The area comprising the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir is one of remarkable linguistic diversity. Within it two major language families, the Indo-European and the Sino-Tibetan, each dominate over extensive areas, while an as-yet-unclassified language, Burushaski, occupies a relatively small niche along the border with China and Afghanistan. Among the Indo-European languages, Kashmiri, Shina, and several other local tongues (spoken over much of the Northern Areas and in a small portion of Kargil district) form a distinct Dardic group, whose area of dominance also extends across the northern part of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan and into northeastern Afghanistan. Whether or not this group constitutes a separate sub-family within the Indo-European family is a question still debated by linguists; but none doubts the linguistic affinity of Dardic languages. Kashmiri, despite accounting for the largest number of speakers in the state, occupies only a relatively small area centering on the Vale of Kashmir.

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Punjabi, accounting for the second most numerous group of speakers, dominates in Azad Kashmir, while Dogri, often considered a dialect of Punjabi, is the principal language of Jammu, but its dominance there is much less pronounced than that of Kashmiri in Kashmir. Also within the Indo-European family are several locally dominant languages, most notably Gojri, the language spoken by the Gujar and Bakerwal pastoral communities, and various dialects collectively grouped under the designation "Pahari" (i.e., of the mountains). All these are now lumped by the Indian census under the term "Hindi," in marked contrast to census practice up to the year 1971; and it is no longer possible to disaggregate them. Finally, two mutually comprehensible dialects of Tibetan, Balti and Ladakhi, dominate in Pakistani-held Baltistan and Indian-held Ladakh respectively. The following table provides some overall data:

Regional Distribution of Major Languages, 1981      
% of Total
% of
Indian-held areas              
Kashmir Kashmiri 2,806 89.5 "Hindi"** 245 7.8  
Jammu Dogri 1,450 53.3 "Hindi"** 774 28.5  
Ladakh Tibetan 121 90.2        
Total Kashmiri 3,136 52.3 Dogri 1,454 24.3  
Pakistani-held areas              
Azad Kashmir Punjabi*** 1,693 85.4        
Northern Areas Shina **** ? Balti **** ?  
Total Punjabi*** 1,701 66.5 Shina **** ?  
Grand total Kashmiri 3,166 37.1 Punjabi*** 1,877 22  

* Indicated only where in excess of 5.0%.
** For explanation, see text above.
*** Probably overcounted, with commensurate undercounting of Pahari and Gojri.
**** Percentages cannot be specified in that Shina, other Dardic languages, Balti, and Burushaski are all grouped by census under "Others." Based on data of pre-independence censuses, Shina (spoken mainly in Gilgit and Diamir Districts) and Balti (spoken in Baltistan) are believed to rank first and second respectively within the Northern Areas.

In interpreting the accompanying map and the foregoing table an important caveat is in order: the transitions from one language area to another do not normally follow administrative boundaries. For example, in Kashmir, the lowlands of all districts are overwhelmingly Kashmiri-speaking while the numerically dominant population in the adjoining hills speaks Gojri. Similar situations apply in respect to speakers of Dogri and Pahari in Jammu.