Revisiting Pashto/پښتو


Pashto, An Elementary Textbook

In December, I blogged about an excellent overview of the languages of Afghanistan by Walter Hakala of SUNY Buffalo published in Education About Asia. They and National Geographic teamed up to create some fresh articles about the peoples and cultures of the country. This morning I’m revisiting one of those languages, Pashto.

Hakala explains that this linguistically diverse country has two main languages: Dari and Pashto. Both are members of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. The lingua franca of Afghanistan is Dari—whose first vowel is an IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet, not India Pale Ale) /æ/ and so is closer to ‘dairy’ than ‘dahry’. Dari is an eastern dialect of Farsi. It has the most speakers if you count those who speak it as their mother tongue OR as a second language.

Pashto is the language of the Pashtun peoples, who make up an estimated 40% of the population. Theirs is the Afghan language with the most native speakers. It’s also in the Iranian family, although not a dialect of Farsi. Travel east of the Pashtun heartland, and you pass from the lands whose languages are related to ancient Persia and Avestan and into those whose modern languages descend from Vedic Sanskrit. The main cities of the Pashtun homeland are ones we’ve become familiar with during the NATO operations in the area: Kandahar in Afghanistan and Quetta and Peshawar in Pakistan. Because of that, interest in Afghan languages among the general public in the West has often begun with Pashto.

Pashto is written in a modified form of Arabic script, but, as an Indo-European language, it has a linguistic landscape that shouldn’t feel altogether unfamiliar to English-speakers. Just like the Romance languages, for example, Pashto has a 2-gender, sex-based gender system. It mostly uses suffixes to inflect words. I can’t find a consensus on how many noun cases Pashto has. Grammars list between 2 and 4. All seem to agree, however, that the main two are the nominative and the oblique, from which I infer that, like most Indo-European languages, Pashto had a complex case-marking system that coalesced around a 2-3 basic forms.

The definitive textbook and gold standard for Pashto learning is Georgetown University Press’s PASHTO: An Elementary Textbook by Rahmon Inomkhojayev, and my good friends at Georgetown University Press have donated a copy of Volume 1 to this week’s Language Omnivore free book raffle. This book is the beginning of a set that covers first-year college instruction in Pashto. It includes a wide selection of task-oriented, communicative language materials. It takes a functional approach to grammar, and the book includes a great CD-ROM that features authentic audio and video materials.

I’m really grateful to GUP for donating this very valuable book. If you’d like to win the book, click here to email me just put Pashto or پښتو in the subject line.

مننه Manana! (Thanks!)


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