A Dictionary Law in

A Dictionary Law in Arabic-Kurdish-French and English

Dr. Nouri Talabany

The responsibility for developing and advancing the Kurdish language lies not only with the experts in linguistics, but also with all professionals, each in his own particular sphere.

A Dictionary Law in Arabic-Kurdish-French and English

Dr. Nouri Talabany

The responsibility for developing and advancing the Kurdish language lies not only with the experts in linguistics, but also with all professionals, each in his own particular sphere.

In every language, and especially in those which have progressed, you will find two kinds of dictionary – a standard one compiled by lexicographers, containing most words in common usage and a second, relating to a specific science, which must be compiled by linguists with specialist knowledge of that science.

In recent decades, some Kurdish linguists have published or translated books dealing with their specialties, which include a glossary of new terms at the back of the volume. Until now, no such thing has been done in the field of the law.

I have spent the academic year 1974 – 1975 on Sabbatical leaved in London where I had the privilege of meeting occasionally with the Kurdish scholar. Mr. Tawfiq Wahbi, who was fluent in at least seven languages. One day he asked me why I was not working on the Kurdish legal language. In response to my protest that I was not a specialist in language he said, "You know at least four languages and that is sufficient to help you", and he offered his personal assistance also. What I learnt from this distinguished scholar provided the impetus for me to attempt to compile a Kurdish dictionary of law, though I knew that it would be a far from easy task, especially since there had never been a proper Kurdish dictionary of law. This means that we must search for new definitions of certain words – an approach that will not be readily accepted by many, even by those legal professionals who are accustomed to using Arabic words. I must say that it would have been better had this work been undertaken earlier, but better late than never. Meanwhile, a Kurdish Academy of Linguistics should be established to oversee the use and development of language, not only in the realm of law, but in every other scientific field also.

It should be mentioned here that, at the beginning of the 1970s, a Committee for the Kurdish Language at the Kurdish Science Academy was set up to establish a unique Kurdish language. To this end, the committee amassed a collection of words and various scientific terms and invited Kurdish professionals to discuss them and to deliver their verdict on them. Though the results of this work were published with great hope that this would provide the basis for a unique Kurdish language, the committee was unable to continue its work. However, I took advantage of its proposals.

In preparing my Dictionary of Law, I endeavoured to use Kurdish words and expressions but, in the absence of a suitable Kurdish word, I was frequently obliged to translate words from other languages. However, I did not change some words which, although not actually Kurdish, have been absorbed and have become a part of the Kurdish heritage. They have been used for centuries with little or no change. Some derive from Islamic law, for example, ‘sharia’, ‘wakf’, ‘talak’, ‘nafaka’, ‘mirat’, ‘wassyat’, etc. They have been used in our language for a long time and it is difficult to ignore them or to find suitable alternatives. If we accept that the majority of Kurds are Muslims and that the Islamic Sharia is the common heritage of all Muslim nations, then we accept the fact that the Kurds have a right to use these words.

For centuries, the Kurdish mullahs played an important role in promoting the Sharia and its language, which is, of course, Arabic. The few examples I have given of this use of the Arabic language have been used for decades. They are an accepted part of the peoples’ everyday vocabulary and are difficult to replace. I am sure that all Kurdish linguists would agree that fewer Arabic words are used in the Kurdish tongue than are used in other non-Arabic languages such as Turkish and Persian.

In compiling lists of words used specifically in the fields of commerce and politics, I have used some Latin, French and English terminology as these terms are used in the most widely spoken languages. It is my belief that their use brings Kurdish closer to these other languages, especially since Kurdish is, like them, an Indo-European language. Words such as ‘democracy’, ‘socialism’, ‘bourgeois’, ‘police’, ‘insurance’ and ‘balance.’ have become international. Taking these words from the original English or French doesn’t diminish our language because, as I have said, they are used without alteration. If you examine our neighbouring languages, including those Arabic ones, you will find that they contain many English and French words.

When translating from other languages, I did not look at one specific language but tried to translate from the origin of the word. Egyptian linguistic experts, following the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon in 1798, translated a great many legal terms from French into Arabic. We know, also, that French law has influenced most Iraqi law, even from the time of the Ottomans. Why are we Kurds not emulating them? Instead of translating words and expressions from Arabic, which have been translated from French, we need to return to their French origins. The same principle applies to words taken from English and other languages. For example, the word ‘canon’ is originally Greek and comes from the Greek canninimos’. Some Kurds assumed that ‘canon’ was Arabic and looked for a Kurdish equivalent. They used the word ‘yassa’ which is, in fact, a Turkish or Turkish Mongolian word.

In compiling the dictionary, I collected words relating specifically to the law. To explain the meaning of some of them I was obliged to add footnotes (about 250 footnotes).

This Dictionary of Law has been compiled in four languages – Arabic, Kurdish, French and English. Perhaps some will question this particular order. It is because, as yet, we have no Kurdish terms for the law and legal professionals in Iraqi Kurdistan continue to use the Arabic terms. At present, unless they start with Arabic, they don’t understand the meaning of the laws. The definitions of words has been given in French and English for two reasons. Firstly, it is to help legal professionals to learn these terms in those languages. Secondly, it is to show that it is not a direct translation from the Arabic, but is a return to the origin of the words.

The Dictionary is a first step towards the compilation of a Kurdish Dictionary of Law. It is, as yet, incomplete and needs to the enlarged and enriched by other professionals.

In closing, I acknowledge my debt of gratitude to the Kurdish scholar, Mr. Tawfiq Wahabi, who died in 1984, for his encouragement. I also thank those other Kurdish linguists who have given so much valuable assistance.

This Kurdish Dictionary of Law will be of particular value to future paractioners of law in Kurdistan. It is about 270 pages on a CD Rom, ready for publication. There is a possibility of printing a second section English -French -Kurdish- Arabic. I would like to know if there is a Kurdish or other publisher interested in publishing it in Europe or in USA.


Nouri Talabany:

  • Born in the city of Kirkuk.
  • Received the Bachelor of Science degree in Law from the University of Baghdad.
  • Received his Doctorate (Ph.D.) in Law from the Sorbonne (France).
  • He has taught at a number of Iraqi Universities, including the University of Baghdad, Faculty of Law from 1968 until he was retired in December 1982 for political reasons.
  • He is the author of numerous publications and research studies in Kurdish, Arabic, French and English.
  • He proposed the draft constitution for the Region of Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992.
  • He was the member of the High Legal Committee in Iraqi Kurdistan in 1992.
  • He translated the book of Nikiteen ‘Les Kurdes’ from French to Arabic (about 500 pages).
  • At present, he is the Director of the Kirkuk Trust for Research and Studies in London.


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