Pashto (,[9][10][11] ;[Note 1] پښتو / Pax̌tō, [ˈpəʂtoː]), sometimes spelled Pukhto or Pakhto,[Note 2] is a language in the Eastern Iranian group of the Indo-European family. It is known in Persian literature as Afghani (افغانی, Afghāni)[14] and in Hindustani literature as Paṭhānī.[15] Speakers of the language are called Pashtuns or Pukhtuns/Pakhtuns (historically known as ethnic Afghans).[16][17][18][19] is official languages of Afghanistan.[20][5][21] is also the second-largest regional language of Pakistan, mainly spoken in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and northern districts of Balochistan province in south-west.[22][23] Pashto is the primary language of the Pashtun diaspora around the world. The total number of Pashto-speakers is at least 40 million,[4] although some estimates place it as high as 60 million.[2]

Pashto belongs to the Northeastern Iranian group of the Indo-Iranian branch,[24][25] but Ethnologue lists it as Southeastern Iranian.[26] Pashto has two main dialect groups, "soft" and "hard", the latter locally known as Pakhto or Pashto.[16]

As a national language of Afghanistan,[27] 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%[28][29][30][31] of the total population of Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, Pashto is spoken by 15% of its population,[32][33] 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.[34]

Other communities of Pashto speakers are found in Tajikistan,[35] and northeastern Iran (primarily in South Khorasan Province to the east of Qaen, near the Afghan border).[36]

In addition, sizable Pashtun diasporas also exist in Western Asia, especially in the United Arab Emirates,[37] Saudi Arabia. The Pashtun diaspora speaks Pashto in countries like the United States, United Kingdom,[38] 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.[39] Since the early 18th century, the monarchs of Afghanistan have been ethnic Pashtuns (except for Habibullāh Kalakāni in 1929).[40] Persian, the literary language of the royal court,[41] 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"[40] 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[42] and the inauguration of the Kabul University in 1932 as well as the formation of the Pashto Academy Pashto Tolana in 1937.[43]

Although officially supporting the use of Pashto, the Afghan elite regarded Persian as a "sophisticated language and a symbol of cultured upbringing".[40] 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.[44] In 1936 a royal decree of Zahir Shah formally granted to Pashto the status of an official language[45] 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.[43] 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.[46][47]

In Pakistan, Pashto is the first language of 15% of its population (as of 1998),[48][49] 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.[34][50][51][52][52]

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.[53] The primary medium of education in government schools in Pakistan is Urdu,[54] but from 2014 onwards, the Government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has placed more emphasis on English as the medium of instruction.[55].This has caused growing resentment amongst Pashtuns, who also complain that Pashto is often neglected officially[dubious ].[56][57].

A number of linguists have argued that Pashto is descended from Avestan or a variety very similar to it.[19][24] However, the position that Pashto, or any other Iranian language, 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 Khwarezmian, Sogdian and Bactrian.[59]

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).[60][61][62][14]

Scholars such as Abdul Hai Habibi and others believe that the earliest modern Pashto work dates back to Amir Kror Suri of the early Ghurid period in the eighth century, and they use the writings found in Pata Khazana. However, this is disputed by several modern experts such as David Neil MacKenzie and Lucia Serena Loi.[63][64] Pata Khazana is a Pashto manuscript[65] claimed to be written by Mohammad Hotak under the patronage of the Pashtun emperor Hussain Hotak in Kandahar. Pata Khazana claims to contain an anthology of Pashto poets from the early Ghurid period up to the Hotak period in the eighteenth century.[64]

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.[66][self-published source][67][68]

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.),[69] two numbers (sing./plur.), and four cases (direct, oblique I, oblique II 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 sentence construction of Pashto has similarities with some other Indo-Iranian languages such as Prakrit and Bactrian. 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,[27] therefore Pashto shows a partly ergative behaviour. Like Kurdish, but 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 colour-coded. The phonemes /q/ and /f/ tend to be replaced by [k] and [p] respectively.[70]

The retroflex lateral flap /ɭ̆/ (ɺ̢  or ) is pronounced as retroflex approximant [ɻ] when final.[71][72]

The retroflex fricatives /ʂ, ʐ/ and palatal fricatives /ç, ʝ/ 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 southern/southwestern dialects (especially the prestige dialect of Kandahar), while they are pronounced as palatal fricatives in the west-central dialects. Other dialects merge the original retroflexes with other existing sounds: The southeastern dialects merge them with the postalveolar fricatives /ʃ, ʒ/, while the northern/northeastern dialects merge them with the velar phonemes in an asymmetric pattern, pronouncing them as /x, ɡ/ (not /ɣ/). Furthermore, according to Henderson (1983),[18] the west-central voiced palatal fricative /ʝ/ actually occurs only in the Wardak Province, and is merged into /ɡ/ elsewhere in the region.

The velars /k, ɡ, x, ɣ/ followed by the close back rounded vowel /u/ assimilate into the labialized velars [kʷ, ɡʷ, xʷ, ɣʷ].

Voiceless stops [p, t, t͡ʃ, k] are all unaspirated, like Spanish, other Romance languages, and Austronesian languages; they have slightly aspirated allophones prevocalically in a stressed syllable.

In Pashto, most of the native elements of the lexicon are related to other Eastern Iranian languages. Some words are related to Ancient Greek dialects. However, a remarkably large number of words are unique to Pashto.[24] Post-7th century borrowings came primarily from the Persian language and some Urdu words, with Arabic words being borrowed through those two languages, but sometimes directly.[73][74] Modern speech borrows words from English, French, and German.[75]

Pashto employs the Pashto alphabet, a modified form of the Perso-Arabic alphabet or Arabic script.[77] 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[78] and 4 diacritic marks. The following table gives the letters' isolated forms, along with the Latin equivalents and typical IPA values:

Pashto dialects are divided into two varieties, the "soft" southern variety Paṣ̌tō, and the "hard" northern variety Pax̌tō (Pakhtu).[16] Each variety is further divided into a number of dialects. The southern dialect of Wanetsi is the most distinctive Pashto dialect.

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 Maʿrifat al-Afghānī ("The Knowledge of Afghani [Pashto]"). After that, the first grammar book of Pashto verbs was written in 1805 under the title of Riyāż al-Maḥabbah ("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 ʿAjāyib al-Lughāt ("Wonders of Languages").

IPA: Zə ra.mɑn pə xpəl.a gram jəm t͡ʃe ma.jən jəm
t͡ʃe d̪ɑ nor ʈo.pan me gram pə t͡sə

Transliteration: Zə Rahmān pə xpəla gram yəm če mayən yəm
Če dā nor ṭopan me boli gram pə tsə

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 matalūna, sg. matal).[79][80] An example of a proverb: