What Does 'Taliban' Mean?

I was going to look up the word in my big dictionary. Of course that is pointless, because my dictionary was published in 1994. And the Taliban are a more recent phenomenon–on the evening news at least, that is.

So what does the word Taliban mean?


“Taliban” is the plural of “talib” which means student in Pashto. IIRC it is derived originally from an Arabic root but you’d have to ask Collounsbury

Taalib means student/inquirer in Arabic.

Taliban is a frozen plural - students.

How’s that for a simulpost!

I thought it was from that Harry Belafonte song.

“Come, Mistah Taliban, tally me banana!”


Actually, there were several variations on this theme. Here’s one of the most elaborate.


Actually, Arabic has a dual form:

Talib (a common name) = Student
Taliban = two students

Correct, however as I noted this is a frozen plural. It is not proper Arabic. (Also of note, dual is not used in dialect, on a regular basis.) I believe the usage is probably farsi influenced.

What is a frozen plural, and how does it differ from an ordinary plural?

Formal Arabic, or classical Arabic (modern version Modern Standard Arabic) has declensions. Nominative, genitive and accusative. This shows up in various forms in both nouns and adjectives. Nominative, e.g. for the traveller al-musafir, pl al-musafiroun, genetive, al-musafirine. For the dual as mentioned above, the two travellers al-musafiran (nominative), al-musafirian (genitive).

Frequently in dialect and where Arabic words were adopted into other languages, the plurals and even singulars were “frozen” into the most commonly used form, that is the declensions partly or wholly dropped away. In this case, Taalib got the frozen (that is un-grammatical in formal Arabic) form of Taliban rather than keeping the proper Arabic.

BTW, the generally used Arabic plural for Taalib is Taleba or Tulaab.

Collounsbury, your knowledge of Arabic is admirable, but in this case it’s wide of the mark, sorry.

-ân is not an Arabic morpheme at all in this case, it’s the Persian plural suffix.

Actually, Persian has two plural suffixes, -ân for people and - for things.

Tâlibân is the Persian (not Pashto) plural form of the Arabic word tâlib (active participle of the verb talaba, ‘seek’, hence ‘seekers (after knowledge)’ > ‘students’).

Persian as used in Afghanistan is called Dari, and the same language in Tajikistan is called Tajik, and whatever you call it, it is the one language used all over the whole country of Afghanistan, whereas Pashto is used only in the Pashto-speaking areas, mainly in the east of the country.

The Arabic “broken plural” forms are talabah and tullâb.

P.S. The question was already covered in this thread.