A Brief History of Punjabi

A Brief history of Punjabi Language

Jaspal Singh

Language is a means of communication amongst a definite community in a definite area and carrying out social intercourse among themselves. It is speculated that humans evolved language at a certain stage of evolution with the development of certain organs. In prehistoric times, groups and communities connected along blood line developed a common language. As they spread and interacted with other communities, clans, tribes and people settled in a region, developing a common economic life, a common regional language developed by loaning words from many local, tribal and clan languages. All languages seemed to have followed this pattern.

Punjab or land of five rivers, has been a crossroad for people from various parts of Eurasia, who have come and made it their home. Recent genetic studies have shown that many peoples have come there, settled and moved on. Migrations, invasions and travelers have left their imprint on language, culture and life.

Punjabi language, mother tongue to more than 100 million people, developed over millennia and is a composite language with words and sounds from Santali, Khasi, Dravidian, Roma, Indo- European, Prakrit, Sanskrit, Pali, Mundari etc. The present Punjabi, thus emerged after a long evolution from ancient times. Scholars are researching on various sources of these words and sounds, and claiming that ancestors of Punjabis were Austro- Asiatic that built three great civilizations from Cambodia to Indus to Mesopotamia. According to archaeological evidence from Sumer, the builders of Mohenjodaro, Harappa were known as Meluha people. So it is being proposed that the precursor of Punjabi language be called Meluha language. In last 1000 years Punjabi has absorbed words from Braj Bhasha, Khardi Boli, Arabic, Persian, Turkish, English, French, and Portuguese etc.

Scripts were developed at a much later stage. Thousands of languages exist even today without a script. For a long time oral tradition carried on. Some scholars have pointed out that there were many scripts to write Punjabi. At present Punjabi is written in four scripts, Shahmukhi, Gurmukhi, Devanagari and Roman. These scripts have their own histories.

Earliest written Punjabi literature has been found in some fragments attributed to Gorakhnath. But it is Baba Farid, who is considered grandfather of written Punjabi literature. In last 800 years or so, written Punjabi literature in many genres and on many subjects has enriched the world literature and contributed towards better understanding of people. Punjabi’s are spread in all corners of globe and have carried Punjabi with them. In several cities of the world, one can see street signs in Punjabi in certain areas. As a result some people call it the third Punjab.

About the Author: Jaspal Singh is a scholar of Philosophy, Vedic literature and linguistics. He is a founding member of Academy of Punjab in North America (APNA). He is an active participant in the content development team at India Discovery Center near Boston, MA.