Friday, September 20, 2013

Language Profile: Kurdish

Today we're taking a look at Kurdish, a member of the Indo-Iranian language family with approximately 20 million native speakers in the Middle East. However, Kurdish is generally recognized not as a single standardized language, but instead as a dialect continuum. In fact, some varieties of Kurdish are so distinct that they are not even mutually intelligible.

In 2004, Kurdish gained official language status in Iraq alongside Arabic. A standardized version of the Sorani dialect is spoken there, as well as in Iran. Kurdish does not hold official status elsewhere, but is spoken by many members of the Kurdish ethnic group residing in Turkey, Iran, Syria, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

The Dicle Bridge in Diyarbakır, Turkey
is an example of Kurdish architecture.
Throughout history, Kurdish speakers have faced many obstacles. Despite its accepted use in Iraq, the language has been persecuted by various governments over the years. For example, it is illegal to publish in Kurdish in Syria.

Turkey has also had a tumultuous history with Kurdish. Use of the language was illegal throughout the 1980s, and at later dates use for educational or media purposes was heavily restricted. It does seem that these restrictions are slowly being relaxed and Kurdish is being gradually welcomed into Turkish culture. Since 2006, private television channels have been able to air programs in Kurdish, and it has also been included as an elective subject in public schools since 2012.

Unsurprisingly, Kurdish contains some loanwords from Arabic, as well as other Turkic languages. It can also be written using a few different writing systems. In Iran and Iraq, it is written using a modified Arabic alphabet. A Latin alphabet is used in Turkey, Syria, Armenia, and Iraqi Kurdistan, an autonomous region of northern Iraq. Finally, it is also written using a modified Cyrillic script in areas formerly part of the USSR.