TheHistory of Pashto language

Pushto is one of the national languages of Afghanistan (DariPersian is the other). Major Pushto speaking cities in Afghanistanare Kandahar (Qandahar), Kabul. There are over 8 million speakers ofPushto in Afghanistan.

LINGUISTIC AFFILIATION (its relations to other languages)

Pushto is one of the East Iranian group of languages, which includes,for example, Ossete (North Ossetian, south Ossetian, Caucusus SovietSocialist Republic) and Yaghnobi (Tajikistan).

East Iranian and West Iranian (which includes Persian) are majorsub-groups of the Iranian group of the Indo Iranian branch of theIndo European family of languages. Indo-Iranian languages are spokenin a wide area stretching from portions of eastern Turkey and easternIraq to western India. The other main division of Indo- Iranian, inaddition to Iranian, is the Indo-Aryan languages, a group comprisedof many languages of the Indian subcontinent..


There are two major dialects of Pashto: Western Pashto spoken inAfghanistan and in the capital, Kabul, and Eastern Pashto spoken innortheastern Pakistan. Most speakers of Pashto speak these twodialects. Two other dialects are also distinguished: Southern Pashto,spoken in Baluchistan (western Pakistan and eastern Iran) and inKandahar, Afghanistan.

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


Pushto has been written in a variant of the Persian script (which inturn is a variant of Arabic script) since the late sixteenth century.Certain letters were modified to account for sounds specific toPushto. Until the spelling system was standardized in the lateeighteenth century, the representation of these consonants variedgreatly. The Pushto alphabet, which has more vowel sounds than eitherPersian or Arabic, represents the vowels more extensively than eitherthe Persian or the Arabic alphabets.
With the adoption of Pushto as a national language of Afghanistan,some revisions of the spelling system have been made in the interestof clarity.


Pushto has a seven vowel system. There are retroflex consonantssounds pronounced with the tongue tip curled back--which werepresumably borrowed from nearby Indo-Aryan languages. Unlike otherIranian languages, such as Persian, Pushto allows consonant clustersof two or three sounds at the beginning of a syllable.

Pushto distinguishes two grammatical genders as well as singular andplural. There are generally two nominal cases in Pushto, although thevocative case is still used with singular nouns. Case is marked bothwith suffixes and with changes in the vowel of the noun stem andstress. Verbs agree with their subjects in person, number, andgrammatical gender as well as being marked for tense/aspect. Pasttense transitive sentences are formed as ergatives: in these, theobject rather than the subject agrees with the verb, and weak pronounobjects rather than subjects are omitted if they are notemphatic.

Word order, which is very rigid, is subject-object-verb. As thelanguage of an Islamic people, Pushto also contains a high number ofborrowings from Arabic; among educated speakers, the Arabic pluralsof borrowed nouns are frequently maintained.


In Afghanistan, Pushto is second in prestige to Dari, the Persiandialect spoken natively in the north and west. Because of thepolitical power of the Pushtuns, however, Pushto has been a requiredsubject in Dari medium schools, and as an official language has beenone of the languages of the government. For practical purposes,however, Dari is the language of business and higher education, andso Pushtuns learn Dari.

Pushto has an extensive written tradition. There are a number ofclassic Pushtun poets, most notably Khosal Khan Khattak. ModernPushtun written literature has adapted those modern western literaryforms, like the short story, that match forms from traditional Pushtooral literature. Pushtun folk literature is the most extensivelydeveloped in the region. Besides stories set to music, Pushtun hasthousands of two and four line folk poems, traditionally composed bywomen. These reflect the day to day life and views of Pushtunwomen.


The first written records of Pushto are believed to date from thesixteenth century and consist of an account of Shekh Mali's conquestof Swat. In the seventeenth century, Khushhal Khan Khatak, consideredthe national poet of Afghanistan, was writing in Pushto. In thiscentury, there has been a rapid expansion of writing in journalismand other modern genres which has forced innovation of the languageand the creation of many new words.

Traces of the history of Pushto are present in its vocabulary. Whilethe majority of words can be traced to Pushto's roots as member ofthe Eastern Iranian language branch, it has also borrowed words fromadjacent languages for over two thousand years. The oldest borrowedwords are from Greek, and date from the Greek occupation of Bactriain third century BC. There are also a few traces of contact withZoroastrians and Buddhists. Starting in the Islamic period, Pushtoborrowed many words from Arabic and Persian. Due to its closegeographic proximity to languages of the Indian sub-continent, Pushtohas borrowed words from Indian languages for centuries.

Pushto has long been recognized as an important language inAfghanistan. Classical Pushto was the object of study by Britishsoldiers and administrators in the nineteenth century and theclassical grammar in use today dates from that period.

In 1936, Pushto was made the national language of Afghanistan byroyal decree. Today, Dari Persian and Pushto both are officialnational languages.


Pushto is taught at very few universities in the United States andCanada. The most consistent program offered is at the DiplomaticLanguage Services in Arlington, Virginia.


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