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The People

Written by AfghanSite Network. Posted in Afghanistan History

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Ethno Linguistic Groups

The people of Afghanistan form a mosaic of ethnic and linguistic groups. Pashtu (Pashto) and Dari, , are Indo-European languages; they are the official languages of the country. More than sixty five percent of the population speaks Pashto, the language of the Pashtoons, while the rest of the population speaks Dari,{the language of the Tajiks, Hazaras, Chahar Aimaks, and Kizilbash peoples and other Indo-European languages, spoken by smaller groups, include Western Dardic (Nuristani or Kafiri)}, Baluchi, and a number of Indic and Pamiri languages spoken principally in isolated valleys in the northeast, Turkic languages, a subfamily of the Altaic languages, are spoken by the Uzbek and Turkmen peoples, the most recent settlers, who are related to peoples from the steppes of Central Asia. The Turkic languages are closely related. Within Afghanistan they include Uzbek, Turkmen, and Kyrgyz, the last spoken by a small group in the extreme northeast. (see also Index: Pashtu language, Dari language, Dardic languages, Balochi language, Turkic languages) The present population of Afghanistan contains a number of elements, which, in the course of history and as a result of large-scale migration and conquests, have been superimposed upon one another. Dravidians, Indo-Aryans, Greeks, Scythians, Arabs, Turks, and Mongols have at different times inhabited the country and influenced its culture and ethnography. Intermixture of the two principal linguistic groups is evident in such peoples as the Hazaras and Chahar Aimaks, who speak Indo-European languages but have pronounced Mongoloid physical characteristics and cultural traits usually associated with Central Asia. The Pashtoons of Afghanistan predominantly inhabit the southern and eastern parts of the country but are also well represented in the west and north. They are divided into a number of clans, some sedentary and others nomadic. The traditional homeland of the Pashtuns lies in an area east, south, and southwest of Kabul; many live in contiguous territory of Pakistan. The two most politically important groups of the Pashtoon are the Durranis, who live in the area around the city of Qandahar, and the Ghilzays, who inhabit the region between Kabul and Qandahar. The Durranis formed the modern nucleus of Afghanistan's social and political elite. The Tajiks, mostly farmers and artisans, live in the Kabul and Badakhshan provinces of the northeast and the Herat region in the west; there are also pockets of Tajiks in other areas. They are sedentary in the plains and semi-sedentary in the higher valleys. The Tajiks are not divided into clear-cut tribal groups. The Nuristanis, who speak Western Dardic, inhabit an area of some 5,000 square miles in Laghman, Nangarhar, and Konar provinces, north and east of Kabul. The Hazaras traditionally occupy the central mountainous region of Hazarajat. Because of the scarcity of land, however, many have migrated to other parts of the country. The Hazaras speak a Dari dialect that contains a number of Turkish and Mongolian words. The Chahar Aimaks are probably of Turkic or Turco-Mongolian origin, judging by their Mongoloid physical appearance and their housing of Mongolian-style yurts. They are located mostly in the western part of the central mountain region. The Uzbeks and Turkmens inhabit a region north of the Hindu Kush, and there are small numbers of Kyrgyz in the Vakhan in the extreme northeast. The Uzbeks are usually farmers, while the Turkmens and Kyrgyz are mainly semi-nomadic herdsmen. The Uzbeks are the largest Turkic-speaking group in Afghanistan. There are also other smaller Turco-Mongolian groups. Afghanistan has very small ethnic groups of Dravidian and Semitic speakers. Dravidian languages are spoken by the Brahuis, residing in the extreme south. There are also a small number of Jews, most of whom speak Dari in their daily lives but use Hebrew for religious ceremonies.


Pashtoo Language: Also called PUSHTU, PAKHTO, or AFGHAN, Indo-European language spoken by the Pashtoon in Afghanistan and northern-western and western Pakistan. Its dialects fall into two main divisions: the southern, which preserves the ancient sh (as in "Pashtu"), and the northern and eastern, which has kh (as in "Pakhtu") sound. Written in a modified Arabic alphabet, Pashtu shows strong Sansicrit influence, some Arabic and Persian loanwords, and numerous archaic Sinsicrit features. It has been attested from the beginning of the 16th century and became prominent after the creation of the Afghan state in the 18th century. In 1936 Pashtu was declared the national and official language of Afghanistan, and instruction in it is now compulsory. Dari was the other official languge. Pashto literature exists from the 7th century The first Psshtu poem that has bee documented was writen in the 7th century by Amir Karoor (Le Ma Atal Nashta). The national poet of Afghanistan, Khushhal Khan (1613-94), chief to the Khatak clan, wrote spontaneous and forceful poetry of great charm. His grandson Afdal Khan was the author of a history of the Pashtoon. Popular mystical poets were 'Abd ar-Rahman and 'Abd al-Hamid, in the late 17th or early 18th century, and Ahmad Shah Durrani, founder of the modern Afghan nation, was himself a poet. The Pashtu Academy publishes a variety of literary works. Dari Laguage: Member of the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian family of languages; it is, along with Pashto, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan. Dari is the Afghan dialect of Farsi (Persian). It is written in a modified Arabic alphabet, and it has many Arabic and Persian loanwords. The syntax of Dari does not differ greatly from Farsi, but the stress accent is less prominent in Dari than in Farsi. To mark attribution, Dari uses the suffix -ra. The vowel system of Dari differs from that of Farsi, and Dari also has additional consonants. About one-third of the population of Afghanistan, i.e., about 5,000,000 people (Tadzhik, Uzbak, Turkman, Hazarah, Some Pashtoon), speak Dari. It is the primary language of the Tadzhik, Hazara, and Chahar Aimak peoples. Dari, rather than Pashto, serves as the means of communication between speakers of different languages in Afghanistan. Balochi Language: Also spelled BALUCHI, or BELUCHI, modern Iranian language of the Indo-Iranian group of the Indo-European language family. Balochi speakers live mainly in an area now composed of parts of southeastern Iran and southwestern Pakistan that was once the historic region of Balochistan. They also live in Central Asia (near Merv, Turkmenistan) and southwestern Afghanistan, and there are colonies in Oman, southern Arabia, and along the east coast of Africa as far south as Kenya. Balochi is a Western Iranian language that is closely related to Kurdish. Despite the vast area over which it is spoken, its six dialects (Rakhshani, Sarawani, Kechi, Lotuni, the Eastern Hill dialects, and the coastal dialects) are all believed to be mutually intelligible. There are an estimated 4,800,000 worldwide speakers of Balochi Mostly in (Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran). Turkic Language: Group of closely related languages that form a subfamily of the Altaic languages. The Turkic languages show close similarities to each other in phonology, morphology, and syntax, though Chuvash, Khalaj, and Yakut differ considerably from the rest. The earliest linguistic records are Old Turkic inscriptions, found near the Orhon River in Mongolia and the Yenisey River valley in south-central Russia, which date from the 8th century AD. (see also Index: Orhon inscriptions) Classification: The Turkic languages may be classified according to linguistic, historical, and geographic criteria into the following branches: 1. The southwestern, or Oguz, branch includes Turkish (Ottoman Turkish), Gagauz, Azeri (Azerbaijani), Turkmen, and Khorasan Turkic. (see also Index: Southwestern Turkic languages, Turkish language, Gagauz language, Azerbaijani language, Turkmen language) 2. The northwestern, or Kipchak, branch includes Kazak, Karakalpak, Nogay, Kyrgyz, Tatar, Bashkir, West Siberian dialects, Crimean Tatar, Kumyk, Karachay-Balkar, and Karaite. 3. The southeastern, or Uighur-Chagatai, branch includes Uzbek, Uighur, Yellow Uighur, and Salar (of Oguz origin). 4. The northeastern, or Siberian, branch includes Yakut (Sakha), Dolgan, Altay, Khakas, Shor, Tuvan, and Tofa. 5. Chuvash, a strongly divergent language of the Volga region. 6. Khalaj, a strongly divergent language of central Iran. The development of distinct Turkic literary languages began in the 8th century in Central Asia. The Uighur literary language flourished in the 9th-14th century, and the Qarakhanid literary language came into existence in the 11th century. Khwarezmian (13th-14th century) and Chagatai (15th-16th century), the latter with its postclassical products of the 17th-19th century, were the antecedents of the modern Uzbek and Uighur (New-Uighur) literary languages. In the Oguz group, Turkish has the most significant literary tradition. Its antecedent is the Ottoman Turkish language, which developed from the Old Anatolian Turkish literary language (13th-15th century) of the Seljuq Turks, the first Turkish conquerors of Anatolia (11th century). The Arabic script was generally used by all Turkic peoples writing Turkic languages until the early 1920s, when the Latin script began to be introduced to the Turkic peoples of the Soviet Union. After 1939 the Latin script was almost completely replaced in the Soviet Union by modified forms of the Cyrillic alphabet. Turkey officially adopted a Latin script in 1928. Currently, the Arabic alphabet is used only by Turkic peoples living in China, Iran, and the Arab countries. Linguistic characteristics: One notable characteristic of the Turkic languages is vowel harmony. The vowels are of two kinds--front vowels, which are produced at the front of the mouth (e,i,ö,ü), and back vowels, produced at the back of the mouth (a,i,o,u). Purely Turkic words can contain only all front or all back vowels, and all suffixes and affixes must conform to the vowel of the syllable preceding them in the word. Thus, Turkish kül 'ash,' kül-ler 'ashes,' kül-ler-i 'its ashes,' kül-ler-in-den 'from its ashes,' as opposed to kul 'slave,' kul-lar 'slaves,' kul-lar-i 'his slaves,' kul-lar-in-dan 'from his slaves.' Besides this "palatal harmony," most Turkic languages also adopt a "labial harmony" between syllables with respect to rounded and unrounded vowels. Only rounded vowels may occur after an initial rounded vowel in a word, with the same pattern holding true for unrounded vowels--e.g., Turkish pul-u 'his stamp,' versus pil-i 'his battery.' These harmony rules vary considerably across the various languages. Due to foreign influence, harmony is phonetically differently realized, though far from lost, in the Karaite, Gagauz, and Uzbek languages. The morphology of the Turkic languages is agglutinative; i.e., it offers rich possibilities of expanding word stems by means of relatively unchangeable suffixes, many of which designate grammatical notions. For example, the word evlerimde 'in my houses' is composed of ev 'house,' ler = plural suffix, im = possessive suffix 'my,' and de = locative suffix 'in.' When attached to a word with back vowels, such as oda 'room,' these suffixes change their vowels according to the law of vowel harmony but retain their meaning: odalarimda 'in my rooms.' The Turkic languages mostly lack subordinative conjunctions and relative pronouns, using verbal nouns, participles, and converbs instead. Thus the sentence 'I know that the person who had come went away' is rendered in Uzbek Kelgän kisining ketgänini bilämän, literally 'Having-come person-of having-gone-his know-I.'


About 99 percent of the people of Afghanistan are Muslims, of whom some three-fourths are members of the Sunnite sect (Hanafi branch). The others, particularly the Hazaras, Kizilbash, and a few Isma'ilis, follow Shi'ite Islam. The Nuristanis are descendants of a large ethnic group, the Kafirs, who were forcibly converted to Islam in 1895; the name of their region was then changed from Kafiristan ("Land of the Infidels") to Nuristan ("Land of Light"). There are also a few thousand Hindus and Sikhs.

Demographic Trends

The establishment of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in 1978 and the Soviet invasion of the country the following year disrupted the country's population patterns. Civil war and the destruction of towns and villages caused mass movements of people in two major directions--emigration, mainly to Pakistan and Iran, or escape to the relative safety of the capital city, Kabul. By some estimates almost 5,000,000 people escaped to Pakistan and some 1,850,000 to Iran; the population of Kabul is estimated to have doubled in size. Kabul has grown to encompass almost half of the urban population of the country. Afghanistan's population is mainly rural; almost half of the population is under 15 years of age. Life expectancy is less than 45 years. According to some estimation the population of Afghanistan has risen to 20 million in recent years. There is estimated 2.5 million Afghan still live in Pakistan as refugees and according to some (unconfirmed( report about 3.5 million in Iran.

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