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About Pashto Language

Pashto (Naskh: پښتو - [paʂˈto]; also transliterated Pakhto, Pushto, Pukhto, Pashtu, or Pushtu), also known as Afghani, and Pathani, is an Indo-European language spoken primarily in Afghanistan and western Pakistan. Pashto belongs to the Eastern Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian language family. The number of Pashto speakers is estimated to be about 40 million. The Constitution of Afghanistan declares that Pashto is an official and national language of the country.

Geographic distribution

In Afghanistan, Pashto is primarily spoken in the east, south and southwest, but also in some northern and northwestern parts as a result of recent relocation. No exact numbers are available, but according to "A survey of the Afghan people - Afghanistan in 2006", Pashto is the first language of 40% of the population, while additional 28% also speak the language (combined 68%). The CIA World Factbook 2009 estimates that 35% of the population speak Pashto as their first language. According to an older, but scholarly, estimate by the Encyclopaedia Iranica, Pashto is the native language of 50 to 55 percent of the population, and spoken by less than 10 percent as a second language.

In Pakistan, Pashto is spoken by about 15% of the total population (approx. 25.6 million people) in the provinces of the NWFP, FATA, and Balochistan, as well as parts of Mianwali and Attock districts of Punjab province. Modern Pashto-speaking communities are also found in the cities of Karachi and Hyderabad in Sindh. With an estimated 4 million ethnic Pashtuns, Karachi hosts one of the largest Pashtun populations in the world.

Other communities of Pashto speakers are found in northeastern Iran, primarily in South Khorasan Province to the east of Qaen, near the Afghan border, and in Tajikistan. There are also Pashtun communities in the southwestern part of Jammu & Kashmir as well as Uttar Pradesh in India.

Sizable Pashto-speaking communities also exist in the Middle East, especially in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, as well as in the United States, particularly California, and in the United Kingdom, Thailand, Canada and Australia.

Official status

In Afghanistan, Pashto is promoted as the first state language, and the Constitution of Afghanistan states that the Afghan National Anthem "shall be in Pashto". Pashto is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan that are used for the administration of the government throughout the country. Pashto is also used in education, literature, office and court business, media, and in religious institutions, etc. It is a repository of the cultural and social heritage of the country. In Pakistan, Pashto is not an official language, but it is one of the provincial languages spoken by the Pashtuns living in Pakistan, in the Pakhtunkhwa, Federally Administered Tribal Areas and Balochistan.


Pashto is an S-O-V 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). The verb system is very intricate with the following tenses: present, subjunctive, simple past, past progressive, present perfect and past perfect. In any of the past tenses (simple past, past progressive, present perfect and past perfect), Pashto is an ergative language; i.e., transitive verbs in any of the past tenses agree with the object of the sentence.


In Pashto, most of the native elements of the lexicon are related to other Eastern Iranian languages; those words can be easily compared to those known from Avestan, Ossetic and Pamir languages. However, a remarkably large number of words is special to Pashto. Post 7th century borrowings came primarily from Arabic. Modern borrowings come from Persian and Urdu (in Pakistan) with the modern educated speech borrowing words from English, French, and German.

Writing system

Pashto employs the Pashto alphabet, a modified form of the Arabic alphabet with extra letters added for Pashto-specific sounds. As of the 17th century Pashto has been primarily written in the Naskh Arabic script, rather than the Nasta'liq script used for neighboring Persian and Urdu languages. The Pashto alphabet consists of 44 letters, and 4 diacritic marks.

Pashto is written from right to left.


As a consequence of life in areas of rugged terrain, there are many dialects of Pashto language. The two main dialects are soft or southern dialect and hard or northern dialect. The dividing line passes through Paktika.

The differences between the southern dialects and the northern dialects are primarily phonological and there are simple conversion rules. The morphological differences between them are very few and unimportant. However, the east-central dialects are lexicologically different and very varied. The southern dialect of Kandahar is the most conservative with regards to phonology, retaining the retroflex fricatives and the alveolar affricates, which have not merged with other phonemes. The Pashto alphabet reflects the southern dialect. Certain dialects show many archaic features, some of which are discarded by the literary language.


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