Pashto language

Pashto language
Pronunciation [paʂˈto], [paçˈto], [paxˈto]
Spoken in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran (minor) and by the Pashtun diaspora around the world.
Region South-Central Asia
Native speakers 50 million  (2009)[1]
to 60 million[2][3][4]
Language family
Southwestern (Kandahari)
Many minor dialects
Writing system Pashto alphabet
Official status
Official language in  Afghanistan
 Pakistan (provincial language in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. and FATA)
Regulated by Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ps
ISO 639-2 pus
ISO 639-3 pus – Macrolanguage
individual codes:
pst – Central Pashto
pbu – Northern Pashto
pbt – Southern Pashto
Linguasphere 58-ABD-a

Pashto (Naskh: پښتو [paʂˈto]; also transliterated Pakhto, Pushto, Pukhto, Pashtu, Paxto or Pushtu), known as Afghani in Persian and Pathani in Punjabi (the two languages being located on either side of Pashto),[6] is the native language of the indigenous[7] Pashtun people or Afghan people who are found primarily between an area south of the Amu Darya in Afghanistan and west of the Indus River in Pakistan. It is a member of the Eastern Iranian languages group spoken in Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as by the Pashtun diaspora around the world.[8]

Pashto belongs to the Northeastern branch of the Indo-Iranian language family[5][9], although Ethnologue lists it as Southeastern.[10] The number of Pashtuns or Pashto-speakers is estimated 50-60 million people world wide.[2][3][3][4][1] The Constitution of Afghanistan declares Pashto as one of the two official languages of the country, the other being Dari (Persian).[8][11][12][13]


Geographic distribution

Predominantly Pakhtun areas

Pashto is a language spoken in South-Central Asia, primarily in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan as well as by the Pashtuns throughout the world.

As the national language of Afghanistan,[14] Pashto is primarily spoken in the east, south and southwest, but also in some northern and western parts of the country. The exact numbers of speakers are unavailable, but different estimates show that Pashto is the mother tongue of 35-60%[15][16][17][18] of the total population of Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, Pashto is the first language of about 15.42%[19] of Pakistan's 170 million people. It is the main language of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and northwestern Balochistan, but also spoken in parts of Mianwali and Attock districts of the Punjab province as well as by Pashtuns who are found living in different cities throughout the country. Modern Pashto-speaking communities are also found in the cities of Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh.

Other communities of Pashto speakers are found in northeastern Iran, primarily in South Khorasan Province to the east of Qaen, near the Afghan border,[20] and in Tajikistan.[21] There are also communities of Pashtun communities descent in the southwestern part of Jammu and Kashmir.[22][23][24]

Sizable Pashto-speaking communities also exist in the Middle East, especially in the United Arab Emirates,[25] and Saudi Arabia, as well as in the United States, United Kingdom,[25] Thailand, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Qatar, Australia, Japan and Russia etc.


The Arachosia Satrapy and the Pactyan people during the Achaemenid Empire in 500 B.C.

The origin of Pashto language and the Pashtun tribes is unknown. The word "Pashto" derives by regular phonological processes from Parsawā- "Persian".[26] Nonetheless, the Pashtuns are sometimes compared with the Pakhta tribes mentioned in the Rigveda (1700–1100 BC), apparently the same as a people called Pactyans, described by the Greek historian Herodotus as living in the Achaemenid's Arachosia Satrapy as early as the 1st millennium BC.[27] However, this comparison appears to be due mainly to the apparent, etymologically unjustified, similarity between their names.[28][29]

Herodotus also mentions the Pactyan "Apridai" tribe but it is unknown what language they spoke.[30] Strabo, who lived between 64 BC and 24 CE, explains that the tribes inhabiting the lands west of the Indus River were part of Ariana and to their east was India.[28] Since the 3rd century CE and onward, they are mostly referred to by the name "Afghan" ("Abgan")[31][32][33] and their language as "Afghani".[34]

Scholars such as Abdul Hai Habibi and others believe that the earliest Pashto work dates back to Amir Kror Suri in the eighth century, and they use the writings found in Pata Khazana. However, this is disputed by several European experts due to lack of strong evidence. Pata Khazana is a Pashto manuscript[35] claimed to be first compiled during the Hotaki dynasty (1709–1738) in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During the 17th century Pashto poetry was becoming very popular among the Pashtuns. Some of those who wrote Poetry in Pashto are Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Nazo Tokhi and Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the modern state of Afghanistan or the Afghan Empire.

Official language of Afghanistan

Before the present day ethno-linguistic situation in South Asia, the Afghan Empire comprised regions on both sides of the Durand Line by which the British colonial power annexed about one third of Afghanistan. The border created a buffer zone and was drawn through the Pashtun areas of settlement leaving the larger part of them in what was to become Pakistan.

Pashto (since 1936) and Dari (Persian) are the two official languages of Afghanistan. Persian, however, was the only official language until the 1930s,[36] and it still serves as the lingua franca of the country.[37]

Since the early 18th century, all the kings of Afghanistan were ethnic Pashtuns except for Habibullah Kalakani, and most of them bilingual although Amānullāh Khān spoke Pashto as his second language.[38] Persian as the literary language of the royal court[39] was more widely used in government institutions while Pashto was spoken by the Pashtun tribes as their native tongue. Amanullah Khan began promoting Pashto during his reign as a marker of ethnic identity and a symbol of "official nationalism"[38] leading Afghanistan to independence after the defeat of the British colonial power in the Third Anglo-Afghan War. In the 1930s, a movement began to take hold to promote Pashto as a language of government, administration and art with the establishment of a Pashto Society Pashto Anjuman in 1931[40] and the inauguration of the Kabul University in 1932 as well as the formation of the Pashto Academy Pashto Tolana in 1937.[41] Although officially strengthening the use of Pashto, the Afghan elite regarded Persian as a "sophisticated language and a symbol of cultured upbringing".[38] King Zahir Shah thus followed suit after his father Nadir Khan had decreed in 1933, that both Persian and Pashto were to be studied and utilized by officials.[42] In 1936, Pashto was formally granted the status of an official language[43] with full rights to usage in all aspects of government and education by a royal decree under Zahir Shah despite the fact that the ethnically Pashtun royal family and bureaucrates mostly spoke Persian.[41] Thus Pashto became a national language, a symbol for Afghan nationalism.[37]

The status of official language was reaffirmed in 1964 by the constitutional assembly when Afghan Persian was officially renamed to Dari.[44][45] The lyrics of the national anthem of Afghanistan are in Pashto.

Regional language in Pakistan

In Pakistan, Pashto is the regional language of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas.[46] In 1984, Pashto was permitted to be used as the medium of instruction in primary schools.[38]


Pashto is an SOV (subject–object–verb) language with split ergativity. Adjectives come before nouns. Nouns and adjectives are inflected for two genders (masc./fem.),[47] two numbers (sing./plur.), and four cases (direct, oblique I, oblique II and vocative). The verb system is very intricate with the following tenses: present, simple past, past progressive, present perfect and past perfect. There is also an inflection for the subjunctive mood. In any of the past tenses (simple past, past progressive, present perfect and past perfect), Pashto is an ergative language; i.e., transitive verbs in any of the past tenses agree with the object of the sentence.



Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ə o
Open a ɑ

Pashto also has the diphthongs /ai/, /əi/, /ɑw/, /aw/.


Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n ɳ
Plosive p b t̪ d̪ ʈ ɖ k ɡ q ʔ
Affricate t͡s d͡z t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
Fricative f s z (ʂ ʐ) ʃ ʒ (ç ʝ) x ɣ h
Approximant l j w
Rhotic r

The phonemes /q/, /f/ tend to be replaced by [k], [p].

The retroflex lateral flap // (/ɺ̢/) is pronounced as retroflex approximant [ɻ] when final.

The retroflex fricatives /ʂ/, /ʐ/ and palatal fricatives /ç/, /ʝ/ represent dialectally different pronunciations of the same sound, not separate phonemes. In particular, the retroflex fricatives, which represent the original pronunciation of these sounds, are preserved in the southern/southwestern dialects (especially the prestige dialect of Kandahar), while they are pronounced as palatal fricatives in the west-central dialects. Other dialects merge the original retroflexes with other existing sounds: The southeastern dialects merge them with the postalveolar fricatives /ʃ/, /ʒ/, while the northern/northeastern dialects merge them with the velar phonemes in an asymmetric pattern, pronouncing them as /x/, /ɡ/ (not /ɣ/). Furthermore, according to Henderson (1983),[48] the west-central voiced palatal fricative /ʝ/ actually occurs only in the Wardak Province, and is merged into /ɡ/ elsewhere in the region.

The velars /k/, /ɡ/, /x/, /ɣ/ followed by the close back rounded vowel /u/ assimilate into the labialized velars [kʷ], [ɡʷ], [xʷ], [ɣʷ].


In Pashto, most of the native elements of the lexicon are related to other Eastern Iranian languages; those words can be easily compared to those known from Avestan, Ossetic and Pamir languages. However, a remarkably large number of words are special to Pashto.[5] Post-7th century borrowings came primarily from the Arabic, Persian and Hindustani languages (in Pakistan),[49][50] with the modern educated speech borrowing words from English,[2] French,[2] and German.[2]

Writing system

Pashto employs the Pashto alphabet, a modified form of the Persian alphabet which on its part is derived from the Arabic alphabet. The reason for this is because, it is not a Semitic language, and thus it is modified. It has extra letters for Pashto-specific sounds. Since the 17th century Pashto has been primarily written in the Naskh script, rather than the Nasta'liq script used for neighboring Persian and Urdu languages. The Pashto alphabet consists of 45 letters, and 4 diacritic marks. The following table gives the letters' isolated forms, along with IPA values for the letters' typical sounds:

/ɑ/, /ʔ/



/ʐ/, /ʝ/, /ɡ/
/ʂ/, /ç/, /x/
ك / ک
/w/, /u/, /o/
/h/, /a/, /ə/
/j/, /i/
/ai/, /j/

Pashto is written from right to left.


Pashto has two main dialects: a softer dialect spoken in the south, and a harsher dialect in the north. The former is further divided into southwestern and southeastern dialects, and the latter into northwestern (also called central or Ghiljai dialect) and northeastern. It is dominated by the geographical spread of the shift in the pronunciation of these five consonants:

Southwest [ʂ] [ʐ] [ts] [dz] [ʒ]
Southeast [ʃ] [ʒ] [ts] [dz] [ʒ]
Central [ç] [g]/[ʝ] [ts] [z] [ʒ]
Northeast [x] [ɡ] [s] [z] [dʒ]

The morphological differences between the most extreme north-eastern and south-western dialects are comparatively few and unimportant, and the criteria of dialect differentiation in Pashto are primarily phonological.[51]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b Paul M. Lewis, ed (2009). "Pashto, Northern". SIL International. Dallas, Texas: Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Retrieved 2010-09-18. "Ethnic population: 49,529,000 possibly total Pashto in all countries." 
  2. ^ a b c d e Penzl, Herbert; Ismail Sloan (2009). A Grammar of Pashto a Descriptive Study of the Dialect of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Ishi Press International. pp. 210. ISBN 0923891722. Retrieved 2010-10-25. "Estimates of the number of Pashto speakers range from 40 million to 60 million..." 
  3. ^ a b c "Pashto". Retrieved 2010-10-25. "The exact number of Pashto speakers is not known for sure, but most estimates range from 45 million to 55 million." 
  4. ^ a b Thomson, Gale (2007). Countries of the World & Their Leaders Yearbook 08. 2. European Union: Indo-European Association. p. 84. ISBN 0787681083. Retrieved 2010-10-25. 
  5. ^ a b c "AFGHANISTAN vi. Paṧto". G. Morgenstierne. Encyclopaedia Iranica Online Version. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "Paṧtō undoubtedly belongs to the Northeastern Iranic branch." 
  6. ^, "Afghani," in The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Source location: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. Accessed: July 14, 2010.
  7. ^ "Country Profile: Afghanistan". United States: Library of Congress Country Studies on Afghanistan. August 2008. Retrieved 2010-08-16. 
  8. ^ a b Barbara Robson, Juliene Lipson, Farid Younos, Mariam Mehdi. "The Afghans - Language and Literacy". United States: Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL). June 30, 2002. Retrieved 2010-10-24. 
  9. ^ Nicholas Sims-Williams, Eastern Iranian languages, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, 2010. "The Modern Eastern Iranian languages are even more numerous and varied. Most of them are classified as North-Eastern: Ossetic; Yaghnobi (which derives from a dialect closely related to Sogdian); the Shughni group (Shughni, Roshani, Khufi, Bartangi, Roshorvi, Sarikoli), with which Yaz-1ghulami (Sokolova 1967) and the now extinct Wanji (J. Payne in Schmitt, p. 420) are closely linked; Ishkashmi, Sanglichi, and Zebaki; Wakhi; Munji and Yidgha; and Pashto."
  10. ^ Paul M. Lewis, ed (2009). "Pashto Family Tree". SIL International. Dallas, Texas: Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Retrieved 2011-04-02. 
  11. ^ Constitution of Afghanistan - Chapter 1 The State, Article 16 (Languages) and Article 20 (Anthem)
  12. ^ Banting, Erinn (2003). Afghanistan: The land. Crabtree Publishing Company. p. 4. ISBN 0778793354. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  13. ^ "General Information About Afghanistan". Abdullah Qazi. Afghanistan Online. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  14. ^ "Pashto language". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2010-12-07. 
  15. ^ "Languages: Afghanistan". Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  16. ^ "Pashto". UCLA International Institute: Center for World Languages. University of California, Los Angeles. Retrieved 2010-12-10. 
  17. ^ "AFGHANISTAN v. Languages". Ch. M. Kieffer. Encyclopædia Iranica Online Version. Retrieved 2010-10-10. "A. Official languages. Paṧtō (1) is the native tongue of 50 to 55 percent of Afghans..." 
  18. ^ Brown, Keith; Sarah Ogilvie (2009). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world. Elsevie. p. 845. ISBN 0080877745. Retrieved 2010-09-24. "Pashto, which is mainly spoken south of the mountain range of the Hindu Kush, is reportedly the mother tongue of 60% of the Afghan population." 
  19. ^ Government of Pakistan: Population by Mother Tongue
  20. ^ "Languages of Iran". SIL International. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  21. ^ "Pashto, Southern". SIL International. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 14th edition. 2000. Retrieved 2010-09-18. 
  22. ^ Walter R Lawrence, Imperial Gazetteer of India. Provincial Series, pg 36-37, Link
  23. ^ "Study of the Pathan Communities in four States of India". Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  24. ^ "Phonemic Inventory of Pashto" (PDF). CRULP. Retrieved 2007-06-07. 
  25. ^ a b "Languages of United Arab Emirates". SIL International. Ethnologue: Languages of the World. Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  26. ^ Comrie, Bernard (1990). The World's Major Languages. Oxford University Press. p. 549. 
  27. ^ "The History of Herodotus Chapter 7". Translated by George Rawlinson. The History Files. 440 BC. Retrieved 2007-01-10. 
  28. ^ a b Sabahuddin, Abdul (2008). History of Afghanistan. Global Vision Publishing Ho. p. 15. ISBN 8182202469. Retrieved 2010-09-23. 
  29. ^ Nath, Samir (2002). Dictionary of Vedanta. Sarup & Sons. p. 273. ISBN 8178900564. Retrieved 2010-09-10. 
  30. ^ Houtsma, Martijn Theodoor (1987). E.J. Brill's first encyclopaedia of Islam, 1913-1936. 2. BRILL. p. 150. ISBN 9004082654. Retrieved 2010-09-24. 
  31. ^ "Afghan and Afghanistan". Abdul Hai Habibi. 1969. Retrieved 2010-10-24. 
  32. ^ "History of Afghanistan". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Retrieved 2010-11-22. 
  33. ^ Noelle-Karimi, Christine; Conrad J. Schetter, Reinhard Schlagintweit (2002). Afghanistan - a country without a state?. University of Michigan, United States: IKO. p. 18. ISBN 3889396283. Retrieved 2010-09-24. "The earliest mention of the name 'Afghan' (Abgan) is to be found in a Sasanid inscription from the third century AD, and it appears in India in the form of 'Avagana'..." 
  34. ^ Zahir ud-Din Mohammad Babur (1525). "Events Of The Year 910". Memoirs of Babur. Packard Humanities Institute. Retrieved 2010-08-22. 
  35. ^ "Pata Khazana" (pdf). Retrieved 2010-09-27. 
  36. ^ Modarresi, Yahya: Iran, Afghanistan and Tadjikistan". 1911 - 1916. In: Sociolinguistics, Vol. 3, Part. 3. Ulrich Ammon, Norbert Dittmar, Klaus J. Mattheier, Peter Trudgill (eds.). Berlin, De Gryuter: 2006. p. 1915. isbn 3110184184 [1]
  37. ^ a b "The Afghans - Language Use". Barbara Robson and Juliene Lipson, with assistance from Farid Younos and Mariam Mehdi. United States: Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL). June 30, 2002. Retrieved 2010-10-24. 
  38. ^ a b c d Tariq Rahman. Pashto Language & Identity Formation in Pakistan. Contemporary South Asia, July 1995, Vol 4, Issue 2, p151-20.
  39. ^ Lorenz, Manfred. Die Herausbildung moderner iranischer Literatursprachen. In: Zeitschrift für Phonetik, Sprachwissenschaft und Kommunikationsforschung, Vol. 36. Akademie der Wissenschaften der DDR. Akademie Verlag, Berlin: 1983. P. 184ff.
  40. ^ Other sources note 1933, i.e. Johannes Christian Meyer-Ingwersen. Untersuchungen zum Satzbau des Paschto. 1966. Ph.D. Thesis, Hamburg 1966.
  41. ^ a b Hussain, Rizwan. Pakistan and the emergence of Islamic militancy in Afghanistan. Burlington, Ashgate: 2005. p. 63.
  42. ^ István Fodor, Claude Hagège. Reform of Languages. Buske, 1983. P. 105ff.
  43. ^ Campbell, George L.: Concise compendium of the world's languages. London: Routledge 1999.
  44. ^ Dupree, Louis: Language and Politics in Afghanistan. In: Contributions to Asian Studies. Vol. 11/1978. p. 131 - 141. E. J. Brill, Leiden 1978. p. 131.
  45. ^ Spooner, Bryan: "Are we teaching Persian?". In: Persian studies in North America: studies in honor of Mohammad Ali Jazayery. Mehdi Marashi (ed.). Bethesda, Iranbooks: 1994. p. 1983.
  46. ^ Septfonds, D. 2006. Pashto. In: Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world. 845 - 848. Keith Brown / Sarah Ogilvie (eds.). Elsevier, Oxford: 2009.
  47. ^ Emeneau, M. B. (1962) "Bilingualism and Structural Borrowing" Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 106(5): pp. 430-442, p. 441
  48. ^ Michael M.T. Henderson, Four Varieties of Pashto
  49. ^ Vladimir Kushev (1997). "Areal Lexical Contacts of the Afghan (Pashto) Language (Based on the Texts of the XVI-XVIII Centuries)". Iran and the Caucasus (Brill) 1: 159–166. Retrieved 2009-06-07. 
  50. ^ Census of India, 1931, Volume 17, Part 2. Times of India. 1937. Retrieved 2009-06-07. "At the same time Pashto has borrowed largely from Persian, and through those languages from Arabic." 
  51. ^ D. N. MacKenzie, "A Standard Pashto",


  • Schmidt, Rüdiger (ed.) (1989). Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum. Wiesbaden: Reichert. ISBN 3-88226-413-6. 
  • Gusain, Lakhan (2008??) " A Grammar of Pashto". Ann Arbor, MI: Northside Publishers. ISBN ??
  • Georg Morgenstierne (1926) Report on a Linguistic Mission to Afghanistan. Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning, Serie C I-2. Oslo. ISBN 0-923891-09-9
  • Daniel G. Hallberg (1992) Pashto, Waneci, Ormuri (Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan, 4). National Institute of Pakistani Studies, 176 pp. ISBN 969-8023-14-3.
  • Herbert Penzl A Grammar of Pashto A Descriptive Study of the Dialect of Kandahar, Afghanistan ISBN 0-923891-72-2
  • Herbert Penzl A Reader of Pashto ISBN 0-923891-71-4

External links

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