An Ex­pat’s View on Kur­dis­tan: Lan­guage

The Kurdish Globe - - NEWS -

When it comes to learn­ing cul­ture, there’s no feat greater than that of learn­ing lan­guage; and Kur­dish is a lan­guage like no other. Its id­iomatic nu­ances, rich vo­cab­u­lary (or con­versely the lack of rich­ness sur­round­ing a topic), and vari­a­tions in di­alect teach lessons on cul­tural val­ues that can’t be learned in a book.

How­ever, the ques­tion im­me­di­ately has to be begged about which Kur­dish one wishes to learn. I’m not speak­ing only about di­alect dif­fer­ences be­tween So­rani and Be­h­dini, or about ac­cent dif­fer­ences be­tween those of dif­fer­ing tribes or from ru­ral or ur­ban set­tings. At times the most strik­ing dif­fer­ence is found be­tween older and younger gen­er­a­tions—of­ten living in the same house­hold.

Older age groups, who were ed­u­cated in Ara­bic and may have spent much of their ca­reers in­ter­act­ing in Ara­bic dur­ing the Baathist era of Iraq’s his­tory, may of­ten find them­selves scratch­ing their heads by the au­then­tic Kurdi heard on tele­vi­sion chan­nels and writ­ten in news­pa­pers. This is in stark con­trast to the up-and-com­ing gen­er­a­tion of chil­dren and young adults who of­ten don’t have any knowl­edge of Ara­bic, grow­ing up and ed­u­cated in a post-1991 Kur­dis­tan when the Kur­dish lan­guage was fi­nally given its proper place as the de facto lan­guage of the re­gion.

Strik­ing also to Kur­dish lan­guage learn­ers is the rich­ness of vo­cab­u­lary as it per­tains to fam­ily re­la­tion­ships. My head spun for a few min­utes af­ter re­al­iz­ing how many words are used for those we in English sim­ply call cousin. As one might ex­pect, this points to the im­por­tance Kurds place on fam­ily, de­sir­ing to be pre­cise even unto the fam­ily mem­bers that Western­ers of­ten con­sider too dis­tant to be im­por­tant. The same marked rich­ness is noted for do­mes­tic an­i­mals and ge­o­graph­i­cal fea­tures—un­der­stand­able given the Kurds' his­tory as agrar­ian peo­ples in­hab­it­ing a very moun­tain­ous re­gion.

The Kurds have long been in­flu­enced by the lan­guage of their con­querors and trade part­ners, which to this day is still no­tice­able in ev­ery­day lan­guage. Most preva­lently, one can eas­ily pick up Turk­ish vo­cab­u­lary within Kur­manji and Persian in­flu­ence in So­rani. At the same time, both di­alects share a sig­nif­i­cant amount of Ara­bic words, par­tic­u­larly as it per­tains to re­li­gious vo­cab­u­lary. In this way, Ara­bic words re­main at the fore­front of greet­ings and well wishes in the Kur­dis­tan re­gion, de­spite the re­nais­sance of the Kur­dish lan­guage in Iraq.

With all the com­plex­i­ties in mind, one must con­sider that learn­ing Kur­dish in Kur­dis­tan may be much eas­ier than learn­ing an­other lan­guage in an­other con­text sim­ply be­cause Kurds pride them­selves im­mensely in their lan­guage and are par­tic­u­larly im­pressed and hon­ored by any­one seek­ing to learn it—of­ten go­ing out of their way to help any strug­gling lan­guage learner. So whether you’re strug­gling to just get started with a few words or look­ing to ad­vance in your solid Kur­dish foun­da­tion, press on know­ing that learn­ing one’s lan­guage is the way into their heart.

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