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Pashto (Naskh: پښتو - ; also transliterated Pakhto, Pushto, Pukhto, Pashtu, or Pushtu), also known as Afghani, is an Indo-European language spoken primarily in Afghanistanmarker and western Pakistanmarker. Pashto belongs to the Eastern Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian language family. The number of Pashto-speakers is estimated to be 30-40 million, and as defined in the Constitution of Afghanistan, Pashto is an official and national language of the country.

Geographic distribution

In Afghanistan, Pashto is primarily spoken in the east, south and southwest, but also in some northern and northwestern parts as a result of recent relocation. No exact numbers are available, but the CIA World Factbook 2009 estimates that 65% of the population speak Pashto as their first language. According to an older, but scholarly, estimate by the Encyclopaedia Iranica, Pashto is the native language of 60 to 65 percent of the population, and spoken by less than 20 percent as a second language. According to "A survey of the Afghan people - Afghanistan in 2006", Pashto is the first language of 60% of the population, while additional 28% also speak the language (combined 88%).

In Pakistan, Pashto is spoken by about 27 million people (15% of the total population) in the North-West Frontier Provincemarker, Federally Administered Tribal Areasmarker, and Balochistanmarker. Modern Pushtun speaking communities are also found in Sindhmarker (Karachimarker and Hyderabadmarker). With an estimated 4 million ethnic Pashtuns, Karachi hosts one of the largest Pashtun populations in the world.

Other communities of Pashto-speakers are found in northeastern Iranmarker, primarily in South Khorasan Provincemarker to the east of Qaenmarker, near the Afghan border, and in Tajikistanmarker. There are also Pashtun communities in Uttar Pradeshmarker as well as the southwestern part of Jammu & Kashmirmarker in Indiamarker.

Sizable Pashto-speaking communities also exist in the Middle East, especially in the United Arab Emiratesmarker and Saudi Arabiamarker, as well as in the United Statesmarker, particularly Californiamarker, and in the United Kingdommarker, Thailandmarker, Canadamarker and Australia.

Official status

In Afghanistan, Pashto is promoted as the first state language, and article 20 of the Constitution of Afghanistan states that the Afghan National Anthem "shall be in Pashto..." Pashto is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan that are used for the administration of the government throughout the country. Pashto is also used in education, literature, office and court business, media, and in religious institutions, etc. It is a repository of the cultural and social heritage of the country. In Pakistan, Pashto is not an official language, but it is one of the provincial languages spoken by the Pashtuns living in Pakistan, in the NWFPmarker, FATAmarker and Balochistanmarker.


Pashto is an S-O-V language with split ergativity. Adjectives come before nouns. Nouns and adjectives are inflected for two genders (masc./fem.), 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, subjunctive, simple past, past progressive, present perfect and past perfect. 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


A Pashto-Norwegian dictionary


Front Central Back

Pashto also has the diphthongs .


Labial Dental Alveolar Retroflex Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Glottal

The phonemes tend to be replaced by .

The retroflex lateral flap ( ) is pronounced as retroflex approximant when final.

The retroflex fricatives that are preserved in southern dialects are replaced by palatal fricatives in west-central dialects, velars in northern dialects, and postalveolars in southeastern dialects.

The velars followed by the close back rounded vowel assimilate into the labialized velars .


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 Farsi, Avestan, Ossetic and Pamir languages. However, a remarkably large number of words is special to Pashto. Post 7th century borrowings came primarily from Arabic. Modern borrowings come from Persian and Urdu (In Pakistan) with the modern educated speech borrowing words from English, French, and German.

Writing system

Pashto employs the Pashto alphabet, a modified form of the Arabic alphabet with extra letters added for Pashto-specific sounds. As of the 17th century Pashto has been primarily written in the Naskh Arabic script, rather than the Nasta'liq script used for neighboring Persian and Urdu languages. The Pashto alphabet consists of 46 letters, and 4 diacritic marks. The following table gives the letters' isolated forms, along with IPA values for the letters' typical sounds:












































As a consequence of life in areas of rugged terrain, there are many dialects of Pashto language. The two main dialects are soft or southern dialect and hard or northern dialect. Paktika is roughly the dividing line. One of the primary features of the dialects is the differences in the pronunciation of these seven phonemes (all sounds in IPA):

Southern Abdali (in Kandaharmarker, Zabul):
Southeastern (in Quettamarker):
Central Wannetsi (Harnai, Sinjawi):
Central Marwati (in Laki):
Central Khattak (in Karak):
Central Banuci (in Banu):
Central Waziri (in Wannamarker):
Central Khosti (in Khostmarker):
Central Dzadrani (in Dzadran, Paktia):
Central Afridi (in Tirah, Jamrudmarker):
Northwestern (Ghazni, Logar):
Northwestern Wardaki (Wardak):
Northwestern (Central Ghilzai):
Northern (in Nangarhar, Kabul):
Northeastern (Yusufzai, Peshawarmarker):

The differences between the southern dialects and the northern dialects are primarily phonological and there are simple conversion rules. The morphological differences between them are very few and unimportant. However, the east-central dialects are lexicologically different and very varied. The southern dialect of Kandaharmarker is the most conservative with regards to phonology, retaining the retroflex fricatives and the alveolar affricates, which have not merged with other phonemes. The Pashto alphabet reflects the southern dialect. Certain dialects show many archaic features, some of which are discarded by the literary language.

Notable phonological and lexicological differences

Kandahar Quetta Harnai Bannu Wana Khost Tirah Wardak Kabul Peshawar Translation
Pa to Pašto Pa to Pāšte Pāšte Pāxto Paxto Puxto Pashto
war war war tāmbə tāmbə, wār wār, tāmbə war war war door
pša , γədəi pšā pšā pxā pxa xpa foot
lmar lmar mer myerə stərgā γormə, myerə stərgā myerə stərgā myer, myerə stərga nmar nmar nwar sun
halək halək čora halək halək halək boy
čuwara girl
yaw yaw yo ye yo ye yo yaw yaw yaw one
calor calor čalor sāler cālwer cāler cālwor calor calor salor four
pinjə pinjə /pinjə pinzə pinzə pinjə pinzə pinjə pinzə pinzə five
špa špaž špo špež špež špeg špeg špag špag six
cok cok čok sek cek cek cok cok cok sok who
mu muž mu miž miž mig mu mung mung we
zmā zmā zmā emo emo emo emo zmā zəmā zəmā my
stā stā stā eto eto eto eto stā stā stā your
very, many
ləž ləški ləški ləg ləg ləg ləg little, less
č əl čšəl γwətəl čšəl cəxəl ckəl/čixəl skəl to drink
ho ho ho ey ey ey ey ho ho ao yes
yəm yəm yəm yəm yəm yəm yəm I am
jəm jəm , druməm drimə, sə drimə, cə drimə, cə cəm, druməm jəm zəm zəm I go
žəba žəba zbə žəbā žəbā žəbā žəba žəba tongue, language
kor kor kor ker ker ker kolə kor kor kor home
bega bega bega vega vega vega vega bega bega bega evening
sta sta sta štā štā stā štā sta šta šta it exists
plār plār pyār plor plor plor plor plār plār plār father

See also

Notes and references

  1. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 03 Jan. 2008. Link.
  2. "afghan." WordNet 3.0. Princeton University. 03 Jan. 2008. Word Net Link
  3. UCLA Language Materials Project: Language Profile
  4. Nicholas Sims-Williams, "'Eastern Iranian Languages'", Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, available at, Link
  5. CIA Factbook 2009; "Afghanistan - People"
  6. Ch. M. Kieffer, "'AFGHANISTAN v. Languages'", Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, available at, Link
  7. "A survey of the Afghan people - Afghanistan in 2006", The Asia Foundation, technical assistance by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS; India) and Afghan Center for Socio-economic and Opinion Research (ACSOR), Kabul, 2006, PDF
  8. Government of Pakistan: Population by Mother Tongue
  9. Languages of Iran, ethnologue report
  10. "Pashto, Southern: a language of Afghanistan", Ethnologue, accessed 6 June 2009
  11. Walter R Lawrence, Imperial Gazetteer of India. Provincial Series, pg 36-37, Link
  12. ethnologue report for Languages of United Arab Emirates
  13. ethnologue report for Languages of United Kingdom
  14. Constitution of Afghanistan (2004)
  15. Emeneau, M. B. (1962) "Bilingualism and Structural Borrowing" Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society 106(5): pp. 430-442, p. 441
  16. Michael M.T. Henderson, Four Varieties of Pashto
  17. G. Morgenstierne, "'AFGHANISTAN vi. Paṧtō'", Encyclopaedia Iranica Online, available at, Link


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