Pashto (//, rarely //,[Note 1] Pashto: پښتو Pax̌tō [ˈpəʂt̪oː]), sometimes spelled Pukhto,[Note 2] is an Eastern Iranian language in the Indo-European family. It is known in Persian literature as Afghāni (افغانی) and in Hindustani literature as Paṭhānī. Speakers of the language are called Pashtuns/Pakhtuns/Pathans and sometimes Afghans. Pashto and Dari are the official languages of Afghanistan. Pashto is also the second-largest regional language of Pakistan, mainly spoken in the west and northwest of the country. In Pakistan, it is the main language of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the northern districts of Balochistan. Pashto is the primary language of the Pashtun diaspora around the world. The total number of Pashto-speakers is estimated to be 45–60 million people worldwide.
The word Pax̌tō written in the Pashto alphabet
|Native to||Afghanistan and Pakistan|
|Region||South Asia, Central Asia|
|38 million (2019)|
Official language in
|Regulated by||Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan|
Pashto Academy, Pakistan
Pashto belongs to the Northeastern Iranian group of the Indo-Iranian branch, but Ethnologue lists it as Southeastern Iranian. Pashto has two main dialect groups, "soft" and "hard", the latter locally known as Pakhto or Paxto.
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 number of speakers is unavailable, but different estimates show that Pashto is the mother tongue of 45–60% of the total population of Afghanistan.
In Pakistan, around 38 million people speak Pashto, according to the 2017 census, which is over 15% of Pakistan's population. Most of these people are in the northwestern areas of the country, comprising Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Balochistan. 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 communities of part Pashtun descent in India, including Bollywood families and Indian Film Cinema such as Khans. Pashtuns are of ancient Iranian origin and lived in Afghanistan years before other ethnic groups in Afghanistan.
In addition, sizable Pashto-speaking communities also exist in the Western Asia, especially in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, northeastern Iran (primarily in 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, 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, the monarchs of Afghanistan have been ethnic Pashtuns (except for Habibullāh Kalakāni in 1929). Persian, the literary language of the royal court, was more widely used in government institutions while the Pashtun tribes spoke Pashto as their native tongue. King Amanullah Khan began promoting Pashto during his reign (1926-1929) as a marker of ethnic identity and as a symbol of "official nationalism" leading Afghanistan to independence after the defeat of the British Empire in the Third Anglo-Afghan War in 1919. 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 supporting the use of Pashto, the Afghan elite regarded Persian as a “sophisticated language and a symbol of cultured upbringing”. King Zahir Shah (reigned 1933-1973) thus followed suit after his father Nadir Khan had decreed in 1933 that officials were to study and utilize both Persian and Pashto. In 1936 a royal decree of Zahir Shah formally granted to Pashto the status of an official language with full rights to usage in all aspects of government and education - 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 constitutional assembly reaffirmed the status of Pashto as an official language in 1964 when Afghan Persian was officially renamed to Dari. The lyrics of the national anthem of Afghanistan are in Pashto.
In Pakistan, Pashto is spoken as a first language by about 35-40 million people – 15.42% of Pakistan's 208 million population. It is the main language of the Pashtun-majority regions of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern Balochistan. It is also spoken in parts of Mianwali and Attock districts of the Punjab province, areas of Gilgit-Baltistan 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 Karachi and 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 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.
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 Pashto is often neglected officially.
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According to 19th-century linguist James Darmesteter and modern linguist Michael M. T. Henderson, Pashto is "descended from Avestan". The Rabatak inscription of Emperor Kanishka written in Bactrian and Greek contains words borrowed from Pashto due to their proximity to the modern Pashto language.
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. This was around the time when the area inhabited by the Pashtuns was governed by the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom. From the 3rd century CE 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 of the early Ghurid period 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. Pata Khazana is a Pashto manuscript claimed to be written by Mohammad Hotak under the patronage of the Pashtun emperor Hussain Hotak in Kandahar. Pata Khazana claims to contain an anthology of Pashto poets from the early Ghurid period up to the Hotak period in the eighteenth century.
From the 16th century, Pashto poetry become very popular among the Pashtuns. Some of those who wrote in Pashto are Bayazid Pir Roshan (a major inventor of the Pashto alphabet), Khushal Khan Khattak, Rahman Baba, Nazo Tokhi, and Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the modern state of Afghanistan or the Durrani 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 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, therefore Pashto shows a partly ergative behaviour. Like Kurdish, but unlike most other Indo-Iranian languages, Pashto uses all three types of adpositions – prepositions, postpositions and circumpositions.
|Fricative||f||s||z||ʂ ~ ç||ʐ ~ ʝ||ʃ||ʒ||x||ɣ||h|
Phonemes that have been borrowed, thus non-native to Pashto, are colour-coded. The phonemes /q/ and /f/ tend to be replaced by [k] and [p] respectively.
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. 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 German.
Here is an exemplary list of Pure Pashto and borrowings:
Pashto employs the Pashto alphabet, a modified form of the Perso-Arabic or Arabic script. In the 16th century, Bayazid Pir Roshan introduced 13 new letters to the Pashto alphabet. The alphabet was further modified over the years.
The 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 Pashto dialect.
1. Southern variety
- Durrani dialect (or Southern dialect)
- Kakar dialect (or Southeastern dialect)
- Shirani dialect
- Mandokhel dialect
- Marwat-Bettani dialect
- Wanetsi dialect
- Southern Karlani group
2. Northern variety
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. Both of these poets belonged to the modern day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region of Pakistan). 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 Kakar with the title of Maʿrifat al-Afghānī ("The Knowledge of Afghani [Pashto]"). After that, the first grammar book of Pashto verbs was written in 1805 in India under the title of Riyāż al-Maḥabbah ("Training in Affection") through the patronage of Nawab Mahabat 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 ʿAjāyib al-Lughāt ("Wonders of Languages").
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."
اوبه په ډانګ نه بېليږي
Transliteration: Uba pə ḍang na beliẓ̌i
Translation: "One cannot divide water by [hitting it with] a pole."
- The only American pronunciation listed by Oxford Online Dictionaries, //, 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–Pashto dictionaries such as Thepashto.com, and it is specifically listed by Ethnologue only as an alternative name for Northern Pashto, not Southern or Central Pashto.
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Estimates of the number of Pashto speakers range from 40 million to 60 million...
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To the south is Afghanistān. There are eleven or twelve different languages spoken in Kābul: Arabic, Persian, Tūrki, Moghuli, Hindi, Afghani, Pashāi, Parāchi, Geberi, Bereki, and Lamghāni.
- India. Office of the Registrar General (1961). Census of India, 1961: Gujarat. Manager of Publications. pp. 142, 166, 177.
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- Henderson, Michael. "The Phonology of Pashto" (PDF). Madison, Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
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- Darmesteter, James (1890). Chants populaires des Afghans. Paris.
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From among the languages of Pashto, Dari, Uzbeki, Turkmani, Baluchi, Pashai, Nuristani, Pamiri (alsana), Arab and other languages spoken in the country, Pashto and Dari are the official languages of the state.
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- Population by Mother Tongue, Population Census – Pakistan Bureau of Statistics, Government of Pakistan
- Proof-error. This article claims in text (A) this language spoken in West/Northwestern Afghanistan, but (B) map shows regions colored in East/Southeast. It's unclear which reference is inaccurate, the text or the map?
- Paul M. Lewis, ed. (2009). "Pashto, Northern". SIL International. Dallas, Texas: Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Sixteenth edition. Retrieved 18 September 2010.
Ethnic population: 49,529,000 possibly total Pashto in all countries.
- "Pashto". Omniglot.com. Retrieved 25 October 2010.
The exact number of Pashto speakers is not known for sure, but most estimates range from 45 million to 55 million.
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Paṧtō undoubtedly belongs to the Northeastern Iranic branch.
- Nicholas Sims-Williams, Eastern Iranian languages, in Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, 2010. "The Modern Eastern Iranian languages are even more numerous and varied. Most of them are classified as North-Eastern: Ossetic; Yaghnobi (which derives from a dialect closely related to Sogdian); the Shughni group (Shughni, Roshani, Khufi, Bartangi, Roshorvi, Sarikoli), with which Yaz-1ghulami (Sokolova 1967) and the now extinct Wanji (J. Payne in Schmitt, p. 420) are closely linked; Ishkashmi, Sanglichi, and Zebaki; Wakhi; Munji and Yidgha; and Pashto."
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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.
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A. Official languages. Paṧtō (1) is the native tongue of 50 to 55 percent of Afghans...
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The earliest mention of the name 'Afghan' (Abgan) is to be found in a Sasanid inscription from the third century AD, and it appears in India in the form of 'Avagana'...
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At the same time Pashto has borrowed largely from Persian and Hindustani, and through those languages from Arabic.
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|Pashto edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Pashto language.|
|For a list of words relating to Pashto, see the Pashto category of words in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Pashto phrasebook.|
- Pashto Dictionary with Phonetic Keyboard & Auto-Suggestion
- Pashto Phonetic Keyboard
- 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
- Hindus of India who speak the Pashto Language as their mother tongue