A note on the name

This comes from the Arabic word for student, t.âlib, which has two plurals t.âlibûn and t.ullâb. It comes from a verb meaning seek, but it is an ordinary word for student. It applies to you if you go to classes to learn Arabic or flower-arrangement.

It was borrowed into Persian. The short i becomes short e in Persian, so tâleb, plural tâlebân, using a native Persian plural ending. The main language of Afghanistan is a form of Persian called Dari.

The Taleban then were the Students, in particular students of Islamic studies. When they took up arms they formed a movement called the Taleban Islamic Movement of Afghanistan, the official name for the ruling body of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan in the time they held power. So this is the spelling officially used by them (in their English-language material), and which is slightly more accurate for their own language.

The Arabic script, also used for Persian, does not write short vowels. The name could be read either way. For the reasons given here I believe Taleban is more accurate, but both are very common and equally acceptable in English-language reporting. I have merged the two nodes here with a firmlink from Taliban, because we want all our write-ups in one place, but that doesn't mean you have to spell it this way.

The vowel â in Persian is back and somewhat rounded, so the name would be pronounced rather like (British) English tol-eb-ON. However, Afghans heard speaking in news bulletins all seem to stress it TOL-eb-on. Some speakers use the Persian low rounded vowel; these are presumably speakers of Dari ofr perhaps the related Tajik. Spokespeople of the United Front ("Northern Alliance") tend to use an unrounded AH vowel, thus TAHL-eb-ahn; they might be speakers of the unrelated language Uzbek and thus not have the Persian sound.

Later: I've now seen a book specifically on Dari, and the short e is quite similar to an i in this dialect.