photo: Eddy van Wessel


Monday, July 15, 2013

Going to an official language is the language of the Kurds. But which Kurdish dialect can we use as the language of Iraqi Kurdistan? Can we develop a Standard Kurdish?

For me, this question seems one of the utmost importance for the future Kurdish state. To unite a people you have to be able to communicate well. Iraqi Kurdistan has two main dialects which are almost languages in their own right, and a couple of smaller ones. And to complicate matters, the two main ones are written in different scripts: in the Arabic and the Latin script.

I know the issue has kept people talking for years, and I know it is drowned in politics. Yet it is too important to ignore.

In my own country, a standard Dutch language has been developed, next to the other languages and dialects. It is for official use, and everybody gets taught the standard Dutch. In the northern province of Friesland, the Frisian language is used next to the Dutch: on the traffic signs, in schools, and in literature.

The same happens in Great Britain, where Welsh and the Scottish are languages in use next to the English – although that is not quite the same as Wales is a region (and Scotland will be soon too), just like Kurdistan is.

The European Union uses English a lot, but has a number of languages of member states that can be used and will be translated for all to understand. That is costly though.

In Kurdistan, through natural development, Sorani is the biggest dialect, spoken by most people. It is now the dialect most of the official documents are written in. Not looking at political implications, it would seem only logical to make Sorani the official language of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Then the traffic signs in the Kermanji-areas can carry both languages. Books and newspapers can
still be published in Kermanji, but kids in school will have to learn the official language next to their own. Provincial and local governments can discuss in their own language, but documents have to be made available in both languages to make them accessible for the government in Erbil.

Of course, then there is the difference between the dialects of Sulaymaniya and Erbil. I come from an area with a dialect that is different from the Standard Dutch, but all official matters are handled in the standard language. In my view, what we need in Kurdistan is a commission that will discard politics and develop a standard Sorani using both dialects, which can become the official language of Iraqi Kurdistan.

We are on the way to becoming a state, so I keep hearing here in Kurdistan. A state needs an official language. So it’s time to let politics be, and let language specialists do their job.
 This blog was published in Kurdish in the daily newspaper Kurdistani Nwe

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