – /ɳ/,/l/ – /ɭ/, /r/ – /ɽ/. Apical consonants are produced with the tip of the tongue touching the roof of the mouth, whereas retroflex consonants are produced with the tongue curled, so that its underside comes in contact with the roof of the mouth.
  • /ʃ/ = sh in shop
  • /tʃ/ = ch in chop
  • /dʒ/ = j in job
  • /ɲ/ = first n in canyon
  • /ŋ/ = ng in song
  • /ɭ/ has no equivalent in English
  • /ʋ/ can be realized as /w/ or /v/.
  • /j/ = y in yet

Punjabi has three tones: High, Mid, and Low. The tone of a word is a pitch pattern permanently associated with it. A change of tone changes the meaning of a word.

Stress in Punjabi can fall on any syllable of a word, and can differentiate words that are otherwise identical. In general, however, stress falls on the penultimate (one before last) syllable unless the syllable ends in a short vowel. If so, then the stress fall on the antepenultimate (second from the end) syllable.

Punjabi grammar is very much like that of other Indo-Aryan languages such as Gujarati. Like all these languages, Punjabi is agglutinative, i.e., it adds suffixes to roots to build words and to express grammatical relations.

Punjabi nouns are marked for the following grammatical categories:

  • number: singular and plural;
  • gender: masculine, feminine;
  • case: nominativegenitiveaccusative-dativeinstrumentalablativelocative, and vocative; all cases, except vocative, are marked by postpositions; the vocative case may be marked by a vocative particle or term of address; .
  • there are no definite or indefinite articles;
  • adjectives agree with the nouns they modify in gender, number, and case;

Verbs agree with their subjects (active voice), or with their objects (passive voice) in person, number and gender. Verbs are marked for the following categories:

Word order
The normal word order in Punjabi is Subject – Object – Verb. Modifiers precede the nouns they modify. Indirect objects precede direct objects.

The basic vocabulary of Punjabi is Sanskrit in origin, but over the years Punjabi has borrowed words from other languages. Eastern Punjabi has many Hindiand English loanwords, while Western Punjabi contains many borrowings from PersianArabic and Urdu.

Below are the Punjabi numerals 1-10 in romanization.


Punjabi numerals 0-9 in Gurmukhi script are given below.

gurmukhi numerals


Punjabi is written with three different scripts.

Hindus sometimes use the Devanagari script.
Within the Indian state of Punjab, Sikhs tend to use the Gurmukhi script. Like Devanagari, the Gurmukhi is a script in which each consonant has an inherent [a] vowel which can be modified by vowel symbols that can be attached to the consonant.Gurmukhi has 53 symbols. Like the Devanagari,Gurmukhi is written from left to right.Click here to see the Gurmukhi alphabet with sound files.
Pakistani Punjabis use a modified Arabic script called Shahmukhi. The Shahmukhi orthography is a modified version of the Persian Nasta’liq script and as such, it is written from right to left.Click here to see the Shahmukhi alphabet.

Take a look at Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Gurmukhi, Shahmukhi and in romanization.

Article 1 in Punjabi scripts

Punjabi’s literary tradition is relatively new. It started at the end of the 16th century following the development of the Gurmukhi script, even though there are some literary pieces dating back to the 12th century AD.

Did You Know?


Language Difficulty
questionHow difficult is it to learn Punjabi?
There is no data on the difficulty of Punjabi for speakers of English.

3 Responses to Punjabi

  1. Manjot

    I read whole paragraph this is very good and easily to understand the history about Punjabi language.

  2. Javed Rashid

    I have an interest, in the Indus Valley civilization . My quest to understand that civilization has led me to believe that the present languages of Pakistan ( Punjabi , Sindhi and Seraiki ) must contain some words and even structures from the ancient language of Harappa and Mohenjadaro .

    There are also,semi related, two, other sets , of questions that I am seeking answers to.

    1. There are words used in common usage , like Salada or Selada ( half man half animal, with ability to appear and disappear ), phopokutni ( wise women in a negative sense ) , Chawal ( bad person ), these seem to be a part of some ancient myths , but the myths and stories associated with these are not a part of the common Punjabi consciousness , in fact the first listed is only familiar to people of central Punjab. Are these related to some mythology and if so why have the myths not survived . Adding to this are words which have no apparent roots, like the word ” kuri” a young girl , does not seem to have any linkages with either Sanskrit or Persian/Arabic sources.

    2. There is this theory that the Chinese settled in North Punjab before emigrating to the Chinese Mainland. The tonal nature of the Chinese language and Punjabi suggest some linkages. Could there be linkages between Chinese or Munda myths and the above referred lost Punjabi myths. A Jat tribe of Punjab , Cheema , is linked to Chima or China and there are Munda linkages suggested with the origin of this tribe.

    I would be grateful if you could point me the way to seek theses answers.
    Any inconvenience is regretted .
    Best regards , kindly respond to my email


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