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About Dari Language

Dari (Persian: دری Darī, pronounced [dæˈɾi]) or Dari Persian (Persian: فارسی دری - Fārsīy e Darī, [fɒːɾsije dæˈɾi]), also known as Eastern Persian, is a historical name for the Persian language and, in contemporary usage refers to the dialects of the Persian language that are spoken in Afghanistan. It is the term officially recognized and promoted by the Afghan government for the language. As defined in the Constitution of Afghanistan, Dari is one of two official and national languages of Afghanistan. Dari also serves as the lingua franca in Afghanistan.

Origin of the word "Dari"

There are different opinions about the origin of the word Dari. The majority of scholars believe that Dari refers to the Persian word darbār (دربار), meaning "Court", as it was the formal language of the Sassanids. This opinion is supported by medieval sources and early Islamic historians.

Geographical distribution

In Afghanistan Dari Persian ("Fārsi e Dari") is also simply called Persian ("Fārsi"). It is not to be confused with Dari or Gabri of Iran, a language of the Central Iran sub-group, spoken in some Zoroastrian communities.

Iranian languages have been and are still widely used in Central Asia both by native speakers and as trade languages. Whereas in the past East Iranian languages, such as Bactrian, Sogdian and Khotanese, and West Iranian languages, notably Parthian and Middle Persian were prominent, New Persian has supplanted most of these languages. Only in the Pamir Mountains there are still pockets of speakers of East Iranian languages left, such as Shughni, Sarikoli, Yazgulami, and Sanglechi-Ishkashmi, thanks to their relative isolation.

Dari Persian is considered to be a more archaic form of (New) Persian. It a major language of Afghanistan and one of the two official languages (the other being Pashto). In practice though it serves as the de facto lingua franca among the various, different ethno-linguistic groups. Dari Persian dominates in the northern and western parts, and the capital, Kabul, in the east.

Dari Persian has contributed to the majority of Persian borrowings in South Asian languages, such as Hindi-Urdu, Panjabi, Bengali, etc., as it was the administrative,official and cultural language of the Persocentric Mughal Empire and served as the lingua franca throughout the Indian subcontinent for centuries. The sizeable Persian component of the Anglo-Indian loan words in English therefore reflects Dari pronunciation, for instance dopiaza (= Iranian Persian do-piyāzeh "(having) two onions"), gymkhana (-khana = Ir. Pers. khooneh "house"), pyjama (= Ir. Pers. pey-jāmeh "leg/foot garment"[8], Chicken tikka (tikka = Ir. Pers. tekkeh "piece, chunk").


The differences in pronunciation of Iranian and Afghan Persian can be considerable, on par with Scottish and Cockney English, although, naturally, educated speakers have generally no difficulty understanding each other (except in the use of certain lexical items or idiomatic expressions). The principal differences between standard Iranian Persian, based on the dialect of the capital Tehran, and Afghan Dari, as based on the Kabul dialect, are:

  • the absence of the so-called "majhul" vowels in Iranian Persian, viz. the originally long "ē" / "ī" and "ō" / "ū", still kept separate in Afghan Persian, have merged into "ī" and "ū" respectively. For instance, the identically written words شیر 'lion' and 'milk' are pronounced the same in Iranian Persian, viz. [šīr], but [šēr] for 'lion' and [šīr] for 'milk' in Afghan Persian. The long vowel in زود 'quick' and زور 'strong' is realized as [ū] in Iranian Persian, in contrast, these words are pronounced as [zūd] and [zōr] respectively by Persian speakers in Afghanistan.
  • the treatment of the dipthongs of early Classical Persian "aw" (as "ow" in Engl. "cow") and "ay" (as "i" in Engl. "fine"), which are pronounced as [ow] (as in Engl. "low") and [ey] (as in Engl. "hey!", "day") in Iranian Persian. Dari, on the other hand, is more archaic, e.g. نوروز 'Persian New Year' is realized as [nowrūz] in Iranian, and [nawrōz] in Afghan Persian, and نخیر 'no' is uttered as [naχeyr] in Iranian, and as [naχayr] in Afghan Persian.
  • the high short vowels "i" and "u" tend to be lowered in Iranian Persian, as "e" (similar to "i" in Engl. "fit", "hit"), and "o" (as in Engl. "Ron")
  • the pronunciation of the labial consonant و, which is realized as a (voiced) labiodental fricative, similar to Engl. "v", but Afghan Persian still retains the (classical) bilabial pronunciation "w" (as in Engl.).
  • the convergence of voiced uvular stop "q" (ق) and voiced velar fricative "γ" (غ) in Iranian Persian (presumably under the influence of Turkic languages like Azeri), which is still kept separate in Dari
  • the realization of short final "a" (-ه) as "e" in Iranian Persian
  • the realization of short non-final "a" as [æ] in Iranian Persian.


On the other hand, the syntax of Dari Persian does not differ greatly from Iranian Persian. One of the major grammatical differences is expressing the continuous tense. In Iranian Persian, the auxiliary verb “to have” (داشتن [dāštan]) is placed before the main finite verb (with prefix "mī-") to indicate a continuous action. In Dari, on the other hand, a periphrastic construction with the expression "dar hāl-i" (at the moment of) is used instead: the main verb appears in the infinitive. A sentence like "I am going" would be thus expressed as "man dāram mīr(av)am" in Iran, whereas in Afghanistan this would be "man dar hāl-i raftan hastam" ("hastam" is a copula form, viz. the 1st person singular present of the verb "būdan" 'to be').

Cultural influences on Dari

The cultural dominance of Iran (especially in the media) ensures that the specific features of Iranian Persian are also understood by many Dari speakers in Afghanistan. The opposite is also true, to a point. The Persian variant spoken in Afghanistan, though subject to many influences from the Pashto language on the colloquial level, is usually understood by the Persian speakers of Iran.

Political views on the language

Some people do not consider the Persian spoken in Afghanistan to be a separate dialect. They consider it to be just Persian. Dari is used by certain scholars in Tajikistan and Iran, including Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, to refer to the Persian language. It is also believed by some that Dari Persian should not be called Afghanistani Persian, because it already existed centuries before the creation of Afghanistan, or the use of the word Afghanistani. Linguists prefer the terms Western Persian (Farsi) for the spoken Persian in Tehran, and Eastern Persian (Dari) for the Persian spoken in eastern Iran and Afghanistan. The language name of Afghanistan was officially changed from Farsi to Dari due to political reasons in 1964.


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