Pashto (/ˈpʌʃtoʊ/, rarely /ˈpæʃtoʊ/,[Note 1]
Pashto: پښتو Pax̌tō [ˈpəʂt̪oː]), sometimes spelled
Pukhto,[Note 2] is the language of the Pashtuns. It is known in
Persian literature as Afghāni (افغانی) and in
Hindi literature as Paṭhānī. Speakers of the language are
Pashtuns or Pakhtuns and sometimes Afghans or Pathans. It is
an Eastern Iranian language, belonging to the Indo-European
Pashto is one of the two official languages of
Afghanistan, and it is the second-largest regional language
of Pakistan, mainly spoken in the west and northwest of the
Federally Administered Tribal Areas
Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) are
almost 100% Pashto-speaking, while it is the majority language of the
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the northern districts of
Balochistan. Along with Dari Persian,
Pashto is the main language
Pashtun diaspora around the world. The total number of
Pashto-speakers is estimated to be 45–60 million people
Pashto belongs to the Northeastern Iranian group of the Indo-Iranian
Ethnologue lists it as Southeastern Iranian.
Pashto has two main dialect groups, "soft" and "hard", the latter
locally known as Pakhto or Paxto.
1 Geographic distribution
6 Writing system
8.1 Poetry example
9 See also
13 External links
Further information: Languages of
Afghanistan and Languages of
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 45–60% of the total population of
In Pakistan, around 26 million people speak Pashto, according to the
2006 census, which was around 15% of Pakistan's population at the
time. Most of these people are in the northwestern areas of the
country, including the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, northern
Balochistan, and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. There are also many Pashtun
speakers in the major cities of Pakistan.
Other communities of
Pashto speakers are found in Tajikistan, and
further in the Pashtun diaspora. There are also Hindu and Muslim
communities of part Pashtun descent in India, including Bollywood
families and Indian Film Cinema such as Khans and Kapoors. They are
integrated into Indian languages, hold mixed races, ethnicities,
religions and culture and do not hold cultural reverence to the
ethnicity or their origins.
Pashtuns are of ancient Iranian origin and
Afghanistan years before other ethnic groups in
In addition, sizable Pashto-speaking communities also exist in the
Middle East, especially in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia,
Iran (primarily in
South Khorasan Province
South Khorasan Province to the east of
Qaen, near the Afghan border). The
Pashtun diaspora speaks Pashto
in countries like the United States, United Kingdom, Thailand,
Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Qatar, Australia, Japan,
Russia, New Zealand, etc.
Pashto is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan, along with
Dari. Since the early 18th century, kings of
Pashtuns except for
Habibullāh Kalakāni in 1929. Persian,
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. King
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 Empire in the
Third Anglo-Afghan War
Third Anglo-Afghan War in
1919. In the 1930s, a movement began to take hold to promote
a language of government, administration and art with the
establishment of a
Pashto Anjuman in 1931 and the
inauguration of the
Kabul University in 1932 as well as the formation
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 is also the indigenous language of
Afghanistan but Persian
became popular in
Afghanistan mainly because of the Persian empire and
its influences. Persian was spoken all over.
Pashto is spoken as a first language by about 35-40
million people – 15.42% of Pakistan's 170 million population. It
is the main language of the Pashtun-majority regions of Khyber
Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and northern
Balochistan. It is also spoken in parts of Mianwali and Attock
districts of the Punjab province and in Islamabad, as well as by
Pashtuns who live in different cities throughout the country. Modern
Pashto-speaking communities are found in the cities of
Hyderabad in Sindh.
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, Federally
Administered Tribal Areas and northern Balochistan. The primary
medium of education in government schools in
Pakistan is Urdu, but
from 2014 onwards, the Government of
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has placed
more emphasis on English as the medium of instruction.
English-medium private schools in Pashto-speaking areas, however,
generally do not use Pashto.
Zaeem speaking Pashto
The imposition of
Urdu as the primary medium of education in public
schools has caused a systematic degradation and decline of many of
Pakistan's native languages including Pashto. This has caused
growing resentment amongst Pashtuns, who also complain that
often neglected officially.
This section appears to contradict the article Dari language. Please
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According to 19th-century linguist
James Darmesteter and modern
linguist Michael M. T. Henderson,
Pashto is "descended from
Rabatak inscription of Emperor Kanishka
written in Bactrian and Greek contains words are borrowed from Pashto
language due to their proximity to the modern
Strabo, who lived between 64 BC and 24 CE, explains that the tribes
inhabiting the lands west of the
Indus River were part of
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
Abdul Hai Habibi and others believe that the earliest
Pashto work dates back to
Amir Kror Suri of
Ghor in the eighth
century, and they use the writings found in Pata Khazana. However,
this is disputed by several modern experts such as David Neil
MacKenzie and Lucia Serena Loi due to lack of evidence. Pata
Khazana is a
Pashto manuscript claimed to be first compiled during
Hotaki dynasty (1709–1738) in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Lucia
Serena Loi considers
Pata Khazana a late 19th century forgery.
From the 16th century,
Pashto poetry become very popular among the
Pashtuns. Some of those who wrote poetry in
Pashto are Pir Roshan,
Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Nazo Tokhi, and Ahmad Shah Durrani,
founder of the modern state of
Afghanistan or the Durrani Empire.
In modern times, noticing the incursion of Persian and
Arabic vocabulary, there is a strong desire to "purify"
Pashto by restoring its old vocabulary.[self-published
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
Pashto has similarities with some other Indo-Iranian
languages such as
Prakrit and Bactrian. 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,
Pashto shows a partly ergative behavior. Like Kurdish, but
unlike most other Indo-Iranian languages,
Pashto uses all three types
of adpositions – prepositions, postpositions and circumpositions.
Phonemes that have been borrowed, thus non-native to Pashto, are
colour-coded. The phonemes /q, f/ tend to be replaced by [k], [p].
The retroflex lateral flap /ɭ̆/ (ɺ̢ or ) is pronounced as
retroflex approximant [ɻ] when final.
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.
The velars /k, ɡ, x, ɣ/ followed by the close back rounded vowel /u/
assimilate into the labialized velars [kʷ, ɡʷ, xʷ, ɣʷ].
Voiceless stops [p, t, t͡ʃ, k] are all unaspirated, like Spanish,
other Romance languages, and Austronesian languages; they have
slightly aspirated allophones prevocalically in a stressed syllable.
In Pashto, most of the native elements of the lexicon are related to
other Eastern Iranian languages. However, a remarkably large number of
words are unique to Pashto. Post-7th century borrowings came
primarily from the Persian and Hindustani languages, with some Arabic
words being borrowed through those two languages, but sometimes
directly. Modern speech borrows words from English, French and
Here is an exemplary list of Pure
Pashto and borrowings:
Pashto employs the
Pashto alphabet, a modified form of 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 Urdu
alphabet and, to some degree, the Persian alphabet.
Pashto alphabet consists of 45 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/
Pashto dialects are divided into two varieties, the “soft”
southern variety Paṣ̌tō, and the “hard” northern variety
Pax̌tō (Pakhtu). Each variety is further divided into a number of
dialects. The southern dialect of
Wanetsi is the most distinctive
1. Southern variety
Durrani dialect (or Southern dialect)
Kakar dialect (or Southeastern dialect)
Southern Karlani group
2. Northern variety
Central Ghilji dialect (or Northwestern dialect)
Northern dialect (or Eastern dialect)
Yusufzai dialect (or Northeastern dialect)
Northern Karlani group
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
Both of these poets belonged to the modern day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa
region of Pakistan). From the time of Ahmad Shah Durrani
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
Pashto verbs was written in 1805 in
India under the title of
Riyāż al-Maḥabbah ("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
Pashto words entitled ʿAjāyib al-Lughāt ("Wonders of
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
IPA: Zə ra.mɑn pə xpəl.a gram jəm t͡ʃe ma.jən jəm
t͡ʃe d̪ɑ nor ʈo.pan me bo.li gram pə t͡sə
Transliteration: Zə Rahmān pə xpəla gram yəm če mayən yəm
Če dā nor ṭopan me boli gram pə tsə
Translation: 'I Rahman, myself am guilty that I am a lover,
On what does this other universe call me guilty.'
Pashto also has a rich heritage of proverbs (
Pashto matalūna, sg.
matal). An example of a proverb:
اوبه په ډانګ نه بېليږي
"One cannot divide water by [hitting it with] a pole."
Eastern Iranian languages
Pre-Islamic scripts in Afghanistan
Languages of Pakistan
^ The only American pronunciation listed by Oxford Online
Dictionaries, /ˈpæʃtoʊ/, is so rare that it is not even
mentioned by the American Heritage and Merriam–Webster dictionaries.
^ Sometimes spelled "Pushtu" or "Pushto", and then either
pronounced the same or differently. The spelling "Pakhto"
is so rare that it is not even mentioned by any major English
dictionaries or even recognized by major English–
such as Thepashto.com, and it is specifically listed by Ethnologue
only as an alternative name for Northern Pashto, not Southern or
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^ John Hladczuk (1992). International Handbook of Reading Education.
Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 148.
^ Ullah, Noor (2011).
Pashto Grammar. AuthorHouse. p. 5.
^ Zellem, Edward (2014). Mataluna: 151 Afghan
Cultures Direct Press. ISBN 978-0692215180.
^ Bartlotti, Leonard and Raj Wali Shah Khattak, eds. (2006). Rohi
Pashto Proverbs, (revised and expanded edition). First
edition by Mohammad Nawaz Tair and Thomas C. Edwards, eds. Peshawar,
Pakistan: Interlit and
Pashto Academy, Peshawar University.
Schmidt, Rüdiger (ed.) (1989). Compendium Linguarum Iranicarum.
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text: authors list (link)
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Georg Morgenstierne (1926) Report on a Linguistic Mission to
Afghanistan. Instituttet for Sammenlignende Kulturforskning, Serie C
I-2. Oslo. ISBN 0-923891-09-9
Daniel G. Hallberg (1992) Pashto, Waneci,
Survey of Northern Pakistan, 4). National Institute of Pakistani
Studies, 176 pp. ISBN 969-8023-14-3.
Herbert Penzl A Grammar of Pashto: A Descriptive Study of the Dialect
of Kandahar, Afghanistan, ISBN 0-923891-72-2
Herbert Penzl A Reader of Pashto, ISBN 0-923891-71-4
Pashto edition of, the free encyclopedia
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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
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