KĀBOLI, the colloquial Persian spoken in the capital of Afghanistan, Kabul, and its environs. It has been a common and prestigious vernacular for several centuries, since Kabul was long ruled by dynasts of Iran (the Safavids) or India (the Mughals) for whom Persian was the language of culture and administration. Historically, Turkestan and Afghanistan (in particular the region of Kabul) were the sources of the Persianization of northern India. Even though Pashtun rulers have controlled Kabul for most of the past 250 years, written Persian and its spoken variety, Kāboli, are still the common means of communication between officials, merchants, and visitors in this cosmopolitan city. Kāboli is often regarded (with some justification) as being identical with the contact vernacular of the whole of Afghanistan, and is generally taught as such (cf. the grammars of Farhadi, 1955, 1975; Glassman). From a broader, post-Soviet, perspective Kāboli is a subtle variant of a widespread contact vernacular (Eastern Persian) that extends across at least six international frontiers.

In Afghanistan there are several other major dialects of Persian centered on cities such as Herāt, Farāh, Bādḡēs, and Mazār-e Šarif, and in regions such as Ghor, Hazārajāt, Panjšēr, and Badakhshan. These are mutually comprehensible with Kāboli, and in the case of frontier regions (esp. Herāt, Badakhshan) they have much in common with adjacent dialects in Khorasan of Iran and southern Tajikistan (see AFGHANISTAN v. LANGUAGES, 2. PERSIAN, EIr. I, pp. 505-10; HAZĀRA iv. HAZĀRAGI DIALECT, EIr. XII, pp. 90-93). The salient differences between Persian and Kāboli (or Persian of Afghanistan in general) lie in pronunciation and in some words of everyday vocabulary (see below, Phonology and Lexis).

Persian in Afghanistan is generally called fārsi by Persian-speakers and pārsi in Pashto. The standard written Persian of Afghanistan has officially been called Dari since 1964; apart from a few basics of vocabulary, however (and more Indo-Persian calligraphic styles in the Perso-Arabic script), there is little difference between formal written Persian of Afghanistan and of Iran. The term “Dari” is often loosely used for the characteristic spoken Persian of Afghanistan, but is best restricted to formal spoken registers (poetry, speeches, newscasts, and other broadcast announcements). Written Tajik Persian of the Soviet period (apart from its being written in Cyrillic, not Arabic, characters) diverged appreciably from Dari, being based on a northern, Uzbek-influenced variety of Persian and replete with Russian loanwords; since the late 1980s the standards have tended to converge. Kāboli is considerably closer to spoken Tajik Persian of Central Asia in pronunciation and some syntactic features than it is to spoken Persian of Iran. In the following selective description, contrasts with Standard Persian of Iran will be highlighted.

Phonology. The eight-vowel system of Kāboli is typical of eastern Persian dialects in having lost length distinction. The qualitative distinction that remains additionally distinguishes Stable vowels, which do not vary in quality even when unstressed (î, ê, â, ô, û in Table 1, corresponding to the long vowels of Classical Persian), and Unstable vowels, which may vary in quality when unstressed (a, i, u, historically the short vowels).

Kāboli vowels exhibit considerable variation across dialect and even idiolect. Thus, â may be more rounded [ɒ], as in the Panjšēr valley, or less so [ɑ], as in Kabul city. Unstable i and u may be articulated lower, closer to Persian e and o (as they are transcribed in some descriptions of Kāboli). The paired vowels î [i] and i [ɪ], û [u] and u [ʊ], may share the same point of articulation and in fact differ in other features (tense vs. lax, or long vs. short).  

The so-called majhul vowels ê and ô (which in Standard Persian have collapsed with “long” î and û) are preserved (šîr ‘milk,’ but šêr ‘lion’), though not systematically (čôb ‘wood,’ but čûbî ‘wooden’). Many common Persian words thus sound quite different in Kāboli, for example: Bêdil, ‘name of the poet Bidel,’ âlê ‘now’ (= Pers. hâlâ), firêftan (firêb-) ‘to deceive,’ amêša ‘always,’ umêd ‘hope’; gôša ‘corner,’ rôz ‘day,’ pôšîdan ‘to wear.’ Epenthetic vowels serve to break up consonant clusters; these may be realized as phonetic schwa (ə) or be colored by their consonantal environment: ´qisəm for qism ‘sort, kind,’ ´pašum for pašm ‘wool.’ None of these differences is reflected in the Perso-Arabic orthography.

In contrast with Persian, final -a is not raised to -e: parda ‘curtain,’ qissa ‘story,’ gufta ‘said,’ etc. (except for šanbê ‘Saturday’ and its compounds, five other days of the week; ‘Friday’ is juma); â is preserved before nasals: nân ‘bread,’ bâm ‘roof,’ sar-etân ‘your head’; and diphthongs are fully preserved: paydâ ‘apparent,’ mayl ‘inclination, desire’ (not meil or mêl); qawm ‘people,’ dawra ‘era’ (not doure or dôre). There are a few common exceptions: šêx ‘venerable elder, religious leader’ (< šayx), and the interjection tôba! ‘I didn’t mean it/promise not to do it again!’ (< tawba ‘repentance’).

The consonant system corresponds to that of Persian, with the following exceptions: the back velar or uvular stop q (found in words of Arabic and Turkish origin) and uvular fricative are distinct phonemes (they have collapsed in Standard Persian): qazâ ‘decree, fate,’ tabaq ‘platter,’ aqâqû ‘skinny, withered’; ḡičak ‘stringed instrument,’ dâḡ-dâḡ ‘red-hot.’

Bilabial w replaces labio-dental Persian v: wâ-pas ‘back,’ mêwa ‘fruit,’ gaw ‘cow.’ In some common words, w replaces non-initial b: e.g., aw ‘water,’ aftâwa ‘ewer,’ sawz ‘green,’ taw ‘fever’ (Pers. tab < Arab. tabb).

Flapped or trilled r is replaced by l in some words: dêwâl ‘wall,’ andêwâl ‘neighbor’ (< ham-dêwâr ‘sharing a wall’), sayl kardan ‘to look’ (< Arab. sayr ‘stroll, look around’). In some high-frequency words, non-initial r is lost: byâdar ‘brother’ (< birâdar), kadan ‘to do,’ kadum ‘I did’ (< kardam).

The earlier Persian combination xw- (reduced in Standard Persian to x-) is retained in some words: e.g., xwâstan ‘to ask, want’ (but not in xândan ‘to call, sing, read’); xwâr ‘wretched’; xwâr, xwar ‘sister’ (< xwâhar; see next).

The aspirate h is lost in all environments (except in formal and literary articulation): aft ‘seven,’ zanâ ‘women’ (pl. suffix -hâ), ‘village’ (< dih). This loss may trigger compensatory lengthening of the preceding vowel (cf. Persian): pêra:n ‘shirt’ (< pêrahan); usually when pre-consonantal h is lost, a preceding a (additionally) shifts to â: šâr ‘town,’ qâr ‘anger, angry’ (< šahr, qahr). Intervocalic h is replaced by the appropriate glide: mâyî ‘fish,’ âwû ‘gazelle.’

Glottal stops originating in Arabic ʿeyn or hamza are likewise replaced by lengthened vowels (cf. Persian), or sometimes in the case of a preceding vowel a by the rounded back vowel â: ya:nê ‘that means, i.e.,’ bâ:d ‘after,’ wâda or wâ:da ‘promise’ (< waʿda). Unstable i before underlying ʿeyn, hamza, or h shifts to ê, and u to ô: êtirâz ‘objection’ (cf. , above), môr ‘seal, stone in signet ring.’

Terminal -n is frequently omitted, and other consonants are dropped in high-frequency words (examples passim). Other sound changes are observed only in the context of certain verb forms (see next).

Morphology. Nominal morphology and Noun Phrase syntax are essentially the same as Persian, bearing in mind the phonological differences mentioned. Kāboli tends to retain terminal -y after back vowels (as in Classical Persian): pây ‘foot, leg,’ jôy ‘stream,’ bûy ‘odor.’ The loss of h and the incidence of terminal vowels and semi-vowels (w and y) results in some contractions and assimilations before the eżāfe particle -i (after a vowel, -yi) or other enclitic
s and suffixes, e.g.: gulây safêd (< gul-hâ-yi safêd) ‘white flowers,’ xušûy bačêm (< xušû-yi bača-im) ‘my son’s mother-in-law’), aw yak (< âb-i yax) ‘cold water,’ kôwâ ‘mountains’ (< kôh-hâ), pâyâ ‘feet’ (< pây-hâ), xânâ ‘houses’ (xâna-hâ).

The indefinite enclitic is : bâḡ-ê ‘a garden,’ aspâ-ê ‘some horses.’ The object marker (Pers. -râ) is -ra following a vowel, -a following a consonant: xâna-ra dîd ‘he saw the house,’ čôb-a burîdum ‘I cut the stick’; it may also mark the indirect object: mara guft ‘he told me.’ Conjunctive phrases are linked by means of the enclitics -u (following a consonant) or -w (following a vowel): safêd-u siyâ ‘black and white,’ pagâ-w bêgâ (< pagâh . . .) ‘morning and evening.’

The comparative is formed by suffixing -tar to the adjective; this may be reduplicated for emphasis: bêtartar (< bih-tar-tar) ‘much better,’ batartar (< bad-tar . . .) ‘much worse.’ The preposition of comparison, az ‘from, than,’ is often expanded colloquially to the circumpositional phrase az—kada, and -tar may be omitted: az tû kada kalân(tar) as ‘he is bigger/older than you’ (cf. Tajik az tu dîda kalon[tar] ast). The superlative is formed with -tarîn, and construed attributively as in Persian; predicatively, the construction is that of a universal comparative: gôšt-i î qisəm murḡ az kull-i murḡâ kada narmtar as ‘this is the tenderest chicken meat there is’ (lit. ‘this kind . . . is more tender than all [others]’).

Pronouns. Personal pronouns are either independent or enclitic. See Table 2.

A speaker will often use the plural ‘we’ to refer to him/herself alone, and mâ-w šumâ for inclusive ‘we’ (= I and you). Plural šumâ is used instead of the familiar to address an unfamiliar person. Accordingly, when it is intended to refer to more than one person, explicit plural forms mâyâ ‘we,’ mâ mardum ‘we people,’ and šumâyâ ‘you all’ may be used. The 3rd Person forms represent the demonstratives în, înhâ ‘he/she (near the speaker)/this one, they/these (people, things)’ and ân, ânhâ ‘he/she (distant)/it, that one, they/those things.’

The enclitics, used for possessive and attributive constructions, are shown in their post-consonantal form (dux´tar-im ‘my daughter’); following vowels, contractions and vowel shifts occur, and the fused word-final plus connecting syllable assumes word stress: ba´čêt ‘your son,’ xân´âšân ‘their houses.’ The enclitics may also function as direct or indirect objects, with or without -ra: guftim ‘[s]he told me,’ mêzanêša ‘[s]he beats him/her/it’ (mê-zana[d]-iš-ra); note the different stress in ´dîdiša[s]he saw him/her/it’ (Preterit) and dîd´êša ‘[s]he has seen him/her/it’ (Perfect, = did´a-[ast]-iš-ra).

The predicative possessive phrase is, e.g., î paysa az mâ as/nês ‘this money is mine/not mine.’

The demonstrative adjectives în, î ‘this’ and ân, û ‘that’ (pl. ‘these,’ ‘those’) form various compounds: emphatic pronouns ênî and ûnû ‘this/that one (right here/there)’ and adjectives amî and amû (< ham-) ‘this/that same —,’ and doubly emphatic forms: ênamî čawkî ‘this very seat,’ ûnamwâ ‘those very ones’; and adverbials such as amînja ‘right here,’ ´ittô ‘like this’ (în-tawr), ´uqqa ‘that much’ (ân-qadar), amissû ‘in this direction.’

Interrogatives include kay, čî waxt ‘when?’ čan(d), čî qadar ‘how much,’ kudâm sû ‘which way?’ kudâm yakê ‘which one?’ Indefinite adjectives differing from Persian are yagân and kudâm ‘some — (or other)’: kudâm šaxs âmada ‘someone came’; note also hêč ‘no —, nothing’ and bâzê ‘some’ (Pers. baʿzi).

Prepositions. da ‘in, at’ (dar) is the most common locative, and ba introduces an indirect object. Kāboli has also ´kati ‘with’: kati mâ (or amrâi mâ) ‘with me/us,’ kati čâqû ‘with [= by means of] a knife.’ There is a postpositon wârî ‘like’: î qisəm sât wârî muškil yâf(t) mêša ‘a watch like this is hard to find.’ Prepositions may combine with adverbials to form complex prepositions, and with ki to form conjunctions: pêš az; pêš az înki ‘before.’

Numerals. These are as in Persian, but note the following: yak ‘one,’ ‘two,’ ‘three,’ šaš ‘six,’ ‘nine,’ duwâzda ‘twelve,’ sêzda ‘thirteen,’ pinjâ ‘fifty,’ dû-sad ‘two hundred.’ The loss of h affects pronunciation in čâr ‘four,’ čil ‘forty,’ da ‘ten,’ aft ‘seven,’ abda [sic] ‘seventeen,’ aftâd ‘seventy,’ ašt ‘eight,’ ažda ‘eighteen,’ aštâd ‘eighty,’ azâr ‘thousand’ and their compounds. In combinations, the final velar of yak is generally voiced: yag-azâr ‘one thousand,’ yag milyûn ‘one million,’ but yak sad ‘one hundred.’ Yak jôra is ‘a pair, a couple.’ Copied from Anglo-Indian are darjan ‘dozen, batch’; and from Hindi lak ‘100,000’ and baja ‘o’clock’ (čand baja-s?panj baja ‘what time is it?—five o’clock’). Ordinal adjectives are formed with the suffix -um; note awal ‘first,’ duwum ‘second,’ sêyum ‘third,’ nuwum ‘ninth,’ dawum ‘tenth’ (and ‘-teen’ compounds).

Verb. As in Persian, conjugations are based on either the “Past” stem or the “Present” stem of a verb. The personal endings of the Preterit are the same as those of the Present (Table 3) with the exception of 3sg., where the ending is zero. Stress falls primarily on the first syllable of a verb, but on the final syllable of a polysyllabic nominal incorporated in a verb phrase.

In some common verbs, present stem forms are subject to contraction or other changes: mêram, mêrum ‘I go,’ mêra ‘[s]he goes’ (raw-); mêgam ‘I say,’ mêga ‘[s]he says’ (gôy-); namêša ‘it can’t be done’ (šaw-); mêtîn ‘you give’ (dê-, < dih-). The Past stem of kardan ‘to do’ in Kāboli is usually pronounced kad-, and the final -d of the 3sg. Preterit is often devoiced: ḡalat kat ‘he erred.’ Similarly treated are the final dental in two other common verb forms, the past stem of bûdan ‘to be’ and šudan ‘to become’: xaw nabût ‘she wasn’t asleep,’ kalân šut ‘he grew up’; the Present tense form xât ‘will, is likely to’ is another example (see under Syntax).

The Present subjunctive prefixes bi- or bu- to the stem, except in kadan, šudan, the verb to be (bâš-), and composite or complex verbs: šâyad burum ‘maybe I’ll go,’ bâyad dûr bâšan ‘they must be far away,’ gap (na-)zanêm ‘let’s (not) talk.’ The Imperative of a simple verb is formed with bi- or (more frequently) bu-: byâr, byârên ‘bring’; bubî(n), bubînên ‘see,’ bubaxšên ‘excuse (me),’ burô, burên ‘go’; but darwâza-ra wâ kô ‘open the door.’ Stem-final consonants of common verbs are often omitted in 2sg.: ´bixi ‘get up’ (< xêz-). For a polite request, xu (< xûb ‘good, well’) may precede the imperative: baremâm yag dâna xu bigî (< bar-i mâ ham . . . bigir) ‘get one for me too, would you?’

Prefixed to the past stem, mê- forms habitual, progressive, and conditional tenses. There is no periphrastic progressive tense (as in Persian or Tajik).

Complex and composite verbs are more numerous than simple verbs, as in Persian: e.g., gap zadan ‘to talk, speak,’ sayl kadan ‘to look, watch,’ faysala kadan ‘to decide.’ Some common simple verbs are expanded into a composite of the stem, past participle, or activity noun and the dummy auxiliary ka(r)dan: thus nivištan ‘to write’ > nivišta kadan, lit. ‘to make written’; so also basta kadan ‘to close,’ kaw kadan ‘to sleep,’ duzi kadan ‘to steal’ (Pers. dozdidan). The formation of transitivizing and causative verbs (by addition of -ân- to the present stem) is very productive, e.g., xâwândan (< xwâb-) ‘to put to sleep, lay down, throw (in wrestling),’ xêzândan ‘to arouse, wake up (tr.)’ (< xêstan ‘to stand up, arise, awake’), šikinândan ‘to break, chop’ (< šîkastan ‘to break [intrans.]’); these are sometimes formed on the Past stem: guzaštândan ‘to extend, exceed.’

Some verb forms and meanings peculiar to Kāboli (often shared with Tajik) are: šištan (šîn-) ‘to sit’ (causative šînândan, šândan); mândan ‘to put, place; let, allow’ (Imperative bân-, bânen ‘leave, put aside’; this verb is homophonous with the intransitive mândan ‘to be left, remain, stay; become tired, weak’); têr/tîr šudan ‘to pass, cross’; huš kadan ‘to be careful, watch out’; mayda kadan ‘to break (up), spoil’; pâlîdan ‘to look for, search’; tayyâr kadan/šudan ‘to prepare, get ready’ (tr./intr.).

Syntax. Kāboli exhibits peculiarities especially in context-sensitive verbal forms and idioms, which often extend into written Dari (and are also found in Tajik). Typical is the preferred single-clause construction with t(aw)ânistan ‘to be able’ (where Persian uses a dependant clause, also available in Kāboli): tura dîda mêtâna ‘[s]he can see you,’ âmada namêtânum ‘I can’t come.’ This same non-finite form (which may originate in an infinitive) is used with other auxiliaries, e.g., raftan, to add a continuative mode: majbûr šut kâr kada bura ‘he had to go on working’ (. . . kâr karda bu-raw-ad).

This “past participle” form is used, in literary Dari too, in the form bûda ‘being,’ with reference to present or universal time, e.g.: Jâpân mamlakatê-st ki az čâr taraf ba-bahr mahdûd bûda wa az jazâyir-i ziyâdê taškîl šuda-ast ‘Japan is a country that is completely surrounded by sea, and consists of many islands’ (from an Afghan schoolbook). Use of the Perfect tense (likewise often referring to present or universal time) may signal a quotative or inferential mode, that is, the speaker has not witnessed the event he mentions: šunîdam ki—xudâ nâ-xwâsta—nâjôr bûdên (< bûda-êd) ‘I heard you were sick/I hear you’re sick’ (Perry, 2000, esp. pp. 231-32).

The periphrastic Future is not normally used in Kāboli, future time being expressed by the Present tense with adverbial cues. Colloquially, however, a reduced form xât of 3sg. xwâhad ‘he/she/it will’ has been partially grammaticized as an adverb, ‘perhaps, probably’: followed by a personal verb in either Present or Past tense, it expresses inference, speculation, or doubt: rafta xât bûdan (= bûdand) ‘they will (probably) have gone’; xât (ki) biškina ‘it might break’; xêsta xât bâša? ‘will she have woken/gotten up (I wonder)?’ ittô naxât bûd/. . . bâša ‘I don’t think so; I doubt it’ (Perry, 2002).

Lexis. Compound words are built mostly with the aid of suffixes, some of which are more productive than their Standard Persian counterparts: môtar-wân ‘driver, trucker’ (-bân), afta-wâr ‘weekly,’ šîr-yax-wâlî ‘ice-cream vendor’ (an agentive suffix copied from Hindi). The diminutives -ak/-gak supply a range of nuances, such as sympathy (mazlûmak ‘poor wretch’), contempt (bê-kâra-gak ‘good-for-nothing’), and endearment (čûča-gak-im ‘my dear little chick’).

A number of everyday words peculiar to Afghan Persian are unknown or have quite different forms and/or meanings in Standard Persian, e.g.: bača ‘boy’ (not ‘child,’ which is kôdak), mâmâ ‘maternal uncle,’ lâlâ ‘elder brother,’ jilaw ‘bridle,’ sarak ‘road,’ daryâ ‘river,’ ba:r ‘sea’ (< Arab. bahr), bûra ‘(granulated) sugar,’ maska ‘butter,’ murč ‘pepper,’ tarkârî ‘vegetables,’ alâyda ‘separate, apart,’ diq ‘unhappy, bored, annoyed,’ dilčasp ‘interesting,’ girang ‘heavy,’ kalân ‘big, great, old,’ mayda ‘small; crushed, broken’ (cf. mayda kadan ‘to break [up], spoil’; pûl-i mayda ‘small change’).

Arabic is the oldest and most pervasive source of borrowed vocabulary, though some loans have been differently distributed in the Persian dialects (some later Arabisms in Kāboli are copied from Indo-Persian or Central Asian usage): hissa ‘province, region,’ ittifâq ‘union, unity,’ madaniyat ‘civilization.’ Other loanwords include a few official or prestige terms from Pashto (puhantûn ‘university’), and several Hindi terms (čawkî ‘seat,’ têl ‘[vegetable or mineral] oil, gasoline’). Names of foreign countries and Western terms may take forms (written and spoken) appreciably different from those in Persian, having been borrowed mostly through English rather than French: jâkit ‘jacket,’ tikit ‘ticket’; jâpân instead of žâpon ‘Japan’; niktây ‘necktie’ instead of kirâvât; brêk ‘brake’ instead of turmuz (from Russian, though the latter is also used in northern Afghanistan).

In recent decades new terminology has been introduced through the media from Iran, where Persian morphology still supplies the bulk of official neologisms despite an Islamic ideology at home and a constant influx of English from abroad. Examples are nihâd ‘institution’ and nihâdîna ‘institutionalized’; fan-âwarî ‘technology’; wâ-kuniš ‘reaction.’

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(Rawan Farhadi and J. R. Perry)

Originally Published: September 15, 2009

Last Updated: February 12, 2013

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