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Basic Linguistic Differences

Basic linguistic differences between North and Central Kurdish

A detailed survey of the linguistic features of the two dialects is beyond the scope of this dissertation, which focuses on the standardization of the Sorani dialect. Nevertheless, a brief synopsis of the basic differences between the two major dialect groups is relevant for the discussion of a number of standardization issues.

Two comparative surveys of Kurmanji and Sorani are available. MacKenzie's (1961-62) study, based on ten months of field work in Iraq in 1954, takes the dialect of Sulaymaniya (representing Sorani) and the dialect of Aqra (representing Kurmanji) as a basis for a "descriptive grammatical sketch" and describes other dialects of each group to the extent that they differ from these two. Since the author was not permitted by the 'Turkish Government to study the dialects in Turkey, MacKenzie has critically used the data collected by other students of the language to give a more comprehensive picture of dialect differentiation in all part of Kurdistan. The second major comparative study is Kurdoev's (1978) grammar based mostly on written data. It provides abundant examples and tables summarizing the main features. Nebez (1976) is a comparative survey of the two dialects written for information purposes.The features distinguishing the two dialects or sub-dialects within each group are mainly morphological. Differences on the phonological level are: (1) the Sorani /I: Í/ contrast does not appear in Kurmanji, (2) /h / found in some Sorani sub-dialects is lacking in Kurmanji, (3) the Kurmanji aspirated distinction /p, t, k - p, t, k /, probably borrowed from Armenian, is lacking in Sorani, (4) the Kurmanji. "emphatic" (i.e., velarized) consonants /s, t, z/, probably borrowed from Arabic, do not appear in Sorani (except occasionally in Sulaymaniya).

Morphological differences include, among others, (1) the definite suffix -eke appears only in Sorani, (2) the Sorani. verb suffix -ewe appears as preverb ve- in Kurmanji., (3) Sorani. pronominal suffixes -(i)m, -(i)t, etc are lacking in Kurmanji., and (4) the Kurmanji. distinction in case (normative and oblique) and gender (masculine and feminine) in nouns and pronouns is lacking in Sorani (some of these distinctions appear to a very Inflated extent in Mukri and other subdialects of S.).

A feature riot found ill Kurmanji. is Sorani's peculiar treatment of subject and object inflections in the past tenses of transitive verbs. Here, the inflectional suffixes of transitive verbs in the past tenses occur not necessarily on the verb itself (as in send+î 'took+he, he took (it)'), but rather on the first item in the clause after subject position. Thus, in the following sentences (selected from examples quoted by McCarus 1964:308) all translatable as 'He took them from us,' the subject marker appears after

a) Direct object:

ewn + î le ême  send
them + he from us took

b) Prepositional phrases:

le ême + y send + in
from us + he took + them

lê + man + î send + in
from us + he took + them

c) Verb + object suffix:

send + in + î   lê + man
took + them + he  from us

d) Preposition:

lê + y   send + in + în
from + he  took + them + us

Kurmanji. has a full oblique case system for both nouns and pronouns while Sorani has largely abandoned this system and uses the pronominal suffixes to take over the functions of the cases (MacKenzie 196la: 80).

There is no clear-cut single line dividing the two dialect groups (cf. MacKenzie 1961:220-25 for a list and chart of the major isoglosses). For example, some of the subdialects of Sorani, notably Mukri and Pishdari, share morphological features with Kurmanji. Another dialect, Surchi (Sûrçî) which straddles the Kurmanji/Sorani borderline in Iraq is Sorani in phonology and predominantly Kurmanjj in morphology (cf. Fuad 1970: xxvi-xxix, for another brief comparative sketch of the two dialects).

No empirical study of inter-dialectal mutual intelligibility has been made. Speakers of the two dialects do communicate, with difficulty, in normal conversational situations. It is, however, appropriate to state that, until they have had considerable previous contact, the speakers of Kurmanji and Sorani are not able to communicate effectively in all contexts.

This is borne out by the experience of all-Kurdistan organizations such as the Kurdish Student Society in Europe, which had members from the Kurds of Iraq, Turkey, Syria, Iran. One of the leaders of the Society, for example, noted that the seventeen present of the participated gausses in the third annual congress of KSSE in August 1958 had to use other languages besides Kurdish to fully understand each other (Rojî No, Vol. 2, No. 3, 1961:31). Likewise, the Kurdish autonomiest movement in Iraq (1961-75) used both dialects in clandestine broadcasting (cf. 7.4.6). Also, some Kurdish journals published by émigré intellectuals in Europe are bidialectal.

Source: Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan, 1918-1985, by Prof. Amir Hassanpour

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