The Kurdish Language

The Kurdish language is part of the Indo-European language family and belongs to the Northwestern Neo-Iranian languages. Approx. 40 million people speak Kurdish; the largest Kurdish speaking communities being in East Turkey, Northwest Iran and North Iraq and Syria. Additionally, many Kurds live in Khorasan in the Northeast of Iran, in the Iranian part of Baluchistan and in the Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkmenistan. Over the last few decades Kurds also increasingly live in the large towns of Europe. The exile is especially relevant for authors and other artists, because they often were only able to publish their works abroad. Until today political influences have an effect on the development of Kurdish, most recently the repression of the Kurds in the 20th century. Not only was Kurdish forbidden in Turkey and Iran for decades, but the Arabic nationalism in Syria also hindered a brief period of the Kurds’ intellectual flowering. This does not only have an effect on the possibility of spreading literary works. While many languages have been standardized within national-states, the Kurdish language is still informed by many dialects.

Linguistically Kurdish can be divided into three subdivisions of main dialect groups: Northern Kurdish (Kurmancî), Central Kurdish (Soranî) and Southern Kurdish (Goranî, Zaza, Lekî). In addition there are many secondary dialects and ultimately such great linguistical variety that even each valley has its own peculiarity. Secondary dialects of Soranî for example are Silêmanî, Mukirî and Sineyî.

Archaeological discoveries in Iraq point to the fact that Kurds during antiquity used the font, however not their own script. The most early writings and original texts of the Kurdish legends are lost.

A formative literary language developed with the writings of Sufi poet Babe Tahir (936-1010), whom is claimed by all neighbouring ethnic groups. From the 14th century on Kurdish poets as Mela Pereshan (14.c.), Seyday Hewramî (16. c.) and Mewlewi Tawegozî (1800-1886) wrote their epics and poetry in Goranî dialect, especially in Hewramî subdialect. Beginning in Erdelan in the area of present-day Southern Kurdistan (Kurdistan/Iraq) their dialect eventually was written down and spread. Northern Kurdish (Kurmancî) also is used as a written language since the era of the principalitites Hakkarî (16th-19th c.) and Botan (early 14th c.-1848) in the areas of Hakkarî, Cizre and Botan in present-day Turkish Kurdistan. The most famous authors of this dialect are Elî Herîrî (1425-1495), Sheik Ehmed Cezîrî (1570-1640), known as Melay Cezîrî, and Ehmedî Xanî (1650-1707).

Under the rule of the Baban principality in present-day Northern Iraq Central Kurdish (Soranî) developed written language in the early 19th century. Famous writers of this dialect are Nalî (1800-1871), Kurdî (1812-1849) and Salim (1805-1869). After World War One the first magazines and books were published in Soranî, mainly in present-day Iraq. The Kurdish language was written and cultivated there, while it was forbidden in Iran and Turkey. Important works were for example done by: Hemdî (1876-1936), Sukrî Fezlî (1870-1926), Nurî (1896-1958), Pîremêrd (1867-1950) and Bêxûd (1878-1955). In the 30s of the 20th century writers began to modernize the Central Kurdish written language, amongst others Zêwer (1875-1948), Bextiyar Zêwer, Dildar (1918-1948) and the poets Goran (1904-1962) and Fayeq Bêkes (1905-1948). Simultaneously linguists such as Tewfîq Wehbî (1891-1986?) lexicalized the Kurdish language.

This led to (natural-)scientific terms being taken into consideration the 40s and 50s  for the first time, thereby opening the language up to a comprehensive range of applications.

The Kurdish language uses the modified Arabic script as well as the Roman alphabet. Although for the Roman-Kurdish script various systems exist and lexicologists to this day are not unanimous about the modified Arabic script.

(Feryad Fazil Omar)