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Kurdish Language

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Kurdish Language

كوردی, Kurdî, Kurdí, Кöрди[1]
Native to Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Armenia, Azerbaijan
Ethnicity Kurds
Native speakers 20 million  (2007)
Language family
Writing system Perso-Arabic (Sorani alphabet) in Iraq and Iran; Latin (Hawar alphabet) in Turkey, Syria and Armenia
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ku
ISO 639-2 kur
ISO 639-3 kur – Laki
Linguist List
Linguasphere 58-AAA-a (North Kurdish incl. Kurmanji & Kurmanjiki) + 58-AAA-b (Central Kurdish incl. Dimli/Zaza & Gurani) + 58-AAA-c (South Kurdish incl. Kurdi)
Geographic distribution of the Kurdish language
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

The Kurdish languages (Kurdî or کوردی) are several Iranian languages spoken by the Kurds in western Asia. The Kurdish languages are not mutually intelligible unless there has been considerable prior contact between their speakers.[3] There is debate over whether the languages spoken by Kurds form a group linguistically; the four in the box at right are commonly grouped together, while the Zaza–Gorani languages are generally agreed to be more distant.

The literary output in Kurdic languages was mostly confined to poetry until the early 20th century, when a more general literature began to be developed. In its written form today, Kurdish has two regional standards, namely Kurmanji in the northern parts of the geographical region of Kurdistan, and Sorani further east and south. The second official language of Iraq, referred to simply as 'Kurdish' in political documents, is Sorani,[4][5] while the recognized minority language in Armenia is Kurmanji, which is also spoken in Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran. Another group of languages, Zaza–Gorani, is spoken by several million Kurds.[6][7][8][9] Hewrami, a dialect of Gorani, was an important literary language since the fourteenth century but was replaced by Sorani in the twentieth.[10]


The Kurdish languages belong to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family. They are generally classified as Northwestern Iranian languages, or intermediate between Northwestern and Southwestern Iranian.[11] Martin van Bruinessen notes that "Kurdish has a strong south-western Iranian element," whereas "Zaza and Gurani [...] do belong to the north-west Iranian group".[12] Ludwig Paul concludes that Kurdish seems to be a Northwestern Iranian language in origin,[13] but acknowledges that it shares many traits with Southwestern Iranian languages like Persian, apparently due to longstanding and intense historical contacts.


The present state of knowledge about Kurdish allows, at least roughly, drawing the approximate borders of the areas where the main ethnic core of the speakers of the contemporary Kurdish dialects was formed. The most argued hypothesis on the localisation of the ethnic territory of the Kurds remains D.N. Mackenzie’s theory, proposed in the early 1960s (Mackenzie 1961). Developing the ideas of P. Tedesco (1921: 255) and regarding the common phonetic isoglosses shared by Kurdish, Persian, and Baluchi, D.N. Mackenzie concluded that the speakers of these three languages may once have been in closer contact. He has tried to reconstruct the alleged Persian-Kurdish-Baluchi linguistic unity presumably in the central parts of Iran. According to Mackenzie's theory, the Persians (or Proto-Persians) occupied the province of Fars in the southwest (proceeding from the assumption that the Achaemenids spoke Persian), the Baluchis (Proto-Baluchis) inhabited the central areas of Western Iran, and the Kurds (Proto-Kurds), in the wording of G. Windfuhr (1975: 459), lived either in northwestern Luristan or in the province of Isfahan.[14] Windfuhr identified Kurdish dialects as Parthian, albeit with a Median substratum.[15]


During his stay in Damascus, historian Ibn Wahshiyya came across two books on agriculture written in Kurdish, one on the culture of the vine and the palm tree, and the other on water and the means of finding it out in unknown ground. He translated both from Kurdish into Arabic in the early 9th century AD.[16]

Among the earliest Kurdish religious texts is the Yazidi Black Book, the sacred book of Yazidi faith. It is considered to have been authored sometime in the 13th century AD by Hassan bin Adi (b. 1195 AD), the great-grandnephew of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir (d. 1162), the founder of the faith. It contains the Yazidi account of the creation of the world, the origin of man, the story of Adam and Eve and the major prohibitions of the faith.[17] From the 15th to 17th centuries, classical Kurdish poets and writers developed a literary language. The most notable classical Kurdish poets from this period were Ali Hariri, Ahmad Khani, Malaye Jaziri and Faqi Tayran.

The Italian priest Maurizio Garzoni published the first Kurdish grammar titled Grammatica e Vocabolario della Lingua Kurda in Rome in 1787 after eighteen years of missionary work among the Kurds of Amadiya.[18] This work is very important in Kurdish history as it is the first acknowledgment of the originality of the Kurdish language on a scientific base. Garzoni was given the title Father of Kurdology by later scholars.[19] The Kurdish language was banned in a large portion of Kurdistan for some time. After the 1980 Turkish coup d'état until 1991 the use of the Kurdish language was illegal in Turkey.[20]

Current status

Today, Kurdish is an official language in Iraq. In Syria, on the other hand, publishing material in Kurdish is forbidden.[21] Before August 2002, the Turkish government placed severe restrictions on the use of Kurdish, prohibiting the language in education and broadcast media.[22][23] The Kurdish alphabet is not recognized in Turkey, and the use of Kurdish names containing the letters X, W, and Q, which do not exist in the Turkish alphabet, is not allowed.[24] In 2012 Kurdish-language lessons became an elective subject in public schools; previously, Kurdish education had only been possible in private institutions.[25]

In Iran, though it is used in some local media and newspapers, it is not used in public schools.[26][27] In 2005, 80 Iranian Kurds took part in an experiment and gained scholarships to study in Kurdish in Iraqi Kurdistan.[28]

In March 2006, Turkey allowed private television channels to begin airing programming in the Kurdish language. However, the Turkish government said that they must avoid showing children's cartoons, or educational programs that teach the Kurdish language, and could broadcast only for 45 minutes a day or four hours a week.[29] However, most of these restrictions on private Kurdish television channels were relaxed in September 2009.[30] In 2010 Kurdish municipalities in the southeast decided to begin printing water bills, marriage certificates and construction and road signs, as well as emergency, social and cultural notices in Kurdish alongside Turkish. Friday sermons by Imams began to be delivered in Kurdish, and Esnaf provided Kurdish price tags.[31]

The state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) started its 24-hour Kurdish television station on 1 January 2009 with the motto “we live under the same sky.”[32] The Turkish Prime Minister sent a video message in Kurdish to the opening ceremony, which was attended by Minister of Culture and other state officials. The channel uses the X, W, Q letters during broadcasting.

Kurmanji Kurdish versus Sorani Kurdish and Kermanshahi Kurdish

Kurdish has three standardized versions, which have been labelled 'Northern', 'Central' and 'Southern'. The northern version, commonly called Kurmanji, is spoken in Turkey, Syria, and the northern part of the Kurdish-speaking areas of Iraq and Iran,[33] and it accounts for a little over three-quarters of all Kurdish speakers. The central version, commonly called Sorani, is spoken in west Iran and much of Iraqi Kurdistan.[34] The southern version, commonly called Kermanshahi, is spoken in Kermanshah province of Iran.[35]

In historical evolution terms, Kurmanji is less modified than Sorani and Kermanshahi in both phonetic and morphological structure. The Sorani group has been influenced by among other things its closer cultural proximity to the other languages spoken by Kurds in the region including the Gorani language in parts of Iranian Kurdistan and Iraqi Kurdistan.[34][36] The Kermanshahi group has been influenced by among other things its closer cultural proximity to Persian.[35]

Philip G. Kreyenbroek, an expert writing in 1992, says:[34]

Since 1932 most Kurds have used the Roman script to write Kurmanji.... Sorani is normally written in an adapted form of the Arabic script.... Reasons for describing Kurmanji and Sorani as 'dialects' of one language are their common origin and the fact that this usage reflects the sense of ethnic identity and unity among the Kurds. From a linguistic or at least a grammatical point of view, however, Kurmanji and Sorani differ as much from each other as English and German, and it would seem appropriate to refer to them as languages. For example, Sorani has neither gender nor case-endings, whereas Kurmanji has both.... Differences in vocabulary and pronunciation are not as great as between German and English, but they are still considerable.

According to Encyclopaedia of Islam, although Kurdish is not a unified language, its many dialects are interrelated and at the same time distinguishable from other Western Iranian languages. The same source classifies different Kurdish dialects as two main groups, northern and central.[36] The reality is that the average Kurmanji speaker does not find it easy to communicate with the inhabitants of Suleymania or Halabja.[37]

Sorani differs on six grammatical points from Kurmanji. This appears to be a result of Gorani (Haurami) influence.

  • The passive conjugation: the Sorani passive morpheme -r-/-ra- corresponds to -y-/-ya- in Gorani and Zazaki, while Kurmanji employs the auxiliary verb, come;
  • a definite suffix -eke, also occurring in Zazaki;
  • an intensifying postverb -ewe, corresponding to Kurmanji preverbal ve-;
  • an 'open compound' construction with a suffix -e, for definite noun phrases with an epithet;
  • the preservation of enclitic personal pronouns, which have disappeared in Kurmanji and in Zazaki;
  • a simplified izāfa system.

Some linguistic scholars assert that the term "Kurdish" has been applied extrinsically in describing the language the Kurds speak, while Kurds have used the word "Kurdish" to simply describe their ethnic or national identity and refer to their language as Kurmanji, Sorani, Hewrami, Kermanshahi, Kalhery or whatever other dialect or language they speak. Some historians have noted that it is only recently that the Kurds who speak the Sorani dialect have begun referring to their language as Kurdî, in addition to their identity, which is translated to simply mean Kurdish.[38]

Gorani Kurds, Zazaki, and Shabaki

Main articles: Gorani language and Zazaki language

Gorani is a language that appears to be distinct from Kurmanji and Sorani, but that shares vocabulary with both of the latter mentioned and some grammatical similarities with Sorani.[39] Despite the differences, the Gorani language has been classified as part of the Kurdish language.[40] This is probably due to the fact that Gorani-speakers, who are spread out across the southern and southeastern parts of Kurdistan, identify themselves as Kurds and the Gorani language is not spoken by other ethnic groups.[41] European scholars have maintained that Gorani is separate from Kurdish and that Kurdish is synonymous with the Kurmanji-language group, while ethnic Kurds maintain that Kurdish encompasses any of the unique languages or dialects spoken by Kurds and that are not spoken by neighboring ethnic groups.[42]

The Gorani language (which includes Horami) is often classified as part of the Zaza–Gorani branch of Indo-Iranian languages.[43] The Zazaki language, spoken in the northernmost parts of Kurdistan differs both grammatically and in vocabulary and is generally not understandable by Gorani speakers but it is considered related to Gorani. Almost all Zaza-speaking communities,[44] as well as speakers of another closely related language spoken in parts of Iraqi Kurdistan called Shabaki, identify themselves as ethnic Kurds.[45][46][47][48][49][50]


According to the Kurdish Academy of Language, Kurdish has the following phonemes:


Bilabial Labio-
Apical Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyn-
Plosive 3   3   2,3   2
Affricate 3  
Lateral   1
  • ^1 Just as in many English dialects, the velarized lateral does not appear in the onset of a syllable. Additionally, in some dialects, the velarized lateral // changes to a ] in women's speech.[51]
  • ^2 // and // are strongly palatalized before the close and mid front vowels (// and //) as well as the rounded high front allophone ] of the phoneme //, closing on // and //.[52]
  • ^3 In the Kurmanji dialect, a phonemic distinction is made between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops. Thus /p/ contrasts with /pʰ/, /t/ with /tʰ/, /k/ with /kʰ/, and the affricate /t͡ʃ/ with /t͡ʃʰ/. This may be an areal feature shared with languages such as Armenian.[53]


According to the Kurdish Academy of Language, vowel phonemes of Kurdish are as follows:[54][55]

Front Central Back

As in most modern Iranian languages, Kurdish vowels contrast in quality; they often carry a secondary length distinction that does not affect syllabic weight.[56] This distinction appears in the writing systems developed for Kurdish. The five "short" vowels are //, //, //, //, and //, and the four long vowels are //, //, //, and //.[54]

Historical phonology

OP MP Persian Kurdish Parthian Avestan Proto-Iranian
θ h h s s s
d d d z z z
j z z ž ž j *j, *Vč
ç z z ž ž ç
-š- -š- -š- -h-/nil -š- -š- *-š-
x- x- x- k- x- x- *x-
w- w- b- b- w- w- *w-
y- j- j- j- y- y- *y-
b, d, g w, y, (') w, y, (/nil) w, y, (nil) β, ð, ɣ b, d, g *b, *d, *g
p, t, k b, d, g, b, d, g w, h, y, (/nil) β, ð, ɣ p, t, k *p, *t, *k
Vm -m -m -v (-w) -m -m -*m
fr- fr- (hr-) for- etc. fr- fr- fr- *fr-
ç s s s? hr θr ('s'?) *θr
θw h h h? or w/v? f θw *θw
duv- d- d- d- b- duu- *dw-
s/z s/z s/z sp?/zw? sp/zw sp/zw *św/ *źw
(h)uv- xw- x(w)- x(w)- wx- xv-, huu- *hw-
rd l, r l unclear (maybe: l, ł, r) rð & rz rd & rz *rd & *rź
nd nd/nn nd n nd nd *nd
šn šn šn žn zn sn *śn
Všm, Vhm -šm, -hm -šm, -xm -v (-w) -šm, -hm -šm, -hm *šm?
ft ft ft (w)t, (ft?) ft ft *ft
xt xt xt t xt xt *xt
pasā pas pas pāš paš pas-ča *pas-ča
šiyav- šaw- šaw- č- šaw- šiiu- *čyau-
a- a- a- ha- a- a- *a-
d- -d- -d- -l- -d- -d- -*d-

Indo-European linguistic comparison

Because Kurdish is an Indo-European language, there are many words that are cognates in Kurdish and other Indo-European languages such as Avestan, Persian, Sanskrit, German, English, Norwegian, Latin and Greek. (Source: Altiranisches Wörterbuch (1904) for the first two and last six.)

Kurdish Avestan Persian Sanskrit Greek English German Swedish Latin Lithuanian Russian PIE
ez "I" äzəm [ezìm] adam [Old Persian] aham egō I (< OE ) ich jag ego ja (related to OCS azŭ) *h₁eĝh₂om
lep "hand" (OE lōf "fillet, band") to lob (OHG lappo "palm (of the hand)") labor (hand)work lṓpa "paw, claw" lápa "paw" *tlāp-
žin "woman" ghenãnãmca [ghenâ] "woman" zan janay- gynē queen (OHG quena) kvinna genus "birth, origin" (OPruss. genna) žená "wife" *gʷenh₂-
leystin (bileyzim) "to play(I play)" ley ley kardan(to jump with one foot) réjati (OE lācan "to play") leich leka láigyti *(e)leig'- "to jump, to spring, to play"
mezin, gewre "great" maz-, mazant masan (middle Persian), gošn "numerous" mah(ī)-/mahānt- megas much (< OE mićil, myćil) (OHG mihhil) mycket "much" magnus *meĝh₂- "big, great"
mêzer "headband/turban" Miθra "binding", "god name" *Miça "god name"(Old Persian) mitrah mitra "headband, turban", metat' "to sew, to tack" *mei- "to tie"
pez "sheep" pasu- "sheep, goat" paśu "animal" fee (< OE feoh "cattle") Vieh "cattle" "cattle" pecus "cattle" pekus "ox" *pek̂-u- "sheep"
çiya,kash "mountain" kūh, chakād "peak/summit" kakúd-, kakúbh- "peak/summit" kinn "steep mountain side" cacūmen *kak-, *kakud- "top"
žîyar "alive" žiyan "to live" gaêm [gaya] zend[e] "alive", zî[stan] "to live", zaideh "child" jīvati zoi "life", "live" quick quick "bright" kvick "quick" vīvus "alive", vīvō "live", vīta "life" gývas žyzn' "life", žyvój "living, alive" *gʷih₃(u̯)-
[di] [a]zan[im] "I know" zan[în] "to know" zan- [mi]dān[am] "I know", dān[estan] "to know" jān[āti] [gi]gnō[skō] know kennen kunna "to be able to", "to know" nō[scō], [co]gn[itus] žin[au]"I know" žin[oti] "to know" znat' "to know" *ĝneh₃-


Main article: Kurdish grammar


The bulk of the vocabulary in Kurdish is of Iranian origin, especially of northwestern Iranian. A considerable number of loanwords come from Semitic, mainly Arabic, which entered through Islam and historical relations with Arab tribes. Yet, a smaller group of loanwords which are of Armenian, Caucasian, and Turkic origins are used in Kurdish, besides some European words. There are also Kurdish words with no clear etymology.

Writing system

Main article: Kurdish alphabets

The Kurdish language is written using four different writing systems. In Iran and Iraq it is written using an Arabic alphabet, composed by Sa'id Kaban Sedqi. More recently, it is sometimes written with a Latin alphabet in Iraqi Kurdistan. In Turkey, Syria and Armenia, it is written using a Latin alphabet. There is a proposal for a unified international recognized Kurdish alphabet based on ISO-8859-1[57] called Yekgirtú. Kurdish in the former USSR is written with a Cyrillic alphabet. Kurdish has even been written in the Armenian alphabet in Soviet Armenia.


Kurdish-only dictionaries

  • Wîkîferheng (Kurdish )
  • Husein Muhammed: Soranî Kurdish – Kurmancî Kurdish dictionary (2005)
  • Khal, Sheikh Muhammad, Ferhengî Xal (Khal Dictionary), Kamarani Press, Sulaymaniya, 3 Volumes (1960, 1964, 1976)

Kurdish–English dictionaries

  • Dictio, online English–Kurdish dictionary
  • Rashid Karadaghi, The Azadi English–Kurdish Dictionary
  • Chyet, Michael L., Kurdish Dictionary: Kurmanji–English, Yale Language Series, U.S., 2003 (896 pages) (see[58])
  • Abdullah, S. and Alam, K., English–Kurdish (Sorani) and Kurdish (Sorani)–English Dictionary, Star Publications / Languages of the World Publications, India, 2004
  • Awde, Nicholas, Kurdish–English/English–Kurdish Dictionary and Phrasebook, Hippocrene Books Inc., U.S., 2004 ISBN 0-7818-1071-X<
  • Raman: English–Kurdish (Sorani) Dictionary, Pen Press Publishers Ltd, UK, 2003, (800 pages) ISBN 1-904018-83-1
  • Saadallah, Salah, English–Kurdish Dictionary, Avesta/Paris Kurdish Institute, Istanbul, 2000, (1477 pages)
  • Amindarov, Aziz, Kurdish–English/English–Kurdish Dictionary, Hippocrene Books Inc., U.S., 1994 ISBN 0-7818-0246-6
  • Rizgar, Baran (M. F. Onen), Kurdish–English/English–Kurdish (Kurmancî Dictionary) UK, 1993, 400 p. + 70 illustrations ISBN 1-873722-05-2

See also


External links

  • )
  • Dictio: English–Kurdish Dictionary
  • The Kurdish Institute of Paris: Language and Literature
  • Kurdish Language and Linguistics, at Encyclopedia Iranica (article written by Ludwig Paul)
  • History of Kurdish Written Literature, at Encyclopedia Iranica (article written by Philip G. Kryeenbroek)
  • Seywan Institute
  • Kurdish Institute of Istanbul
  • KAL: The Kurdish Academy of Language
  • Kurdish Language Academy in Iran
  • Kurdish Kurdish links and language information, dictionary etc.
  • DMOZ
  • Online Kurdish-English Dictionary
  • On-line Kurdish-English Dictionary
  • Online English to Kurdish to English Dictionary (By Erdal Ronahî)
  • Online Kurdish-German-Kurdish Dictionary
  • Online Kurdish-English Ferheng Dictionary
  • Online Turkish-Kurdish-Turkish Dictionary
  • Grammar of a Less Familiar Language (MIT OpenCourseWare)
  • Comparison with Arabic, Persian, and Turkish Alphabets
  • Southern kurdish phonetic
  • Gorani Influence on Central Kurdish
  • Reference Grammar with Selected Readings both for Sorani and Kurmanji written by W. M. Thackston

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