Kurdish Language

© Wikipedia

© Wikipedia

There are many languages spoken in the Kurdish region. Historically, Kurdish language belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family, and was developed between 4,000 and 2,000 years ago.[1]

Kurdish dialects are broken into three main groups: Northern Kurdish, Central Kurdish and Southern Kurdish.[2]

Kurmanji: Northern Kurdish

Northern Kurdish dialects, the most common of which is called Kurmanji, are spoken all over Kurdistan of Turkey, Syria, and in the Soviet Union, as well as in the extreme northern strips of Iranian and Iraqi Kurdistan (in Iraq it is known as “Behdini”). Kurmanji is spoken by slightly less than 3/4 of all Kurds (estimated at more than 15 million people), an estimated 65% of Kurds.[3] Kurmanji spoken in Turkey is written with the Latin alphabet, while Kurmanji spoken in the former Soviet Union is written with the Cyrillic alphabet.[4]

Speaking Kurmanji Kurdish in public and private was banned in Turkey from the 1920’s until 1991. It was literally illegal to speak the word “Kurd.” Therefore, there are less resources for learning Kurmanji Kurdish (which is more popular in Turkey) than the other Kurdish languages. Read more here.

Sorani: Central Kurdish Language

The Central Kurdish dialect, called Sorani, is spoken by Kurds in parts of Iraq and Iran.[5] Sorani is written with the Arabic script, and borrows the spelling of many words from Arabic, although the pronunciation differs.

Sorani, while spoken by less than 1/4 of all Kurds, is the dialect with the most well-developed literary tradition in modern times, since an educational system in Sorani Kurdish was allowed to develop, in Iraq for a time, based on the dialect of Sulaymaniyah. Until recently, the use of Kurmanji was officially banned in all but the Soviet Union.

The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) recognizes both Kurmanji and Sorani, and actively promotes linguistic diversity and rights, teaching both dialects of Kurdish, as well as Arabic, in schools. Iraqi Kurdistan is also home to Hebrew, Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Chaldean Neo-Aramaic, and Turkmani languages, spoken by their respective communities.[6]

The third group of regional dialects, Southern Kurdish, is spoken primarily in Iran and in parts of Iraq. The Southern Kurdish dialect group encompasses over nine sub-dialects.[7]

Learning Kurdish Language

Depending on where you’re traveling, you will need to decide if you should learn Kurmanji and/or Sorani. By percentage, Kurmanji is more widely spoken, but that is because it’s the main Kurdish dialect in Turkey, and there are more Kurds in Turkey. If you are traveling to Iraq or Iran, then it is likely that you will be in Sorani-Kurdish speaking areas.

Sorani is written using Arabic script, while Kurmanji is written using Latin and Cyrillic (Russian) script. For many Kurdish language learning resources, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of how to read and pronounce basic Arabic script. Some Kurmanji Kurdish is written using the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet, but most is written using Latin script.

Kurdish Audio CD’s are also be a good idea for a beginner:
More tips on learning Kurdish:
  • Start with Arabic — by learning the Arabic script, you will learn basic principles of how the language is pronounced.
  • Find a local language coach. Even if they don’t speak Kurdish, they can help set up customized language learning plans.
  • Make sure to find out if you’re going to a place where they speak Kurmanji Kurdish or Sorani Kurdish.


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