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Kurdish (Kurdish: Kurdî or کوردی) is the language spoken by Kurds in western Asia. Unlike many other languages it does not have a single standardized linguistic entity with the status of an official or state language. On the contrary, it is a continuum of closely related dialects that are spoken in a large geographic area spanning several national states, in some of these states forming one, or several, regional substandards (e.g., Kurmanji in Turkey; Sorani in northern Iraq).

Today the term Kurdish language is a term used for several languages spoken by Kurds. It is concentrated mainly in parts of Iranmarker, Iraqmarker, Syriamarker and Turkeymarker.

The Kurdish languages belong to the northwestern sub-group of Iranian languages, which themselves belong to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. The languages related to Kurdish are Balochi, Gileki and Talysh, all of which belong to the north-western branch of Iranian languages. There are also transitional dialects between Southern Kurdish and the Lori and Bakhtiari dialects which are in the south-western branch of Iranian.

Origin and roots

The Kurdish language belongs to the Indo-European family. The older Hurrian language of the people inhabiting the Kurdish areas was replaced by Indo-European around 850 BCE, with the arrival of the Medes to Western Iran


Although Kurdish has a long history, little is known about Kurdish in pre-Islamic times. Among the earliest Kurdish religious texts is the Mashafa Rash/Mishefa Reş (The Black Book) the sacred book of Yazidi faith. It is considered to have been authored by Hassan bin Adi (b. 1400 AD), the great-grandnephew of the founder of the faith (Shiekh Adi), sometime in the 13th century AD. 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. From the 15th to 17th centuries, classical Kurdish poets and writers developed a literary language. The most famous 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 Romemarker in 1787 after eighteen years of missionary work among the Kurds of Amadiyahmarker.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. The Kurdish language was banned in a large portion of Kurdistan for some time. After the 1980 Turkish coup until 1991 the use of the Kurdish language was illegal in Turkey.

Current status

Today, Kurdish is an official language in Iraqmarker, while it is banned in Syriamarker, where it is forbidden to publish material in Kurdish.Before August 2002, the Turkish government placed severe restrictions on the use of Kurdish, prohibiting the language in education and broadcast media.. The Kurdish alphabet is still 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. Kurdish education in private institutions is allowed in Turkey, but there has been little demand for these courses.

In Iranmarker, though it is used in some local media and newspapers, it is not used in schools

. In 2005, 80 Iranian Kurds took part in an experiment and gained scholarships to study in Kurdish in Iraqi Kurdistanmarker .

In March 2006, Turkey allowed private television channels to begin airingprogramming 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. However, most of these restrictions on private Kurdish television channels were relaxed in September 2009.

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.” 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 controversial X, W, Q letters during broadcasting.

Other Kurdish satellite televisions are available in the Middle East and Europe.

Kurdish blogs have emerged in recent years as virtual fora where Kurdish-speaking Internet users can express themselves in their native Kurdish or in other languages.

Kurmanji Kurdish versus Sorani Kurdish

Kurdish has two standardized versions, which have been labelled 'Northern' and 'Central'. The northern version, commonly called Kurmanji, is spoken in Turkey, Syria, and the northern part of the Kurdish-speaking areas of Iraq and Iran, 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. In historical evolution terms, Kurmanji is less modified than Sorani in both phonetic and morphological structure. The Sorani group has been influenced by among other things its closer cultural proximity to the other Iranian languages including the Gorani language of Iran.

Philip G. Kreyenbroek, an expert writing in 1992, says:
:"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.. The reality is that the average Kurmanji speaker does not find it easy to communicate with the inhabitants of Suleymaniamarker or Halabjamarker.

Sorani differs on six grammatical points from Kurmanji. This appears to be a result of Gorani (Haurami) influence.
  1. The passive conjugation: the Sorani passive morpheme -r-/-ra - corresponds to -y-/-ya - in Gorani and Zaza, while Kurmanji employs the auxiliary hatin, come;
  2. a definite suffix -eke, also occurring in Zazaki;
  3. an intensifying postverb -ewe, corresponding to Kurmanji preverbal ve-;
  4. an 'open compound' construction with a suffix -e, for definite noun phrases with anepithet;
  5. the preservation of enclitic personal pronouns, which have disappeared in Kurmanji and in Zaza;
  6. a simplified izafeh 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, 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.


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


Bilabial Labio-
Apical Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyn-
Lateral 1

  1. Just as in many English dialects, the velarised lateral does not appear in the onset of a syllable. Additionally, in some dialects, the velarised lateral changes to a in women's speech.
  2. and are strongly palatalised before the high and mid front vowels ( and ) as well as the rounded high front allophone of the phoneme , closing on and .


Front Central back
high close
high open
mid close
Mid open

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

Historical phonology

OP MP Persian Kurdish Parthian Avestan Proto-Iranian
θ h h s s s
d d d z z z
ç s s s? hr θr ('s'?) *θr
s/z s/z s/z sp?/zw? sp/zw sp/zw *św/ *źw
pasā pas pas pāš paš pas-ča *pas-ča
j z z ž ž j *j, *Vč
ç z z ž ž ç * ç
duv- d- d- d- b- duu- *dw-
(h)uv- xw- x(w)- x(w)- wx- xv-, huu- *hw-
rd l, r l unclear (maybe: l, ł, r) rδ & rz rd & rz *rd & *rź
y- j- j- j- y- y- *y-
fr- fr- (hr-) for- etc. fr- fr- fr- *fr-
θw h h h? or w/v? f θw *θw
b, d, g w, y, (') w, y, (/nil) w, y, (nil) β, δ, γ b, d, g *b, *d, *g
p, t, k b, d, g, b, d, g w, h, y, (/nil) β, δ, γ p, t, k *p, *t, *k
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?
Vm -m -m -v (-w) -m -m -*m
x- x- x- k- x- x- *x-
šiyav- šaw- šaw- č- šaw- šiiu- *čyau-
w- w- b- b- w- w- *w-
ft ft ft (w)t, (ft?) ft ft *ft
xt xt xt t xt xt *xt

Indo-European linguistic comparison

Because the Kurdish language 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 (from old ES jazŭ, related to OCS azŭ)

lep,dest "Hand" dast hasta (OE lōf "fillet, band") (OHG lappo "palm (of the hand)") handflata "palm (of the hand)" lṓpa"paw, claw" lápa

jin "woman" ghenãnãmca [ghenâ] "woman" zan janay- gynēka queen (OHG quena) kvinna femina (OPruss. genna) žená "wife"

leystin(bileyzim) "to play(I play)" ley ley kardan(to jump with one foot ) réjati paizo play leich leka láigīti igratj "to play" "to jump, to spring, to play"

mezin,gewre "great" maz-, mazant mah(ī)-/mahānt- megas much ( OE mićil, myćil) (OHG mihhil) mycket "much" magnus milžinas "giant" mogúčij "powerful", "mighty" "big, great"

mêzer "headband/turban" Miθra "binding", "god name" *Miça "god name"(Old Persian) mitrah mitra "headband, turban", mir "world, peace" "to tie"

pez "sheep" pasu- "sheep, goat" boz paśu "animal" fee ( OE feoh "cattle") Vieh "cattle" "cattle" pecus "cattle" pekus "ox" "sheep"

çiya,kash "mountain" kūh, chakād "peak/summit" kakúd-, kakúbh- "peak/summit" kinn "steep mountain side" cacūmen gora "mountain" "top"

zîndu "alive" jiyan "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 žyznj "life", žyvój "living, alive"

[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" nō[scō], [co]gn[itus] žin[au]"I know" žin[oti] "to know" znatj "to know"


The bulk of the vocabulary in standard Kurdish is of Iranian origin, especially of northwestern Iranian; there are also Persian (southwestern) loanwords in Kurdish, entered mainly through poetry. A smaller number of loanwords come from Semitic, mainly Arabic, which are mostly religious terms. Yet, a smaller group of loanwords which are of Armenian, Caucasian and Turkic origins are used in standard Kurdish, besides some European words. There are also Kurdish words with no clear etymology.

Writing system

The Kurdish language uses three different writing systems. In Iran and Iraq it is written using a modified version of the Arabic alphabet (and more recently, sometimes with the Latin alphabet in Iraqi Kurdistan). In Turkey and Syria, it is written using the Latin alphabet. As an example, see the following online news portal published in Iraqi Kurdistanmarker. [6705] Also see the VOA News site in Kurdish. [6706] Kurdish in the former USSR is written with a modified Cyrillic alphabet. There is also a proposal for a unified international recognised Kurdish alphabet based on ISO-8859-1 called Yekgirtú.


Kurdish-only dictionaries

  • Wîkîferheng (Kurdish Wiktionary)
  • Husein Muhammed: Soranî Kurdish - Kurmancî Kurdish dictionary (2005)
  • Khal, Sheikh Muhammad, Ferhengî Xal (Khal Dictionary), Kamarani Press, Sulaymaniya, 3 Volumes,
Vol. I, 1960, 380 p.
Vol. II, 1964, 388 p.
Vol. III, 1976, 511 p.

Kurdish-English dictionaries

  • Rashid Karadaghi, The Azadi English-Kurdish Dictionary
  • Chyet, Michael L., Kurdish Dictionary: Kurmanji-English, Yale Language Series, U.S., 2003 (896 pages) (see )
  • 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
  • Raman : English-Kurdish (Sorani) Dictionary, Pen Press Publishers Ltd, UK, 2003, (800 pages)
  • 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
  • Rizgar, Baran (M. F. Onen), Kurdish-English/English-Kurdish (Kurmancî Dictionary) UK, 1993, 400 p. + 70 illustrations

As a main program, Iranianmarker Kurdish-speaker scholar Hamid Hassani is supposed to be preparing a Soranî Kurdish Language Corpus, consisting of one million words.

See also


  1. Encyclopaedia Iranica: Kurdish languages. accessed: 19 May 2009.
  2. Geographic distribution of Kurdish and other Iranic languages
  3. Jonh S. Guest, The Yazidis: A Study In Survival, Routledge Publishers, 1987, ISBN 0710301154, 9780710301154, 299 pp. (see pages 18, 32)
  4. Ernest R. McCarus, Kurdish Language Studies, The Middle East Journal, Published by Middle East Institute, Washington, 1960, p.325
  5. Kurdistan and Its Christians, Mirella Galetti, World Congress of Kurdish Studies, 6-9 September 2006
  6. Ross, Michael. The Volunteer (Chapter - The Road to Ankara)
  7. Repression of Kurds in Syria is widespread, Amnesty International Report, March 2005.
  8. Special Focus Cases: Leyla Zana, Prisoner of Conscience
  9. Kurdish performers banned, Appeal from International PEN
  10. The Kurdish Language and Literature, by Joyce Blau, Professor of Kurdish language and civilization at the National Institute of Oriental Language and Civilization of the University of Paris (INALCO).
  11. The language policy of Iran from State policy on the Kurdish language: the politics of status planning by Amir Hassanpour, University of Toronto
  12. Neighboring Kurds Travel to Study in Iraq
  13. Turkey to get Kurdish television
  15. Kurdish TV starts broadcasting in Turkey
  16. Additionally, Kurmanji Kurdish is spoken in North Khorasan (in northeastern Iran), and small numbers of Kurdish speakers also live in the Caucasus.
  17. Philip G. Kreyenbroek, "On the Kurdish Language", a chapter in the book The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview. The book is previewable at Google Book Search.
  18. D.N. MacKenzie, Language in Kurds & Kurdistan, Encyclopaedia of Islam.
  19. Postgate, J.N., Languages of Iraq, ancient and modern, [Iraq] : British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 2007, ISBN 9780903472210, p.139
  20. Keo - History
  21. The Kurdish Unified Alphabet
  22. Kurdish-English Dictionary - Chyet, Michael L. - Yale University Press
  23. [1]
  24. ISBN 0-7818-1071-X
  25. ISBN 1-904018-83-1
  26. ISBN 0-7818-0246-6
  27. ISBN 1-873722-05-2

External links

Religious texts

Kurdish broadcast programs

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