In 1986, the National Institute of Folk & Traditional Heritage of Pakistan wanted to know about and preserve knowledge of the languages and cultures in the north of their country. The Northern Pakistan survey team was formed to respond to this request. When the research began, it was thought there were 14 languages in the northern portion of the country.”

The team discovered quite a mix of situations. The linguistic research showed that some communities spoke the same language varieties, even though the people reported that they spoke different languages. And in other communities, when the speech was identified as being different, the people insisted that they were the same! Some communities were using only one language. Others used many. Some groups were very motivated to develop writing for their language. Then again, others were shifting away from using their parents' language altogether and there was little interest in developing it.

In another complex situation very little linguistic difference was noticed between one village and the next, but as the distance from the first village increased, the linguistic difference became greater. Eventually, the team arrived in a place where the people could not understand the language of the first place that had been studied. Looking at the maps, it was observed that there was nowhere obvious where a boundary could be drawn between one language and another. How could each village speak different languages if everyone understood their neighbors? But how could they speak the same language if they couldn't understand their neighbors' neighbors? It seemed that the more information was gathered the situation became more complex. By the time the team finished studying the ethnic identity, language use, language attitudes, and language variation of northern Pakistan, instead of the 14 languages, they ended up describing 26, nearly double what had  been anticipated.