LINGUIST List 12.2918

Fri Nov 23 2001

Sum: Languages of Afghanistan

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. David Cahill, linguistic Afghanistan

Message 1: linguistic Afghanistan

Date: Sun, 18 Nov 2001 11:04:05 -0800 (PST)
From: David Cahill <>
Subject: linguistic Afghanistan

I recently posted a query on the linguistic situation in Afghanistan,
and have compiled the following brief summary based on the helpful
suggestions and leads received. I am not an expert in this field, so
comments, corrections are welcome!

David Cahill
Dept of English
University of Illinois at Chicago

Summary of the Linguistic Situation in Afghanistan

# of speakers
Southern Pashto		 8,000,000
Eastern Farsi (Dari, Tajiki)	5,600,000
Hazaragi			1,403,000
Aimaq				 480,000
Southern Uzbek		 1,403,000
Turkmen			 500,000
40 other languages		3,968,000
total			 21,354,000

language families
Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Iranian	 89.7%
Altaic, Turkic				 9%		
Dravidian, Northern, Brahui		 0.94%
Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Nuristani	 0.33%
Afro-Asiatic, Semitic, Arabic		 0.023%
total					 100%

The north and the south of Afghanistan comprise two main
ethnolinguistic groupings. The south is of primarily Pashtun
ethnicity, speaking southern Pashto (the Southeastern group of Iranian
languages). This region extends into northern Pakistan. Many of the
Taliban (ethnic Pashtuns) are currently fleeing to and hiding in the
ethnically and linguistically almost indistinguishable region of
Pashtun Pakistan (the Afghanistan-Pakistan border was arbitrarily
drawn by the British in 1893).

The north is a mixture of primarily Tajiks, Uzbeks, Hazaras, and
Turkmens. The main language (the second national language after
Pashto) is Dari, also known as Afghan Farsi or Eastern Farsi (as
opposed to Western Farsi spoken by 22,000,000 in Iran). Dari, Tajik,
Hazara, Aimaq, and Western Farsi are closely related. "Dari"
variously refers collectively to all of the former (except Western
Farsi) or as a distinct language/dialect arrayed with the others along
a continuum of largely mutually comprehensible dialects. Together
they form an ethnolinguistic grouping in contradistinction to the more
distant Pashto of the Pashtuns. The clash of northern and southern
languages can be seen in the western city of Herat, for example, where
residents were harrassed for not speaking Pashto, described as "a
different language" (Amy Waldman, "Afghans Returning Home, Vindicated
and Vengeful," NY Times, 11/16/01). On the other hand, an Iranian
friend of mine claims she can understand most Afghans.

Without more advice or research, I am less clear about the relative
relatedness of the region's Altaic languages, ie whether Uzbek and
Turkmen form a dialect continuum stretching across to the 23,500,000
speakers of Azeri (Iranian Azerbaijani) in Iran. 

electronic sources:


University of Texas Library Map Collection:

National Foreign Language Center, University of Maryland:

Richard F. Strand's site on the Hindu-Kush region of northeast
Afghanistan (the Nuristani languages):

Relief Web:

Forum for Iranian Linguistics:

printed sources:

Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia,
and the Americas, Ed. Stephen A. Wurm, Peter Mühlhäusler, Darrell T.
Tryon (Mouton de Guyter vols 1 & 2 1996)

Atlas of the World's Languages, Ed. Christopher Moseley & R. E. Asher
(Routledge, 1994)
Bernard Comrie, Languages of the USSR (Cambridge Language Surveys 1981)

Encyclopedia of Language and Linguistics (Pergamon, 1994, 10 vols.) 

Colin Masica, Indo-Aryan Languages 

Jadwiga Pstrusinska, Afghanistan 1989 in Sociolinguistic Perspective
(London: Society for Central Asian Studies, 1990)

V.S. Rastrogueva, A Short Sketch of Tajik Grammar (International
Journal of American Linguistics 1963)

Alo Raun, Basic Course in Uzbek (vol. 59, Uralic and Altaic Series,
Indiana University 1969)

K. Schwarz, Bamberger Zentralasienstudien (Berlin: 1994)

Sociolinguistic Survey of Northern Pakistan (Islamabad: National
Institute of Pakistan Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University, 1992)

Thanks to all for your help:

Elena Bashir, Ph.D. Lecturer in Urdu The University of Chicago

Chris Beckwith 

Ilhan M. Cagri

Roy Cochrun, Roy's Resources: 

Damon Allen Davison 

Tom Emerson, Sr. Computational Linguist, Basis Technology Corp.		

Stefan Frazier, Dept. of Applied Linguistics/TESL UCLA 

Alfred Grobman

Jack Hall, University of Houston Libraries

Soren Harder, University of Southern Denmark - Odense

Louis Janus

John E. Koontz

Mike Maxwell, Linguistic Data Consortium

Scott McGinnis, Executive Director, National Council of Organizations
of Less Commonly Taught Languages:		

Abbas Noorizadeh 

Neil Olsen, Information Planner Economic and Demographic Resource

Taylor Roberts

Halldor A. Sigurdsson, Dept. of Scandinavian Languages, University of

Richard F. Strand

Karl V. Teeter, Professor of Linguisics Emeritus, Harvard University
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