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University Library, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dari Language



UCLA Language Materials Project_Language Profile

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Number of Speakers7.6 million

Key DialectsThere are different dialects of Dari spoken in Afghanistan. People living close to the Iranian border speak in Persian, while those living in northern Afghanistan speak the Shamaly dialect. The principal dialects spoken in Afghanistan are Herati Dari, Tajiki Dari, Kabuli Dari, Khorasani Dari, and Parsiwan. In Iran, the key dialects are Yazd Dari and Kerman Dari.

Geographical CenterAfghanistan

Along with Pashto, Dari is one of the two official languages of Afghanistan. A member of the Northwestern Iranian language subfamily, Dari is closely related to languages such as Kurdish, Baluchi, and Gilaki. Dari is the Afghan dialect of Persian and as such is sometimes referred to as “Eastern Persian”. Dari, rather than Pashto, serves as the lingua franca for the languages of Afghanistan. Roughly one-third of the population of Afghanistan (approximately five million) speak the language. Dari is also spoken by a total of two and a half million people in Iran, Pakistan, and neighboring regions. Iranian Dari, however, is considered to be endangered.

Dari is a Northwestern Iranian language of the Indo-Iranian subgroup of the Indo-European language family.

Although phonological and lexical differences persist among the various dialects, they cause little difficulty in comprehension. These differences exist on a relatively small scale. This is valid even as regards the dialects spoken in Iran and Afghanistan. Most Afghani Dari dialects are more similar to literary Persian than the Iranian dialects. Zargari (Morghuli) is a secret language of artisans based on Persian.

Dari is written in a modified Arabic alphabet called Perso-Arabic, whose modifications are needed to account for Persian phonological differences.

Given that Dari is the Afghan dialect of Persian, it is not surprising that the two share a wealth of grammatical properties in common. It is also relatively unsurprising that Dari has imported a number of loan words from both Persian and Arabic. In fact, the vocabulary of Dari is closer to Tajiki than Persian. The syntax and morphology of Dari do not differ from Persian in any significant way. However, the bulk of the grammatical differences are phonological, perhaps due to the influence of neighboring Turkic languages. For instance, accent on stressed syllables is much less prominent in Dari than in Persian. The consonant and vowel systems of Dari differ from that of Persian as well. For example, Dari has two long vowels o and e, which Persian lacks. In addition, the use of the dipthongs ai and aw in Dari have no correspondents in Persian. In this respect, Dari maintains vowel distinctions that have been lost in modern Persian. The dialectal variation between Dari and Persian has been described as analogous to that between European French and Canadian French. Given the grammatical parallels between Persian and Dari, the reader is invited to read the linguistic sketch of Persian at to learn more of the basic grammatical properties (syntactic and morphological) of Dari.

Dari plays an important role in Afghan society. It is one of the national languages of the country and is used by roughly 50% of the population. In addition, it represents the primary means of communication between speakers of different languages in Afghanistan. Dari is currently taught in Afghani schools, heard on national radio, and has enjoyed a long and prestigious literary tradition. The current status of Dari in countries where it does not enjoy national status, on the other hand, is less stable. In Iran, for instance, Dari is neither written nor taught in schools and is considered an endangered language. Iranians are gradually giving up Dari to speak/learn Persian, the official language of Iran. The variety of Dari spoken in Pakistan, however, although marginalized, is a relatively stable institution.

Dari emerged as the language of the Persians and Zorastrian priests after the defeat of the Parthians by Cyrus in the middle of the sixth century B.C. Shortly thereafter, Dari was adopted as the spoken language of the Persian courts of the Sassanids. Following the Muslim conquest in the sixth century A.D., Arabic replaced Dari as the official language of the Persians. This lasted roughly two hundred years. During this period, Dari was not forgotten and little by little came to take on a new form, influenced considerably by Arabic and Parthian. Scholars consider this linguistic amalgamation to be the mother of both Dari and Persian.

Afghanistan's Official Languages

Both Pashtu (or Pushtu) and Dari (Afghan Persian) are the official languages of the country. Pashtu is spoken by about 35% of the population while approximately 50% speak Dari. Although Pashtu has a literature of its own, Dari, the language spoken in Kabul, has been the principal language of cultural expression, of the government, and of business. Both Pashtu and Dari are written primarily with the Arabic alphabet, however, there are some modifications. The Hazaras speak their own dialect of Dari. The Turkic languages, spoken by 11% of the population, include Uzbek and Turkmen, and the Nuristanis speak some seven different dialects belonging to the Dardic linguistic group. There are about 30 minor languages, primarily Balochi and Pashai, spoken by some 4% of the population. Balochi belongs to the same linguistic group, as do several languages spoken in the high Pamirs. Bilingualism is common.

"Afghanistan." Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations. 11th ed. Vol. 4: Asia & Oceania. Detroit: Gale, 2004. 1-14. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 22 Mar. 2012.
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