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كوردی, Kurdî, К'ӧрди
Spoken in Flag of Iraq.svg Iraq
Flag of Iran.svg Iran
Flag of Syria.svg Syria
Flag of Turkey.svg Turkey
Flag of Armenia.svg Armenia
Flag of Turkmenistan.svg Turkmenistan
Flag of Lebanon.svg Lebanon

(see article for full list)

Region West Asia
Total speakers
16,025,505[1] to 26 million[2]
Ranking 30
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Kurdish alphabet (modified Perso-Arabic alphabet in Iraq and Iran, Latin alphabet in Turkey and Syria, modified Cyrillic in the former USSR)
Official status
Official language in Flag of Iraq.svg Iraq status as official language alongside Arabic. Sole official language within the Kurdistan Region Flag of Kurdistan.svg
Flag of Iran.svg Iran constitutional status as a regional language.

Flag of Armenia.svg Armenia - minority language[3]

Regulated by No official regulation
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ku
ISO 639-2 kur
ISO 639-3 variously:
kur – Kurdish (generic)
ckb – Central Kurdish
kmr – Northern Kurdish
sdh – Southern Kurdish

Kurdish (Kurdish: Kurdî or کوردی) is the macrolanguage spoken by the Kurds in western Asia. Genealogically, it is part of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It has between 16 and 26 million speakers today.[4] It exists in a continuum of dialects spoken in a geographic area spanning Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and a small number of speakers in the South Caucasus.[5] The written literary output in Kurdish was confined mostly to poetry until the early 20th century, when a general written literature began to be developed. In its written form today Kurdish has two regional standards, namely Kurmanji in Turkey, and Sorani further east and south. Roughly half of Kurkish speakers live in Turkey. Written Kurdish was illegal in Turkey for most of the 20th century.[6]


Origin and roots

The Kurdish language belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of 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. [7]

Systematic comparison of significant features of Kurdish with other Iranian languages shows that Kurdish proper differs on a number of important points from what is known about Median.[8].


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[9]. From the 15th to 17th centuries, classical Kurdish poets and writers developed a literary language. The most notable 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 Rome in 1787 after eighteen years of missionary work among the Kurds of Amadiyah[10]. 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[11]. 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.[12]

Current status

Today, Kurdish is an official language in Iraq. In Syria, on the other hand, publishing material in Kurdish is forbidden.[13] Before August 2002, the Turkish government placed severe restrictions on the use of Kurdish, prohibiting the language in education and broadcast media.[14][15]. 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 Iran, though it is used in some local media and newspapers, it is not used in public schools [16] [17]. In 2005, 80 Iranian Kurds took part in an experiment and gained scholarships to study in Kurdish in Iraqi Kurdistan [18].

In March 2006, Turkey allowed private television channels to begin airing programming 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.[19] However, most of these restrictions on private Kurdish television channels were relaxed in September 2009.[20]

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.”[21] 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[22], 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.[23] 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.[23][24]

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.[24] The reality is that the average Kurmanji speaker does not find it easy to communicate with the inhabitants of Suleymania or Halabja.[25]

Sorani differs on six grammatical points from Kurmanji. This appears to be a result of Gorani (Haurami) influence.[citation needed]

  • The passive conjugation: the Sorani passive morpheme -r-/-ra - corresponds to -y-/-ya - in Gorani and Zazaki, while Kurmanji employs the auxiliary verb, come;
  • a definite suffix -eke, also occurring in Zazaki;
  • an intensifying postverb -ewe, corresponding to Kurmanji preverbal ve-;
  • an 'open compound' construction with a suffix -e, for definite noun phrases with an epithet;
  • the preservation of enclitic personal pronouns, which have disappeared in Kurmanji and in Zazaki;
  • a simplified izāfa 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.[26]


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



Bilabial Labio-
Apical Post-
Palatal Velar Uvular Pharyn-
Nasal m n ŋ
Plosive p b t d k ɡ q
Affricate t͡ʃ d͡ʒ
Fricative f v s z ʃ ʒ ç x ɣ ħ ʕ h
Lateral l ɫ1
Flap ɾ
Trill r
Approximant ʋ j
  1. Just as in many English dialects, the velarized lateral does not appear in the onset of a syllable. Additionally, in some dialects, the velarized lateral changes to a /ɾ/ in women's speech.[27]
  2. /k/ and /ɡ/ are strongly palatalized before the close and mid front vowels (/i/ and /e/) as well as the rounded high front allophone ɥ of the phoneme w, closing on /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/.[28]


Front Central Back
Close i u
Near-close ɪ[citation needed] ʊ
Mid e o
Open-mid ə
Open a

As in most modern Iranian languages, Kurdish vowels contrast in quality; they often carry a secondary length distinction that does not affect syllabic weight.[29] This distinction appears in the writing systems developed for Kurdish. The three "short" vowels are /ə/, /ɪ/, and /ʊ/ and the five long vowels are /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, and /u/.

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) *h₁eĝh₂om
lep,dest "Hand" dast hasta (OE lōf "fillet, band") (OHG lappo "palm (of the hand)") handflata "palm (of the hand)" lṓpa"paw, claw" lápa *tlāp-
jin "woman" ghenãnãmca [ghenâ] "woman" zan janay- gynēka queen (OHG quena) kvinna femina (OPruss. genna) žená "wife" *gʷenh₂-
leystin(bileyzim) "to play(I play)" ley ley kardan(to jump with one foot ) réjati paizo play leich leka láigīti igratj "to play" *(e)lAig'- "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" *meĝh₂- "big, great"
mêzer "headband/turban" Miθra "binding", "god name" *Miça "god name"(Old Persian) mitrah mitra "headband, turban", mir "world, peace" *mei- "to tie"
pez "sheep" pasu- "sheep, goat" boz paśu "animal" fee (< OE feoh "cattle") Vieh "cattle" "cattle" pecus "cattle" pekus "ox" *pek̂-u- "sheep"
çiya,kash "mountain" kūh, chakād "peak/summit" kakúd-, kakúbh- "peak/summit" kinn "steep mountain side" cacūmen gora "mountain" *kak-, *kakud- "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" *gʷih₃(u̯)-
[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" *ĝneh₃-


The bulk of the vocabulary in standard Kurdish is of Iranian origin, especially of northwestern Iranian; there are many Persian (southwestern) loanwords in Kurdish.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 Kurdistan. [2] Also see the VOA News site in Kurdish. [3] Kurdish in the former USSR is written with a modified Cyrillic alphabet. There is also a proposal for a unified international recognized Kurdish alphabet based on ISO-8859-1[30] 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 [31])
  • Abdullah, S. and Alam, K., English-Kurdish (Sorani) and Kurdish (Sorani)-English Dictionary, Star Publications / Languages of the World Publications, India, 2004 [32]
  • Awde, Nicholas, Kurdish-English/English-Kurdish Dictionary and Phrasebook, Hippocrene Books Inc., U.S., 2004 [33]
  • Raman : English-Kurdish (Sorani) Dictionary, Pen Press Publishers Ltd, UK, 2003, (800 pages) [34]
  • 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 [35]
  • Rizgar, Baran (M. F. Onen), Kurdish-English/English-Kurdish (Kurmancî Dictionary) UK, 1993, 400 p. + 70 illustrations [36]

See also


  1. ^ Ethnologue figure for Kurdish macrolanguage
  2. ^ Estimate of Kurdish speakers on
  3. ^ European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages
  4. ^ Ethnologue reports a total figure for the three varieties of Kurdish at 16,025,505. Omniglot reports an approximate figure of 26 million.
  5. ^ A Map of the Geographic Distribution of Kurdish and Iranic languages (GIF image)
  6. ^ Encyclopaedia Iranica: Kurdish languages. accessed: 19 May 2009.
  7. ^ Arnaiz-Villena, Antonio; Martiñez-Lasoa, Jorge; Alonso-Garcia, Jorge (2001), The correlation Between Languages and Genes: The usko-Mediterranean Peoples, "The correlation between languages and genes: the Usko-Mediterranean peoples", Human Immunology 62 (9): 1051–1061, doi:10.1016/S0198-8859(01)00300-7, 
  8. ^ Bruinessen, M.M. van. (1994). Kurdish nationalism and competing ethnic loyalties
  9. ^ Jonh S. Guest, The Yazidis: A Study In Survival, Routledge Publishers, 1987, ISBN 0-7103-0115-4, 9780710301154, 299 pp. (see pages 18, 32)
  10. ^ Ernest R. McCarus, Kurdish Language Studies, The Middle East Journal, Published by Middle East Institute, Washington, 1960, p.325
  11. ^ Kurdistan and Its Christians, Mirella Galetti, World Congress of Kurdish Studies, 6–9 September 2006
  12. ^ Ross, Michael. The Volunteer (Chapter - The Road to Ankara)
  13. ^ Repression of Kurds in Syria is widespread, Amnesty International Report, March 2005.
  14. ^ Special Focus Cases: Leyla Zana, Prisoner of Conscience
  15. ^ Kurdish performers banned, Appeal from International PEN
  16. ^ 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).
  17. ^ The language policy of Iran from State policy on the Kurdish language: the politics of status planning by Amir Hassanpour, University of Toronto
  18. ^ Neighboring Kurds Travel to Study in Iraq
  19. ^ Turkey to get Kurdish television
  20. ^
  21. ^ Kurdish TV starts broadcasting in Turkey
  22. ^ Additionally, Kurmanji Kurdish is spoken in North Khorasan (in northeastern Iran), and small numbers of Kurdish speakers also live in the Caucasus.
  23. ^ a b c 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.
  24. ^ a b D.N. MacKenzie, Language in Kurds & Kurdistan, Encyclopaedia of Islam.
  25. ^ Postgate, J.N., Languages of Iraq, ancient and modern, [Iraq]: British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 2007, ISBN 978-0-903472-21-0, p.139
  26. ^ Keo - History
  27. ^ McCarus, Ernest N. (1997), "Kurdish Phonology", written at Winona Lake, Indiana, in Kaye, Alan S.; Daniels, Peter T., Phonologies of Asia & Africa (Including the Caucasus), 2, EISENBRAUNS, pp. 694, ISBN 1575060175 
  28. ^ McCarus, Ernest N. (1997), "Kurdish Phonology", written at Winona Lake, Indiana, in Kaye, Alan S.; Daniels, Peter T., Phonologies of Asia & Africa (Including the Caucasus), 2, EISENBRAUNS, pp. 693, ISBN 1575060175 
  29. ^ McCarus, Ernest N. (1997), "Kurdish Phonology", written at Winona Lake, Indiana, in Kaye, Alan S.; Daniels, Peter T., Phonologies of Asia & Africa (Including the Caucasus), 2, EISENBRAUNS, pp. 696, ISBN 1575060175 
  30. ^ The Kurdish Unified Alphabet
  31. ^ Kurdish-English Dictionary - Chyet, Michael L. - Yale University Press
  32. ^ [1]
  33. ^ ISBN 0-7818-1071-X
  34. ^ ISBN 1-904018-83-1
  35. ^ ISBN 0-7818-0246-6
  36. ^ ISBN 1-873722-05-2

External links

Kurdish language edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Religious texts

Kurdish broadcast programs

Simple English

File:Kurdish Language
Areas where Kurdish is spoken as mother tongue

The Kurdish language is a language mostly spoken in a region called Kurdistan, including Kurdish populations in parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey.[1]

It belongs to the same language group as the Iranian languages. Another well-known Iranian language is Persian. It is considered an Indo-European language.



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