A Look at the Languages Spoken in Afghanistan
by Abdullah Qazi
April 22, 2012
Last updated: October 6, 2018
Pashto and Dari (Afghan Persian/Farsi) are the official languages of Afghanistan. Pashto was declared the National Language of the country during the beginning of King Mohammad Zahir’s reign, however, Dari has always been used for business and government transactions. Both belong to the Indo-European group of languages. According to recent US government estimates, approximately 35 percent of the Afghan population speaks Pashto, and about 50 percent speaks Dari. Turkic languages (Uzbek and Turkmen) are spoken by about 11 percent of the population. There are also numerous other languages spoken in the country (Baluchi, Pashai, Nuristani, etc.), and bilingualism is very common.
Both Pashto and Dari are written primarily with the Arabic alphabet, however, there are some modifications that were made to account for sounds not found in Arabic.
Pashto literature saw a massive rise in development in the 17th century, mostly due to poets like Khushal Khan Khattak, who is known today as the national poet of Afghanistan. Other noteworthy Pashto poets in history were Rahman Baba, and the founder of the modern Afghan nation, Ahmad Shah Abdali.
Dari also has an extensive literature, actually, some of the worlds greatest poems have been written in Dari. Dari poems by Jalaluddin Rumi have been translated from its original Dari versions to numerous other languages, and is widely read even in the west. Many powerful kingdoms of the past such as those of the Moghuls in India, primarily used Dari in their royal courts.
Modern Dari Alphabet
- Special Dari letters for sounds not found in Arabic: پ چ ژ
- “Alef mad” (آ) is considered to be the first letter (separate from “alef”) of the modern Dari alphabet by contemporary lexicographers.
- To differentiate between the two ” heys” (ح & ه), the 32nd one (ه) is also referred to as hey girdak, hey do-cheshma or hey hawaz in Dari. ح is the 6th letter of the Arabic alphabet, and also called hey halwa or hey hoti in Dari. In Dari, this letter is used to write Arabic loan words starting with ح.
- ص and ض are also called saad and zaad, respectively.
- “Hamza” (ء) is typically not included in the Dari alphabet in school textbooks. It is an orthographic sign to denote a glottal stop, it does not occur at the beginning of words.
- In Dari, ت and ط have the same sound, ح and ه have the same sound, ث س ص have the same sound, and ذ ز ض ظ have the same sound. This is because, when the Arabic words starting with these letters ح ث ذ ض ص ظ ط were introduced into Dari, the sounds or pronunciations were not transferred. In Arabic, these letters have distinct sounds, but when they were transferred into Dari, they lost their distinctive Arabic sounds.
Video on the Dari Alphabet
د پښتو الفباء
Just like Dari, Pashto uses the Arabic alphabet with additional Pashto letters.
- Pashto uses all the Arabic letters and shares the following three letters with Dari: پ چ ژ
- Special letter were added to the Pashto alphabet for sounds not found in Arabic and Dari.
- Special Pashto letters are: ټ ځ څ ډ ړ ږ ڼ ې ي ۍ ئ