Monday, July 8, 2013

Language Profile: Pashto

For this week's language profile we're taking a look at Pashto, an Indo-Iranian language. Pashto, also known as Pushto, is the native language of the Pashtun ethnic group, whose members mainly reside in the countries of Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Swat Valley in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan
Pashto is an official language in Afghanistan alongside the Dari dialect of Persian. Historically, Persian was considered to be a more sophisticated language that was preferred by the elite, but Pashto eventually gained official status as a symbol of nationalism. The Afghan national anthem is also in Pashto. The language is now spoken by somewhere between 30 and 50 percent of the country's population, and is regulated by the Academy of Sciences of Afghanistan.

In Pakistan, Pashto is an official provincial language mainly spoken in the provinces of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, as well as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas. It is the native language of about 15% of Pakistanis, and is regulated by the Pashto Academy, a research institution that studies many aspects of Pashtun culture including literature, history, arts, and of course, language.

There are also various dialects of Pashto, though the differences are mainly phonological. Most of the early loanwords to enter the language came from Arabic, Persian, and Urdu, while modern additions are more likely to have come from English, French, and German.

The language is written using the Pashto alphabet, a modified Persian alphabet. The Persian alphabet itself is derived from the Arabic alphabet. The Pashto alphabet has 44 letters and 4 diacritics, with some of the letters being added to the traditional Persian alphabet to represent sounds not found in Persian.