Richard Strand’s Nuristân Site: Iranian-Speaking Peoples of the Hindu Kush

Posted: April 15, 2012 in Language, Region, Tajikistan

Irânian-Speaking Peoples of the Hindu-Kush Region

Name: Irânian, in the linguistic rather than the political sense, designating one of the Irânian languages or a speaker thereof. The Irânian languages constitute the second largest sub-group of the Indo-Iranian (Âryan) group of Indo-European languages.

Location: Irânian speakers extend from eastern Turkey through Irân and Afghânistân to Tâǰikistân in the north and Pâkistân in the east, and in a few communities beyond this area. The purview of this website covers the easternmost Irânian linguistic communities that surround the region of Nuristân in northeastern Afghânistân.

Population: Some 3.5 million for all Irânian-speaking ethnic groups in the provinces surrounding Nuristân.

Languages and Ethnic Groups: The Irânian languages of the region include the following, listed according to their phylogenetic position (native names appear in italics):

Eastern Irânian languages:

Pashto (S.W. dialect paṣt’ô, N.E. dialect paxt’ô, “Pakhto”), the language of the peoples who call themselves paṣt’un or paxt’un (“Pakhtun”), including those who reckon themselves ethnically as afǧ’ân (“Afghan”). The Pashto dialects of the Kâbul River Basin belong to the Northeastern or “Hard” group, whose most characteristic feature is the backing of the tongue, turning the traditional (Southwestern) retroflex spirants ṣ and ẓ into velar x and g, respectively (e.g., Northeastern paxt’ô or pïxt’ô vs. Southwestern paṣt’ô ‘Pashto’). Minor ethnolinguistic dialect groupings are recognized by the paxt’ô-speaking peoples of Nangarhâr and Kunaṛ Provinces in eastern Afghânistân, but systematic differences between these minor dialects have not been recorded:

in Nangarhâr:

the dialect of the ahmadz’i tribe of the ǧalǰ’i (“Ghilzay”) division of Afghâns, centering on the provincial capital of Jalâlâbâd;

the dialect of the outlying xugyân’i branch of the ahmadz’i, upland to the south of the Jalâlâbâd region;

the dialect of the upland, outlying hisâr’ak district in southwestern Nangarhâr Province, home to other ǧalǰ’i peoples;

the dialect of the šinwâr’i tribe, in southeastern Nangarhâr;

the dialect of the mômand tribe, in the Kâbul River Valley of eastern Nangarhâr;

in Kunaṛ:

the dialect of the kuz kun’aṛ district in the lower Kunaṛ Valley, encompassing many deg’an peoples who are Pakhtunized remnants of formerly Indo-Aryan-speaking peoples once found from Ghazni to Kunaṛ and Bâǰawïṛ;

the dialect of the sâf’i tribe of the lower Kunaṛ and Pech basins,

the dialect of the tark’âṇi tribe of the central and eastern Kunaṛ Valley and over into the Bâǰawïṛ district of Pâkistân, with sub-tribes mam’und and sâlârz’i; also speaking this dialect are more recently arrived zamâni x’el and šinwâr’i peoples, as well as say’ids, Pakhto-speaking families reputedly descended from the Prophet Muhammad;

the dialect of the primarily highland mïšwâṇ’i tribe, which entered the Kunaṛ Valley from the highlands of Bâǰawïṛ to the east.

Munǰi–idǧa, the language of the small Munǰi population in the upper Munǰân Valley; The idǧa dialect is spoken by Munǰi émigrés in Upper Chitral.

Iškâšmi–Sangleči, the language spoken around the village of Iškâšm on the Âb-e Panǰ (upper Oxus) and in Zêbâk and the neighboring Sangleč Valley to the south.

Wâxi (x̌ik), spoken by the Wâxi people in the Wâkhân Corridor of Afghânistân and in the adjoining areas of Pâkistân, Tâǰikistân, and China.

The Pâmir Languages (out of range of the map above), spoken north of Iškâšmi in side valleys of the Âb-e Panǰ (upper Oxus) in the Pâmir Mountains of Taǰikistân and neighboring Sinkiang. These include Yâzǧulâmi and seven dialects of Šuǧni: Šuǧni proper, Baǰuvi, Rošâni, Xufi, Bartangi, Orošori, and Sarikoli.

Western Irânian languages:


Parači, spoken in the upper Neǰrâw watershed, which drains southwestward into the Panǰshir River.

“Ormuṛi” (a pejorative Pashto term; the native name appears to be baraki or bargiṣṭâ), almost extinct in the town of Baraki in Lôgar Province of Afghânistân, but still spoken in the village of Kânigurâm in the South Waziristân Agency of Pâkistân’s North-West Frontier Province (out of range of the map above).


Persian (fârsi), called dari officially and learnedly (but not colloquially) in Afghânistân, spoken throughout Irân and across northern Afghânistân into Tâǰikistân. It surrounds Nuristân from the Panǰshir Valley on the west to Badakhshân on the north.

via Richard Strand’s Nuristân Site: Iranian-Speaking Peoples of the Hindu Kush.


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