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Languages of Afghanistan

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Title: Languages of Afghanistan  
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Subject: Culture of Afghanistan, Languages of Asia, Afghans in Tajikistan, Afghans in the United Kingdom, Daykundi Province
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Languages of Afghanistan

Languages of Afghanistan
Official languages Pashto and Dari [1]
Regional languages Pashto, Dari, Hazaragi, Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi
Sign languages Afghan Sign Language

Afghanistan is a multilingual country in which two languages – Pashto and Dari – are both official and most widely spoken.[1] Dari is the official name of the Persian language in Afghanistan, it is often referred to as the Afghan Persian.[2][3] Both Pashto and Persian are Indo-European languages from the Iranian languages sub-family. Other regional languages, such as Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi and Nuristani are spoken by minority groups across the country.

Minor languages may include Ashkunu, Kamkata-viri, Vasi-vari, Tregami and Kalasha-ala, Pamiri (Shughni, Munji, Ishkashimi and Wakhi), Brahui, Qizilbash, Aimaq, and Pashai and Kyrgyz. Linguist Harald Haarmann believes that Afghanistan is home to more than 40 minor languages,[4] with around 200 different dialects.


  • Language policy 1
  • Naming policy 2
  • Overview 3
  • References 4
  • Further reading 5
  • External links 6

Language policy

Pashto and Dari are the official languages of Afghanistan.[1] In 1980, other regional languages were granted official status in the regions where they are the language of the majority.[5] Article 16 of the 2004 Afghan Constitution states that "The Turkic languages (Uzbek and Turkmen), Balochi, Pashayi, Nuristani and Pamiri (alsana) are – in addition to Pashto and Dari – the third official language in areas where the majority speaks them. The practical modalities for implementation of this provision shall be specified by law."[1]

Naming policy

Dari is a term long recommended by Afghan authorities to designate the Persian dialects spoken in Afghanistan, in contrast to the dialects spoken in neighboring Iran.[6] Although still widely known as "Farsi" ("Persian") to its native speakers, the name was officially changed to Dari in 1964.[7] Dari must not be confused with the dialect of Kabul, which is the dominant Persian dialect in Afghanistan. Apart from a few basics of vocabulary, however (and more Indo-Persian calligraphic styles in the Perso-Arabic script), there is little difference between formal written Persian of Afghanistan and of Iran. The term Dari is often loosely used for the characteristic spoken Persian of Afghanistan – in general the dialect of Kabul – but is best restricted to formal spoken registers (poetry, speeches, newscasts, and other broadcast announcements).[7]


Dari functions as the nation's lingua franca and is the native tongue of various Afghan ethnic groups including the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Aimak.[8] Pashto is the native tongue of the Pashtuns, the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan.[9] Due to Afghanistan's multi-ethnic character, language variety as well as bilingualism and multilingualism are common phenomena.

Afghan school textbooks written in Pashto language

The exact figures about the size and composition of the various ethnolinguistic groups are unavailable since no systematic census has been held in Afghanistan in decades.[10] Estimates suggest the following primary languages:

Language World Factbook[11]/Library of Congress[12]/Ethnologue[13]/Iranica[5]
Pashto 35–55%
Dari 27%
Uzbek 8.5–9%
Turkmen 2.5%
Other languages  4%

According to a 2006 opinion poll survey involving 6,226 randomly selected Afghan citizens by the Asia Foundation, Pashto was the first language of 40% of the polled people, while an additional 28% spoke it as a second language; 33% were able to read Pashto. Dari was the first language of 49%, with an additional 37% stating the ability to speak Dari as a second language; 42% were able to read Dari. Uzbek was the first language of 9% and a second language for 6%. Turkmen was the first language of 2% and a second language for 3%. English was spoken by 8% and Urdu by 7%.[14]

A later study found that Pashto was, by a wide margin, the most widely spoken language in urban Afghanistan, with as many as 93% of Pashto Afghans claiming to speak it, but only 75% of rural Afghans claiming the same.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d "Article Sixteen of the 2004 Constitution of Afghanistan". 2004. Retrieved June 13, 2012. From among the languages of Pashto, Dari, Uzbek, Turkmen, Baluchi, Pashai, Nuristani, Pamiri (alsana), Arab and other languages spoken in the country, Pashto and Dari are the official languages of the state. 
  2. ^ "Documentation for ISO 639 identifier: prs". 18 January 2010. Retrieved December 5, 2014. 
  3. ^ "The World Factbook: Afghanistan". Retrieved December 5, 2014. 
  4. ^ Harald Haarmann: Sprachen-Almanach – Zahlen und Fakten zu allen Sprachen der Welt. Campus-Verl., Frankfurt/Main 2002, ISBN 3-593-36572-3, S.273–274; Afghanistan
  5. ^ a b "AFGHANISTAN v. Languages". Ch. M. Kieffer. Encyclopædia Iranica. Retrieved 2012-04-08. A. Official languages. Paṧtō (1) is the native tongue of 50 to 55 percent of Afghans... Persian (2) is the language most spoken in Afghanistan. The native tongue of twenty five percent of the population, it is split into numerous dialects. 
  6. ^ Ch. M. Kieffer, "AFGHANISTAN v. Languages", Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, origianlly from 1982.
  7. ^ a b R. Farhadi and J. R. Perry, Kaboli, Encyclopaedia Iranica, Online Edition, originally in Vol. XV, Fasc. 3, pp. 276–280, 2009.
  8. ^ "Languages of Afghanistan".  
  9. ^ "Ethnic groups". BBC News. Retrieved 7 June 2013. Pashtun: Estimated to be in excess of 45% of the population, the Pashtuns have been the most dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan. 
  10. ^ O'toole, Pam (October 6, 2004). "Afghan poll's ethnic battleground".  
  11. ^ CIA World Factbook
  12. ^ Library of Congress (2008)
  13. ^ "Languages of Afghanistan". SIL International.  
  14. ^ "Afghanistan in 2006 - A survey of the Afghan people" (PDF). Kabul, Afghanistan:  
  15. ^ "Afghanistan in 2013 - A survey of the Afghan people" (PDF). Kabul, Afghanistan:  

Further reading

  • Language Policy and Language Conflict in Afghanistan and Its Neighbors: The Changing Politics of Language Choice

External links

  • Distribution of languages map from Columbia University
  • Linguistic map of Afghanistan
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