By Carol Felicio
The United States is made up of many immigrant populations, but the Afghan immigrant population has grown faster over the last decade than many others. In fact, over 23,000 Afghan refugees arrived in 2021 alone. With the spotlight on Afghanistan this year, we wanted to take a look at the languages that are spoken in the country, interesting facts, and bilingual resources for these new immigrants.
What Languages are Spoken in Afghanistan?
There are over 40 different languages spoken in Afghanistan with much of the country identifying as bilingual. While the lingua franca of Afghanistan is Dari, both Dari and Pashto are considered the official languages of the country. Since 1964, the Afghan government has politically promoted Dari as the official term for the New Persian language spoken in the country. Pashto is spoken by roughly 50 percent of Afghanistan, mostly ethnic Pashtuns. Interestingly, the Afghan national anthem is in Pashto.
Interesting Facts About Dari and Pashto
Dari comes from the Persian word darbar, which means “royal court” and is used because it was the language of the Central Asian and Moghul Indian courts.
Given that Dari is the accepted Afghan dialect of Persian, it is one of the oldest languages in the world. Not only can many people who speak Dari understand poems written over 1600 years ago, but they can also understand Farsi (Western Persian) and Tajik, a modern variety of Persian spoken in Tajikistan and other parts of Central Asia.
Until the early twentieth century, only Pashto speakers were considered Afghans. The rest of the Afghan population were called by their ethnic or tribal designations.
There are two main dialects of Pashto, the “hard” and the “soft”. The first can be referred to by Peshawari or Pakhto while the latter can be called either Kandahari or Pashtu.
Both Pashto and Dari are written using the Arabic alphabet.
Dari and Pashto Bilingual Children’s Books
If you interact with children who speak Dari or Pashto, or are learning these languages, you may want suggestions on some engaging bilingual children’s books. Some fun story books with text in both English and the Pashto language include: Be Kind, We Can All Be Friends, Happy After All, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Walking through the Jungle, and Who Are We? For bilingual children’s books in both English and Dari, you can find these titles: Be Kind, We Can All Be Friends, Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, Sports Day in the Jungle, and Who Are We?
If you want to learn more about languages like Cherokee, Hmong, or Amharic, Language Lizard has a Language Spotlight series that showcases interesting facts and resources.
Carol Felicio holds a Master of the Arts in Education Policy and Social Analysis from Teachers College Columbia University and joined Language Lizard, LLC to continue her passion for early childhood and bilingual education. Previously, she has taught as an ESL instructor in both Spain and South Korea.