What is the Pashto Language?

Pashto, Pashtu, Paktho, or Pakhtu is an Eastern Iranian language. Eastern Iranian languages are a sub-family of the Indo-European language group which includes a boatload of other languages such as Latvian, Lithuanian, Albanian, Polish and so many more.

Pashto is the primary language of Afghanistan and a secondary language in Pakistan with about 40-60 million speakers worldwide, although we do not have an exact number.

A Brief History of the Pashtuns

Pashtuns, sometimes spelled Pakhtuns, are an ethnic group of people who live in region between the Hindus Kush (northeastern Afghanistan) and the northern portion of the Indus River in Pakistan. The red outline below indicates, approximately, the region with the highest Pashtun population(s).

Pashtuns can also be found in neighboring countries such as Tajikistan. Although many of them will speak Tajiki over Pashto.

Where do Pashtuns come from?

Historians, ethnologists, and other scholars debate as to the exact origins of the Pashtun people. However, there are two popular beliefs. Some believe the traditional Pashtun story of Afghana, and others believe nomads mixed with the Aryan peoples.

Afghana and King Saul

Pashtun tradition claims that they are direct descendants from Afghana, who was the son of Jeremiah (the son of King Saul). King Saul, according to the Tanakh, was the son of Kish who was a member of the tribe of Benjamin which was one of the twelve Tribes of Israel.

According to Pashtun legend, King Saul had five children instead of four, Jeremiah being one of them. Jeremiah then fathered Afghana who was the original tribal leader of the Pashtun people.

Mixing With Nomads

The second popular belief, described by Dr. Muhammad Javed Kahlil, is that nomads could have mixed with the Aryan population. The exact date is unknown, but from what we could find it occurred around 1,000 – 2,000 years ago.

Other Theories

There are other theories such as the Greek and Rajput theory, and White Hun descent theory.

The first asserts that Pashtuns are a combinations of Greek and Rajput (Hindu) people. One piece of evidence that supports this claim is that in 1192 A.D. a battle between the Chuahan dynasty and Ghurid Empire had shown that Hindu Afghans were fighting alongside the Rajput chief.

The second theory is that Pashtuns could be descendants of an ancient Iranian tribe(s).

About the Pashto Alphabet

The Pashto alphabet is another great beauty of the Pashto language and culture. It takes a modified approach to the Arabic script.

Today Pashto totals 45 letters which include a handful of added letters and borrowed letters from Farsi.

Bayazid Pir Roshan

Born in 1525 AD, Roshan was a Pashtun poet and warrior. Roshan founded a movement, the Roshani movement, which unified the identity of the Pashtuns and Pashtunistan (land of the Pashtuns), which roughly referred to what is now Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pir Roshan also lead an army against the Mughal empire, although eventually in 1585 he was killed by a division of the Mughal empire military.

One of his biggest contributions to the Pashtun identity was the addition of 13 new letters to the Pashto alphabet.

While doing research for this topic there were some conflicting bits of information. 3 letters shared from Farsi, 13 added and 28 used as the base would produce 44, not 45. However, there are a total of 45 letters in Pashto.

What Are Some Pashto Expressions?

So now that we’ve covered the basics of the Pashto culture and history it’s time to get into the actual language itself.

Hello (reply)السلام عايكمAs-salaam’ alaykum
My name isزما نون … دىZama num…de
After tomorrowسبا ته وروستهseba te orosete
I don’t driveزه موټر نه چلومZe mewtr ne chelwem

Pashto Grammar

Pashto has quite a different set of grammar rules compared to English. In this article we’ll simply cover the basics of Pashto grammar.

First and foremost, when it comes to nouns, there are two genders a noun can take: male or female. To determine the gender of the noun requires familiarity with the language, we recommend purchasing a good Pashto Dictionary to get a better idea of the words and their gender.

For instance a male Pashtun would be پوښتن while a female Pashtun would be پښتنه.

Keep in mind that while Pashto uses the Arabic script, they are hardly similar. Even their neighboring language Farsi/Dari is different from Pashto grammar structure. For instance, in Pashto, the adjective will come before the noun (like English) whereas in Farsi the adjective will come after the noun. For instance the word “a blue building” would be “yewh sewr wenh” يوه سور ونه exactly the same as in English “a red tree”

How Can I Learn Pashto?

So how can you begin learning Pashto? Unfortunately Pashto is a very difficult language to learn by most English standards, not to mention the lack of resources available. However, this should not discourage serious learners.

Read our article on the Best Books to Learn Pashto in 2021.

We’ve put together a handful for Pashto resources to help you accelerate your Pashto learning for the year.

Free Resources:


Theories on Pashtun Origin

Pashtun Identity (Chicago Tribune)

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