The word Punjabi is derived from the word Panj-āb, Persian for “Five Waters”, referring to the five major eastern tributaries of the Indus River. The historical Punjab region, now divided between India and Pakistan, is defined physiographically by the Indus River and five tributaries. Punjabi is an Indo-Aryan language. It is the native language of about 130 million people, and is the 10th most widely spoken language in the world. The flags above represent the two most populated regions of Punjabi speakers, but there are certainly many more too numerous to include in this summary. Panjabi is the native language of the people who inhabit the historical Punjab regions of Pakistan and India. It is the most widely spoken language in Pakistan. In India it is eleventh-most widely spoken language. Punjabi is also the third most spoken native language in the Indian Subcontinent (southern tip of Asia including portions of India and Pakistan) It is also widely spoken in the United Kingdom, Canada, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

The influence of Punjabi as a cultural language in the Indian Subcontinent is increasing rapidly due to Bollywood. Most Bollywood movies now have Punjabi vocabulary mixed in, along with some songs fully sung in Punjabi, and Punjabi songs in Bollywood movies now account for more than 50% of the top of the charts listings.

National vs. Official Languages

Every country of the world has a national language that reflects its collective identity to the world at large. The National language of a country is typically the one used by the government to correspond with international organizations such as UN and other countries. Some countries of the world are divided into regions called states or provinces where there may be people speaking an altogether different language than the National one, In such cases, these may be given a special legal status in a particular country, state, or other jurisdiction as the Official language. Typically a country’s official language refers to the language used within the government, i.e., courts, parliament, administration, etc. This is particularly true in India where there are states with large populations of people who speak languages other than Hindi, the National language of India. The state language is given the status of the official language in that state. In countries like USA, UK, France, Germany, Italy etc, the overwhelming percentage of the population speaks the national language, and it is the language used in the courts and parliament. In India however, there are many regional languages; hence, the central government and the courts had to adopt a three-language formula whereby it is Hindi, English, or the regional language that is used.

Worldwide 178 countries have at least one official language, in addition to the National language, and 101 of these recognize more than one official language. Many of the world’s constitutions mention one or more official and/or national languages. Some countries use the official language designation to empower indigenous groups by giving them access to the government in their native languages. In countries that do not formally designate an official language, a de facto national language usually evolves. English is the most common of all the official languages, with recognized status in 51 countries. Arabic, French, and Spanish are also widely recognized

Punjabi Linguistic Features

Many of the speech sounds of the Punjabi language are quite similar to those of most Indo- European language. However it is the only living language among the Indo-European languages that is a fully tonal language. Modern Punjabi is a very tonal language, making use of various tones to differentiate between words. Three primary tones are identified: high-rising-falling, mid-rising-falling, and low rising. By using these tones properly, Punjabi language speakers are able to differentiate between words that otherwise would sound exactly the same to the “untrained” ear.


Punjabi has a ten vowel system composed of three lax and seven tense vowels. Lax vowels are phonetically short and tense vowels are phonetically long.
Punjabi has 28 consonants in total, including 15 stops and affricates, 2 fricatives, 5 nasals, 4 liquids and 2 glides. The stops and nasals are articulated at five different places being classified as: labial, dental, retroflex, palatal and velar. The palatal stops are, in fact, affricates.
Punjabi has lost the aspirated voiced stops existent in most Indo-Aryan languages leading to a three-way contrast (aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops + unaspirated voiced stops).
Punjabi is the only Indo-Aryan language that has developed tones. It has three, low, mid, and high. Though they are phonemic, tones have not special signs in any of the three scripts used to write the language


Nominal. Nouns and some adjectives are inflected for case, gender and number.
a) gender:  masculine, feminine. Masculine nouns have two declension types. Feminine nouns have just one declension type
b) number: singular, plural.
c) case: direct, oblique, vocative.
d) pronouns: personal, demonstrative, interrogative, relative, indefinite.
e) compounds: the formation of nominal and verbal compounds is an essential and productive feature of the language.
f) voice: active, passive


Punjabi is a Subject-Object-Verb language with a quite rigid word order. It is head-final in most sentences. Attributive adjectives precede nouns. However, when used predicatively they are placed before the verb. Indirect object precedes direct object. Syntactical relations are conveyed mainly by postpositions. Transitive verbs conjugated in any of the perfective tenses agree with their object while the subject adopts the oblique case, a phenomenon known as split ergativity.

Script, Orthography and Lexicon

The religious divide between Punjabi speakers is reflected in the existence of three different writing systems. Sikhs prefer the Gurmukhī script, Hindus tend to use Devanāgarī and Muslims a Perso-Arabic alphabet called Shahmukhī. The Gurmukhī alphabet derives ultimately from the Śāradā script of northwest India, the Laṇḍā script, that is employed by the merchants of Punjab.

Punjabi borrowings are from Sanskrit and Hindi-Urdu, Persian, Arabic and English.
Written Punjabi:  There are two ways to write Punjabi: Gurmukhi and Shahmukhi.

1. Gurmukhi script
The Gurmukhi alphabet developed from the Landa alphabet and was sstandardizedduring the 16th century of Guru Angad Dev Ji, the second Sikh guru. The name Gurmukhi means “from the mouth of the Guru” and derives from the Old Punjabi word guramukhī.

2. Shahmukhi script
The Shahmukhi alphabet is a version of the Urdu alphabet used to write Punjabi in Pakistan. It is normally written in Nasta style and has been used since the second half of the 20th century. The name Shahmukhi means “from the King’s mouth”

Type of writing system: syllabic alphabet
1. Direction of writing: left to right in horizontal lines
2. Diacritics, which can appear above, below, before or after the consonant they belong to, are used to change the inherent vowel.
Consonants have an inherent vowel. Diacritics, which can appear above, below, before or after the consonant they belong to, are used to change the inherent vowel.

A Few Little Known Facts About the Punjabi Language and Culture

Indian Punjab state came to existence after independence on 15 Aug 1947. Punjab in its present form was created on 31 Oct 1966 after separation of Himachal Pradesh and Haryana.
The word punjab is made of two words- “punj” means five and “ab” means water.
Punjabi is the 10th most spoken language of world.
The land of Punjab is very fertile. It is also known as Golden Harvests. Agriculture is the backbone of Punjab. There are several food based industries. The state is the biggest producer of Wheat in India.
Indian Punjab produces 1% of the world’s rice, 2% of its wheat, and 2% of its cotton, and farmers make up over 40% of Indian Punjab’s workforce.
Sons are under the care of their mothers until about school age, when they begin to accompany their fathers at their work. In laboring households, both men and women work, although usually at different tasks. Men receive higher pay and do work that is physically more difficult. It is becoming common for women to take salaried work, but it would be considered very odd for a woman to set up an independent household.

A Touch of Punjabi Literature

Sing ye, my comrades, now is my wedding song!
In the Temple House where saints sing His Name, where saintly
Hearts glow all day and night with his Lord,
Sing ye, my comrades, now is the song of His Praise!
Sing the song my Creator!
I fain would be a sacrifice for the harmony divine that giveth
everlasting peace!
My lord careth for the smallest life,
The Bounteous giver meets the need of each,
No arithmetic can count His gifts,
Naught is it that we can render unto Him.
The Auspicious Day has dawned!
The Hour is fixed for my wedding with my Lord!
Come comrades! Assemble and make rejoicings,
Anoint the Bride with oil and pour on her your blessings!
Comrades! Pray, the Bride may meet the Lord!
This message is to every human being!
This call is for all.
O Man! Remember Him who calls!

Aid Granth (Holy Book of Sikhism)