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English, kurds, New York

Muftah.org: Kurds learn their own language

 By Nadeen Shaker / muftah.org

Turkey has long pursued a policy of assimilation vis a vis its Kurdish population. At times, this policy has taken a violent turn. Beginning in the 1970s and lasting for three decades, the state waged a brutal war against the Kurds, who make up 15 to 20 percent of the Turkish population. The fighting killed approximately 40,000 people on both sides and left an estimated 17,000 missing.

Turkey has long pursued a policy of assimilation vis a vis its Kurdish population. At times, this policy has taken a violent turn. Beginning in the 1970s and lasting for three decades, the state waged a brutal war against the Kurds, who make up 15 to 20 percent of the Turkish population. The fighting killed approximately 40,000 people on both sides and left an estimated 17,000 missing.

Turkey has long pursued a policy of assimilation vis a vis its Kurdish population. At times, this policy has taken a violent turn. Beginning in the 1970s and lasting for three decades, the state waged a brutal war against the Kurds, who make up 15 to 20 percent of the Turkish population. The fighting killed approximately 40,000 people on both sides and left an estimated 17,000 missing.

Friction between the Kurds and the Turkish government intensified throughout the 1990s. Both a food embargo and state of emergency were imposed on Kurdish cities and villages, schools were shut down, and fighting raged between Kurdish fighters and the Turkish police, military, and village guards. As a result of these and other state-driven assimilation efforts, Kurds living in Turkey lost nearly all connection to their language, which serves as one of the main signifiers of identity.

In what is likely a response to this unfortunate reality, Kurdish language classes have started to informally spring up across the globe, including in Washington D.C. and some European countries. For many heritage speakers, these classes represent a chance to shed their assimilated identities and embrace their Kurdish roots.

Barry, an American graduate student in phonology at CUNY, started the course at the university with Cevat Dargin, another student in the class. Formally called the Kurdish Language Study Circle (NYC), the first session was held in the fall semester of 2014. The class meets every Friday evening with an average of twenty students attending.

For Barry and his Kurdish students, the arrangement is a marriage of convenience. As Dargin puts it, “Barry knew the grammar, we knew the language.” The class is almost never still or quiet, with deliberations constantly taking place. Together, Barry and his students discuss accentual differences, morphological constructions, and inconspicuous word etymologies. The class moves quickly.

Because his background in the language is more technical, Barry’s knowledge of Kurdish phonetics and grammar are strong. His command of the vocabulary is less comprehensive. “I myself am not a fluent speaker of Kurdish; I have only so far advanced through this class,” Barry tells me, “I am also learning.” Sometimes, he stops the class to ask what a word means or to inquire, “Would you say it this way?”

“What does this mean?” Barry asks, as he reads off the homework sheet projected on the wall.

“How much?” is the collective answer.

Barry ventures a variation in Kurdish, then a second. There is disagreement about the second response. One student – Dargin – says, “I use the second word to say how much something means.”

“You accept that?” Barry replies.

“Yes, we use it,” Dargin says.

Uygül is debating the issue with another student. Two other students start to participate in the conversation. Barry quickly interjects, “This only shows the variety of the language.”

“It’s just very confusing,” one student says.

“I know,” Barry replies sympathetically.

Barry faces the class and makes a small speech that begins: “Part of learning the languagefully is learning what doesn’t feel natural to many of you…”

Even though students may disagree, they must settle on a way. That is the only hope for standardizing the language.

Kurdish Dialects

The Kurdish language has two standard dialects:  Kurmanji and Sorani. Kurmanji is spoken in Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Lebanon while Sorani is found in Iran and Iraq. Kurmanji, the dialect taught in the CUNY class, is not as standardized as Sorani (in Iraq, for example, there is a long publishing tradition among Kurds and a literate reading public), but is undergoing its own slow process of standardization.

Kurmanji is an endangered language, according to Kurdish linguist Michael Chyet, who I spoke with via phone. As he has written in one of his papers, in just ten years “the number of Kurmanji speakers can conceivably fall from several million to one million, and then to a few thousand, and then a few hundred.”

According to Chyet, 60 to 65 percent of Kurds speak Kurmanji. This means almost 19 million out of an estimated 25 to 35 million Kurds use the Kurmanji dialect. However, theEthnologue: Languages of the World, a catalogue of known living languages, puts the number of speakers at a lower “15 million and decreasing.”

Written Kurmanji is even more at risk than the spoken version. Most Kurdish students in the CUNY class grew up speaking the dialect in their Kurdish/Turkish bilingual homes, but never learned how to read or write the language. For them, learning Kurmanji in its written form is important.

“They have always told us that Kurdish is a spoken language,” Uygül says, “But in class, I am learning grammar and how to read and write, which is very satisfying to me.”

Uygül first came across the Kurdish script in a book she found buried in the dusty stacks of her college library in Ankara. She began to tentatively read it and found she could understand some parts, with the exception of words with letters such as W and Q, which are absent from the Turkish language. “It felt so weird,” she recalls, “I told myself: ‘this is a real language.’”

to read more visit the original article:

After Being Banned for Almost a Century, Turkey’s Kurds Are Clamoring to Learn Their Own Language

Photo credit Ergulen Toprak

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Related articles:

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Li New Yorkê perwerdeya kurdî

Dilbilimci Chyet: Kürt çocuklarına hem Kurmancî hem Soranî öğretilsin

CUNY’de ‘Navê Te Çi Ye’ gösterimi

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About Ergulen Toprak

I am a reporter based in New York. I cover stories for Turkish and Kurdish media. My articles are mostly about the Kurdish and Turkish societies in the U.S. Most of them are feature stories, interviews and opinions that related the Kurdish issue and Turkish politics. My articles are being published in different languages, Turkish, Kurdish and English. https://myreportsny.wordpress.com/ Gazeteciliğe 2000 yılında başladım. Ankara ve İstanbul'da uzun yıllar çalıştım, Diyarbakır, Erbil'de de zaman zaman bulundum. Avrupa'da da çok sayıda konferans ve gezilere katıldım. 2011 yılından beridir New York'tayım. Daha çok siyaset ağırlıklı yazıyorum. Haberlerim üç dilde, Kürtçe, Türkçe ve İngilizce olarak yayinlaniyor. Bazı haberlerimi buradan takip edebilirsiniz. https://myreportsny.com/

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