Latinizing the Kurdish Alphabet

             Language is quite essential. It is through language that we are able to communicate. It is what binds a group of people together and gives a nation its sense of identity. The Kurdish language is perhaps the single most important aspect of what makes us Kurds. Therefore, it is of utter importance that we develop a rich, strong, and efficient language.

            Unfortunately, the Kurdish language, at its current state, is rather weak to say the least. The Kurdish vocabulary, compared to those of other well-developed languages, is rather small and shabby. It consists of a humble number of words that have been stitched together in different orders to produce more words. Whenever I am asked for the meaning of an English word, I struggle to find a Kurdish word that actually gives the same true meaning as it English counterpart. Even if I do manage to find one, it gives only a proximate meaning to that of the English word.

            Kurdish speakers have unwittingly resorted to using various foreign words to express certain things that have been unaccounted for in the Kurdish language. As a result, the Kurdish vocabulary today is riddled with many foreign words, especially Arabic words. The late great Kurdish poet, Sherko Bekas, contributed significantly to purifying the Kurdish language. He single-handedly created at least dozens of original Kurdish words to express precise meanings and expressions in his poetry without having to resort to foreign languages.

            Another issue with the Kurdish language is that it has dozens of different dialects. There is no single universal Kurdish language spoken by all Kurds. I live in Sulaimani, and I have a hard time understanding someone from Hawler, even though both cities are really close and both supposedly speak the same Sorani dialect.  I won’t even bother with the Hawrami and Krmanji dialects, which can be classified as different languages altogether. The overwhelming number of dialects and sub-dialects present in the Kurdish language pose an enormous barrier and is a significant setback to our sense of unity as Kurds. Those of us living in Iraq have a hard time relating to the Kurds living in Turkey and Syria simply due to differences in dialect. I believe that solving this issue would be a tremendous boost for the Kurdish cause and will give us a much more unified sense of identity.

            Many of the issues that plague the Kurdish language could be at least partially solved by Latinizing the Kurdish written language; which means to replace the current Arabic alphabet with a Latin one. Latinizing our written language would give the Kurdish language a much more distinct identity, and would make it less susceptible to constantly being overshadowed by the Arabic language. I believe it also gives linguists more freedom to create new Kurdish words. There are also several discreet sounds that we use when we speak that have no equivalent letters assigned to them in the current Arabic alphabet used by the Kurdish language. The Latin alphabet, however, has specific letters to express these sounds. The short sound made by the letter “i”, for example, cannot be expressed using the Arabic alphabet.

            Experts at the Kurdish Academy of Language, a governmental non-profit based in Erbil, have already proposed a standard Latin-based alphabet, called the Kurdish Unified Alphabet, which promises to greatly strengthen the Kurdish language and put it on par with other well-developed languages. The new alphabet would also make Kurdish much easier to work with on laptops, phones, and other electronic devices. The Kurdish language is quite a headache to try and convey via the internet without having to download specific programs. That’s why many Kurds already use the Latin alphabet to communicate on the internet. Plus, the Kirmanji dialect already uses the Latin alphabet, so if we switch to Latin as well, the two biggest dialects in the Kurdish language would become closer than ever. It would be the beginning of the process of assimilating all the different dialects under one standard language.

            With no wars, a well-doing economy, and a semi-autonomous government capable of carrying out such a task, now is the best time to begin the process of standardizing the Kurdish language; starting with the replacement of the old, messy Arabic alphabet with a more modern and efficient Latin alphabet. The Kurdish Academy of Language has already done lots of work on improving the Kurdish language; it is up to the government to begin implementing them on a large scale.

By: Arez Essa

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