Pashto dialects

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Pashto dialects (Pashto: د پښتو ګړدودونهda Pax̌to gəṛdoduna) are divided into two varieties: Northern Pashto (Pakhto) and Southern Pashto (Pashto). Northern Pashto is spoken in eastern and northeastern Afghanistan (including Kabul), and central, northern and eastern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (including Peshawar); while Southern Pashto is spoken to the south of it, in southern and western Afghanistan (including Kandahar), southern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Balochistan (including Quetta). Each of the two varieties of Pashto is further divided into a number of dialects. Ethnologue divides Pashto into Northern, Southern and Central Pashto, and Wanetsi.[1]


In the medieval era, a consonant shift took place in the northern parts of Pashtunistan in several phases. This change gave rise to the Northern Pashto dialect, or the hard Pax̌to. The Southern Pashto dialect, or the soft Paṣ̌to, did not experience the consonant shift. During the shift, the retroflex fricative ṣ̌ [ʂ] changed to [ç] or to x [x], while ẓ̌ [ʐ] changed to ǵ [ʝ] or to g [g]. The shift was probably complete before the Pashto book Khayr al-Bayān was written by Bayazid Pir Roshan from Waziristan in the 16th century. According to the linguists Georg Morgenstierne and David Neil MacKenzie, after the consonant shift, the distinction between ṣ̌, ẓ̌ and x, g seems to still have been preserved in Northern Pashto in the 16th and 17th century.[2]

Among the other Eastern Iranian languages outside Pashto, the Shughni (Khughni) and Yazgulyami branch of the Pamir languages also seem to have been affected from the ṣ̌ to x consonant shift. E.g. "meat": ɡuṣ̌t in Wakhi and γwaṣ̌a in Southern Pashto, but changes to guxt in Shughni and γwaxa in Northern Pashto.


1. Southern variety

  • Durrani dialect (or Southern dialect)
  • Kakar dialect (or Southeastern dialect)
  • Shirani dialect
  • Marwat-Bettani dialect
  • Wanetsi dialect
  • Southern Karlani group
  • Khattak dialect
  • Banuchi dialect
  • Dawarwola dialect
  • Masidwola dialect
  • Wazirwola dialect

2. Northern variety

  • Central Ghilji dialect (or Northwestern dialect)
  • Northern dialect (or Eastern dialect)
  • Yusufzai dialect (or Northeastern dialect)
  • Northern Karlani group
  • Taniwola dialect
  • Khosti dialect
  • Zadran dialect
  • Bangash dialect
  • Afridi dialect
  • Khogyani dialect
  • Wardak dialect

Prestige varieties[edit]

Literary standard[edit]

Literary Pashto, or High Pashto standard, is the standardized variety of Pashto developed by Radio Television Afghanistan and Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan in Kabul. Its phonetics are based on the Northwestern or Central Pashto dialect, spoken in the central Ghilji region, including the Afghan capital Kabul and some surrounding region. Its vocabulary also derives from Southern Pashto. It has adopted neologisms to coin new terms from already existing words or phrases and introduce them into the Pashto lexicon. Educated Standard Pashto is learned in the curriculum that is taught in the primary schools in the country. It is used for written and formal spoken purposes, and in the domains of media and government.[3]

Regional standards[edit]

There are several regional standard forms of Pashto which have high prestige, and serve as a means of communication between the various tribal communities in those regions.

Southern regional standard[edit]

Southern Pashto, also called Kandahari Pashto, is the prestige variety of Pashto in southern and western Afghanistan, and the Balochistan province of Pakistan.[3]

Northern regional standard[edit]

Northern Pashto, also called Eastern Pashto, is the prestige variety of Pashto in eastern and northeastern Afghanistan, and northern part of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan.[3] This dialect is almost identical to Yusufzai Pashto.

Yusufzai regional standard[edit]

Yusufzai Pashto, also called Peshawari or Northeastern Pashto, is the prestige variety of Pashto in central, northern, and eastern parts of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan.

Transitional dialects[edit]

In an intermediate area of Pashtunistan, mainly Ghilji, transitional dialects or mixings are found. For example š/ṣ̌/ҳ/xəja “woman”, and špaž/ẓ̌/γ̌/g “six”.[4]

Phonetic differences[edit]

The differences between the standard varieties of Pashto are primarily phonological, and there are simple conversion rules.[5] The morphological differences between the standard varieties are very few and unimportant. Two of the key phonemes whose pronunciation vary between the different Pashto dialects are ښ and ږ. The southern dialect of Kandahar is considered to be the most conservative with regards to phonology. It retains the original pronunciation of these two phonemes as voiceless and voiced retroflex sibilants, respectively, and does not merge them into other phonemes unlike the northern dialects.[6]

The dialects spoken by the tribes from the Karlani confederacy of Pashtuns are lexicologically different and very varied. Moreover, the Karlani dialects have a tendency towards a change in the pronunciation of vowels. Depending on the particular dialect, the standard Pashto [a], [ā], [o], [u] may change into [ā], [â/å/o], [ȯ/ȫ/e], [i], respectively.[4] In the Karlani dialects of Waziristan, Bannu, and Tani (southern Khost), which follow the vowel shift to the greatest extent, these four vowels normally change into [ā], [o], [e], [i], respectively.

The nine phonemes represented in the column headings below show key phonetic differences between the dialects. Five of them are consonants written in the Pashto alphabet, and four are vowels written in the Latin script; sounds are transcribed in the IPA:

Dialect Location ښ ږ څ ځ ژ a ā o u
Durrani (or Southern)[3] Southern and western Afghanistan, including Kandahar [ʂ] [ʐ] [t͡s] [d͡z] [ʒ] [a] [ɑ] [o] [u]
Kakar (or Southeastern) Northern Balochistan, including Quetta [ʃ] [ʒ] [t͡s] [d͡z] [ʒ, z] [a] [ɑ] [o] [u]
Wanetsi[7] Harnai and Sinjawi [ʃ] [ʒ] [t͡s, t͡ʃ] [z, d͡ʒ] [z] [a] [ɑ] [o] [u]
Shirani Shirani and Darazinda [ʃ] [ʒ] [t͡s] [z] [z] [a] [ɑ] [o] [u]
Marwat-Bettani Lakki Marwat, Jandola, Tank, and northern Dera Ismail Khan [ʃ] [ʒ] [t͡ʃ] [d͡ʒ] [z] [a] [ɑ] [o] [u]
Khattak Karak, eastern Kohat, and southwestern Nowshera [ʃ] [ʒ] [t͡s] [z] [ʒ] [ɑ] [ɔ] [ɤ] [u]
Banuchi Bannu , Mir Ali , Baka Khel , Jani Khel [ʃ] [ʒ] [s] [z] [ʒ] [ɑ] [o] [e] [i]
Dawarwola Tochi in North Waziristan [ʃ] [ʒ] [t͡s, s] [z] [ʒ] [ɑ] [o] [e] [i]
Masidwola From Janimela, South Waziristan to Shuidar Ghar (south of Razmak), North Waziristan [ʃ, ɕ] [ʒ, ʑ] [t͡ʃ] [d͡ʒ] [ʒ, ʑ] [ɑ] [o] [e] [i]
Wazirwola Darweshkhel Wazir areas in South Waziristan, North Waziristan, and Domel [ʃ, ɕ] [ʒ, ʑ] [t͡s, s] [z] [ʒ, ʑ] [ɑ] [o] [e] [i]
Taniwola Tani, Gurbuz, and Mandozayi, in southern Khost [x] [ɡ] [t͡s] [z] [ʒ] [ɑ] [o] [e] [i]
Khosti Central and northern Khost [x] [ɡ] [t͡s] [z] [ʒ] [ɑ] [ɒ] [ɵ] [u]
Zadran The Zadran Arc in southern Paktia, northeastern Paktika, and southwestern Khost [x] [g] [t͡s] [d͡z] [ʒ] [ɑ] [o] [o, e] [u, i]
Bangash-Orakzai-Turi-Zazi-Mangal Kurram, eastern Paktia, northeastern Khost, Orakzai, Hangu, and northwestern Kohat [x] [ɡ] [t͡s] [z] [ʒ] [ɑ] [ɔ] [ɤ] [u]
Afridi Central and southern Khyber and Darra Adamkhel [x] [ɡ] [t͡s] [z] [ʒ, d͡ʒ] [ɑ] [ɔ] [ɤ] [u]
Khogyani Khogyani, Sherzad, and Pachir aw Agam, in southwestern Nangarhar [x] [ɡ] [t͡s] [z] [ʒ] [ɑ] [ɒ] [ɵ] [u]
Wardak[3] Chaki Wardak, Saydabad, Jaghatu, and Jilga, in central and southern Maidan Wardak [ç] [ʝ] [t͡s] [d͡z] [ʒ, z] [ɑ] [ɒ] [ɵ] [u]
Central Ghilji (or Northwestern)[3] Central Ghilji region
(Sharana, Qalat, southern Ghazni, etc.)
[ç] [ʝ] [t͡s] [z] [ʒ, z] [a] [ɑ] [o] [u]
Northern (or Eastern)[3] Eastern and northeastern Afghanistan, and northern FATA
(Kabul, Jalalabad, Kunar, Kunduz, Bajaur, etc.)
[x] [ɡ] [t͡s] [z] [ʒ] [a] [ɑ] [o] [u]
(or Northeastern)
Central, northern, and eastern Pakhtunkhwa
(Peshawar, Dir, Swat, Swabi, Mansehra, etc.)
[kh] [ɡ] [s] [z] [d͡ʒ] [a] [ɑ] [o] [u]
  • Dialects belonging to the southern non-Karlani variety, the southern Karlani variety, the northern Karlani variety, and the northern non-Karlani variety, respectively, are color-coded.

Lexical comparison[edit]

English gloss Kandahar Quetta Harnai[7] Lakki Marwat Karak Bannu Miramshah Wana Tani Parachinar Bangash Jamrud Kaga Khogyani Chaki Wardak[3] Sharana Kabul Peshawar Pashto lexeme
Pashto Paṣ̌to Pašto Pašto Pašto Pāštȫ Pāšte Pāšte Pāxte Pāxtȯ Pāxtȫ Pāxtȯ Pāx̌tȯ Pax̌to Puxto Puxto پښتو
four tsalor tsalor tsalor čalor tsālȫr sāler tsālwer tsāler tsālȯr tsālwȫr tsālȯr tsālȯr tsalor tsalor salor څلور
six špaẓ̌ špaž špož špaž špež špež špež špeg špeg špeg špeg špeǵ špaǵ špag špag شپږ
woman ṣ̌ədza šədza šəza šəǰa šəzā šəzā šəzā xəzā x̌əzā xəzā x̌əzā x̌ədzā x̌ədza xəza xəza ښځه
father plār plār piyār plār plår plor plor plor plâr plår plâr plâr plār plār plār پلار
many ḍer zyāt ḍer zyāt tsaṭ ḍer zyāt ḍer zyåt pirā zyot rəṭ zyot rəṭ zyot ḍer zyât ḍer zyåt ḍer zyât ḍer zyât ḍer zyāt ḍer zyāt ḍer zyāt ډېر زيات
few ləẓ̌ ləž ləž ləž ləž ləški ləški ləg ləg ləg ləg ləǵ ləǵ ləg ləg لږ
how tsənga tsənga tsona čərang tsərāng sərāng tsərāng tsərge tsəngā tsərāng tsəngā tsəngā tsənga tsənga singa څنګه
who tsok tsok čok čok tsȫk sek tsek tsek tsȯk tsȫk tsȯk tsȯk tsok tsok sok څوک
to drink čṣ̌əl čšəl ğwətang čšəl tshi čšəl čšəl tsəxəl tsəxəl tsəxəl tsəxəl čx̌əl čx̌əl tskəl skəl څښل
foot pṣ̌a pša špa, ğədəi pša pšā pšā pšā pxā pxā pxā pxā px̌ā px̌a pxa xpa پښه
we muẓ̌ muž moš muž muž miž miž mig mu mu mu muǵ muǵ mung mung موږ
my zmā zmā mā eğē emā emå emo emo emo emâ emå emâ emâ zmā zəmā zamā زما
your stā stā tāğa etā etå eto eto eto etâ etå etâ etâ stā stā stā ستا
girl nǰiləi nǰiləi čuwara ǰinkəi wȫṛkəi weṛkye weṛkye weṛkye wȯṛkəi wȫṛkye wȯṛkəi wȯṛkəi ǰiləi ǰinəi ǰinē نجلۍ
boy halək halək waṛīz, čorī kṛāčay wȫṛkāi weṛkā weṛkāi weṛkāi wȯṛkāi wȫṛkāi wȯṛkāi wȯṛkāi halək halək halək هلک
Sun lmar lmar mērə nmar merə stərgā myerə stərgā ğormə stərgā myerə stərgā merə stərgā merə stərgā lmerə stərgā lmer lmar nmar nwar لمر
egg hagəi hagəi hoya angəi wȫyā yeyā yeyā yeyā ȯyā wȫyā ȯyā ȯyā hagəi hagəi, hā hagē, hā هګۍ
yes/no wo/ya wo/na wo/na ya/na ē/nā ē/nā yē/nā wȯ/nā ē/nā wȯ/nā wȯ/nā wo/na wo/na ao/na هو\نه
home kor kor kor kor kȫr ker ker ker kȯr kȫlə kȯr kȯr kor kor kor کور
I am yəm yəm ī yəm yəm yəm yəm yəm yəm yəm yəm yəm یم
I go dzəm dzəm drimī ǰəm tsəm tsə tsə tsəm tsəm tsəm tsəm dzəm zəm zəm ځم
tongue žəba zəba zbə zəba žəbā žəbā žəbā žəbā žəbā ǰəbā žəbā zəbā zəba žəba ǰəba ژبه
it exists sta sta sta sta štā štā štā štā štā štā štā stā sta šta šta شته
bear yiẓ̌ yiž yirž yiž yiž yiž yiž yig yig yig yig yiǵ yiǵ yig yig ايږ
ant meẓ̌ay mežay merža mežay mežāi mežāi mežāi megāi megāi megāi megāi məǵātāi meǵay megay megē مېږی
English gloss Kandahar Quetta Harnai Lakki Marwat Karak Bannu Wana Tani Parachinar Jamrud Kaga Chaki Wardak Sharana Kabul Peshawar Pashto lexeme

In general, the Karlani dialects, both in southern and northern varieties, show more vocabulary differences than the non-Karlani southern and northern dialects. However, the most distinctive of the Pashto dialects is Wanetsi. Although Wanetsi follows the normal phonetic rules of the southern dialects near it, it is still greatly different from them in lexicon:

Wanetsi Kandahari Translation
səl hundred
šwī šəl twenty
(a)ğa da of
tərža təẓ̌ay thirsty
tōw, tōwa tod, tawda hot
ğandəm ğanəm wheat
māst myāst month
atā atyā eighty
wžəndz ẓ̌mundz comb
sunzən stən needle
brēstəṇ bṛastən quilt
činostang kṣ̌enāstəl to sit down
wayang wayəl to say
ze kī zə kawəm I do

Examples of sentences showing the difference between Wanetsi and the regional standard Kandahari:[4]

Wanetsi Kandahari Translation
اندي وګوړي چي موښ پيار غه څټ لېژدي وي
indī waguṛī čī mōš piyār ğa tsaṭ lēždī wī
په دې کلي کې زموږ د پلار ډېر غويان وو
pə de kəli ke zmuẓ̌ da plār ḍer ğwayān wu
In this village our father had many bulls.
شمزې و خوارږه شوې مي دې غوزين
šamze o xwāržə šwe mī de ğōzīn
شلومبې او خوږې شيدې هم چښي
šlombe aw xwaẓ̌e šide ham čṣ̌i
[They] also drink buttermilk and sweet milk.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis, M. Paul (ed.), 2009. Language Family Trees. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Dallas, Tex.: SIL International.
  2. ^ D. N. MacKenzie, "A Standard Pashto",
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Coyle, Dennis Walter (August 2014). "Placing Wardak among Pashto varieties" (PDF). University of North Dakota:UND. Retrieved 26 December 2014.
  4. ^ a b c Morgenstierne, Georg (15 December 1983). "AFGHANISTAN vi. Paṧto". Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 24 January 2015.
  5. ^ Herbert Penzl. "Orthography and Phonemes in Pashto (Afghan)". Journal of the American Oriental Society, Vol. 74, No. 2. (Apr. - Jun., 1954), pp. 74-81.
  6. ^ Michael M.T. Henderson, Four Varieties of Pashto
  7. ^ a b Hallberg, Daniel G. 1992. Pashto, Waneci, Ormuri. Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan, 4.