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A Review of "Kurdish Grammar of Sulaimaniya, by Ernest N. McCarus"

D.N. MacKenzie

D. N. Mackenzie, 1959

Ernest N. McCarus: A Kurdish grammar: descriptive analysis of Kurdish of the  Sulaimaniya, Iraq. (American Council of Learned Societies. Program in Oriental Languages. Publications Series B-Aids-No. 10.) xi, 138 pp. New York: American and of Learned Societies, 1958. (European agents: Bailey Council Bros. Swinfen. 25s. 6d.) 

This work of extraordinary scholarship was first made public, on microfilm as a Ph.D. dissertation. It is the fruit of three months' field work in Iraq, undertaken in 1951, and subsequent 'filling in of the data' in Ann Arbor. Lest any reader should be misled by the imprimatur of the ACLS, or by the masterly circumlocution with which the study is presented, it is perhaps worth while listing a few shortcomings. 

The last typist (for the book is reproduced by offset lithography from a typescript) might have been blamed for the unusually high proportion of seeming misprints, were not most of them monotonously repeated, and had they not been reproduced entire from the dissertation.! 'itnografičeskiy očuk' (p. 119), with a plural 'otserku' (p. 124) [i.e, očerk, očerki], and 'Ğennant Mäla'i Gizri ' (p, 120) [genannt Mäla'i Ğizri] brighten the very full bibliography, but such gay abandon is less welcome in the body of the work. Moreover, a vocabulary of most of the words quoted in the examples now being provided, it is quite clear at whose door the errors, simple and sublime, are to be laid. They have entered' the data' at an early stage a and petrified. Of some 750 entries 18% are patently wrong. The following are but a few typical examples: 

  • brín to wound [a wound]' 
  • dərə´j degree [dərərjə´,Ar.] 
  • gobkə´ (a kind of flower) [gopkə´ a budding twig] 
  • hestín (hel-) to permit [heštín (hel-) to let, leave. NPers. hištan, hil-] 
  • išbíliyə Lisbon [Seville, Ar.]

1. The proof-reader, however, is to be thanked for the following information: 'Wahby has two special symbols and for and respectively' (p. 17, n.). 

2. Through no fault, be it said, of the author's defenceless informants, with two of whom (Messrs. Fuad Reshid and Mejid Said) the reviewer has had the pleasure of working. 

3. Hereafter correct forms and/or translations are given in square brackets, in the author's transcription to avoid confusion. All italics are the reviewer's. 

  • jə´η) noise [battle, NPers.] 
  • kláw shoe [cap, NPers. kulāh; cf. kəláš cotton shoe] 
  • krín to buy [k(i)řín]; passive (p, 19), /´əkiřré/ 'it will be sold.' [it can be bought] 
  • křín to rub [k(i)řanín to scratch, shave] malín to throw [to sweep, NPers. mālīdan] řamazán Ramadan [řəməzán, Ar.] 
  • sardá cold (noun) [sərmá or sardí] 
  • zewí ground, as contrasted with /séwi/ 'his apple' (p. 17) [zəwí, NPers. zamīn].

To make up for these casualties there are such valuable items as :

  • ciryó cheerio! (a toast) 
  • kánt straight (in poker) 
  • sinemá the movies.

With 'pulbáz [an invention, *pul + -baz] miser (p. 134), spendthrift (p, 88), stamp collector (p. 28), we seem to have a new version of the old students' joke that' every word in Arabic means itself, the exact opposite, and some part of a camel'.

We all tend to enrich a language with ghost-words in the first few weeks of our acquain¬tance with it, but to stand by such as these through seven whole years seems misplaced fidelity:

  • agadánd 'alertness' , with a morpheme '-dánd (quality or state) , (p. 88) [agadarí] buk.u .šušə´ 'toys' (' bridegroom and glass') (p. 86) [buk-ə-šušə´  'doll' (' bride (of) glass ')] 
  • həmanə´ leather [a bleached skin bag for flour, NPers. anbāna] 
  • klawrfén shoe thief [k(i)law-řifén (a wind) snatching (one's) cap] 
  • zir.brá  ' step-brother' (' tree-stump brother') (p. 84) [zir.brá (' barren brother 'J).

If the examples so far have been mainly from the vocabulary it is not because mor¬phology fares any better. The facility with which categories are created to fit single examples is breath-taking. Gá ' ox " we are told, 'shows reduplication plus addition of extra element' in its plural: gagál 'oxen' (p. 48). Alas, it merely takes a collective morpheme [-gəl], seen in [gagəl ' herd of oxen', megəl ' flock of sheep '], and a common plural sign in Southern Kurdish dialects. Again, with the exception of the verb /kužan ... əwə; kužen ... əwə I " to extinguish", all past stems show the past tenses morphemes /d/ or /t/ ' (p, 56). But all causative verbs in [-and-] (including the three quoted on p. 91), and not only [kužan(d)-]. lose the d in this dialect, a process described correctly in §2.323.(2)(b)3)b)! 

The 'izafa' is called 'the endocentric liaison morpheme /-i-/', and its function, treated under syntax, 'diagrammed thus:

head  -i- modifier '  (p.93)

There follow five miscellaneous examples. And this superficiality, veiled in verbiage, is the rule throughout. Anyone wishing to express, say, 'the black cat' in Kurdish will search in vain for a word of guidance.

Coming to the phonology, it is surely no coincidence that the ' linear phonemes', right and wrong (and in company with a number of pseudo-morphemes), should have' a one-to-one correspondence' with those found in ' the best grammar of Sulaimaniya Kurdish' the author has seen (p. 13, n. 2). Only the' non¬linear phonemes' are his own invention, as the higher degree of fantasy 'betrays. Note: 

  • (p.31) řas.trə ' is more correct' [řas.tír-ə] 
  • (p. 34) /həmánə/  'we have' [həmanə] 
  • (p.35) The subjunctive prefix /bi-/ is usually not stressed [is always stressed] 
  • (p.64) xwárdibim, etc. [xwardíbim] 
  • (p. 65) pří  kə ‘ Fill it up , [píři kə].

In the light of all this, and much more of the same sort, we may perhaps be permitted to hope that Dr. McCarus's interest in Iranian matters will deepen before it widens. 

Source: D. N. Mackenzie, Reviewe of "A Kurdish grammar: descriptive analysis of Kurdish of the  Sulaimaniya, Iraq by Ernest N. McCarus", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 22, No. 1/3 (1959), pp. 591-592


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