The Dari language, also sometimes referred to as Afghan Persian, is one of the most prominent dialects of the modern Farsi (Persian) language. It is spoken by an estimated 5 million people in Afghanistan, where it is an official language and serves as the primary tool of communication.
There has been some intriguing debate as to the origin of the word “Dari.” Records left by early Islamic historians suggest that the term was adapted from the Persian word “Darbar” (“court”), which most likely refers to the court of the Sassanid Empire that reigned from the early-3rd to mid-6th centuries.
Classification of the Dari Language
The Dari language is classified as part of the Iranian branch of the Indo-Iranian language family. The development of the Indo-Iranian language family can be divided into three categories: old, middle and modern.
Dari is technically considered a dialect of the Farsi or Persian language. More specifically, Dari is the dialect of Farsi spoken in Afghanistan. In the past there has been some debate among linguists, especially those in the Middle East, as to the exact status of Dari. While it is generally agreed that Dari is a distinct dialect of Farsi, some argue that Dari and Farsi are essentially the same thing and refer to Afghan Persian simply as Farsi.
Early History of the Dari Language: The Old Iranian Period
The two known Old Iranian languages are Avestan and Old Persian, from which modern Farsi and Dari developed. Examples of written Old Persian have been found in cuneiform inscriptions dating to the Persian Achaemenid Dynasty from 550 to 330 BC.
Evidence of the ancient and now-extinct Avestan language can be found in the ancient scriptures of Zoroastrianism, a body of work known as the Avesta. Although other Old Iranian languages are believed to have been in use during the Old Iranian period, there is no concrete evidence of their existence as there is with Avestan and Old Persian.
Developments During the Middle Iranian Period
Old Persian is thought to have remained in use as a spoken language until approximately the 3rd century BC. A new form of the language developed during the Middle Iranian period that dates from about 300 BC to 950 AD. Known as Middle Persian, this became the basis for modern Farsi. The modern Farsi (or Persian) language developed around the 9th century; this became the basis for the modern Dari language.
Written Dari: Influence of the Arabic Language
Arabic has had a significant influence on the Dari language. The majority of Dari loanwords are derived from either Farsi or Arabic.
Like Farsi, Dari is commonly written using a modified Arabic alphabet. This stems from the time of the Islamic conquest of modern-day Iran, when the majority of Persia was converted to Islam. Written Dari utilizes a Perso-Arabic script in which most of the letters are connected (like cursive writing in English) and which reads from right to left.
Relationship Between Dari and Farsi
As already noted, Dari is technically considered the Afghan dialect of the Farsi or Persian language. The standard Farsi currently spoken in Iran is often referred to as Western Farsi, while the Dari of Afghanistan is also referred to as Eastern Farsi. A third type of modern Persian dialect, Tajiki Persian, is found primarily in Tajikistan. Multiple dialects exist within each of these varieties of the Persian language.
Although both Dari and Farsi make use of a modified Arabic alphabet, Dari has a different vowel system from Farsi and also has additional consonants not found in Farsi. Differences between spoken Dari and Farsi are primarily found in pronunciation: Dari has a less obvious stress on accents than Farsi does.
Dari in Afghanistan
Today, the Dari language serves as one of the official languages of Afghanistan alongside Pushtu (also known as Pashto). In general Dari serves as the common language of communication in Afghanistan, a country with a variety of ethnic and linguistic groups.
An estimated two-fifths of Afghanistan’s population speaks Pushtu, the native language of the Pashtun ethnic group. By comparison, approximately half of the population speaks some dialect of Farsi. Although Dari is the most common, a number of other Farsi dialects exist within Afghanistan, including those spoken by the Tajik, Hazara, and Kizilbash peoples.
It is important to note that ethnic and linguistic groups in Afghanistan do not necessarily correspond. For example, the Pushtu language is not spoken only by people of Pashtun origin, and people of Pashtun origin often speak languages other than Pushtu, such as Dari. The Afghan population includes a variety of ethnic groups, the largest of them being the Pashtuns. Minority groups include the Tajiks, Hazaras, and Uzbeks.
Ethnic Groups of Afghanistan: Struggle for Power
The Afghan government was dominated for many years by the Pashtun population. After the withdrawal of Soviet troops in 1989, however, a coalition government comprised of Pashtun and minority group representatives was formed. In 1996, this coalition government was overthrown by the Taliban, who reasserted the dominance of the Pashtun majority over Afghanistan.
In 2001, the Taliban regime came to an end and was replaced by a coalition government comprised of Afghanistan’s major ethnic groups. The Afghan constitution of 2004 protects these terms of shared power and rights for these various groups.
Modern Dari Language
Approximately 30 percent of Afghanistan’s population, or about 5 million people, speak Dari.
The modern Dari language has a great deal of Arabic and Persian loanwords for reasons of historical development. In recent decades, an increasing number of words have also been borrowed from other languages, including Turkish and English.
Dari Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: 'GABRI', 'GABAR'
Language Family: Indo-European, Indo-Iranian, Iranian, Western, Northwestern, Central Iran.
Spoken by Approximately 5,000,000 people
Also Spoken In: United States
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