Languages of Afghanistan

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Languages of Afghanistan
Afghanistan Ethnolinguistic Groups 1997.jpg
Official languages Dari and Pashto[1]
Regional languages Pashto, Dari, Hazaragi, Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi
Sign languages Afghan Sign Language

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Languages of Afghanistan

  Pashto (60%)
  Dari (20%)
  Uzbek (14%)
  Turkmen (2.5%)
  Other languages (4%)

Afghanistan is a multilingual country in which two languages - Pashto and Dari - are both official and most widely spoken.[1] Both are Indo-European languages from the Iranian languages sub-family. Other regional languages, such as Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi and Nuristani are spoken by minority groups across the country.

Minor languages may include Ashkunu, Kamkata-viri, Vasi-vari, Tregami and Kalasha-ala, Pamiri (Shughni, Munji, Ishkashimi and Wakhi), Brahui, Hindko, and Kyrgyz. Harald Haarmann believes that Afghanistan is home to more than 40 minor languages,[2] with around 200 different dialects.

Language policy[edit]

Pashto and Dari are official languages for all of Afghanistan.[1]

In 1980, other regional languages were granted official status in the regions where they are the language of the majority.[3] Article 16 of the 2004 Afghan Constitution states that "The Turkic languages (Uzbek and Turkmen), Balochi, Pashayi, Nuristani and Pamiri (alsana) are – in addition to Pashto and Dari – the third official language in areas where the majority speaks them. The practical modalities for implementation of this provision shall be specified by law."[1]


Dari (Persian) functions as the nation's lingua franca and is the native tongue of various Afghan ethnic groups including the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Aimak.[4] Pashto is the native tongue of the Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan.[5] Due to Afghanistan's multi-ethnic character, language variety as well as bilingualism and multilingualism are common phenomena.

Afghan school textbooks written in Pashto language

The exact figures about the size and composition of the various ethnolinguistic groups are unavailable since no systematic census has been held in Afghanistan in decades.[6] Estimates suggest the following primary languages:

Language World Factbook[7]/Concise Encyclopedia...[8]/UCLA International Institute[9]/Iranica[3]
Pashto 55,69%[clarification needed]
Dari 19,20%[clarification needed]
Uzbek 14%
Turkmen 2.5%
Other languages  4%

According to a 2006 opinion poll survey involving 6,226 randomly selected Afghan citizens by the Asia Foundation, Dari was the first language of 58% of the polled people, while an additional 21% spoke it as a second language; 75% were able to read Dari. Dari was the first language of 58%, with an additional 28% stating the ability to speak Dari as a second language; 33% were able to read Pashto. Uzbek was the first language of 9% and a second language for 6%. Turkmen was the first language of 2% and a second language for 3%. English was spoken by 8% and Urdu by 7%. The number of Pashto speakers is probably higher because the survey excluded for security reasons two predominantly Pashto-speaking provinces, which represent 2.3 percent of Afghanistan's population.[10]

A later study found that Dari was, by a wide margin, the most widely-spoken language in urban Afghanistan, with as many as 93% of urban Afghans claiming to speak it, but only 75% of rural Afghans claiming the same.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d "Article Sixteen of the 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan". 2004. Retrieved June 13, 2012. "From among the languages of Pashto, Dari, Uzbek, Turkmen, Baluchi, Pashai, Nuristani, Pamiri (alsana), Arab and other languages spoken in the country, Pashto and Dari are the official languages of the state." 
  2. ^ Harald Haarmann: Sprachen-Almanach – Zahlen und Fakten zu allen Sprachen der Welt. Campus-Verl., Frankfurt/Main 2002, ISBN 3-593-36572-3, S.273–274; Afghanistan
  3. ^ a b "AFGHANISTAN v. Languages". Ch. M. Kieffer. Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2012-04-08. "A. Official languages. Paṧtō (1) is the native tongue of 50 to 55 percent of Afghans... Persian (2) is the language most spoken in Afghanistan. The native tongue of twenty five percent of the population, it is split into numerous dialects." 
  4. ^ "Languages of Afghanistan". Encyclopaedia Britannica. 
  5. ^ "Ethnic groups". BBC News. Retrieved 7 June 2013. "Pashtun: Estimated to be in excess of 45% of the population, the Pashtuns have been the most dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan." 
  6. ^ O'toole, Pam (October 6, 2004). "Afghan poll's ethnic battleground". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-09-16. 
  7. ^ CIA World Factbook
  8. ^ [Brown, Keith; Sarah Ogilvie (2009). Concise encyclopedia of languages of the world. Elsevie. p. 845. ISBN 0-08-087774-5. Retrieved 2012-04-07. "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."]
  9. ^ Pashto
  10. ^ "Afghanistan in 2006 - A survey of the Afghan people" (PDF). Kabul, Afghanistan: The Asia Foundation. 2006. Retrieved 2010-10-29. 
  11. ^ "Afghanistan in 2013 - A survey of the Afghan people" (PDF). Kabul, Afghanistan: The Asia Foundation. 2012. Retrieved 2014-03-12. 

External links[edit]