Pashto phonology

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Amongst the Iranian languages, the phonology of Pashto is of middle complexity, but its morphology is very complex.[1]


Consonant phonemes of Pashto[2]
Labial Denti-
Alveolar Retroflex Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular /
Nasal m ɳ ŋ
Plosive prenasalized ⁿd̪ ᵑɡ
voiceless p ʈ k (q)
voiced b ɖ ɡ
Affricate prenasalized ⁿdʒ
voiceless t͡s t͡ʃ
voiced d͡z d͡ʒ
Fricative prenasalized ᵐz
voiceless (f) s ʂ ʃ (ç) x h
voiced z ʐ ʒ (ʝ) ɣ
Approximant l j w
Rhotic ɭ̆
  • The phonemes /q/, /f/ are only found in loanwords, and tend to be replaced by /k/, /p/.
  • /n/ has non-phonemic allophones: [ŋ] before /k/ and /ɡ/, [ɳ] before /ʈ/ and /ɖ/, [ɲ] before /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/, and [m] before /b/ and /p/.
  • /ɳ/ is a voiced retroflex nasal flap, narrowly transcribed [ɽ̃]
  • Voiceless stops and affricates /p, t, ʈ, t͡s, t͡ʃ, k/ are all unaspirated, like Spanish, other Romance languages, and Austronesian languages; they have slightly aspirated allophones prevocalically in a stressed syllable, almost like English.
  • /ʂ~ç/ and /ʐ~ʝ/ are dialectal allophones (represented by ښ and ږ), The retroflex variants [ʂ, ʐ] are used in the Southwest dialects whereas the palatal variants [ç, ʝ] are used in the Wardak and Central Ghilji dialects. Some Northern dialects merge them with the velar /x, ɣ/.
  • /h/ is dropped in most Southwest dialects and Waṇētsī.
  • /r/ is a voiced alveolar flap, single in most dialects.
  • /ɭ̆/ is a voiced retroflex lateral flap. As it does not have a dedicated IPA symbol, it can also be commonly represented as /ɺ̢, ɺ̣/.


Pashto syllable structure can be summarized as follows; parentheses enclose optional components:

  • (C1 (C2)) (S1) V (S2) (C3 (C4))

Pashto syllable structure consists of an optional syllable onset, consisting of one or two consonants; an obligatory syllable nucleus, consisting of a vowel optionally preceded by and/or followed by a semivowel; and an optional syllable coda, consisting of one or two consonants. The following restrictions apply:

  • Onset
    • First consonant (C1): Can be any consonant, including a liquid (/l, r/).
    • Second consonant (C2): Can be any consonant. (see #Consonant Clusters below)
  • Nucleus
    • Semivowel (S1)
    • Vowel (V)
    • Semivowel (S2)
  • Coda
    • First consonant (C3): Can be any consonant
    • Second consonant (C4): Can be any consonant

Consonant clusters[edit]

Pashto also has a liking for word-initial consonant clusters in all dialects; some hundred such clusters occurs. However consonant gemination is unknown to Pashto.[3]

Two Consonant Clusters /t̪l/, /kl/, /bl/, /ɣl/, /lm/, /nm/, /lw/, /sw/, /br/, /t̪r/, /ɣr/, /pr/, /d̪r/, /wr/, /kɽ/, , /wɽ/ /xp/, /pʃ/, /pʂ/, /xr/, /zb/, /zɽ/, /ʒb/, /d͡zm/, /md͡z/, /t͡sk/, /sk/, /sp/, /ʃp/, /ʂk/, /xk/, /ʃk/, /kʃ/, /kx/, /kʂ/, /ml/, /gr/, /gm/ and /ʐm/ etc.
Three Consonant Clusters /sxw/, /xwɽ/, /xwl/, /nɣw/ etc.


Most dialects in Pashto have seven vowels and seven diphthongs.[4]

Front Central Back
Close i u
Mid e ə o
Open a ɑ


Front Central Back
Mid əi
Low , aw ɑi, ɑw

Orthography of diphthongs[edit]

Initial Medial Final
ای َيـ َی
əɪ ۍ
اوی ويـ وي
اوی ويـ وي
aw او َو َو
ɑi آي اي اي
ɑw آو او او

Dialectal Vowels[edit]

Waziri vowels[edit]

In Waziri dialect the [ɑ] in Standard Pashto becomes [ɔː] in Northern Waziri and [ɒː] in Southern Waziri.[5]

In Waziri dialect the stressed [o] in Standard Pashto becomes [œː] as in the word [lor] meaning 'sickle' becomes [lœːr] and [ɛː] as in the word [oˈɽə] meaning 'flour' becomes [ɛːˈɽə].[5] The [o] in Standard Pashto may also become [(j)e] as in the word [jeˈʒa] meaning 'shoulder' from [oˈɡa] or [oˈʐa].[6]

Front Central Back
Unrounded Rounded
Close i
Close-mid e ə
Open-mid ɛ œ ɔ
Open a ɒ

Apridi vowels[edit]

In the Apridi dialect the [a] in Standard Pashto becomes [ɑ] as in [las] becomes [lɑs]. The [ɑ] in Standard Pashto becomes [ɒː] or [] as in [plɑr] becomes [plɔːr] or [ploːr].

Borrowed vowels[edit]

Few short vowels occur in speech in borrowed words and in the Peshawar dialect.


Diphthongs in dialects[edit]

The diphthongs varies according to dialect. The stressed diphthong [aɪ] changes to [æɪ] in the Mohmand dialect and [a] in Wanetsi.

The diphthong [əɪ] used to indicate feminine noun gender changes to [i] in Wanetsi and [ʌi] in Kâkaṛi.

The long diphthongs [ɑi] and [ɑw] becomes [ɑe] and [ɑo], respectively, in most Northeastern dialects.[7]

Standard Apridi Yusupzai Waziri Mohmand Bannu
aˈɪ aˈɪ æɪ
əˈɪ ijeˈ aˈɪ iˈjɛ
waɪ oːi
uiː joˈjə
aw aw
ɑi ae
ɑw ao


Pashto has phonemic variable stress, unique amongst Iranian languages.[3]

For instance the pronouns are differently inflected:

Pronoun Meaning Pronoun Meaning
haɣá that, he háɣa that one, he (emphatic)
daɣá this, he dáɣa this one, he (emphatic)

In verbs to distinguish aspect:

Verb Meaning Verb Meaning
kẍenɑstə́ləm I was sitting kẍénɑstələm I sat down
ba kẍenə́m I shall be sitting ba kẍénəm I shall sit

In verbs to distinguish mood:

Verb Meaning Verb Meaning
pregdə́m I leave prégdəm that I leave


  1. ^ Kaye (1997), p. 736.
  2. ^ Tegey & Robson (1996), p. 15.
  3. ^ a b Kaye (1997), p. 737.
  4. ^ David (2013), p. 11.
  5. ^ a b Kaye (1997), p. 748.
  6. ^ Kaye (1997), p. 749.
  7. ^ Kaye (1997), pp. 751–753.


  • David, Anne Boyle (2013), Descriptive Grammar of Pashto and Its Dialects, Walter de Gruyter, ISBN 978-1-61451-303-2
  • Elfenbein, Josef (1997), Kaye, Alan S. (ed.), Phonologies of Asia and Africa: Including the Caucasus, Eisenbrauns, pp. 733–760, ISBN 978-1-57506-019-4
  • Tegey, Habibullah; Robson, Barbara (1996), A Reference Grammar of Pashto (PDF), Washington, D.C.: Center for Applied Linguistics