Overview of the Kurmanji Dialect
Kurmanji is a Western Iranian language, which comes from the Indo-Iranian language family, which makes it an Indo-European language. Other Western Iranian languages include Sorani, and Gorani (these are other Kurdish languages as well).
Who Speaks Kurmanji?
Spoken by 60% of all ethnic Kurds, Kurmanji is the most widely spoken dialect (some consider it its own language with a set of mutually intelligible dialects) of the Kurdish people. There are even some estimates claim it to be spoken by as many as 80% of the Kurdish population.
Kurmanji (Kurmancî) is also referred to as Northern Kurdish as it is the primary dialect spoken in eastern and south eastern Turkey, which constitutes the northern portion of the Kurdish diaspora.
The below image indicates the approximate Kurdish diaspora.
What is the Kurmanji Alphabet?
Kurmanji is primarily written in the Latin alphabet. Of course, it has its differences and native English speakers would probably struggle to decipher not only the meaning but the pronunciation of words which we’ll cover later.
The Latin alphabet was made popular by the linguist Celadet Bedir Khan who wrote one of the first complete grammar books of the Kurmanji language and utilizing the Latin alphabet instead of the Cyrillic & Arabic scripts.
While many Kurmanji natives will utilize the Latin alphabet, there has been no standard alphabet amongst the Kurdish people (given that they don’t have an official country). So it’s not uncommon to see Kurmanji being written in the Cyrillic and Arabic scripts. Some Kurdish languages, albeit not Kurmanji, can be seen written using the old Yazidi script.
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History of the Kurds
As with any other language overview, it’s important to cover the history of the people before moving on to the linguistics. Although there isn’t much available in regards to the origin of the Kurdish people, we do know a few things…
Natives to the Southeast Anatolia Mountains
There is evidence to support the idea that the Kurdish ancestors have been natives to the mountainous landscape of the Anatolia mountains, particularly the southeastern region, since 1,000 B.C (way earlier than the first Turks to settle in the Anatolia region).
These tribes were successors of the Lullubi and Carduchi who came from what is roughly modern day Iran.
It is in these mountain ranges that the Kurdish language, or set of dialects, emerged and with that, over the course of hundreds of years, evolved into the modern tongues we know such as Kurmanji.
The Ayyubid Period and An-Nasir Salah ad-Din (Saladin)
It’s believed that Saladin, the first ruler of the Ayyubid Dynasty (born around 1137 A.D.) had Kurdish blood. His blood and Kurdish ancestry is the reason for his popularity amongst Kurdish people and their culture.
He was noted for giving forms of self-governance and chieftainships to the modern day Kurdish diaspora.
However, this form of government was not to last very long. After his death in 1193 A.D. his son took power, but he too shortly died (hunting accident) in 1198 A.D. After a few successors, the dynasty ultimately came to decline in the early and middle parts of the 13th century A.D. This decline gave a clear path for the much larger neighbors such as the Persians and Ottomans to invade and conquer the Kurds.
Many pinpoint this period of ruling to be the catalyst for the spread of Islam into Kurdish society.
Ottoman Rule and Kurdish Rebellions
During the 16th and 17th century, the Ottomans ruled over the Kurdish people and displaced many to present day Azerbaijan. During their rule there were many uprisings, not just by Kurds but also Armenians and other small ethnic groups in the surrounding Anatolia region. The most famous revolt, at least for the Kurds, is the Janpulat Revolt.
Nearly 100 years before the Ottomans took Syria, the Janpulat clan had rule over the northern Syrian region. And like most ‘subjects’ of the time, they were unhappy with the status of ‘subject’ so the clan led a revolt against Ottoman rule.
During the end of the 19th century, Kurdish nationalism began to strengthen, and following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, this sense of identity began to ignite. In 1927 the Kurds proclaimed an independent state called the Republic of Ararat. However in 1930, the Turkish military conquered this republic and the state was demolished.
The Linguistics of the Kurmanji Language
With some history out of the way, let’s turn our attention to the language itself.
Alphabet and Phonology
Below you will find the Kurmanji alphabet written in the Latin alphabet.
Notice the letters that do not appear obvious to English speakers:
|Ç||(ch) as in ‘chair’||Çar (four)|
|Ê||(ee/ey) as in the Canadian ‘eh’||Êzing (firewood)|
|Î||(ee slightly raised) as in ‘beatle’||Îsot (pepper)|
|Ş||(sh) as in ‘sheet’||Şeş (six)|
|Û||(oo) as in ‘boot’||Ûtî (clothing iron)|
Basic Phrases in Kurmanji
Let’s turn our attention to some phrases in Kurmanji. Many phrases will overlap with those from Sorani and other Kurdish languages. The phrases below are taken from various phrase books found across the internet. If you believe there is a mistake, please contact us and let us know!
|Rojbash||Good day/Hello (formal)|
|Tu chawa ye?||How are you? (formal, sing.)|
|Hazim lê ye||I like it|
|Lelay rastewe||To the right|
|My name is…||Navé min … e|
|I understand||Ez fem dikem (formal)|
|Ez dixwazim bixweim||I want to eat|
|Saet çend e?||What time is it?|
A Quick Overview of Kurmanji Grammar
Kurmanji grammar is quite complex and intricate, especially to us English speakers. However, here are a few simplified notes on the grammar structure of this unique language…
Kurmanji nouns can fall into the following four cases: nominative, oblique, vocative, and construct. We’ve talked about the nominative and vocative cases in our Lithuanian language summary but we have not yet touched upon the construct and oblique cases.
Construct – This is more of a linguistic ‘state’ than a case. Although linguistics will debate on this topic. Simply put, constructs allow the speaker to take two nouns and morph/combine them to create a new noun. This is type of linguistic phenomena is shown in Hebrew.
Oblique – This case is also found in languages like Hindi. In English we commonly refer to this as the objective case. This is when the noun is the object of a verb. For instance “the mail came to ME” (me is the object). However, this is different from “I got the mail”
Kurmanji nouns are also either masculine or feminine. This will dictate how the words are written and pronounced. Keep in mind that words borrowed from their Arab neighbors do not exactly translate in gender. For instance the word “Kitêb” in Kurmanji is a feminine noun, however the same word (Kitaab) in Arabic is a masculine noun. So keep this in mind when studying Kurmanji.
Best Resources to Learn Kurmanji
Check out our article “6 Books to Help You Master Kurmanji” to find the best books to learn this difficult language!
If you’re looking to learn Kurmanji you may find the following resources to be of great use:
- Kurmanji Kurdish – A Reference Grammar with Selected Readings
- A Basic Course in Modern Kurmanji
- Compact Kurdish – Kurmanji
- The Basics of Kurmanji – Behdini Grammar
- Ferhenga Biruski – English to Kurmanji Dictionary
- Kurdish – English Vocabulary (PDF)
As always, please be sure to share this article with your friends and family to show your support for these lesser known languages.