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Image: Languages
 Photo: NAC
Photo: NAC

Languages

High mountains and deep valleys have divided Afghans into many linguistic groups. However, most Afghans are at least bilingual, speaking both their native language and the lingua franca called Dari.

Afghans speak an impressive total of 45 native languages, but as many as 17 of these are on the brink of extinction. Most of these are languages that have developed in small communities in the Hindu Kush mountains. The main threat, counter intuitively, is the Afghan people’s skill for learning new languages. In addition to speaking a native language and Dari, many speak other languages such as Urdu, English or Russian.

Two official languages

There are two official languages in Afghanistan, Dari and Pashto. Estimates of the number of native speakers vary wildly, since no census has been held in the country for decades. The estimates of the number of native Dari speakers ranges from 25% to 50% and the number of Pashto speakers from 35% to 55%. However, while non-native Pashto speakers rarely choose to learn Pashto, Dari is the most common second language in Afghanistan, and the language that different ethnic and linguistic groups use to communicate together. Turkic languages (primarily Uzbek and Turkmen) are spoken by about 11% of the population.

English-Dari dictionary from the 1970s. Photo: NAC.

Dari

Dari belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-Europea

n languages, and is very close to Persian (Farsi) as it is spoken in Iran. It is written in an adapted Arabic alphabet and has many loanwords from both Persian and Arabic. The name of the language refers to its use in the royal courts of Afghan kings since the 18th century. Common in literature, government administration and businesses, it is the language that people use to communicate across language groups.

Pashto

Pashto dictionaries. Photo: Romana Klee, under CC license on Flickr.Pashto is an Indo-European language that is native to most Pashtuns in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The name ‘Pashto’ is used for the language in the south of Afghanistan, while ‘Pakhto’ is used in the east and north. After the 7th century, the language was influenced by Arabic and more recently by Farsi, Hindi and Urdu. It is also written in a modified form of the Arabic alphabet with extra letters added for Pashto-specific sounds. Since Pashto has been widely spoken in the rugged terrain of the border region with Pakistan, the language has developed many local dialects. The southern dialects are said to be “softer” than the northern dialects.

How to greet someone in the two official languages

- Dari: "Chotor asty."

- Pashto: "Assalam u alaikum" or "Senga yai"

Norwegian Afghanistan Committee
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