Ethnic groups and languages
The kingdom of the Kabul Shahis was multiracial, inhabited by many different peoples. A considerable part of the population was composed of sedentary speakers of: (i) Middle and New East Iranian languages, Late Bactrian, and the New Iranian phase - the Afghan language; and (ii) West Iranian languages in the Middle Iranian and New Iranian phases – Tajik or Persian. Sanskrit and Prakrit were widespread. A large group of the population used Indo-Iranian Dardic languages as their mother tongues. Of the aboriginal languages of the east of the region, the linguistically isolated Burushaski should be mentioned. Of particular importance are the Türks (see Chapter 14), who brought their language from the depths of Central Asia. Information is given below about those ethnic groups and languages not discussed in previous chapters.
The origins of the Tajiks and of their language lie in remotest antiquity. According to the crament Iranologist Lazard:
The language known as New Persian, which may usually be called at this period by the name of dari or parsi-i dari, can be classified linguistically as a continuation of Middle Persian, the official, religions and literary language of Sasanian Iran ...
New Persian belongs to the West Iranian group. In its phonetic and even its grammatical structure, New Persian had changed little from Middle Persian. Its vocabulary had changed, however, because New Persian drew heavily on the East Iranian languages, especially Sogdian, and also on the Turkic languages and Arabic.1 Middle Persian was widespread in Khurasan and some parts of Middle Asia, partly promoted by the Manichaean movement. At the time of the Arab conquest, New Persian had already appeared in Tokharistan. According to Huei-ch'ao (writing in 726), the language of Khuttal – one of the most important domains of Tokharistan, located in the south of modern Tajikistan – was partly Tokharian, partly Turkic and partly indigenous.2
In connection with the events of the first third of the eighth century, the Arab historian al-Tabari relates that the inhabitants of Balkh used to sing in the New Persian (Tajik) language. It is quite possible, therefore, that a third ('indigenous', according to Huei-ch'ao) language was current in Tokharistan in addition to Tokharian and Turkic. If that is the case, Parsi-i Dari would appear to have been in use in Tokharistan as early as the sixth and seventh centuries. After the Arab conquest, the Dari language also spread to other parts of Middle Asia and Afghanistan. Much later it divided into separate Persian and Tajik branches, and a third branch is sometimes identified too – the Dari that is the contemporary New Persian language of Afghanistan. Some 30 million people speak these languages today. Like its close relatives Persian and Dari, Tajik has a rich history documented by literary sources. The wealth of literary and scientific writings created in the Middle Ages in Parsi, the literary language that is common to both the Tajiks and the Persians, is a cultural asset of the peoples of Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan.3
The Tajiks emerged as a people in the ninth and tenth (or perhaps the tenth and eleventh) centuries, but it was not until the first third of the eleventh century that the term 'Tajik' began to be applied to them. That too was when Tajik (Persian) literature was founded, and its first great representatives lived and worked in Middle Asia.
Although the origins of the Afghans lie in very ancient times,4 the first mentions of the Afghan people appear only in the sixth and seventh centuries. The Brhat-samhita (XVI, 38 and XI, 61) speaks of the pahlava (Pahlavis), the svetahuna (White Huns or Hephthalites), the avagana (Afghans) and other peoples. On his return journey from India, the Chinese pilgrim Hsüan-tsang travelled from Varnu (possibly modern Wana) to Jaguda in Ghazni, crossing the land of A-p'o-k'ien,5 a word derived from Avakan or Avagan, meaning Afghans. In Islamic sources, the first reliable mention of the Afghans is found in the Hudud al-calam, which says of a settlement on the borders of India and the Ghazni district that ‘there are Afghans there too'. Mention is also made of a local ruler some of whose wives were Afghan women.6 The Afghan language, or Pashto, is one of the East Iranian groups. Among its characteristics, it contains a stratum of Indian words and its phonetic system has been influenced by Indian phonetic systems, which is not the case of other Iranian languages. There are approximately 23 million Pashto-speakers in Afghanistan and Pakistan today.7
The mountains in the east of modern Afghanistan and the north of modern Pakistan were settled by Dards. They were known to the ancient Greek authors, who used several distorted names for them: Derbioi, Durbaioi, Daidala, Dadikai and Derdaios.8 In their descriptions of India, the Puranas speak of the Darada in the same breath as the inhabitants of Kashmir and Gandhara. They are repeatedly mentioned in the Ramayana and the Saddhar-masmrtyupasthana, together with the Odra (the Uddiyana). In Tibetan sources, the Darada are known as the Darta.9
There are two groups of languages that are now generally known as Dardic. The first are the languages of Nuristan (a region of Afghanistan): they form an 'individual branch of the Indo-Iranian family belonging neither to the Indo-Aryan, nor to the Iranian group'. The second group of languages (particularly the Dardic) are 'part of the Indo-Aryan [group], though far departed in their development from the latter'. The two groups, however, have much in common in their 'structural and material features [phonetical, grammatical and lexical]'.10 The Nuristani languages include Kati, Waigali, Ashkun and Prasun (or Paruni) and are chiefly spoken in Nuristan. The Dardic languages proper include Dameli, which is the link between the Nuristani languages and the Central Dardic. According to one classification, the Central Dardic languages comprise Pashai, Shumashti, Glangali, Kalarkalai, Gawar, Tirahi, Kalasha and Khowar. The Eastern Dardic group is divided into three sub-groups containing the Bashkarik, Torwali, Maiyan, Shina, Phalura and Kashmiri languages. In the early 1980s Dardic languages were spoken by 3.5 million people in Pakistan, India and Afghanistan, of whom 2.8 million spoke Kashmiri, some 165,000 spoke Khowar and some 120,000 spoke Pashai. The Nuristani languages were spoken by around 120,000 people.11
Burushaski is a completely distinct language: it stands at the confluence of three great families – the Indo-European, the Sino-Tibetan and the Altaic – but belongs to none of them. Its speakers live in northern Pakistan, in the region of the Hunza and Vershikum rivers, and number around 40,000. The language's morphological structure is very rich and the verb has a particularly extensive system of accidence. Burushaski is one of the oldest tongues, but its place in the system of ancient and modern languages remains obscure. Although a literary tradition may well have existed in the early Middle Ages, when Buddhism was widespread, no literary records have been found, which hampers attempts to reconstruct the language's past. There have been repeated attempts to trace its affiliations, and links with the Caucasian, Dravidian, Munda, Basque and other languages have been suggested, but from the standpoint of contemporary linguistics the case is not conclusive. Burushaski was unquestionably more current in ancient times and occupied a number of regions where Dardic languages are now spoken and where Burushaski acted as a substratal or adstratal foundation. Grierson has even postulated that speakers of Burushaski or related languages once inhabited all or almost all the lands now held by Dardic-speaking tribes.12
1. Lazard, 1971; 1975, pp. 595–7.
2. Fuchs, 1938, p. 452.
3. Oransky, 1988, p. 298.
4. Morgenstierne, 1940; Grantovskiy, 1963.
5. Hui-li, 1959, p. 188.
6. Hudud al-calam, 1930, p. 16-A.
7. Morgenstierne, 1942; Gryunberg, 1987.
8. Francfort, 1985, Vol. 1, pp. 397–8.
9. Tucci, 1977, pp. 11–12.
10. Edelman, 1983, pp. 14–15, 35–6.
11. Morgenstierne, 1944; 1967; 1973; Fussman, 1972; Gryunberg, 1980; Edelman, 1983.
12. Grierson, 1919; Zarubin, 1927; Lorimer, 1935, Vol. 1; 1938 , Vol. 2; Klimov and Edelman, 1970.