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The word Pax?tó written in the Pashto alphabet
Pronunciation[pt?o'], [p?xt?o']
Native toAfghanistan and Pakistan
Native speakers
40-60 million
Standard forms
DialectsPashto dialects
Perso-Arabic script (Pashto alphabet)
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Regulated byAcademy of Sciences of Afghanistan (Afghanistan)
Pashto Academy (Pakistan)
Language codes
ps - Pashto, Pushto
pus - Pushto, Pashto
pus - inclusive code - Pashto, Pushto
Individual codes:
pst - Central Pashto
pbu - Northern Pashto
pbt - Southern Pashto
wne - Wanetsi
Glottologpash1269  [3]
A map of Pashto-speaking areas
Areas in Afghanistan and Pakistan where Pashto is:
  the predominant language
  spoken alongside other languages
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Pashto (,[4][5][6];[Note 1]? / Pax?tó, [pt?o', p?xt?o', pt?o', p?çt?o']), sometimes spelled Pukhto or Pakhto,[Note 2] is an Eastern Iranian language of the Indo-European family. It is known in Persian literature as Afghani (, Afgh?ni).[9]

Speakers of the language are called Pashtuns or Pukhtuns/Pakhtuns (historically known as ethnic Afghans).[10][11][12][13] Pashto and Dari (Persian) are the two official languages of Afghanistan.[14][1][15] Pashto is also the second-largest regional language of Pakistan, mainly spoken in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern districts of Balochistan province.[16] Pashto is the primary language of the Pashtun diaspora around the world. The total number of Pashto-speakers is at least 40 million,[17] although some estimates place it as high as 60 million.[18]

Geographic distribution

As a national language of Afghanistan,[19] 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%[20][21][22][23] of the total population of Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, Pashto is spoken by 15% of its population,[24][25] mainly in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern districts of Balochistan province. Pashto-speakers are found in other major cities of Pakistan, most notably in Karachi, Sindh.[26]

Other communities of Pashto speakers are found in India, Tajikistan,[27] and northeastern Iran (primarily in South Khorasan Province to the east of Qaen, near the Afghan border).[28] In India most ethnic Pashtun (Pathan) peoples speak the geographically native Hindi-Urdu language instead of Pashto. However small numbers of Pashto speakers exist in India, namely the Sheen Khalai in Rajasthan,[29] and the Pathan community in the city of Kolkata, often nicknamed the Kabuliwala ("people of Kabul").[30][31]

In addition, sizable Pashtun diaspora also exist in Western Asia, especially in the United Arab Emirates[32] and Saudi Arabia. The Pashtun diaspora speaks Pashto in countries like the United States, United Kingdom,[33]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 Persian.[34] Since the early 18th century, the monarchs of Afghanistan have been ethnic Pashtuns (except for Habibull?h Kalak?ni in 1929).[35] Persian, the literary language of the royal court,[36] 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"[35] 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[37] and the inauguration of the Kabul University in 1932 as well as the formation of the Pashto Academy Pashto Tolana in 1937.[38]

Although officially supporting the use of Pashto, the Afghan elite regarded Persian as a "sophisticated language and a symbol of cultured upbringing".[35] 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.[39] In 1936 a royal decree of Zahir Shah formally granted to Pashto the status of an official language[40] 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.[38] Thus Pashto became a national language, a symbol for Pashtun nationalism.

The constitutional assembly reaffirmed the status of Pashto as an official language in 1964 when Afghan Persian was officially renamed to Dari.[41][42] The lyrics of the national anthem of Afghanistan are in Pashto.


A native speaker speaking Pashto

In Pakistan, Pashto is the first language of 15% of its population (as of 1998),[43][44] mainly in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern districts of Balochistan province. 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.[26][45][46][47]

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 north Balochistan.[48] The primary medium of education in government schools in Pakistan is Urdu,[49] but from 2014 onwards, the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has placed more emphasis on English as the medium of instruction.[50].This has caused growing resentment amongst Pashtuns, who also complain that Pashto is often neglected officially .[51][52][53]

Professor Tariq Rahman states[54]:

"The government of Pakistan, faced with irredentist claims from Afghanistan on its territory, also discouraged the Pashto Movement and eventually allowed its use in peripheral domains only after the Pakhtun elite had been co-opted by the ruling elite...Thus, even though there is still an active desire among some Pakhtun activists to use Pashto in the domains of power, it is more of a symbol of Pakhtun identity than one of nationalism."

-- Tariq Rahman, The Pashto language and identity-formation in Pakistan


Inscription in Greek by Sophytos, 2nd century BCE, Kandahar.

Some linguists have argued that Pashto is descended from Avestan or a variety very similar to it.[13][55] However, the position that Pashto is a direct descendant of Avestan is not agreed upon. What scholars agree on is the fact that Pashto is an Eastern Iranian language sharing characteristics with Eastern Middle Iranian languages such as Bactrian, Khwarezmian and Sogdian.[56]

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. 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).[57][58][59][9]

Scholars such as Abdul Hai Habibi believe that the earliest modern Pashto work dates back to Amir Kror Suri of the early Ghurid period in the 8th century, and they use the writings found in Pata Khazana. Pa Xaz?ná ( ) is a Pashto manuscript[60] claimed to be written by Mohammad Hotak under the patronage of the Pashtun emperor Hussain Hotak in Kandahar; containing an anthology of Pashto poets. However, its authenticity is disputed by scholars such as David Neil MacKenzie and Lucia Serena Loi.[61][62]

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.

In modern times, noticing the incursion of Persian and Arabic vocabulary, there is a strong desire to "purify" Pashto by restoring its old vocabulary.[63][64][65]


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.),[66] two numbers (sing./plur.), and four cases (direct, oblique, ablative 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 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,[19] therefore Pashto shows a partly ergative behaviour. 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 color coded. The phonemes /q/ and /f/ tend to be replaced by [k] and [p] respectively.[67][Note 3]
  • is voiced back-alveolar retroflex flap.[68] MacKenzie states: "In distinction, from the alveolar trill r and from the dental (or alveolar) lateral l, it is basically a retroflexed lateral flap." [69]
  • The retroflex fricatives /?, ?/ and palatal fricatives /ç, ?/ 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 South Western dialects (especially the prestige dialect of Kandahar), while they are pronounced as palatal fricatives in the North Western dialects. Other dialects merge the retroflexes with other existing sounds: The South Eastern dialects merge them with the postalveolar fricatives /?, ?/, while the North Eastern dialects merge them with the velar phonemes in an asymmetric pattern, pronouncing them as /x, ?/. Furthermore, according to Henderson (1983),[12] the voiced palatal fricative /?/ actually occurs generally in the Wardak Province, and is merged into /?/ elsewhere in the North Western dialects. It is also pronounced as sometimes /?/ in Bati Kot according to the findings of D.W Coyle.[70]


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.[71][72][55] Post-7th century borrowings came primarily from Persian language and Hindi-Urdu, with Arabic words being borrowed through Persian,[73] but sometimes directly.[74][75] Modern speech borrows words from English, French, and German.[76]

Here is an exemplary list of Pure Pashto and borrowings:[77][78][79][80][81]

Pashto Persian Loan Arabic Loan Meaning

malgray, malgre

















? ...

d?...p? a?á




Classical Vocabulary

There a lot of old vocabulary that have been replaced by borrowings e.g. ? [throne] with [from Farsi].[82] Such classical vocabulary is being reintroduced to modern Pashto. [83] Some words also survive in dialects like ? ? [the bride-room].[84]

An example of ? is found in a 1000 year-old poetry of Shaikh Asad, a Suri warrior who died in 1034 AD:[85]

...? ? ? ?

Transliteration: D? palák ch?ró t?s? wkm kok...
Kla ?w?rd?zawé w?kmn l? pl?zúno

Translation: "What should I do about Heaven's powers, uncle...
Sometimes you throw rulers from thrones"

Writing system

Pashto employs the Pashto alphabet, a modified form of the Perso-Arabic alphabet or Arabic script.[86] 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[87] and 4 diacritic marks.In the Latin transliteration, stress is represented by the following markers over vowels: , á, , ú, ó, í and é. The following table gives the letters' isolated forms, along with the Latin equivalents [not officially recognised] and typical IPA values:

/d?z, z/
/t?s, s/
? (or )
/?, ?, ?, ?/
x? (or )
/?, ç, x, ?/
/?, ?/
/f, p/
w, u, o
/w, u, o/
h, a
/h, a/
y, i
/j, i/
ay, y
/ai, j/
?i, y
/?i, j/


Pashto dialects are divided into two varieties, the "soft" southern variety Pat?, and the "hard" northern variety Pax?t? (Pakhtu).[10] 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 or Kandahar dialect (or South Western dialect)
  • Kakar dialect (or South Eastern dialect)
  • Shirani dialect
  • Mandokhel dialect
  • Marwat-Bettani dialect
  • Wanetsi dialect
  • Southern Karlani group [aka. Central Dialects: Wazirwola and Banunchi]
  • Banuchi dialect

2. Northern variety

  • Central Ghilji dialect (or North Western dialect)
  • Wardak dialect
  • Yusufzai or Yusapzai dialect (or North Eastern dialect)
  • Northern Karlani group
  • Taniwola dialect
  • Mangal tribe dialect
  • Khosti dialect
  • Zadran dialect
  • Bangash-Orakzai-Turi-Zazi- dialect
  • Afridi dialect
  • Khogyani dialect

Standard Pashto

The newly formed Standard Pashto Language Alphabets

Standard Pashto is the standardized variety of Pashto which serves as a prestige Pashto dialect, and is based on the North Western dialect, spoken in the central Ghilji region, including the Afghan capital Kabul and some surrounding region. Standard Pashto's vocabulary, however, also derives from Southern Pashto. This dialect of Pashto has been chosen as standard because the it is generally understandable. Standard Pashto is the literary variety of Pashto used in Afghan media.

Standard Pashto has been developed by Radio Television Afghanistan and Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan in Kabul. It has adopted neologisms to coin new terms from already existing words or phrases and introduce them into the Pashto lexicon. Educated Standard Pashto is learned in the curriculum that is taught in the primary schools in the country. It is used for written and formal spoken purposes, and in the domains of media and government.[88]

There has also been an effort[89] to adopt a written form based on Latin script,[90][91][92][93] but the effort of adapting a Roman alphabet has not gained official support.


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. 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 Ma?rifat al-Afgh?n? ("The Knowledge of Afghani [Pashto]"). After that, the first grammar book of Pashto verbs was written in 1805 under the title of Riy al-Ma?abbah ("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 ?Aj?yib al-Lugh?t ("Wonders of Languages").

Poetry example

An excerpt from the Kal?m of Rahman Baba:

? ?

IPA: Z? ra.m?'n p? xp?'l.a gram j?m te ma.ja'n j?m
te d nor ?o.p?'n me' gram p? t?s?

Transliteration: Z? Rahmn p? xpla gram y?m ?e mayán y?m
?e d? nor ?opn me bolí gram p? ts?

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 matalúna, sg. matál).[94][95] An example of a proverb:

? ?

Transliteration: Ub p? ng na beléi

Translation: "One cannot divide water by [hitting it with] a pole."


Greeting Phrases

Greeting Pashto Transliteration Literal Meaning
Hello ?


stay m she

ste m she

May you not be tired
? sti m shai May you not be tired [said to people]
p? xair rle With goodness (you) came
Thank You ? manna Acceptance [from the verb ]
Goodbye p? mkha de x?á On your front be good
? xwdi p?mn From ? [With/On God's security]


List of colors:

/ sur/sra [red]

/ ?in/?na [green]

kinaxí [purple]

/ ? tor/tóra [black]

/ ?in/?na [blue]

?/ spin/spína [white]

nasw?rí [brown]

/ ? ?e?/?é?a [yellow]

?u?y [violet]

/ x/xa [grey]

List of colors borrowed from neighbouring languages:

Times of the Day

? ?
Time Pashto Transliteration IPA
Morning ? gahí? /?a.hi'd?z/
Noon ? ?armá /?'/
Afternoon ? m?spasx?ín Kandahar: /m?'n/

Yusapzai: /m?'n/

Later Afternoon ?





Evening m?xm Kandahari: /m?.'m/

Wardak: /m?.ç?'m/

Yusapzai: /m?.x?'m/

Late Evening m?sxután /m?s.xw?.t?a'n/



  1. ^ The only American pronunciation listed by Oxford Online Dictionaries is .[7]
  2. ^ Sometimes spelled "Pushtu" or "Pushto",[5][6] and then either pronounced the same[8] or differently.[5][6] The spelling "Pakhto" is so rare that it is not even mentioned by any major English dictionaries nor recognized by major English-Pashto dictionaries such as, and it is specifically listed by Ethnologue only as an alternative name for Northern Pashto, and not Southern or Central Pashto.
  3. ^ So for instance, the Arabic word would be pronounced as /par(?)k/.


  1. ^ a b Constitution of Afghanistan - Chapter 1 The State, Article 16 (Languages) and Article 20 (Anthem)
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  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin, eds. (2017). "Pashto". Glottolog 3.0. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  4. ^ "Pashto (less commonly Pushtu)". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster, Incorporated. Retrieved 2016.
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  8. ^ "Pashto (also Pushtu)". Collins English Dictionary. HarperCollins Publishers. Retrieved 2016.
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Further reading

  • Morgenstierne, Georg. "The Place of Pashto among the Iranic Languages and the Problem of the Constitution of Pashtun Linguistic and Ethnic Unity." Pa?to Quarterly 1.4 (1978): 43-55.

External links

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