Last modified on 12 September 2012, at 20:59

Wikijunior:Languages/Pashto

What writing system(s) does this language use?Edit

Pashto has been written in a variant of the Persian script (which in turn is a variant of Arabic script) since the late sixteenth century. Certain letters were modified to account for sounds specific to Pashto. Until the spelling system was standardized in the late eighteenth century, the representation of these consonants varied greatly. The Pashto alphabet, which has more vowel sounds than either Persian or Arabic, represents the vowels more extensively than either the Persian or the Arabic alphabets. With the adoption of Pashto as a national language of Afghanistan, some revisions of the spelling system have been made in the interest of clarity.

Pashto has a seven vowel system. There are retroflex consonants sounds pronounced with the tongue tip curled back--which were presumably borrowed from nearby Indo-Aryan languages. Unlike other Iranian languages, such as Persian, Pashto allows consonant clusters of two or three sounds at the beginning of a syllable.

How many people speak this language?Edit

There are over 9 million speakers of Pashto in Afghanistan alone.

Where is this language spoken?Edit

Pashto is one of the national languages of Afghanistan and widely spoken in Pakistan. Major Pashto speaking cities are Peshawar, Karachi, Dir, Swat, Mardan, Swabi, Dherai, Quetta, Kandahar (Qandahar), Kabul.

In Afghanistan, Pashto is the first language, the Persian dialect spoken natively in the north and west. Because of the political power of the Pashtuns, however, Pashto has been a required subject in Dari medium schools, and as an official language has been one of the languages of the government. For practical purposes, however, Pashto is the language of business and higher education, and so Persians learn Pashto.

Pashto is taught at very few universities in the United States and Canada. The most consistent program offered is at the Diplomatic Language Services in Arlington, Virginia

What is the history of this language?Edit

Pashto is one of the East Iranian group of languages, which includes, for example, Ossete (North Ossetian, south Ossetian, Caucasus Soviet Socialist Republic) and Yaghnobi (Tajikistan). Some of the historians links it to

East Iranian and West Iranian (which includes Persian) are major sub-groups of the Iranian group of the Indo Iranian branch of the Indo European family of languages. Indo-Iranian languages are spoken in a wide area stretching from portions of eastern Turkey and eastern Iraq to western India. The other main division of Indo- Iranian, in addition to Iranian, is the Indo-Aryan languages, a group comprised of many languages of the Indian subcontinent.

There are two major dialects of Pashto: Western Pashto spoken in Afghanistan and in the capital, Kabul, and Eastern Pashto spoken in northeastern Pakistan also known as Yousafzai Pashto. Most speakers of Pashto speak these two dialects. Two other dialects are also distinguished: Southern Pashto, spoken in Baluchistan (western Pakistan and eastern Iran) and in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

The variation in spelling of the language's name (Pashto, Pukhto, etc.) stems from the different pronunciations in the various dialects of the second consonant in the word; for example, it is a retroflex [sh] in the Kandahari dialect, and a palatal fricative in the Kabuli dialect. The major dialect divisions themselves have numerous variants. In general, however, one speaker of Pashto readily understands another. The Central and Southern dialects are more divergent. The Kandahari dialect is reflected in the spelling system, and is considered by some to be the "standard" for that reason.


The first written records of Pashto are believed to date from the sixteenth century and consist of an account of Sheikh Mali's conquest of Swat. In the seventeenth century, Khushal Khan Khattak, considered the national poet of Afghanistan, was writing in Pashto. In this century, there has been a rapid expansion of writing in journalism and other modern genres which has forced innovation of the language and the creation of many new words.

Traces of the history of Pashto are present in its vocabulary. While the majority of words can be traced to Pashto's roots as member of the Eastern Iranian language branch, it has also borrowed words from adjacent languages for over two thousand years. The oldest borrowed words are from Greek, and date from the Greek occupation of Bactria in third century BC. There are also a few traces of contact with Zoroastrians and Buddhists. Starting in the Islamic period, Pashto borrowed many words from Arabic and Persian. Due to its close geographic proximity to languages of the Indian sub-continent, Pashto has borrowed words from Indian languages for centuries.

Pashto has long been recognized as an important language in Afghanistan. Classical Pashto was the object of study by British soldiers and administrators in the nineteenth century and the classical grammar in use today dates from that period.

In 1936, Pashto was made the national language of Afghanistan by royal decree. Today, Dari Persian and Pashto both are official national languages.

Early History of PashtoEdit

According to G.P.Tate, the author of "The kingdom of Afghanistan"-the first to use Pashto for literary purposes was the famous Pir Roshan in the 7th century. His arch rival Akhund Derweza (1533-1638) was also compelled to use Pashto to arouse his followers against the Roshania movement. Apparently, both the giants exploited religious and mystic sentiments of their followers. The windfall of that movement was the freedom of Pashto prose from the influence of Arabic and Persian languages.

The most remarkable achievement of that era was the innovation by Pir Roshan that made the writing of Pashto easy. He realized that Pashto could not be written in Arabic script owing to some of its peculiar sounds. He therefore, invented 13 alphabets to represent those sounds. Some of these alphabets patched up vocal differences between the hard and soft dialects of Pashto as well.

Who are some famous authors or poets in this language?Edit

Pashto has an extensive written tradition. There are a number of classic Pashtun poets, most notably Khoshal Khan Khattak. Modern Pashtun written literature has adapted those modern western literary forms, like the short story, that match forms from traditional Pashto oral literature. Pashtun folk literature is the most extensively developed in the region. Besides stories set to music, Pashtun has thousands of two and four line folk poems, traditionally composed by women. These reflect the day to day life and views of Pashtun women.

Khushal Khan Khattak came to be known "The father of Pashto". Apart from his unsurpassed works in verse and prose on various topics including hunting, falconry, medicine and religion, he compiled a deal of information on the history of Pashtoon.

Then comes Syed Rahmatullah alias Rahat Zakheli(1884-1963), the harbinger of modern Pashto prose. He introduced or revived almost every genre of the time in Pashto. He wrote the first imaginary novel, published in 1912 under the title of "Mah Rukh". His short story "Konda Jeenae" was published in the newspaper AFGHAN in 1917. It was the first but a perfect short story. He compiled history and grammar as well in Pashto.

In the political arena, Bacha Khan gave due attention to the renaissance of the Pashto language, literature and culture. He encouraged and sponsored Pashto poets and writers. Professor Hafiz Mohd Idrees wrote a novel "Peghla" which is considered the first comprehensive novel in Pashto. Said Rasul Rasa, Abdul Rahim Majzoob and Fazal Haq Shida modernized Pashto literature by introducing odes and some other genres of English literature. At this juncture, Pashto took a sharp turn to change its oriental style into a European style. Said Rasul Rasa was a good poet but he is best known for his five novels "Mafroor, Shamae, Khund Kushi, Maimunae and Maikhana".

What are some basic words in this language that I can learn?Edit

What is a simple song/poem/story that I can learn in this language?Edit

ReferencesEdit