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daristaniSaturday 23rd of April 2005 11:29:59 PM
Learning Kurdish - Various people here seem to be interested in learning “Kurdish”, and for various reasons, but I have the impression not everyone is all that familiar with the dialect situation, so I thought I’d try to give a brief introduction so that people don’t spin their wheels on learning aspects of the language that don’t suit their needs.

Learning Kurdish tends to be a frustrating and confusing exercise, due to the dialect situation, the political situation of the Kurds in different countries, and the problem of finding good materials to learn from.

As the Kurds are split among a number of different countries, they all speak very widely differing varieties of Kurdish. There are two “main” dialects, the “northern” (or Kurmanci), and the “southern” (Sorani), but there are also lots of variations within these dialects, and other, outlying dialects, such as in the deep south of Iraqi Kurdistan or among the Fayli Kurds, that are even more different still. Then, there are related but probably not really Kurdish groups such as the Zazas or Dimilis in Turkey, as well as the speakers of Gorani/Hawramani, who often consider themselves Kurds or are considered by other Kurds to be Kurds, but who have yet another entirely divergent way of speaking. The speakers of Bahdinani, in Iraqi Kurdistan, are essentially Kurmanci speakers, but there’s a good deal of influence from both Arabic and Sorani in their dialect, so that it differs a good deal from the “standard” Kurmanci dialect.

To give just a couple of examples of the differences among the main dialects of Kurmanci and Sorani, which one book describes as being as different from one another as English and German:

“I go” in standard Kurmanci is “Ez diçim“

This is “Min deçim“ in standard Sorani, which comes across to Kurmanci speakers as “Me go”. (Kurmanci has the distinction of ez/min for I/me, but in Sorani both pronouns have become “min”.)

But in Suleymaniya, the biggest Sorani-speaking city and the center of Sorani Kurdish cultural and intellectual life, the local dialect uses “Min eçim“, dropping the d entirely.

Other examples of the differences: Nouns in Kurmanci are divided into two genders, masculine and feminine. Sorani has eliminated the gender distinction entirely. Kurmanci has a future tense, while Sorani uses the present tense to express both the present and the future. Kurmanci forms the passive mood by using the word for “come” and the infinitive of the verb: Ez tîm dîtin, I am seen, is formed like “I come to be seen”, whereas Sorani has two suffixes, -ra and –rê, which are put onto the active-voice verb forms to show the passive in the past and present, respectively. Sorani inserts subject and object pronouns inside the verbs, while these are kept separate in Kurmanci. An example:

”I see you” is “Ez te dibînim” in Kurmanci, literally, I you am-seeing. In Sorani, the “t” of “you” goes inside the verb, so the expression is “Min detbînim”, or “I am-you-seeing”. This becomes even more complicated in the past tense in Sorani

Sorani is written in a modified version of the Arabic script, while most Kurmanci is written in the Latin script.

Essentially, these “dialects” are sufficiently distinct from one another that, as a learner, it really makes more sense to treat them as two separate but related languages, and to learn one thoroughly before tackling the other, so as not to get confused between the two. While a person can learn, say, both Spanish and French, or Italian and Spanish, and benefit by the similarities between them, it really doesn’t make sense to treat them as the same language. Kurds themselves very much want to see themselves as one people, who speak different dialects of one language, but this is a very unrealistic approach for people who are not already native speakers of some variety of Kurdish.

In addition to the dialect differences cited, the fact that most Kurds live in countries where the official language is something other than Kurdish also has a tremendous impact. In Turkey, for instance, all official education is in Turkish, and Kurdish was forbidden by law until a few years ago. So most Kurds, even if they can speak Kurdish, get all their education in Turkish, and are usually pretty much illiterate in Kurdish unless they make a special concerted effort to learn to read and write it – and if they can find appropriate materials to learn it, which isn’t easy. All the technical vocabulary they know comes from Turkish, and so their Kurdish tends to fill up with a lot of Turkish vocabulary. In Iraq, the situation is a bit better now, but in years past, Arabic played a similar role as Turkish in Turkey. In Syria, again it was Arabic, while in Iran, Persian. So Kurdish has been a language used in the homes and the villages, but Kurds have had to become fluent in other languages to make their way in the wider world. These other languages have had a big impact not only on the Kurds in each individual country, but also upon the Kurdish spoken in those countries, and you have to factor this in in terms of deciding what variety you want to learn and what materials to use for it.

Finally, on materials, there hasn’t been much available until fairly recently for people to learn Kurdish, and the situation has been in some ways even worse for Kurds seeking to study their own language. You don’t find books, CDs, etc. the way you do for other languages; the ones that have been produced are often hard to find, go out of print quickly, and tend to be based on the local dialect spoken by the people who have prepared them.

My point in going on so long is to make it clear that while “learning Kurdish” is indeed possible, you have to be more specific in your own mind as to just what variety of Kurdish you are going to learn, and then choose your materials accordingly. If you have a Kurdish boyfriend or girlfriend and that’s your primary motivating factor, then you should really start with that person’s variety of Kurdish, and get materials for it, rather than confusing matters with other varieties of Kurdish. If you already know Turkish, it would make more sense to start with Kurmanci, as you will have a head start on the dialect used by Kurds from Turkey, and can also use materials written in Turkish rather than have to depend on materials in English. I have written a couple of other postings earlier regarding available materials and how to obtain them, and would be happy to provide further details or answer questions if people have them. But realistically speaking, if you want to learn Kurdish, you’re going to have to buy a good book or two and work with it, and utilize whatever chance you have to speak with Kurds who speak that variety of Kurdish. You can’t learn it via the internet the way you can with some languages, and whatever dialect of Kurdish you learn will certainly help you to “break the ice” with any Kurds you meet, but won’t equip you to speak fluently with all Kurds. Learning Kurdish is substantially more difficult than learning Spanish, but it can be done if you get suitable materials and really work at over time.

I’m sorry to go on for so long, but I hope that at least some of what I’ve said above will clarify the situation for those of you who are interested in learning Kurdish. I’ve spent a number of years learning Kurmanci, and have met lots of wonderful people in the process. It’s been intensely frustrating, but also in the end quite satisfying, and I wish the best to others on the same path.


PsycheSunday 24th of April 2005 05:21:56 AM
- Thank you do much! This information was very interesting and really got me thinking! I can see it clearly now, that the dialects are so different that I must be more specific on what I want to learn before I can even plan on how to start studying it. And by reading your post, I also found out which dialect a friend of mine is using! So thanks again :)
MahmutSunday 24th of April 2005 11:16:24 PM
- hey thank you for writing all that. I learned something from it :)


but i just have a question... do you know what the dialect they speak in Hacilaro/kelhasan is called? I mean if it has some specific name. Becuase as you say, their are so many different dialects just in kurmanji. I have been trying to learn Kurmanji because of a girl (as you guessed ;)) i talk to comes from Hacilaro. But the kind of kurmanji i learned wasn't exactly the same as the one they talked in hacilaro.

and the translation you have been giving me. Is it understandable for a Hacilaro person?


daristaniMonday 25th of April 2005 03:41:22 AM
Kelhasan/Hacilaro Kurdish - Hi! If I'm not mistaken, your girlfriend is from the Central Anatolian Kurds. Kelhasan and Hacilaro are in the Cihanbeyli district of Konya province, south of Ankara on the road between Ankara and Konya. The official name of Hacilaro is Kusca, I believe.

The Central Anatolian Kurds are sort of a Kurdish "island" surrounded by Turks. Most of the Central Anatolian Kurds speak Kurmanci, although since they have been separate from the Kurds of "Kurdistan" for a couple of centures or more, their varieties of speech differ a bit from the "standard Kurmanci" that is largely based on the dialect of Cizre/Botan which is in the Turkish/Iraqi/Syrian border. The Central Anatolian Kurds have been acttive in asserting their Kurdishness recently, publish one journal (Birnebun, which has a website), and I think another one as well entitled Veger, if I remember correctly.

In any event, the dialect spoken by most of the Kurds in Central Anatolia is a variety of Kurmanci. I'm not aware of any studies of that particular variety of Kurmanci, but there might be one somewhere (although I doubt it, as Turkey has always forbidden any research into things Kurdish.)

By the way, there was a book published in Denmark about the Kurdish immigrants specifically from Kusca village. It's entitled "Kurdiske Indvandrere", by Jan Hjarno, Sydjysk Universitetsforlag, Esbjerg, 1991.

Finally, there's an excellent Kurdish-Danish dictionary by Mesut Zilan (Kurdisk-Dansk Ordbog) which you should look for if you're learning Kurmanci in Denmark. It's in the Gyldendals Sma Rode Ordboger series, and is really very good. (It only goes Kurdish to Danish, and not vice versa.)

Best regards.
TurkmanWednesday 27th of April 2005 02:27:01 AM
Thanks to Daristani - Thank you so much for your report on Kurdish language that helps alot. I have an occassion to visit eastern Turkey over the next several years and will like to learn the thier kurdish dilect. i will be in cities like Dyarbikar and Van and others in that region. Any information you can share with me about the language and cultue i would appreciate. I am from the USA and know little about this region.
daristaniWednesday 27th of April 2005 08:55:32 PM
- Hi, Turkman!

The main Kurdish dialect spoken in "eastern Turkey" is Kurmanci, and you can look at my earlier posting on materials for learning Kurmanci for appropriate books to learn from. There are some speakers of Zazaki in and around Diyarbakir, but they are a distict minority. (Zazaki, technically probably not a dialect of Kurdish but instead a closely related Iranian language, is spoken primarily in an around Tunceli province. There are no materials to study it in English, although there are two thick reference grammars in German, and some books about it in Turkish as well.)

I don't know your purposes in traveling in the region, but you should be aware that, while most Kurds will be overjoyed - if at times bewildered - to encounter a non-Kurd who speaks any Kurdish at all, the whole question of the Kurdish language is still very much a hot issue in Turkey, and most Turks will assume that any foreigner who learns Kurdish is out to divide up the country by supporting Kurdish separatism. A Kurdish-speaking foreigner travelling in the areas you cited will almost certainly occasion "interest" from Turkish officialdom, likely be put under surveillance or brought in for questioning, etc., and local people he talks with will likewide probably be interrogated as to what he's up to. Written notes, telephone numbers, address books, etc., may be confiscated. Provocations are also a distinct possibility.

Consequently, while I don't like to discourage anyone who wants to learn Kurdish, I do feel it necessary to point out the possible drawbacks. Kurdish was outlawed in Turkey until fairly recently, and use of the language is still considered subversive or evidence of "terrorist sympathies" in and of itself by most "patriotic" Turks. So please do some reading about the area ahead of time and be alert to the sensitivities. In any event, good luck, and I'll try to answer any other questions you might have.

TurkmanTuesday 17th of May 2005 11:21:54 AM
Thanks Daristani - The information you gaveme is certainly helpful. i do not want to cause any trouble or cast suspion on myself or anyone else. i just want to be able to communicate when i visit friends. i will think about whether it would be best for me to learn kurdish or turkish.
daristaniFriday 20th of May 2005 03:54:49 AM
Turkish or Kurdish - Much as I hate to dissuade anyone from learning Kurdish, I have to say that, in both the "political" and the practical sense, you will likely have an easier time with a knowledge of Turkish. Most Kurds in Turkey, other than small children, understand it, it's far more useful outside of the Kurdish-populated areas, and you're less likely to attract unwanted attention from governmental authorities by using Turkish than Kurdish.

Kurds will certainly be impressed as hell if you speak only a few words of Kurdish, but you may well find, as I have, that in addition to being impressed they're also embarrassed at their own ability to speak Kurdish, and have to speak with you in Turkish or in English. The official assimilation effort has gone quite a long way in Turkey, and speaking Kurdish has in turn become almost more of a political statement than a practical means of communication. I'm personally much saddened by this, but just want you to have a good feel for the dynamics of the issue. In any event, good luck, and I hope you enjoy your travels!
topSaturday 28th of May 2005 09:14:37 PM
hello - i need to know some kurdish sorani sentence... in latin alfabet.. if any one knows im glad