By Vaibhav Kaul
Burushaski, also called Kunjout and Verchikvar, is a language isolate, spoken by about 90,000 members of the Burusho ethnic group in parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir including the Hunza, Yasin, Nagar and Gilgit valleys.
Though Burushaski has no demonstrable genetic relationship with any other language, its modern form contains loanwords from neighbouring Indo-Iranian and Tibeto-Burman languages, including Urdu-Hindi (Indic group), Shina, Khowar and Kashmiri (Dardic group), Pashto (Eastern Iranian group) and Balti (Bodish-Himalayish group).
The Verchikvar dialect of Burushaski, which belongs to the remote Yasin valley, is the purest form of the language because it is least affected by contact with other languages.
The lexical similarity of Verchikvar with the other two dialects – Hunza and Nagar (Nagir) is only 66 to 72 per cent. This explains why the Hunza and Nagar dialects, with a lexical similarity of 91 to 94 per cent, may together be considered a separate language.
Burushaski might be related to the Yeniseian language family of central Siberia. George van Driem, a linguist at Leiden University, Netherlands and director of the Himalayan Languages Project (launched in 1993), has proposed the Karasuk language family that links the Yeniseian languages to Burushaski.
Karasuk is named after the culture that existed in Central Asia during the Bronze Age in the second millennium BC. He claims that the Burosho people are descendants of those Karasuk communities which participated in the Indo-Aryan migration from Central Asia to the Indian subcontinent.
The other Karasuk peoples migrated northwards into the Yenisei River Basin of Siberia to become the Kets (Yenisei Ostyaks).
In 2008, the Yeniseian languages of central Siberia were shown to be related to the native Nadene languages of northwestern North America in the Dene-Yeniseian family.
The theory supported pre-Columbian transoceanic contact between Asia and North America, implying interaction between the indigenous communities on both sides of the Bering Strait. It established the first linguistic connection between the Old and New Worlds. However, this link was found to be inapplicable to Burushaski.