The Kurdish Language
The History Of The Kurdish Language And Litrature
A lot of archeologists agree that the first language of the Neolithic revolution is the Kurdish language – the Kurdish language and culture that began on the slopes of the Toros-Zagros mountain range.
It formed the base of all languages which have Aryan (Indo-European) roots. It is thought that from the year 9,000 BC, these languages spread not physically, but culturally, across the geography of the Indo-European region.
The Aryan language and culture developed in Upper Mesopotamia, via Kurdish society, during the fourth Ice Age from 20,000 to 15,000 BC.
According to research done in the temple of Xirabreşik in Riha, many priceless valuables and productions of the age like statues, hieroglyphical writtings, and images of animals, constructed on the temple walls, date from 12,000 BC
Kurds were first known by the name “Hurians” (a name given by the Sumerians) between 3000 and 2000 BC.
The Kurdish language has passed through these stages into the modern era:
- The Aryan Age
- The Sumerian Age
- The Hurian Age
- The Age of Avesta (Medians)
- The Old Kurdish language
- The Middle Kurdish language
- The New Kurdish language
The historical development of the Kurdish language is organized in this manner according to historical documents.
1- The Aryan Age
The system of Kurdish music and games is the most valuable and artistic culture in the Middle East. One can usually find Kurdish culture in their music and dances.
One can also see this in the observation of women, the clothes they wear, and their graceful and elegant style. Kurdish nobility originated from this era.
When we look at Kurdish stories and folklore, we notice that most of them are epic in nature, particularly heroic epics. We can see this truth in these writings such as the epics of Gilgamesh (Gilgamiş), Semîramîs, the flood of the prophet Noah, Mem and Zîn, Memê Alan, and Derwêşê Evdî.
During the innovation of these origins in the nature of the steep mountains of Kurdistan, the resistance of the Kurdish people against prolonged and torturous occupation had a long-lasting effect on history. In later periods, many documents written in the Hurian language were found. The documents that had been found in the city of Orkêş (Amûdê) and in Hittite cities bestow wide information about the Hurians.
It is said that the Hurians were the continuity of the societies that, in 6,000 BC, built Neolthic culture, the linguistic revolution, and formed the culture of Til Xelef.
From 3,000 BC, the Sumerians gave the name “Huri” – people of the mountains – to the Hurians. In other eras, Kurdish society had been called by many names, such as Kurtî, Hûrî, Mîtanî, Gotî, Sobarî, Kasîtî, Naîrî, and Media. They continued the same culture and language.
In Sumerian documents, it was clarified that when written history began, the socities with Kurdish roots played a great role in history.
Sumerians called the Kurds various names like Kurtî, Hûrî, Gotî, Naîrî, etc.
Kurtî: Kur= high place, tî= native.
Hûrî: people who live in high places.
Goti: people who take care of oxen (in Kurdish, ox = ga). Go = god. For them, oxen were the highest god.
Naîrî: people of rivers, or people who live between two rivers (Euphrates and Tigris).
It can be seen here that the Hûrî, Gotî, and Naîrî, and Sumerians often mixed with each other.
The roots of the Hurian language are Aryan. It has been certified that many of the words which have Aryan roots entered the Sumerian language - particularly the names of grains, times of the day, and agricultural tools.
The name “the ship of the desert” (camel) comes from the Semitic language, and many feminine prefixes and elements which are in the Sumerian language have been found to be derived from the same culture.
But the epics of Derwêşê Evdê come from writings of Sumerian tablets dating from 2,000 BC. The same writings can be seen in the region of Şingal, from an unknown woman called Giro, about a hero of the people. There are valuable similarities between the poems of Giro, the tablet writings of 2000 BC, and the epic of Derwêşê Evdê. There are similarities between the goddesses of Înnana Iştar and Stêrk, and the epics of Gilgamiş and Noah are similar to each other. The Hurians had an effect on Sumerian mythology.
It has been clarified throughout written history that the Kurdish culture and language is related to the agricultural and linguistic revolutions. In Mesopotamia, or Kurdistan, it took on a different identity and reached a foundational level.
After this stage, at the beginning of civilization these names such as Hurian, Gotî, Kasîtî, Mîtanî, Naîrî, and Median, etc. continued their lives. In this way the Kurdish society has affected the other societies around it. It is quite clear in the history of Herodotus that the language and culture affected the Hellenes. Its source is the Medians. The Hellenes had been very much under the effect of Medians between BC 900 and 400.
There are two meanings of the word “Arî”; the first one is fire, and the second one is earth. The word “Arî”, according to etymology, is a Kurdish word. According to historical research, the leadership of the Kurdish people developed between 12000 and 4000 BC. Therefore, the linguistic revolution that started with the matriarchy played a great role in affecting the culture of the Aryans. The leader Apo gives his opinion about this phase: “The linguistic-literary group of the Aryans, has its deep root in the side of the building the balance of language and the sense and thinking . this is related with the geographical and historical conditions. it expresses the settelment and organizing of this culture and language . Around this century, all kinds of pottery, the use of yokes and animals to plow fields, stone wheels, stone handmills, art, etc. were organized. Therefore, today the people of this region are using these cultural tools and the words to express their meaning. This enlightened the identity of the core. In the European language there are dozens of words that are being used nowadays whose sources are known. we can arrange many of these words as following,. Geo, Cih, Erd, Jin, Bira, Mur, Mirin, Sol, Neo, Nû Ga Gran Gram Meş Xweda Guda Gudea and etc.”
According to archeological research, the base of the hieroglyphical writing, dating from 12,000 BC, had been found firstly in the temple of Xirabreşk in the city of Riha.
- The Time Of The Sumerians
There are many different opinions about the origins of the Sumerians. According to some of documents, they are Semitic; some say they are Aryans, and some say they are from another race. The building of Sumer, the attacks of Semitic tribes against the Aryan culture, the physical and agicultural spread of Aryan culture in lower Mesopotamia, is the result of the synthesis of the cultures of both of these races. Civilization began with the Sumerians.
Whatever the base of the civilization which is anti-society started, but the sources of many new discoveries from the Neolithic Revolution were developed, such as hieroglyphic and nail writing. The Aryan culture and language has a great effect on the culture and nail writing of Sumerians, such as the words Kur = high, high land or regions, çiyayî+tî is the prefex of possession kurtî+kurdîê, Nuh = nû, Gil + ga + miş = gilgamiş (a big ox), etc.
In this time the nail writing consisted of 36 letters, our ancestors added 6 letters to this wrting and it became 42 letters. They developed the nail writing and used it in literature.
3 – The Age of the Hurians
This phase, started after the Aryan cultural phase and the effect of Aryan culture was clarified. According to archaeology, etymology, ethnology and anthropology, Kurds pioneered the leadership of this age. As the Leader Abdullah Ocalan says: “Aryan groups like proto-Kurds, Persians, Afghans, and Balochis took an important place in this dialogue. It is obvious that the proto-Kurdish Hurian language in particular comes from the Aryan culture and language which depends on authentic peoples. Of course, I see this truth well, the core region of the Neolithic Revolution was made with only this culture and language. The crescent region too, consists of the Toros-Zagros system and is known as the “Fertile Crescent”. In this way, one can say that the Hurians (Aryan culture and language) pioneered the Indo-European linguistic and cultural groups and solved the problems that come from its roots.
In the Babylonian age, many ancient Kurdish documents were written in the Aramaic alphabet. These documents were found in the caves of the Hewraman region of East Kurdistan. So, these Kurdish documents were found written on deerskin.
4-The AVESTA KURDISH
This Kurdish language was developed in the Median era. Under the guidance of Zoroaster, according to research, Avesta had been written with 44, 48, and 60 letters. Though it had been written in Pahlavi letters, its language is still Median. It was the first time that such a literarily rich language like this appeared in the Middle East. With the help of this rich Kurdish literature, the foundation of literature was written down – among the Persians, under the guidance of Zoroaster by the name of Zend, and among the Indians by the name of Bazend. After the ruin of the Median Empire and the death of Zoroaster, the development of literature in the Kurdish language became weak. But after the appearance of Alexander (330 BC), the language and the writing in Kurdish faced a wave of destruction. As a result of this, 17 volumes of Avesta and many other writings were destroyed.
5 – Old Kurdish
This age began with the arrival of the Greeks and continued until the arrival of Islam. In this phase, in spite of the Kurdish people writing some literary documents in Persian and Roman (Greek) letters, Kurds defended their oral literature. Their language was not effected much by foreign language, but they couldn’t create much change among their own language.
In this age, Yezidis used 31 letters. The holy books The Black Book (Mishefa Reş) and the Book of Revelation (Kitêba Cilwe) are written with these letters. Marfet and Pir Shalyar also wrote and published poetry. Their poems were usually written on animal skins.
6 - Middle Kurdish
In the year 640 AD Islam entered into Kurdistan, and the result of this was the negetive effect and control of the Arabic alphabet. This was the time of the greatest linguistic and cultural assimilation in the Kurdish society. For example, they named their children Arabic names, the traditional clothes were also changed, etc. In Kurdistan, the writings of the Islamic religion were read and written in Arabic. Under the effect of the Arabic alphabet, Kurdish writings were thrown away. In spite of the thought in Kurdish language, because the writing was in the Arabic language, the effect of the Arabic language increased more and more. By the 1600’s, half of the writings of Kurdish writers were in Arabic. For example, the anthology of Baba Tahir Hemedan, the writings of Melayê Batê, the anthology of Melayê Cizîrî, Ahmad Xanê’s Mem and Zin, etc. After Kurdistan was divided into four parts, the Arabic, Turkish and Persian languages had a effect on the Kurdish language, culture, and the history of Kurdish society. As a result of this, many Kurdish singers translated their poems from Kurdish into Turkish, Persian, and Arabic. Many Kurdish scientists wrote their writings in Turkish, Arabic and Persian.
7 - New Kurdish
The caravan of Kurdish art and literature began with the epics, stories, poems, songs, and folklore and continues until now.
The personalities like: Celal Xanim Loristan, Fatima Lariya Goristan, Mestûrê Kurdistan Sîne, Nalî Şerezorî, Hacî Qadirî Koyî, Pîremêrd, Celadet Elî Bedirxan, Mîdhat Mîqdad, Elî Bedirxan, Erebê Şemo, Qenad Kurdo, Osnan Sebrî, Cegerxwîn, Mihemad Uzun, Musa Anter, Mihemed Şêxo, Şêrgo Bêkes, etc. and a lot of other famous Kurdish wordsmiths revived Kurdish language and culture with their writings.
It is clear that in this period, the Kurdish people rose up and resisted against the politics of denial and annihilation 28 times.
One can understand the revival of Kurdish with the newspaper Kurdistan (1898), via its pioneer Celadet Bedirxan and its readers; Erebê Şemo and Qenad Kurdo. This time was an era of resistance for Kurdish language and culture. In these times, many Kurdish writers and intellectuals joined the struggle for Kurdish culture and language, and tried to develop it. Until this time, this work was done outside of the homeland, but it was mostly related with and directed by the truth of Kurds and Kurdistan.
This phase continued until the 1970s. But after the appearance of the PKK, from then on the situation changed. After the establishment of the PKK, the same work was done both outside and inside of the homeland. Under the leadership of Abdullah Ocalan, Kurdish literature that had been destroyed, assimilated, and forbidden under the Arabs, Persians, and Turks was once again revived in its natural state and pulled from among the claws of the bloodsuckers. From that time until today, many historical writings appeared. The Kurdish people who had forgotten their language began to innovate their language again and this continues until now.
As a result, like all of the history that has been recorded, the Kurdish language, which lived between 10,000 and 15,000 years on Mesopotamian soil, is the oldest and most historical language in existence. In ancient history, the Hurians, Gotians, Qasitans, Mitanians, Nairians, and Medians built natural society with this language. They innovated culture. They wrote books like Zend Avesta. From those days until now, they live on through this language.
The effect and primacy of the Arabic language is seen in the language of all Muslim nations and peoples. Thus, the effect of the Latin language is clear in the language of Christian peoples. This situation is due to the effect of religion; because the language of the mosque and the Quran is Arabic, and the language of the church is Latin. Besides this, all neighboring peoples, because of many reasons, influence each other linguistically and share words with each other. Today, it is clear that Arabic words are found in the Turkish, Kurdish, and Persian languages. Actually, all four languages share words with each other. Because Persian literature was important to Kurds, Arabs, and Turks, words from this language entered the languages of these peoples. This was a normal and natural thing.
These are the alphabets that Kurds use until today:
- Yezidi Kurdish Alphabet:This alphabet, which consists of 31 letters, has been used by Kurds for hundreds of years. It is written from right to left. Some people also call this alphabet the Ser, or secret, alphabet. The Yezidi holy religious books The Black Book (Mishefa Reş) and the Book of Revelation (Kitêba Cilwe) were written down in this alphabet.
- Arabic Kurdish Alphabet:
- Latin Kurdish Alphabet:
- Cyrillic Kurdish Alphabet:
Besides these alphabets, in the Zêw region of East Kurdistan a type of writing that done on silver plates has been found. According to researchers, this writing is Median and dates from the 8th century BC. No writings of this same type have been found in other places.
Dialects of the Kurdish Language
The Kurdish language is used in all the regions of Kurdistan; it is not used in Europe or other foreign countries. The inhabitants of this region emigrated all over the world, from East to West. Because Kurdish is spoken in a wide area, it consists of many dialects.
According to Şerefxanê Bedlîsî’s book Şerefname, Kurdish dialects, tribes and groups can be divided linguistically, traditionally, and socially into four parts:
Northern Kurmanci (Kurmanci) and Southern Kurmanci (Sorani) are the two main dialects. These two dialects are accepted because they have written literature. In recent times, the Kirmancki dialect (Dimilki-Zazaki) is slowly taking steps towards becoming a written dialect.
Kurmanci is the most widely spoken among the Kurdish dialects. This dialect is spoken everywhere where Kurds live. Most Kurmanci- and Zazaki-speaking Kurds live in North Kurdistan, except for some regions like Central Anatolia and Qerejdaxe, which are home to the Şêxbizinî. They speak in a Sorani accent. There is a lot of confusion over the dialects, because of their different names. For example, Northern Kurmanci is called “Behdini” in South Kurdistan and “Şikakî” in East Kurdistan. So, Lower Kurmanci is called “Kurmanciya Xwarê” and “Soranî”. The same confusion draws attention in terms of the Dimilki dialect. Names such as; “Kirdkî”, “Kirmanckî”, “Dimilî”, “Dêrsimkî”, etc. are used. For the Hewrami dialect the name “Gorani” is used. According to the examples above, the names that researchers agree on are names like Kurdi, Kurmaci, Kirmancki, and Kirdki. All other names are the names of tribes and regions.
Kurmanci, or Upper Kurmanci, is one of the dialects of the Kurdish language.
The Kurmanci dialect is the most used Kurdish dialect. The Kurmanci dialect is spoken in a large part of North Kurdistan, Southwest Kurdistan, the North part of the Kurdistan Region (South Kurdistan), Northeast Kurdistan, Armenia, Khorasan (Xorasan), among the Kurds of the Caucausus, Central Anatolia, and the diaspora (Europe and America).
Sorani, or Central Kurdish, is another Kurdish dialect. It is actually the name of an accent spoken near Sulaymaniyah (Silêmaniyê), but historically it was used for all of the accents of the Central Kurdish dialect. Today the Mukri accent and others are known as Sorani. All of them are written in Kurdish-Arabic letters. There are also articles written in Latin letters. Sorani is used mostly in South and East Kurdistan.
Zazaki (or Dimili, Kirdki, Gini, Kirmancki), is a dialect of Kurdish.
According to some Western philologists, Dimilki is not a dialect, but a Kurdish language itself. That is, according to them, every Kurdish dialect is itself an independent language, and one must call the Kurdish language “Kurdish languages”.
Gorani, or Hewrami, is a dialect of Kurdish. It is used in the Hewreman region.
Kirmanşani is spoken in the Kirmanşan, Loristan, Goran, and Ilam regions. It is a very similar dialect to Hewrami and Sorani. It is especially close to Leki.
Accents of Kurdish Dialects
Many accents and dialects, were formed according to creeds, locations, tribes, and religions. In this way, because they have been confused, the opinions on these dialects has changed. These accents have been named both by researchers and by the people. As a result of this, sometimes a dialect is called by many names at once. As an example; the North Kurmanci dialect is called Şikakî in East Kurdistan, Behdini in South Kurdistan, Kurmanci in North Kurdistan, and called Kirdasi or Kirmonci among the Dimili. The South Kurmanci dialect is called Mukri in East Kurdistan, and Sorani in West Kurdistan, North Kurdistan, and the Behdinan region. Among the dialects, most confusion concerns the Gorani, Lori, and Dimili accents. Some of these dialects are seen as languages themselves; some see them as dialects.
Those who don’t want to accept the Kurdish language as a language itself, call the speech of every city and every village as an accent or sometimes as a dialect. Just as there are dialects and accents in every language, they are also present in the Kurdish language. We shouldn’t forget that there is a standard in written language, but there is no standard in spoken language. Without intervention and political status, it cannot be a standard language.
In his famous writing Mem and Zin, Ahmed Khane (Ehmedê Xanî) (17th Century), divided the Kurmanci dialect into three foundational accents. Let us refer to his quote:
“Bohti and Mihemedi and Silivi
‘Some are like jewels, and some are like silver and gold.’ One can take this quote of Ahmed Khane as a base for the Kurmanci accent. In general, researchers arrange the accents of other dialects as so:
Central Kurmanci (Sorani): Sulaymani, Mukri, Sineyi.
Kurmancki (Zazaki): the Dersim accent and the Siwerege accent.”
Kemal Fuat, who worked on Kurdish language and literature, divides the Kurdish language into these accents and dialects: