Understanding the Kurdish Dialect

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The word “Kurd” (meaning “people of the green mountain) is derived from the Turkoman language. This people have been in existence since prehistoric times, dating back to more than 5000 years. A Turkoman word, kerd, is used to describe the hill village of Marmar, in modern-day Turkey. Their religion is predominantly Islamic, though they observe some aspects of Christianity, Yezidis, and Buddhists. They live primarily in the regions of Cinar and Derikkale, although a few settled in the coastal areas of Lice, Marmar, Gokova, and Bingol.

Today, the language of the kurdish peoples has been brought into disuse because of the spread of the Islam faith to the south and the west, due to political pressures. In spite of this, the kurdish languages are still spoken by the minority groups residing in the regions bordering the Islamic world. These include the Arabs, Turkish-Armenians, Circassians, and several Chechens. It is a major language in the region of the Middle East where the most significant changes have occurred, both cultural and linguistic. Even the written languages, the kurdish ones, are flourishing there.

The language of the kurdish peoples is an example of the rapid expansion and development of the Arabic language. The Arabs who migrated to the Middle East centuries ago spoke the Arabic language, while the Berber speakers who settled in Iraq decades ago spoke the Kurdish language. Because of political and social pressures, both of these languages were forced to blend together, to result in the present dialect of Middle Easterners. In fact, Arabs who speak Kurdish are much rarer than Arabs who only speak Arabic, even within the borders of Iraq and Iran. One has to mention here that the development of the Kurdish language had something to do with the Arabization of the Middle East.

It is not surprising that many Arabs with an Arab name and nationality tend to speak the Arab dialect, since they are more likely to have been subjected to Arab cultural norms and language. Similar is the case of the Assyrians living in northern Iraq who are widely known as Kurds. Unlike their neighbors, the Assyrians have not adopted the Arab language, though their history and culture suggest that they might have been able to do so. Similarly, the Turkoman people of Central Asia and the steppes of central Asia, speak an Indo-European language, though their vocabulary and culture reflect primarily Greek roots. Similarly, the Baluch of Afghanistan, speaking Turkish in addition to Arabic, show little sign of having adopted Arab dialects, though the area under the autonomous Turkish administration borders the Kurds. The same is true for the inhabitants of the Pamir Mountains in northern Iran, speaking mainly Arabic.

The fact is that until quite recently the term ‘Armenian’ did not refer to a people speaking an Arab dialect, but to those whose ancestors were dispersed over the Middle East. In recent years it has been widely used to refer to persons whose ancestors originated in southern Turkey and who later settled in a number of Middle Eastern countries including Iraq and Iran. The recent surge in the terminology used to describe the Kurdish people, both within Turkey and in the diaspora, reflects this change. However, in spite of these efforts to co-ordinate the terminology in the two nations, the emergence of the Kurdish language has paved the way for an indigenous expression to take its rightful place as the Kurdish dialect.

The rise and spread of the Kurdish language is a reflection of developments beyond the boundaries of Turkey and Iraq. It is also a consequence of the relative weakening of the Arab languages in Middle Eastern countries that have been absorbed into the mainstream vocabulary of much of North Africa and the Middle East. The language of the Kurds has spread into Arab-speaking nations like Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania, Tunisia and many others. It is now the official language of all the countries of the Middle East and is thus seen to represent a cross-cultural bond that unites Arabs and Kurds, Turkmen and Persians.

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