The New Kurdish Language Project at Manchester

Jul 19, 2015 by


Readers who followed my joint work with Martin Lewis on the Indo-European controversy (which culminated in a book recently published by Cambridge University Press) might recognize the weirdly-shaped map on the left (reproduced from Martin Lewis’s site, GeoCurrents). This “lounging rodent/galloping dino”-shaped map is the way that Bouckaert et al. (2012) mapped the territory where Kurdish is being spoken. As Lewis explains in his GeoCurrents post,

“the Kurdish polygon of Bouckaert et al. is truly peculiar, as it excludes the southern part of the Kurdish region (most of the Sorani-speaking zone) while including a western extension into mostly non-Kurdish-speaking areas. Its longer eastern “panhandle” pushes far enough to take in the Kurdish areas in northeastern Iran, but in the process includes non-Kurdish areas along the Caspian Sea and in the Alborz (Elburz) Mountains.”

Indeed, other language maps depict a very different configuration for the Kurdish-speaking territory. One of the problems is that Kurdish is not a unified language but a dialect continuum; moreover, classification of Zaza-Gorani as Kurdish is highly controversial and different sources take varying positions on this issue. The Ethnologue depicts Kurdish not in one map, but rather across maps of Iraq and Syria; there are no language maps for Turkey or Iran on the Ethnologue. Similarly, Mike Izadi depicts Kurdish-speaking areas across maps for Iraq, Syria, and Iran (there is no separate language map for Turkey), as well as in a map depicting languages of the Middle East as a whole. (Somewhat confusingly, Izadi uses different color schemes in different maps.) Additional maps of Kurdish-speaking areas can be seen in the Wikipedia article on the language. Notably Izadi’s maps of Iran and the Middle East and the Wikipedia maps show that Kurdish-speaking area in northeastern Iran that was the reason for the “lounging rodent” map.

Interested readers can glean more information about the Kurdish language, its language-genetic affiliation, sociolinguistic situation, and structural linguistic properties (such as its gender system or vowel system) from a new website “devoted to the documentation of the Kurdish language”, hosted by the University of Manchester. The international project behind the website is led by Professor Yaron Matras, a specialist in Kurdish linguistics (he is also the principle researcher behind the Romani Project, also hosted by the University of Manchester), in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Koontz-Garboden (a theoretical linguists at the University of Manchester), Dr. Salih Akin (a specialist in Kurdish linguistics at Rouen University, France), and Dr. Ergin Opengin (another Kurdish linguist, currently based at Bamberg University, Germany). Students and researchers at the universities of Mardin (Turkey), Soran and Suleimani (Iraq), and in the Kurdish regions will also take part in data collection for the project.

The goal of the project, in the researchers’ own words, is “to provide a description of some of the major differences between the dialects of Kurdish”. Although Kurds are one of the largest ethnic groups in the Middle East, there is surprisingly little descriptive or theoretical work on the language, and the new Kurdish project aims to fill that gap. Ultimately, the researchers plan “to cover major structural variants representing up to 50 origin locations”; for the moment, a successful pilot project has been conducted in which “a data collection method was developed and tested, a database prototype was developed, initial samples were collected and entered into that database”, and inter-institutional links have been establishment with three Kurdish-language departments at schools outside the UK. As the project proceeds, much more information is expected to be added to the site (sadly, the map of the Kurdish language currently posted there is rather disappointing).

Like any other language documentation project, this is an important undertaking and we wish the Kurdish Project team well!


Related Posts

Subscribe For Updates

We would love to have you back on Languages Of The World in the future. If you would like to receive updates of our newest posts, feel free to do so using any of your favorite methods below: