|Pronunciation||[pəʂˈto], [pʊxˈto], [pəçˈto], [pəʃˈto]|
|Native to||Afghanistan, Pakistan|
|40–60 million (2000s)|
Official language in
Areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan where Pashto is:
the predominant language
spoken alongside other languages
Pashto[a] (/ˈpʌʃtoʊ/,/ˈpæʃtoʊ/;[b] پښتو, Pəx̌tó, [pəʂˈto, pʊxˈto, pəʃˈto, pəçˈto]) is an Eastern Iranian language in the Indo-European language family. It is known in historical Persian literature as Afghani (افغانی, Afghāni).
Spoken as a native language mostly by ethnic Pashtuns, it is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan alongside Dari, and it is the second-largest provincial language of Pakistan, spoken mainly in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the northern districts of Balochistan. Likewise, it is the primary language of the Pashtun diaspora around the world. The total number of Pashto-speakers is at least 40 million, although some estimates place it as high as 60 million. Pashto is "one of the primary markers of ethnic identity" amongst Pashtuns.
Further information: Languages of Afghanistan and Languages of Pakistan
A national language of Afghanistan, Pashto is primarily spoken in the east, south, and southwest, but also in some northern and western parts of the country. The exact number of speakers is unavailable, but different estimates show that Pashto is the mother tongue of 45–60% of the total population of Afghanistan.
In Pakistan, Pashto is spoken by 15% of its population, mainly in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern districts of Balochistan province. It is also spoken in parts of Mianwali and Attock districts of the Punjab province, areas of Gilgit-Baltistan and in Islamabad. Pashto speakers are found in other major cities of Pakistan, most notably Karachi, Sindh, which may have the largest Pashtun population of any city in the world.
Other communities of Pashto speakers are found in India, Tajikistan, and northeastern Iran (primarily in South Khorasan Province to the east of Qaen, near the Afghan border). In India most ethnic Pashtun (Pathan) peoples speak the geographically native Hindi-Urdu language rather than Pashto, but there are small numbers of Pashto speakers, such as the Sheen Khalai in Rajasthan, and the Pathan community in the city of Kolkata, often nicknamed the Kabuliwala ("people of Kabul"). Pashtun diaspora communities in other countries around the world speak Pashto, especially the sizable communities in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.
Pashto is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan, along with Dari Persian. Since the early 18th century, the monarchs of Afghanistan have been ethnic Pashtuns (except for Habibullāh Kalakāni in 1929). Persian, the literary language of the royal court, was more widely used in government institutions, while the Pashtun tribes spoke Pashto as their native tongue. King Amanullah Khan began promoting Pashto during his reign (1926–1929) as a marker of ethnic identity and as a symbol of "official nationalism" leading Afghanistan to independence after the defeat of the British Empire in the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919. 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 and the inauguration of the Kabul University in 1932 as well as the formation of the Pashto Academy (Pashto Tolana) in 1937. Muhammad Na'im Khan, the minister of education between 1938 and 1946, inaugurated the formal policy of promoting Pashto as Afghanistan's national language, leading to the commission and publication of Pashto textbooks. The Pashto Tolana was later incorporated into the Academy of Sciences Afghanistan in line with Soviet model following the Saur Revolution in 1978.
Although officially supporting the use of Pashto, the Afghan elite regarded Persian as a "sophisticated language and a symbol of cultured upbringing". King Zahir Shah (reigning 1933–1973) thus followed suit after his father Nadir Khan had decreed in 1933 that officials were to study and utilize both Persian and Pashto. In 1936 a royal decree of Zahir Shah formally granted Pashto the status of an official language, with full rights to use in all aspects of government and education – despite the fact that the ethnically Pashtun royal family and bureaucrats mostly spoke Persian. Thus Pashto became a national language, a symbol for Pashtun nationalism.
The constitutional assembly reaffirmed the status of Pashto as an official language in 1964 when Afghan Persian was officially renamed to Dari. The lyrics of the national anthem of Afghanistan are in Pashto.
In British India, prior to the creation of Pakistan by the British government, the 1920s saw the blossoming of Pashto language in the then NWFP: Abdul Ghafar Khan in 1921 established the Anjuman-e- Islah al-Afaghina (Society for the Reformation of Afghans) to promote Pashto as an extension of Pashtun culture; around 80,000 people attended the Society's annual meeting in 1927. In 1955, Pashtun intellectuals including Abdul Qadir formed the Pashto Academy Peshawar on the model of Pashto Tolana formed in Afghanistan. In 1974, the Department of Pashto was established in the University of Balochistan for the promotion of Pashto.
In Pakistan, Pashto is the first language around of 15% of its population (per the 1998 census). However, Urdu and English are the two official languages of Pakistan. Pashto has no official status at the federal level. On a provincial level, Pashto is the regional language of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and north Balochistan. Yet, the primary medium of education in government schools in Pakistan is Urdu.
The lack of importance given to Pashto and her neglect has caused growing resentment amongst Pashtuns. It is noted that Pashto is taught poorly in schools in Pakistan. Moreover, in government schools material is not provided for in the Pashto dialect of that locality, Pashto being a dialectically rich language. Further, researchers have observed that Pashtun students are unable to fully comprehend educational material in Urdu.
Professor Tariq Rahman states:
"The government of Pakistan, faced with irredentist claims from Afghanistan on its territory, also discouraged the Pashto Movement and eventually allowed its use in peripheral domains only after the Pakhtun elite had been co-opted by the ruling elite...Thus, even though there is still an active desire among some Pakhtun activists to use Pashto in the domains of power, it is more of a symbol of Pakhtun identity than one of nationalism."— Tariq Rahman, The Pashto language and identity-formation in Pakistan
Robert Nicols states:
"In the end, national language policy, especially in the field of education in the NWFP, had constructed a type of three tiered language hierarchy. Pashto lagged far behind Urdu and English in prestige or development in almost every domain of political or economic power..."— Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors, Pashto Language Policy and Practice in the North West Frontier Province
Although Pashto used as a medium of instruction in schools for Pashtun students results in better understanding and comprehension for students when compared to using Urdu, still the government of Pakistan has only introduced Pashto at the primary levels in state-run schools. Taimur Khan remarks: "the dominant Urdu language squeezes and denies any space for Pashto language in the official and formal capacity. In this contact zone, Pashto language exists but in a subordinate and unofficial capacity".
Some linguists have argued that Pashto is descended from Avestan or a variety very similar to it, while others have attempted to place it closer to Bactrian. However, neither position is universally agreed upon. What scholars do agree on is the fact that Pashto is an Eastern Iranian language sharing characteristics with Eastern Middle Iranian languages such as Bactrian, Khwarezmian and Sogdian.
Compare with other Eastern Iranian Languages and Old Avestan:
|"I am seeing you"|
|Pashto||زۀ تا وينم
Zə tā winə́m
|Old Avestan||Azə̄m θβā vaēnamī|
|Ossetian||ӕз дӕ уынын
/ɐz dɐ wənən/
|Ormuri||از بو تو ځُنِم
Az bū tū dzunim
|Yidgha||Zo vtō vīnəm əstə (tə)|
|Munji||Zə ftō wīnəm|
|Shughni||Uz tu winum|
|Wakhi||Wuz tau winəm|
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. This was around the time when the area inhabited by the Pashtuns was governed by the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. From the 3rd century CE onward, they are mostly referred to by the name Afghan (Abgan).
Abdul Hai Habibi believed that the earliest modern Pashto work dates back to Amir Kror Suri of the early Ghurid period in the 8th century, and they use the writings found in Pata Khazana. Pə́ṭa Xazāná (پټه خزانه) is a Pashto manuscript claimed to be written by Mohammad Hotak under the patronage of the Pashtun emperor Hussain Hotak in Kandahar; containing an anthology of Pashto poets. However, its authenticity is disputed by scholars such as David Neil MacKenzie and Lucia Serena Loi. Nile Green comments in this regard:
"In 1944, Habibi claimed to have discovered an eighteenth-century manuscript anthology containing much older biographies and verses of Pashto poets that stretched back as far as the eighth century. It was an extraordinary claim, implying as it did that the history of Pashto literature reached back further in time than Persian, thus supplanting the hold of Persian over the medieval Afghan past. Although it was later convincingly discredited through formal linguistic analysis, Habibi's publication of the text under the title Pata Khazana ('Hidden Treasure') would (in Afghanistan at least) establish his reputation as a promoter of the wealth and antiquity of Afghanistan's Pashto culture."— Afghan History Through Afghan Eyes
From the 16th century, Pashto poetry become very popular among the Pashtuns. Some of those who wrote in Pashto are Bayazid Pir Roshan (a major inventor of the Pashto alphabet), Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Nazo Tokhi, and Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the modern state of Afghanistan or the Durrani Empire. The Pashtun literary tradition grew in the backdrop to weakening Pashtun power following Mughal rule: Khushal Khan Khattak used Pashto poetry to rally for Pashtun unity and Pir Bayazid as an expedient means to spread his message to the Pashtun masses.
For instance Khushal Khattak laments in :
"The Afghans (Pashtuns) are far superior to the Mughals at the sword,
Were but the Afghans, in intellect, a little discreet. If the different tribes would but support each other,
Kings would have to bow down in prostration before them"— Khushal Khan Khattak, Selections from the Poetry of the Afghans
Main article: Pashto grammar
Pashto is a subject–object–verb (SOV) language with split ergativity. In Pashto, this means that the verb agrees with the subject in transitive and intransitive sentences in non-past, non-completed clauses, but when a completed action is reported in any of the past tenses, the verb agrees with the subject if it is intransitive, but with the object if it is transitive. Verbs are inflected for present, simple past, past progressive, present perfect, and past perfect tenses. There is also an inflection for the subjunctive mood.
Nouns and adjectives are inflected for two genders (masculine and feminine), two numbers (singular and plural), and four cases (direct, oblique, ablative, and vocative). The possessor precedes the possessed in the genitive construction, and adjectives come before the nouns they modify.
Unlike most other Indo-Iranian languages, Pashto uses all three types of adpositions—prepositions, postpositions, and circumpositions.
Main article: Pashto phonology
See also: Pashto_dialects § Lexemes
In Pashto, most of the native elements of the lexicon are related to other Eastern Iranian languages. As noted by Josef Elfenbein, "Loanwords have been traced in Pashto as far back as the third century B.C., and include words from Greek and probably Old Persian". For instance, Georg Morgenstierne notes the Pashto word مېچن mečә́n i.e. a hand-mill as being derived from the Ancient Greek word μηχανή (mēkhanḗ, i.e. a device). Post-7th century borrowings came primarily from Persian and Hindi-Urdu, with Arabic words being borrowed through Persian, but sometimes directly. Modern speech borrows words from English, French, and German.
However, a remarkably large number of words are unique to Pashto.
Here is an exemplary list of Pure Pashto and borrowings:
|Pashto||Persian Loan||Arabic Loan||Meaning|
|د ... په اړه
Due to the incursion of Persian and Persianized-Arabic in modern speech, linguistic purism of Pashto is advocated to prevent its own vocabulary from dying out.[self-published source]
There is a lot of old vocabulary that has been replaced by borrowings e.g. پلاز plâz 'throne' with تخت takht, from Persian. Or the word يګانګي yagānagí meaning 'uniqueness' used by Pir Roshan Bayazid. Such classical vocabulary is being reintroduced to modern Pashto. Some words also survive in dialects like ناوې پلاز 'the bride-room'.
Example from Khayr al-Bayān:
Main article: Pashto alphabet
Pashto employs the Pashto alphabet, a modified form of the Perso-Arabic alphabet or Arabic script. In the 16th century, Bayazid Pir Roshan introduced 13 new letters to the Pashto alphabet. The alphabet was further modified over the years.
The Pashto alphabet consists of 45 to 46 letters and 4 diacritic marks. Latin Pashto is also used. In Latin transliteration, stress is represented by the following markers over vowels: ә́, á, ā́, ú, ó, í and é. The following table (read from left to right) gives the letters' isolated forms, along with possible Latin equivalents and typical IPA values:
/ɺ, ɻ, ɽ/
ǵ (or ẓ̌)
/ʐ, ʝ, ɡ, ʒ/
x̌ (or ṣ̌)
/ʂ, ç, x, ʃ/
̃ , ń
w, u, o
/w, u, o/
Main article: Pashto dialects
Pashto dialects are divided into two categories, the "soft" southern grouping of Paṣ̌tō, and the "hard" northern grouping of Pax̌tō (Pakhtu). Each group is further divided into a number of dialects. The Southern dialect of Tareeno is the most distinctive Pashto dialect.
1. Southern variety
2. Northern variety
3. Tareeno Dialect
Literary Pashto is the artificial variety of Pashto which is used at times as literary register of Pashto. It is said to be based on the North Western dialect, spoken in the central Ghilji region. Literary Pashto's vocabulary, also derives from other dialects.
There is no actual Pashto that can be identified as "Standard" Pashto, as Colye remarks:
"Standard Pashto is actually fairly complex with multiple varieties or forms. Native speakers or researchers often refer to Standard Pashto without specifying which variety of Standard Pashto they mean...people sometimes refer to Standard Pashto when they mean the most respected or favorite Pashto variety among a majority of Pashtun speakers."— Placing Wardak among Pashto Varieties, page 4
As David MacKenzie notes there is no real need to develop a "Standard" Pashto:
"The morphological differences between the most extreme north-eastern and south-western dialects are comparatively few and unimportant. The criteria of dialect differentiation in Pashto are primarily phonological. With the use of an alphabet which disguises these phonological differences the language has, therefore, been a literary vehicle, widely understood, for at least four centuries. This literary language has long been referred to in the West as 'common' or 'standard' Pashto without, seemingly, any real attempt to define it."— A Standard Pashto, page 231
Standardisation also comes at the cost of overlooking the rich number of Pashto dialects.
Main article: Pashto literature and poetry
Pashto-speakers have long had a tradition of oral literature, including proverbs, stories, and poems. Written Pashto literature saw a rise in development in the 17th century mostly due to poets like Khushal Khan Khattak (1613–1689), who, along with Rahman Baba (1650–1715), is widely regarded as among the greatest Pashto poets. From the time of Ahmad Shah Durrani (1722–1772), Pashto has been the language of the court. The first Pashto teaching text was written during the period of Ahmad Shah Durrani by Pir Mohammad Kakar with the title of Maʿrifat al-Afghānī ("The Knowledge of Afghani [Pashto]"). After that, the first grammar book of Pashto verbs was written in 1805 under the title of Riyāż al-Maḥabbah ("Training in Affection") through the patronage of Nawab Mahabat Khan, son of Hafiz Rahmat Khan, chief of the Barech. Nawabullah Yar Khan, another son of Hafiz Rahmat Khan, in 1808 wrote a book of Pashto words entitled ʿAjāyib al-Lughāt ("Wonders of Languages").
An excerpt from the Kalām of Rahman Baba:
زۀ رحمان پۀ خپله ګرم يم چې مين يم
چې دا نور ټوپن مې بولي ګرم په څۀ
Pronunciation: [zə raˈmɑn pə ˈxpəl.a ɡram jəm t͡ʃe maˈjan jəm
t͡ʃe dɑ nor ʈoˈpən me boˈli ɡram pə t͡sə]
Transliteration: Zə Rahmā́n pə xpə́la gram yəm če mayán yəm
Če dā nor ṭopə́n me bolí gram pə tsə
Translation: "I Rahman, myself am guilty that I am a lover,
On what does this other universe call me guilty."
See: Pashto literature and poetry § Proverbs
Pashto also has a rich heritage of proverbs (Pashto matalúna, sg. matál). An example of a proverb:
اوبه په ډانګ نه بېلېږي
Transliteration: Obә́ pə ḍāng nə beléẓ̌i
Translation: "One cannot divide water by [hitting it with] a pole."
|Hello||ستړی مه شې
ستړې مه شې
|stә́ṛay mә́ še
stә́ṛe mә́ še
|May you not be tired|
|ستړي مه شئ||stә́ṛi mә́ šəi||May you not be tired [said to people]|
|په خير راغلې||pə xair rā́ğle||With goodness (you) came|
|Thank you||مننه||manә́na||Acceptance [from the verb منل]|
|Goodbye||په مخه دې ښه||pə mә́kha de x̌á||On your front be good|
|خدای پامان||xwdā́i pāmā́n||From: خدای په امان [With/On God's security]|
List of colors:
سور/ سره sur/sra [red]
šin / šna [green]
کینخي kinaxí [purple]
تور/ توره tor/tóra [black]
šin / šna [blue]
سپین spin/spína [white]
نسواري naswārí [brown]
ژېړ/ ژېړه žeṛ/žéṛa [yellow]
چوڼيا čuṇyā́ [violet]
خړ / خړه xәṛ/xə́ṛa [grey]
List of colors borrowed from neighbouring languages:
Pashtuns use the Vikrami calendar:
|5||Shraavana||ساوڼ یا پشکال
|8||Kartika||کاتۍ / کاتک
kātә́i / kāták
To the south is Afghanistān. There are ten or eleven different languages spoken in Kābul: Arabic, Persian, Tūrki, Moghuli, Afghani, Pashāi, Parāchi, Geberi, Bereki, Dari and Lamghāni.
From among the languages of Pashto, Dari, Uzbeki, Turkmani, Baluchi, Pashai, Nuristani, Pamiri (alsana), Arab and other languages spoken in the country, Pashto and Dari are the official languages of the state.
Estimates of the number of Pashto speakers range from 40 million to 60 million...
As is well known, the Pashtun people place a great deal of pride upon their language as an identifier of their distinct ethnic and historical identity. While it is clear that not all those who self-identify as ethnically Pashtun themselves use Pashto as their primary language, language does seem to be one of the primary markers of ethnic identity in contemporary Afghanistan.
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.
"Paṧtō (1) is the native tongue of 50 to 55 percent of Afghans".
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...because of the state's patronage, Urdu is now the most widely-spoken language in Pakistan. But the preponderance of one language over all others eats upon the sphere of influence of other, smaller languages, which alienates the respective nationalities and fuels aversion towards the central leadership...If we look to our state policies regarding the promotion of Pashto and the interests of the Pakhtun political elite, it is clear that the future of the Pashto language is dark. And when the future of a language is dark, the future of the people is dark.
Sources say that this is mainly because the Pushto text books in use in the settled areas of N.W.F.P. are written in the Yusufzai dialect, which is not the dialect in use in the Agency
A brief interview with the principal of the high school in Madyan, along with a number of his teachers, helps to underscore the importance of Pashto in the school domain within Pashtoon territory. He reported that Pashto is used by teachers to explain things to students all the way up through tenth class. The idea he was conveying was that students do not really have enough ability in Urdu to operate totally in that language. He also expressed the thought that Pashto-speaking students in the area really do not learn Urdu very well in public school and that they are thus somewhat ill prepared to meet the expectation that they will know how to use Urdu and English when they reach the college level. He likened the education system to a wall that has weak bricks at the bottom.
Urdu which is the native language of only 7.57 per cent of Pakistanis (though widely spoken as the national language and lingua franca in Pakistan) dominates all other local languages; and Pashto which is the native language of 15.42 per cent of the total population has no official recognition beyond primary school...Despite its limited scope, the Pashto-medium schools were a success as the "achievement tests showed an improvement in Pashto medium schools as compared to Urdu medium schools". Nonetheless, the better results have so far not motivated the government to introduce Pashto-medium schools at a larger scale in Pashtun populated areas.
With regard to Morgenstierne's statement that the language is affiliated with eastern Iranian languages there is ample evidence to consider it a Bactrian language.
Paṧtō undoubtedly belongs to the Northeastern Iranic branch.
The earliest mention of the name 'Afghan' (Abgan) is to be found in a Sasanid inscription from the third century AD and their language as "Afghani".
At the same time Pashto has borrowed largely from Persian and Hindustani, and through those languages from Arabic.
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