Nuristan, Afghanistan
Chitral, Pakistan
Linguistic classificationIndo-European
  • Northern Nuristani
  • Southern Nuristani
Nuristan in Afghanistan.svg
Nuristan Province in Afghanistan, where most speakers live

The Nuristani languages, also known as Kafiri languages, are one of the three groups within the Indo-Iranian language family, alongside the much larger Indo-Aryan and Iranian groups.[1][2][3] They have approximately 130,000 speakers primarily in eastern Afghanistan and a few adjacent valleys in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Chitral District, Pakistan. The region inhabited by the Nuristanis is located in the southern Hindu Kush mountains, and is drained by the Alingar River in the west, the Pech River in the center, and the Landai Sin and Kunar rivers in the east. The languages were previously often grouped with Indo-Aryan (Dardic sub-group) or Iranian until they were finally classified as forming a third branch in Indo-Iranian.


A map of Nuristani Languages by Georg Morgenstierne
A map of Nuristani Languages by Georg Morgenstierne


The Nuristani languages were not described in literature until the 19th century. The older name for the region was Kafiristan and the languages were termed Kafiri or Kafiristani, but the terms have been replaced by the present ones since the conversion of the region to Islam in 1896. The Kalash people are very close to the Nuristani people in terms of culture and historic religion, and are divided between speakers of the Nuristani language, Kalasha-ala, and an Indo-Aryan language, Kalaṣa-mun.

There are three different theories about the origins of the Nuristani languages and their place within the Indo-Iranian languages:

The languages are spoken by tribal peoples in an extremely isolated mountainous region of the Hindu Kush, one that has never been subject to any real central authority in modern times. This area is located along the northeastern border of present-day Afghanistan and adjacent portions of the northwest of present-day Pakistan. These languages have not received the attention linguists would like to give them. Considering the very small number of people estimated to speak them, they must be considered endangered languages.

Many Nuristani people now speak other languages, such as Dari and Pashto (two official languages of Afghanistan) and Chitrali in Pakistan.


[citation needed]

Reconstruction ofNuristani languages

The earliest divergence of Nuristani from the other Indo-Iranian languages may be indicated by the fact that the Ruki sound law does not apply after *u: e.g. Kam-viri /muˈsə/ 'mouse'.

Nuristani shares with Iranian the merger of the tenuis and breathy-voiced consonants, and the fronting of the Proto-Indo-Iranian primary palatal consonants. The latter were retained as dental affricates in Proto-Nuristani, in contrast to simplification to sibilants (in most of Iranian) or interdentals (in Persian). Nuristani is distinguished by the lack of debuccalizing /s/ to /h/ as in Indo-Aryan. Later on *dz did shift to /z/ in all Nuristani varieties other than Kam-viri and Tregami.

Many Nuristani languages have subject–object–verb (SOV) word order, like most of the other Indo-Iranian languages, and unlike the adjacent Dardic Kashmiri language, which has verb-second word order.

See also


  1. ^ SIL Ethnologue [1]
  2. ^ Morgenstierne, G. (1975) [1973]. "Die Stellung der Kafirsprachen" [The position of the Kafir languages]. In Morgenstierne, G. (ed.). Irano-Dardica (in German). Wiesbaden: Reichert. pp. 327–343.
  3. ^ Strand, Richard F. (1973). "Notes on the Nûristânî and Dardic Languages". Journal of the American Oriental Society. 93 (3): 297–305. doi:10.2307/599462. JSTOR 599462.


  • Decker, Kendall D. (1992) Languages of Chitral. Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan, 5. Islamabad: National Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University and Summer Institute of Linguistics. ISBN 4-87187-520-2
  • Grjunberg, A. L. (1971): K dialektologii dardskich jazykov (glangali i zemiaki). Indijskaja i iranskaja filologija: Voprosy dialektologii. Moscow.
  • Morgenstierne, Georg (1926) Report on a Linguistic Mission to Afghanistan. Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning, Serie C I-2. Oslo. ISBN 0-923891-09-9
  • Jettmar, Karl (1985) Religions of the Hindu Kush ISBN 0-85668-163-6
  • J. P. Mallory, In Search of the Indo-Europeans: Language, Archaeology and Myth, Thames and Hudson, 1989.
  • James P. Mallory & Douglas Q. Adams, "Indo-Iranian Languages", Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture, Fitzroy Dearborn, 1997.
  • Strand, Richard F. "NURESTÂNI LANGUAGES" in Encyclopædia Iranica