History of the Pashto Language

The Pashto language belongs to the Indo-Iranian language family. It is mainly spoken by the ethnic community of Afghanistan, popularly known as Pashtuns. The language is also spoken in the western provinces of Pakistan, which is partially inhabited by the Pashtuns.

The language is said to have originated in the Kandahar district of Afghanistan and is said to be one of the two administrative and national languages of Afghanistan. Dari, a Persian language, is the other language that is spoken by the people of Afghanistan.

It is believed that the Pashto language is about 2500 years old. However, exactly how many people speak Pashto is not certain. There are different estimates that range from 26 million to 40 million. 31% - 51% of the Afghan population speaks Pashto as their first language whereas 10% -27% of them speak Pashto as their second language.

The vocabulary of Pashto has not been borrowed or derived from any other language but that does not make it an isolated language. Many of its lexis relate to other Eastern Iranian languages such as Avestan, Pamir and Ossetic. However, some Arabic influences can be seen from 700 C.E. onwards. Some of the Persian, Hindi-Urdu, German, English and French words come closer to Pashto.

Pashto is spoken in different dialects, of which two of them are common; the hard (northern) dialect and the soft (southern) dialect.

The Pashto language has a total of 46 letters that are written in the Naskh script. These letters have been modified from the Arabic alphabet by including some extra letters to arrive at sounds that are Pashto-specific.

According to article 20 of the Constitution of Afghanistan, the Afghan National Anthem would be in Pashto and Pashto would be retained as the 1st state language of Afghanistan. The Pashto language today represents the country’s culture and social heritage and is widely used in education, literature, media, religious institutions, etc.

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