The Identity of Hewrami Speakers

The Identity of Hewrami Speakers

Reflections on the Theory and Ideology of Comparative Philology

The European authorities generally maintain that Gorani [Hewrami] 
is not Kurdish and that the people who speak it are not Kurds; but 
the people themselves feel themselves as Kurds in every way. 
(Edmonds 1957:10)

Reflections on the Theory and Ideology of Comparative Philology

The European authorities generally maintain that Gorani [Hewrami] 
is not Kurdish and that the people who speak it are not Kurds; but 
the people themselves feel themselves as Kurds in every way. 
(Edmonds 1957:10)

This observation by C.J. Edmonds, a European who was quite familiar with the language, culture and politics of the Kurds, has become a cliché of Kurdish studies. Until the 1960s, however, few Kurds know about the European constructions of the genealogy of Gorani or, as many Kurds call it, Hewrami. For one thing, the Western literature on the Kurdish language was generally not available in Kurdistan. Another limitation was the ban on debating Kurdish issues especially in Turkey, Iran, and Syria. When Kurdish intellectuals gradually learned about the identification of “Gorani” as a non-Kurdish speech, the response was, generally, resentment and resistance. Such a spirit pervades the publication, in this volume, of the manuscript of “Gorani” poems acquired by the British Museum in the mid-nineteenth century. The editor of the book, Anwar Soltani, unequivocally treats the Hewrami poems as genuine Kurdish literature.

Although European or Western1 claims that Hewrami is not Kurdish are rooted in “scholarly” or academic traditions of historical and comparative philology, they cannot be, like all other knowledge forms, but social constructions. Thus, far from being objective, they are influenced by the political, ideological, epistemological, and cultural contexts in which academic disciplines emerge and live. Moreover, under the political conditions of Kurdistan, almost any claim, by Kurds and non-Kurds, on the status of the language acquires a political dimension. This is in part because the Kurds today are a stateless nation subjected to harsh measures of linguicide and ethnocide (see, e.g., Skutnabb-Kangas and Bucak 1994). One justification for the assimilation of the Kurds in Turkey, Iran and Syria has been the official denial of a single Kurdish language. The ideologists of Middle Eastern states reduce Kurdish to a conglomerate of unrelated dialects obscurely mixed with Turkish, Persian or Arabic. Even when Kurdish is considered a “purer form of Persian,” it still remains a dialect of this language without any right to official status as a medium of administration or education. To many Kurdish nationalists, genealogies which assign Hewrami, Dimili (Zaza) or, for that matter, Luri, a non-Kurdish identity serve the interests of the Middle Eastern states.

Kurdish Constructions of their Language Genealogy. The first history of Kurdistan, Sharaf-nameh, composed by a Kurdish prince in 1597, identified the Gorans as one of the four constituting elements of the Kurdish people, which are different in “language and manners” (Chèref-ou’ddîne 1870:27). Three centuries later, Haji Qadiri Koyi (1817?-1898), in one of his poems extolling the great literary figures of Kurdistan, did not hesitate to include Hewrami poets among them (Koyi 1986:219-27). During the twentieth century, Hewrami poetry has been indisputably presented as Kurdish literature in both the print and broadcast media.

Written sources aside, neither the speakers of Hawrami nor their neighbouring speakers of Central (Sorani) and Southern Kurdish have ever doubted the Kurdish identity of the people and their dialect and culture. Many Sorani speakers do, in fact, regard Hewrami as a purer and older form of Kurdish. It is important to emphasize that this indigenous construction of Kurdish language genealogy was not based on any grammatical or structural analysis of the dialects concerned. It was, rather, rooted in the lived experience of speech communities that have communicated mostly through the oral, rather than written, medium.

Western Constructions of Hewrami Genealogy. The non-Kurdish identity of Hewrami was first problematized by European philologists in the nineteenth century. An early major Western work on Hewrami was apparently the short grammatical survey of the dialect written by Rieu in his Catalogue of the Persian Manuscripts in the British Museum (1881). This pioneering work compared Hewrami (called the “Guran dialect” by the author) with Persian and classed it, without hesitation, as a Persian dialect. Interestingly, Rieu, “Keeper of the Oriental MSS.” in the British Museum, noted that C.J. Rich, the buyer of one of the Hewrami manuscripts, had identified the work as Kurdish: “Two poems in the Guran dialect of the Courdish Language; purchased at Sine, August 1820.” Rieu added, however, that “[A]lthough spoken in Kurdistan, the dialect is essentially Persian. In its vocabulary and grammatical structure it agrees in the main with the language of Iran, from which it differs, however, by certain phonetical changes, by its verbal inflexions, its prepositions, and some other peculiar words” (Rieu 1881:728). Using Persian grammar as a touchstone, Rieu recorded Hewrami phonetic and morphological features as variations or transformations of their Persian counterparts. Almost all the brief grammatical descriptions are stated in the following ideologically slanted rules, in which Persian is the standard and Hewrami its dialectal deviation or derivation (Ibid., pp. 729, 730):

Persian /gh/ is often replaced by /kh/, as in /dagh/ ‘burn’ (/dakh/..
Most Persian words beginning with /khu/have in Guran a /w/ alone…
The Guran word has still less declension than Persian…
The past adds, as in Persian, u or a to the root…
In a few words /l/ appears to have taken the place of Persian /r/ …

It is remarkable that, more than a century later, the construction of Hewrami genealogy by Western linguists was no more than a reiteration of Rieu, which MacKenzie (1965:255) assessed as a “masterly grammatical sketch.”2

Unlike Major E.B. Soane, another contributor to Hewrami studies, Rieu had not experienced the linguistic and cultural life of Hewrami and its neighbouring communities. Much like Rieu, however, Soane declared categorically in 1921 that Hewrami was a non-Kurdish language, a “Persian variant”:

The Gûrânî language itself has been termed a Kurdish dialect. It is, however, not so at all. Kurmânjî has its characteristic grammatical forms, vocabulary, and idiom which have nothing in common with Gûrânî. The latter, however, shows in its grammatical forms that it is but a Persian variant, long separated from the mother tongue, and having borrowed widely in more recent times both from Kurmânjî and from Persian. It is the most northerly of the group of Persian dialects represented by Luristân and comes very close to the Lur languages of extreme northern Luristân. At the same time it is the least affected by later Modern Persian, or else split earlier from the original mother tongue (Soane 1921:59).

Soane was writing these words in Sulemani (Sulaymaniyah) while working on a photographic reproduction of the British Museum manuscript of Hewrami poems published in this volume. At the time, he was an official of the British Mandate over Iraq. Before his assignment to Kurdistan during the last stages of the First World War, Soane had lived in Kirmashan (Kirmanshah) where he learned Kurdish. In 1907, he disguised himself as a Persian merchant and travelled to Halabja, a small town close to the foothills of the Hewraman mountains. There, he became the scribe of Adila Khan, whose court was a centre of Kurdish literature in both Hewrami and Sorani Kurdish (see Edmonds 1957:139-182, on life in Halabja and Hewraman). The story is narrated in his To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan in Disguise (Soane 1912; 1926). Having lived at Halabja for at least six months, he had not depicted a Hewrami identity problem or an ethno-linguitic conflict in the mixed Sorani-Hewrami environment. In fact, the two sons of Adila Khan, Tahir Beg and Ahmed Mukhtar Beg, who were in close contact with Soane, composed poetry in both Hewrami and Sorani (Tahir Beg 1966).

Next came Vladmir Minorsky, a diplomat and a brilliant scholar who made significant contributions to the study of Kurdish history. He, too, was quite certain, in his major work on “The Guran,” about the identity of Hewrami: “That Gûrânî is very distinct from Kurdish there cannot be any doubt…” (1943:88-89). Like other students of Kurdish society, he was familiar with the inseparability, in the minds of the native speakers, of Hewrami and Kurdish. Still, he tried to correct those who use the two names interchangeably. He wrote, for instance:

In prose we know only the religious tracts of the Ahl-i Haqq. The copy of their religious book Saranjâm, of which in 1911 I published a Russian translation, is in Persian… Hâjjî Ni’mat-all âh, author of the Firq ân al-akhbâr, says that he wrote in “Kurdish” a Ris â la-yi tahqîq, and by “Kurdish” he most probably means Gûrânî, for elsewhere (p. 3) he writes that “Kurdish” was the language (zabâ n-i z â hirî) of Sultan Soh âk, whom we know to have spoken Gûrânî. The “Kurdish” quotations in the Firqân prove also to be in Gûrânî (Ibid, p. 89).

Elsewhere, he notes that “[T]he same MS. contains a “Kurdish” (i.e. Gûrânî ) alphabet in 20 verses” (p. 92, note 4).

The most important refinement of Rieu’s discovery can be found in the work of D.N. MacKenzie who, since the 1960s, has emphasized the non-Kurdish character of Hewrami. His Kurdish Dialect Studies, a comparative and descriptive survey of the Northern (Kurmanji) and Central (Sorani) dialects, is based on field work in Iraqi Kurdistan. Although an excellent descriptive study, it has been criticized by some descriptive linguists for its preoccupation with philological considerations (Paper 1962; McCarus 1964). While other philologists generally mention, at least in passing, the Hewrami speakers’ self-identification as Kurds, MacKenzie consistently rejects it as an error. For instance, in his very brief note on the “Iranian dialects” spoken in Iraq, he wrote: “Two other Iranian languages, often erroneously classed as Kurdish, are Gûrânî and Lurî ” (MacKenzie 1971:1261).

MacKenzie’s major work on the genealogy of Kurdish (1961a) is summarized in his article on Kurdish in The Encyclopaedia of Islam, where he denies the existence of a single Kurdish language:

The many forms of speech known to outsiders as Kurdish do not constitute a single, unified language. Instead it can be said that the various Kurdish dialects, which are clearly interrelated and at the same time distinguishable from neighbouring but more distantly Western Iranian languages, fall into three main groups (MacKenzie 1986:479).3

Underlying this statement we find a view of language as a (dialectally) unified speech, and a strong comparativist bias (to qualify as a language, Kurdish must be clearly distinguishable from other “Iranian languages”). After presenting a geographical distribution of the northern, central and southern dialects, and identifying Hewrami as a “non-Kurdish speech,” MacKenzie presents the dialects in historical-comparativist terms. A few examples will suffice.

Northern Kurdish is more archaic than the other dialects in both its phonetic and morphological structure, and it may be inferred that the greater development of the Central and Southern dialects has been caused by their closer contact with other (Iranian) languages… The common “Iranian” inventory of Northern Kurdish is: a i u, â î ô û, … In Central and Southern Kurdish the distinction between v and w is lost, in favour of w. A new distinction is made, however, between palatal l and velarized l (Í)… (Ibid.).

What makes a “form of speech” Kurdish? According to MacKenzie, “historical sound change” is the main distinguishing feature:

There is no single early historical sound change which characterises Kurdish but a combination of two later changes and one conservative feature serves to identify a dialect as Kurdish, viz. (i) -m-, -$m-, -xm- > -v- (-w-), e.g. nâv/w “name”, P[ersian] nâm; çâv/w “eye”, P çašm; tov/w “seed”, P tuxm; (ii) Iranian initial x- > k-, e.g. kar “donkey”, P xar; kânî “spring, source”, P xânî; ki^rîn “to buy”, P xarîdan; (iii) Ir çy- > ç (other West. Ir. > s-), e.g. çûn “to go”, P $udan (Ibid).4

Even if we accept “historical sound changes” as relevant indicators of Kurdishness, one may ask if these three features are adequate yardsticks. In his more detailed study of the features, MacKenzie (1961a:72) writes:

In short, apart from this ç -, and the treatment of -$m and -xm, I can find no feature which is both common to all the dialects of Kurdish and unmatched outside them. To isolate Kurdish convincingly, therefore, would seem to entail comparing it with at least each West Ir. dialect, listing the common and divergent features. For practical purposes, however, taking Kurdish as ‘that which is generally recognized, by Iranists, as Kurdish’, it is necessary to consider for comparison only its immediate neighbours, past and present.

When the comparison is done (mostly for Central and Northern dialects), he finds out that Kurdish does not lend itself to a neat genetic classification. MacKenzie admits that “every feature of Kd. has its counterpart in at least one other Ir. dialect” (p. 70). It seems, therefore, that if Kurdish dialects do not fit the phonetic spaces created by comparative reconstructionists, they cannot belong to the same language. Not surprisingly, MacKenzie identifies Zaza and Hewrami as non-Kurdish languages, and argues that the remaining dialects “do not constitute a single, unified language” (1986:479). He has also looked at the non-linguistic, i.e. historical and geographical, evidence, which to a large extent corroborates his genealogy. This is Minorsky’s hypothesis of a Gorani and Zaza migration from the Caspian regions of Gilan to Kurdistan (MacKenzie 1989; 1961a:86).

Resentment and Resistance. The most detailed linguistic counter argument was offered by Hewramani (1981), who rejected the historical and linguistic accounts of Soane, Minorsky, MacKenzie and others. By the mid-1990s, many researchers referred to the controversy and, quite often, decisively rejected the philological account (see, e.g., the Kurdish version of Muhemmed’s 1990 doctoral dissertation). The Kurdish cultural and literary journals also cover the debates on the status of Hewrami, Zaza and Luri extensively. Part of this effort is the translation of some of the academic research which treats Hewrami as Kurdish, e.g., Osip [Yusupova] (1990) and Smîrnova and Eyûbî (1989). Another instance of resistance is the publication, as genuine Kurdish literature, of this volume, which is based on one of the manuscripts Rieu identified as the Gorani dialect of Persian.

The case of Dimili is more complicated than Hewrami. The formation of identity (cultural, linguistic, political, gender, etc.) is a complex and ever changing process of social and historical development. For instance, under the conditions of political conflict since the 1980s, some Dimili speaking intellectuals have formed a non-Kurdish ethnic and linguistic awareness. This is best seen in the active Dimili publishing and cultural effort, especially in Europe. Although the number of activists is not significant, the development and the struggle is important. To the disappointment of many Kurds, including Dimili intellectuals, there is, thus, some resistance to the Kurdish nationalist construction of a unified nation based on a single language.

One relevant question is the political role of linguistics, which enjoys the credibility of the academy and the authority of a science. The philologists’ position on Hewrami was, for example, consciously used by the Pahlavi regime in the 1960s and 1970s for the denial of the language rights of the Kurds (Hassanpour 1992:287-88).

According to Todd (1985:vi), “Dimili speakers today consider themselves to be Kurds and resent scholarly conclusions which indicate that their language is not Kurdish. Speakers of Dimili are Kurds psychologically, socially, culturally, economically, and politically.”5 Leezenberg (1993:13) notes that the “growing acquaintance with the work of Western authors seems to have been instrumental in the rise of a specifically Zaza nationalism among educated expatriates in recent years.” Obviously, no one can predict how a ceratin body of knowledge will be used. However, it is not difficult to discern from the Hewrami case that the kind of knowledge in which the expert does not exercise a monopoly of power is more likely to meet the requirements of democratic scholarship. A discipline of linguistics which treats the speakers’ knowledge as valid or relevant as the linguist’s judgment would probably be less likely to be used against the wishes of the speakers.6

In our times, the upsurge of nationalism among the Kurds is an important factor behind rejections of the philologists’ genealogies. Nationalists in Kurdistan, as elsewhere in the world, envision their people as a linguistically, culturally, ideologically and politically united entity. This nationalism emphasizes language as a major indicator of Kurdishness (a Kurd is one who speaks Kurdish, according to Haji Qadiri Koyi). It is well known that the idea of “one nation, one language” is an ideological, clearly nationalist, position.7 Equally ideological is the rejection of Kurdish linguistic unity when the speakers of Kurmanji, Sorani, Southern, Hewrami, and most of the Dimili identify themselves as Kurds. On the non-academic front, a diverse group of journalists, army generals, parliamentarians, judges, politicians and many others in Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria have declared Kurdish a non-language.8

Issues in Theory, Ideology and Epistemology. The philologists’ claims about Hewrami invite criticism on different levels. Theoretically, one may raise questions about the contribution of genetic classification to our understanding of language in general and Kurdish in particular. Why is the placement of a language on a family tree so central in comparative philology?9 How can such placements, whether based on a few phonetic isoglosses or even an extensive grammatical reconstruction, decide the status of Hewrami either as a dialect of Kurdish or an independent language? Admitting that knowledge about the world’s language families is useful, why is genetic classification used as the main or only explanatory framework in presenting a living language like Kurdish (e.g., in MacKenzie 1986)? Are official or state languages like Persian, Arabic, Danish or English treated in a similar manner?

All knowledge forms including “the exact sciences” are ideologically constructed and utilized; in other words, it is not possible to create objective or neutral knowledge. There is a growing literature on linguistics as an ideological and mythical body of knowledge.10 Research has also been conducted on the mythical and ideological roots of comparative philology (see, e.g., Crowley 1990; Cunningham 1994).

Epistemologically, one may look at the relationship between the philologist/linguist, the “informant” or “native speaker,” and the object of research, i.e., the language itself. Who problematizes? Who conceptualizes? Who decides the method of research? Whose knowledge counts? What is the subjectivity of the linguist? Is the native speakers’ construction of their own genealogies considered to be as valid as the philologist’s comparative reconstruction?11 In this unequal distribution of symbolic-political power, who exercises “authority?”

The conflict between the linguist and the native speakers of Hewrami is by no means unique to the Kurdish case.12 While Kurdish nationalists criticize the philologist’s claims from a primarily political perspective (its negative implications for Kurdish nation-building), this paper is concerned with theoretical and epistemological issues. From this perspective, the conflict is, in part, related to the cleavage between expert and indigenous knowledge systems, i.e. the distribution of power in the production of knowledge and its democratization. The struggle for the democratization of knowledge, which inspires this paper, has been going on in the West since the Renaissance, taking numerous forms from the secularization of learning to today’s efforts aimed at the feminization of social theory and methodology.

Resolving the Conflict: A few Probes. How can the conflict over the genealogy of Hewrami be resolved? One alternative is a statement of the theoretical-methodological limitations of the approach, knowing that all disciplines have their own constraints. For instance, one may state that the data generated by the theory and the method (i.e., the placement of Hewrami or Dimili on a family tree) are not relevant bases for making claims about the ethnic, cultural or national identity of the speakers of the two speech forms. That such claims cannot be made is further corroborated by the findings of other branches of linguistics. Neither structural criteria (Hudson 1980:30-37) nor mutual intelligibility (Simpson 1994) is an appropriate basis for distinguishing between language and dialect. The speakers of Hewrami alone are in a firm position to decide whether their speech is a dialect of Kurdish or an independent language.13 Indeed, some students of the language (e.g. Blau,Kreyenbroek, Leezenberg) distinguish, to varying degrees, between indigenous and expert (philological) genealogies.14 Leezenberg (1993:7), for instance, has pointed to the web of conflicting interpretations, and has given equal space (symbolic rather than physical) to indigenous perceptions of their language:

The nomenclature of this group (or these groups) of dialects is rather confusing, as are the precise relations between the ethnic groups speaking them. Western authors use ‘Gorani’ as a generic term for all of these dialects, but none of my informants (save those familiar with European writings on the subject) ever used it in that way; instead, the expression ‘Hawrami’ or ‘Hewramani’ is used as a collective term by Iraqi Kurds (as well as by Hassanpour 1989:139-51), but also more specifically, to indicate the dialects spoken near the border with Iran… here, I will be conservative, and stick (albeit reluctantly) to ‘Gorani’ as a generic label, while keeping in mind that few locals use it in that way, and that no conclusions as to the ethnic affiliation can be drawn from it.15 At present, the Gorani speakers think of themselves as Kurds, even though they are aware of speaking dialects which are not mutually comprehensible with Kurmanci or Sorani…(emphasis added).

The lines are carefully drawn here; as a result, a much more complex picture of the situation is provided by stating the limitations of the method, the genealogical claims of native speakers, and at least one element in the subjectivity of the linguist (reluctant preference for a potentially inappropriate label).16 Leezenberg’s approach leaves little room for the political use of his findings against the aspirations of the native speakers.

Hewrami and Dimili provide ideal contexts for a critical examination of the state of the politics of linguistic theory in general and comparative philology in particular. I have tried to highlight aspects of a conflict which is well known but not adequately discussed. I suggest that the philologist’s construction of Hewrami genealogies is no less ideological than the native genealogy.17 Such a claim does not detract from the value of comparative philology as a source of knowledge. Indeed, an appreciation of the social construction of our disciplines will put us on a much firmer ground in the challenging task of knowledge creation.18


1. By “Western,” I do not mean a geographic or racial division of linguists. Iranian linguists ofa nationalist persuasion, for example, use and create philological evidence, to deny the existence of a distinct Kurdish or Baluchi language. “Western” implies, here, the theoretical and methodological claims of “historical and comparative philology” and its various forms and practices that originated in the West and has been institutionalized in the academy throughout the world. My own critique of Western constructions of Hewrami is rooted in the equally Western traditions of critical social theory,ethnomethodology, qualitative methodology and research ethics.

2. It is beyond the scope of this paper to examine the work of all linguists who have studied thedialect (e.g., O. Mann, A. Christensen, and K. Hadank).

3. Compare, also, the following statement: “Kurdish has — or, more precisely, certain dialects ofKurdish have — a literary tradition. Nevertheless the language has achieved no unity and, since the literature has been somewhat neglected, most work on Kurdish has been on a dialectal basis…” (MacKenzie 1969:460-61).

4.Compare this quotation with the examples from Rieu’s grammatical study quoted on page 2,above.

5. Todd’s study was based on work with Dimili speakers living in Europe, mostly in Germany.

6. The question of power in the production, transmission and utilization of knowledge has beenincreasingly examined since the 1960s. A body of research critically examines the androcentric, ethnocentric and ideological nature of knowledge. While these studies are mostly focused on Western societies, it is obvious that all knowledge, Eastern, Western or Indigenous, is socially conditioned. Research on the political and ideological components of linguistics has also appeared in recent years (see, e.g., Newmeyer 1986; Joseph and Taylor 1990). Taylor (1990), for instance, examines an episode in the history of the “institutionalization of authority in the science of language.”

7. In a review of the literature on this issue, Woolard and Schieffelin (1994:60) write: ” It is atruism that the equation of language and nation is a historical, ideological construct, conventionally dated to Herder and eighteenth century German romanticism, although the famous characterization of language as the genius of a people can be traced to the French Enlightenment and specifically Condillac. Exported through colonialism to become a dominant model around the world today, the nationalist ideology of language structures state politics, challenges multilingual states, and underpins ethnic struggles to such an extent that the absence of a distinct language can cast doubt on the legitimacy of claims to nationhood.” In the case of Kurdistan, the perception of the unity of various dialects under the common name of Kurdish was formed before the age of colonialism, when feudal disunity was rampant in Kurdish society.

8. For a survey of the “Turkish scientific and political discourse” on the Kurdish language see Akin(1995).

9. See, e.g., Bichakjian (1992) and Ruhlen (1994) and Cunningham (1994) for different assessmentsof the assumptions and methodology of this area of language studies.

10. Risking oversimplification, ideology refers, here, to beliefs, views, and consciousness whichreflect the experience or interests of particular groups; ideology legitimizes social power, often through intellectual practices involving mystification or rationalization. For a recent review of the research on ideological construction of linguistic knowledge, see Joseph and Taylor (1990), Woolard (1992), Woolard and Schieffelin (1994). In recent years, there is renewed debate on the “scientific” status of linguistics. See, for example, the contributions under the rubrics of “on moving linguistics into science” in Communications of the Workshop for Scientific Linguistics (Chicago), 1992. See, e.g., Di Pietro (1990),Hagman (1992), Levin (1992), Read (1992), Sullivan (1992), Yngve (1992a; 1992b).

11. In recent years, linguistics has made some progress in democratising the relationship bypromoting, conceptually at least, the status of the “informant” to “native speaker” (Yngve 1981). At least one linguist has suggested a “colleague” role for “informants, the unsung heroes of so much linguistic research.” But, even in this case, informants can become colleagues only if they attain some expertise: the informants, according to Nida (1981:169), can “make a much greater contribution if only their latent capacities are adequately developed through sufficient informal training by collaborating linguists.”

12. Such conflicts have come into the open especially in the theory and practice of “economicdevelopment” in the developing world (see, among others, the special issue of IDRC Reports on”Indigenous and Traditional Knowledge,” Vol. 21, No. 1, April 1993, published by International Development Research Centre of Canada). In fact, a “participatory research” methodology has been developed to deal with the researcher’s monopoly of power in the creation of knowledge (see, e.g., Hallet al 1982). In the positivist, “scientific” tradition of knowledge production, “ordinary people are rarelyconsidered knowledgeable, in the scientific sense, or capable of knowing about their own reality… Experts’ assessment of common people’s inability to ‘know’ becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy” (Maguire 1987:36).

13. Hewrami and Zaza are not the only bones of contention in the world of comparative philology. Brukman (1970:1165), in his review of the genealogy of Koya (spoken in India), critiqued the classification of the dialect according to linguistic criteria, and wrote: “[Native speakers’] judgements may be purely political or cultural; but these are in fact the only relevant judgements that can be made about the relation of Koya to either Gondi or Telugu, since we have no clearly established linguistic criteria that serve to differentiate languages from dialects. Such considerations may produce an embarrassing proliferation of ‘languages,’ but they are the only basis for realistic evaluation we have. Non-native-speaking linguists are in general much more arbitrary about their decisions in this regard than native speakers.”

14. In the latest major reference work on “Iranian languages,” Compendium Linguarum Iranicum(R diger Schmitt 1989), Kurdish and Gur nî/Z z appear under two separate sections. According to Blau (1989:336), “in spite of the linguistic proximity and the speakers’ profound feeling of belonging to the Kurdish national entity, these two languages cannot be linked to Kurdish because they have not undergone the typical transformations of Kurdish.” According to Kreyenbroek (1992:70), “[B]oth Zaza and Guran are normally identified as Kurds, and regard themselves as such. From a purely historical and linguistic perspective, this is probably incorrect, but such considerations seem insignificant in comparison with the feelings of the people concerned.” However, in dealing with Kurmanji and Sorani, he notes that it “may be somewhat misleading to speak of ‘the main dialects of Kurdish’. Firstly, the only obvious reasons for describing Sorani and Kurmanji as ‘dialects’ of one language, are their common origin, and the fact that this usage reflects the sense of ethnic identity and unity of the Kurds. From a linguistic, or at least grammatical point of view, however, Sorani and Kurmanji differ as much from each other as English and German, and it would seem more appropriate to refer to them as ‘languages’…” (p. 71). 

15. This is a refreshing statement about yet another conflict between native speakers and thephilologists. Hewrami is the name used by most of the Sorani and Hewrami speakers to refer to the speech and culture of Hewraman. Different ethnic and religious names (Kakeyi, Bajalani, Shabak, etc) are used for small groups who speak varieties of the dialect and are widely dispersed outside Hewraman (see Leezenberg, n.d., on some of these groups and the shifting politics of their ethnic affiliation). 

16. By contrast, the author of a relatively long encyclopedia article about Dimili does not mention,even as myth or controversy, the native speakers’ identification of their speech as Kurdish (Asatrian 1995). 

17. I have provided further detail about the ideological constraints on philological constructions ofHewrami genealogy in an unpublished paper (Hassanpour 1996). 

18. The ethical dimensions of research have received increasing attention in recent years (see, e.g.,Kidder 1981). It would be useful to examine ethical issues in philological approaches to Kurdish language in general and Hewrami and Dimili in particular.


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  15. 1996 “Disciplining the speakers of Hewrami: Notes on the ideology and epistemology of genetic linguistics,” unpublished paper.
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Published in: Anthology of Gorani Kurdish Poetry
Compiled by A.M. Mardoukhi, Edited by Anwar Soltani
London, 1998, ISBN 0 9529050 00

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