Stories from Kurdistan

Connecting Words in English and Kurdish Languages

woman word map

The following piece was written by Michael Chyet, a ‘Kurdologist’ and cataloguer of the Kurdish language at the United States’ Library of Congress. Chyet has written a Kurdish-English dictionary, and offered to share his knowledge of the two languages with the Kurdish Project.

If you’re interested in learning more about Kurdish and English words, please let us know in the comments below!

Connecting Words in English and Kurdish Languages

by Michael Chyet

There are many connections between words in the English and Kurdish languages. To trace the relationships, we must look at the etymologies, or the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history.

The most common Kurdish word for woman, in both Kurmanji and Sorani dialects, is ‘jin’ [pronounced zhin — ‘j’ is pronounced as in French, like the ‘s’ in pleasure].

The Kurdish word for woman is 'jin'.

The Kurdish word for woman is ‘jin’.

‘Jin’ in Kurdish is from a root which is very well attested across the Indo-European languages. In Julius Pokorny’s dictionary of Indo-European roots (Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, first published in 1959), the reconstructed root is [gṷē̆nā-/gṷenə-/gṷenī-] which means ‘woman’.

In Sanskrit, the sacred language of Hinduism, the word for ‘woman’ is ‘jáni’; in Young Avestan, one of the earliest attested Indo-Iranian languages, it is ‘ǰaini’.

In Middle Persian (from the pre-Islamic period) the word ‘woman’ appears as ‘zan’, and in Parthian, another closely related Iranian language from the pre-Islamic period, it is attested (without vowels) as ‘jn’. Modern Persian has ‘zan’ (زن).

In Zaza, another Kurdish dialect, it is ‘cenî’ (pronounced jeh-NEE; ‘c’ is pronounced like our ‘j’ in jet); in Hawrami or Gurani, yet another Kurdish dialect, it is ‘jenî’ (pronounced zheh-NEE).

‘Woman’ in European Languages

woman word map

Etymology map connecting many languages.

In other Indo-European languages, this root is also readily apparent: Armenian has ‘kin’ (կին), pronounced ‘geen’ in Western Armenian.

Ancient Greek has ‘gynē’ (γυνή), and ‘gynaikos’ (γυναικός), which is where the English words gynecology and gynecologist come from — in Modern Greek it is yee-NEH-ka (γυναικα).

The word exists in all the Slavic languages, for example Russian ‘žená’ (жена) and Polish ‘ziona’ mean ‘wife’.

It also occurs in the Celtic languages: Irish Gaelic ‘bean’ [pronounced byAHn], where the initial gṷ- has morphed into a b-.

In the Scandinavian languages, we find Swedish ‘kvinna’ and Danish ‘kvinde’, both meaning ‘woman’; and to crown it all, these Scandinavian words are cognate with the English word queen (originally = ‘woman’)!

If you’re interested in learning more about the connections between Kurdish and English, let us know in the comments below!

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1 Comment

  • I found your article interesting, I would love to learn more, as I have developed a desire to learn Kurmanji, however I can only seem to find written sources of the subject and nothing audio. However regardless I found this article interesting.

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