Annotated Swadesh wordlists for the Burushaski group (Burushaski family).

Languages included: Yasin Burushaski [bur-yas], Hunza Burushaski [bur-hnz].


Berger 1974 = Berger, Hermann. Das Yasin-Burushaski (Werchikwar). Grammatik, Texte, Wörterbuch. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. // A large and detailed grammatical description of the Yasin dialect of Burushaski, complete with vocabulary and a selection of texts.
Berger 1998 = Berger, Hermann. Die Burushaski-Sprache von Hunza und Nager. Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz. // A huge, three-volume grammatical description of the closely related Hunza and Nagar dialects of Burushaski, complete with vocabulary and a selection of texts.
Backstrom 1992 = Backstrom, Peter C.; Radloff, Carla F. Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan. Volume 2: Languages of Northern Areas. // SIL sociolinguistic survey of a group of languages in the Pakistan area. Includes a 210-item wordlist for all three Burushaski dialects, compiled by Peter C. Backstrom.


1. General.

The major source of information on all three Burushaski dialects is a set of publications by H. Berger; earlier sources (D. A. Lorimer's voluminous description of the language, etc.) are mostly of historical interest (and the most important discrepancies tend to be mentioned in Berger's works anyway).

In the adduced wordlists, most of the verbs and nouns are listed with additional morphological information, important for the formation of paradigms and internal reconstruction (this usually means including plural forms for nouns / adjectives; present tense stems for verbs; and, in some cases, information on the agreement class of a particular noun; the classes, following the Lorimer / Berger tradition, are marked as hm-, hf-, x-, y-, and z- respectively, see [Berger 1974: 13] for details).

As an additional check on the accuracy of semantic matching, we compare Berger's data with the comparative wordlists for Burushaski dialects published in [Backstrom 1992]. This source distinguishes between five Hunza, two Nagar, and two Yasin subdialects, but we have omitted further subspecification when listing Backstrom's forms in the "notes" section, since it is somewhat superfluous (within subdialects, most of the distinctions are phonetic rather than lexical, and they only occur in a very limited number of cases). In a small handful of instances, Backstrom's data contradict Berger's: these cases have been paid special attention and extensively commented upon in the notes, to ensure selection of the optimal candidate for the Swadesh meaning.

2. Transliteration.

The majority of Berger's transcriptional symbols match standard UTS conventions and are retained as such. Symbols that are still in need of transliteration mostly involve affricate / sibilant and retroflex series and are as follows:

Berger's transcription Backstrom's transcription UTS
kh, th, ph kʰ, tʰ, pʰ kʰ, tʰ, pʰ
ts c
ṣ̌ ʂ
č ɕ
j ʓ
š ʆ
x x χ
ɣ ɣ ʁ


1. The articulation of some Burushaski phonemes easily fluctuates between different phonetic variants: e. g. back fricatives may be realized as velar [x], [ɣ] or uvular [χ], [ʁ] depending on the particularities of even minor subdialects. The articulation of Berger's is said to vary between retroflex approximant [ɻ] and retroflex sibilant [ž], etc. For the most part, we have selected a unification strategy in all those cases where the distinctions do not concern phonological structure.

2. The three affricate / fricative series of Burushaski are opposed by Berger as dental (c, s), retroflex (c̢, ʂ), and palatal (ɕ, ʃ). In Backstrom's transcriptions, the palatal phonemes are transcribed as post-alveolar (č, š): this is probably just a notational convention.

3. Berger consistently marks stress on most of the attested Burushaski forms with an acute mark (V́); since stress accounts for an important phonological distinction in the language, we always transliterate it according to UTS standards (ˈV). Some of the Burushaski verbal and nominal roots are never stressed (falling into the "recessive" morpheme category); in these cases, Berger places the stress mark either before the root (when the stressed syllable is a possessive prefix, e. g. -́s- 'heart') or after the root (when the stressed syllable is a verbal suffix, e. g. gal-́ 'to go'). In such situations, we do not include the stress mark in the transliteration; it should simply be assumed that a transcription like =s- 'heart', without the stress mark, means that the root is never stressed, whereas a transcription like =rˈen 'hand' means that the root is always stressed.

Database compiled and annotated by: G. Starostin (last update: April 2013).