In the midst of extensive salt marshes in the Thar Desert, swanked by the Gulf of Kutch and the mouth of the Indus River opening into the southern tip of Sindh, lies the Great Rann of Kutch. Join me this month in discovering a fact or two about the language of the Kutchi people, who are popularly known for their natural flair for languages, exquisite embroidered handicrafts, vibrant colours and ethnic textiles. Fact #1 – Gujarati is not their mother tongue!
Kutchi – What’s that?
Kutchi (also spelt Cutchi, Kutchhi or Kachchhi) is an Indo Aryan Language spoken primarily in the Kutch region of western India, around Sindh and Gujarat. Often mistaken to be a dialect of Gujarati, it is a clear dialect of Sindhi and is in fact spoken by more than 11 million speakers worldwide.
It is specifically spoken by the Kutchi people, which would include the Rajput Jadejas, Bhanushalis, Lohanas, Bhuj Brahmins, Megvals, Visa Oswal and Dasa Osval (Oshwal) Jains, followers of Satpanth, Bhatias, Rabaris and various Muslim communities in the region as well, including the Muslim Khojas and the Kutchi Memons.
As for the fun facts
Until 1947, the Kutch region was merely seen as an extension of the Indus basin. Due to the proximity to the sea and general underdevelopment of the region, merchants started crossing borders regularly to other close-by countries for trade, dairy products, sweets or even brides. With a reputation of being natural seafarers, today, they are even found in far-flung ports of the Gulf and Africa.
Of scripts and peculiarities
Kutchi is a lot like Sindhi where most of its grammar and vocabulary is concerned. It is also said to be mildly related to Gujarati since Kutchh is located in between Sindh and Gujarat. It is unique in the way it is spoken and has many common words with Punjabi and Marwari (Rajasthan) as well. Also borrows a substantial number of words from Persian and Arabic such as ‘duniya’ and ‘naseeb’ for example.
Its script is a slightly modified version of the Gujarati and the Devnagari script. In earlier times it was written using the Khojki script, which is extinct today. Since it is spoken in parts of Karachi, it can also be written in an Urdu script, especially in Pakistan.
Most Kutchis living in India are quite naturally bilingual or trilingual, owing to the exposure to neighbouring languages such as Gujarati. It is likely that such linguistic similarities are a result of migrations across the desert over the last so many centuries, right from present-day Sindh up to Rajasthan. So the next time maybe you could surprise your Kutchi friends by asking them: ‘Koro thiyoh’ (What happened?) when they least expect it!