The word Pashto written in Pashto (Nastaliq style)
|Pronunciation||[ˈpəʂt̪oː], [ˈpəçt̪oː], [ˈpʊxt̪oː]|
|Native to||Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Pashtun diaspora|
|60 million (2007)|
Central Pashto (Ghilzai)
|Arabic script (Pashto alphabet)|
Official language in
Recognised minority language in
|Regulated by||Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan
Pashto Academy (Pakistan)
|ISO 639-3||pus – inclusive code
pst – Central Pashto
pbu – Northern Pashto
pbt – Southern Pashto
wne – Waneci
Map of Pashto-speaking regions (orange)
Pashto (پښتو pax̌tō [ˈpəʂt̪oː, ˈpəçt̪oː, ˈpʊxt̪oː]; alternatively spelled Pukhto, Pakhto or Pushto), also known historically as Afghani (افغاني afğānī) and Pathani, is the native language of the Pashtun people of South-Central Asia. Pashto is a member of the Eastern Iranian languages group. Pashto is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan (the other being Dari (Farsi)), and is also spoken as a regional language in western and northwestern Pakistan and among the Pashtun diaspora around the world.
Pashto belongs to the Northeastern Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian language family, although Ethnologue lists it as Southeastern Iranian. The number of Pashtuns or Pashto-speakers is estimated to be 40–60 million people worldwide.
As 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 numbers of speakers are unavailable, but different estimates show that Pashto is the mother tongue of 35–60% of the total population of Afghanistan.
In Pakistan, Pashto is a provincial language, spoken as a first language by about 15.42% of Pakistan's 170 million people. It is the main language of the Pashtun-majority regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and northern Balochistan. It is 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 found in the cities of Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh. With as high as 7 million by some estimates, the city of Karachi in Pakistan has the largest concentration of urban Pashtun population in the world meaning there are more Pashtuns in Karachi than in any other city in the world. As per the current demographic ratio, Pashtuns are about 25% of Karachi's population.
Other communities of Pashto speakers are found in northeastern Iran, primarily in South Khorasan Province to the east of Qaen, near the Afghan border, and in Tajikistan. There are also communities of Pashtun descent in the southwestern part of Jammu and Kashmir.
In addition, sizable Pashto-speaking communities also exist in the Middle East, especially in the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, as well as in the United States, United Kingdom, Thailand, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Qatar, Australia, Japan, Russia, New Zealand, etc.
The Durrani Empire comprised regions on both sides of the Durand line and parts of Persia before the present day ethno-linguistic situation in South-Central Asia, 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) is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan, along with Dari (Persian). 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. Persian as the literary language of the royal court 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" 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 and the inauguration of the Kabul University in 1932 as well as the formation of the Pashto Academy Pashto Tolana in 1937. Although officially strengthening the use of Pashto, the Afghan elite regarded Persian as a "sophisticated language and a symbol of cultured upbringing". 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. In 1936, Pashto was formally granted the status of an official language 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 bureaucrats mostly spoke Persian. Thus Pashto became a national language, a symbol for Afghan nationalism.
The status of official language was reaffirmed in 1964 by the constitutional assembly when Afghan Persian was officially renamed to Dari. The lyrics of the national anthem of Afghanistan are in Pashto.
In Pakistan, Urdu and English are the two official languages, but Pashto has no official status at the federal level. On a provincial level, Pashto is the regional language of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and northern Balochistan. In 1984, Pashto was permitted to be used as the medium of instruction in primary schools. In government-controlled primary schools in Pashto-speaking areas, Pashto is now the medium of instruction in class 1 and 2, and taught as a compulsory subject up to class 5, however, Urdu remains the main language of education and activities outside home, while English is a compulsory subject from class 1. English medium private schools in Pashto-speaking areas, however, do not use Pashto even at primary level. The imposition of Urdu as the language of early education has caused a systematic degradation and decline of many of Pakistan's native languages including Pashto.
According to 19th-century linguist James Darmesteter and modern linguist Michael M. T. Henderson, Pashto is "descended from Avestan", but Georg Morgenstierne says they are merely closely related. The word "Pashto" derives by regular phonological processes from Parsawā- "Persian". 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. However, this comparison appears to be due mainly to the apparent, etymologically unjustified, similarity between their names.
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. Since the 3rd century CE and onward, they are mostly referred to by the name "Afghan" ("Abgan") and their language as "Afghani".
Scholars such as Abdul Hai Habibi and others believe that the earliest modern 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 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.
Pashto is a subject–object–verb (SOV) 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). There is also an inflection for the subjunctive mood. The verb system is very intricate with the following tenses: present, simple past, past progressive, present perfect and past perfect. The sentence construction of Pashto has similarities with some other Indo-Iranian languages like Prakrit and Hindustani. The Pashto noun comes after the adjective and the possessor precedes the possessed in the genitive construction. The verb generally agrees with the subject in both transitive and intransitive sentences. An exception occurs when a completed action is reported in any of the past tenses (simple past, past progressive, present perfect or past perfect). In such cases, the verb agrees with the subject if it is intransitive, but if it is transitive, it agrees with the object, therefore Pashto shows a partly ergative behavior. Like Kudish but unlike most other Indo-Iranian languages, Pashto uses all three types of adpositions – prepositions, postpositions and circumpositions.
Verb and subject
Present indefinite and continues
|suffix(Pashto Alpha)||English (Alpha)||For||with verb "Kaw"(Doing)||Description|
|م||am||I||Kawam (I doing)||Example|
|و||o||we||Kawo (We doing)||Example|
|ې||e||You||Kawe (You doing)||Example|
|ۍ||ayi||you (plural)||Kawayi[You (plural) doing]||Example|
|ي||ee||they (absent)||kawee (they do)||Example|
Pashto also has the diphthongs /ai/, /əi/, /ɑw/, /aw/.
|Stop||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|
The phonemes /q/, /f/ tend to be replaced by [k], [p].
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), the west-central voiced palatal fricative /ʝ/ actually occurs only in the Wardak Province, and is merged into /ɡ/ elsewhere in the region.
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. Post-7th century borrowings came primarily from the Arabic, Persian and Hindustani languages (in Pakistan), with the modern educated speech borrowing words from English, French, and German.
Pashto employs the Pashto alphabet, a modified form of the Persian alphabet, which in part is derived from the Arabic alphabet. 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.
The Pashto alphabet consists of 44 letters and 4 diacritic marks. The following table gives the letters' isolated forms, along with the Latin equivalents and typical IPA values:
ǵ (or ẓ̌)
/ʐ, ʝ, ɡ/
x̌ (or ṣ̌)
/ʂ, ç, x/
w, ū, o
/w, u, o/
h, a, ə
/h, a, ə/
Pashto has two main dialects: a 'softer' dialect spoken in the south, and a 'harsher' dialect in the north. The softer dialect is further divided into southwestern and southeastern dialects, and the northern into northwestern (also called central) and northeastern dialects. There are also other minor dialects. The variation between the four main dialects is dominated by the geographical spread of the shift in the pronunciation of these five consonants:
The morphological differences between any of the four main dialects are comparatively few and unimportant, and their criteria of dialect differentiation are primarily phonological.
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 Kakerr with the title of Ma'refa al-Afghāni ("Introduction of Afghani [Pashto]"). After that, the first grammar book of Pashto verbs was written in 1805 in India under the title of Riāz al-Muhabat ("Training in Affection") through the patronage of Nawab Mohabat 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 Ajāyeb al-Lughat ("Wonders of Languages").
- Iranian Languages vocabulary comparison table
- Central Pashto language
- List of Pashto-language poets
- List of Pashto-language singers
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pashto language.|
|For a list of words relating to Pashto language, see the Pashto language category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Pashto edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
- Pashto Dictionary with Phonetic Keyboard & Auto-Suggestion
- Pashto Language & Identity Formation in Pakistan
- Indo-Aryan identity of Pashto
- Henry George Raverty. A Dictionary of the Puk'hto, Pus'hto, or Language of the Afghans. Second edition, with considerable additions. London: Williams and Norgate, 1867.
- D. N. MacKenzie, "A Standard Pashto", Khyber.org
- Freeware Online Pashto Dictionaries
- A Pashto Word List
- Origins of Pashto
- Resources for the Study of the Pashto Language