Standardizing the Modern Journalistic

Standardizing the Modern Journalistic

Standardizing the Modern Journalistic
Language in Kurdish

By Dr Michael L. Chyet
Washington D.C., MESA November 1996

Because the Kurdish homeland is divided between the four countries of Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. the Kurds in each of these countries have come under different linguistic and cultural influences, which renders the promotion of a unified written language a formidable task. Without even realizing it, Iraqi and Syrian Kurds — products of an Arabic educational system — have incorporated Arabic vocabulary and patterns into their Kurdish speech, and similarly for the Kurds of Turkey and those of Iran. One area In which this is most evident is the realm of geography. Renderings of place names — particularly non-Middle Eastern place names — often differ from region to region, depending on the language of the educational system in the country in question. So for instance, there are three ways to render the name of the country Austria; Nemsa, Otrîş, or Awistirye. Nemsa is Arabic, Otriîş is the French name adopted by modern Farsi, and Awistirye is from the modern Turkish form Avusturya . Another example is Poland. In Farsi, and consequently among the Kurds of Iran, the name Lehistan is common, In Arabic, the name is Bulanda, which Iraqi Kurds often render as Polenda. The modern Turks call it Polonya, and the Kurds of Turkey have rendered this as Poloniye. It should be obvious that for a radio station such as the Voice of America’s Kurdish service, it is not acceptable to allow for such variation in geographical names. Instead, we are encouraged to choose one standardized form, and stick with it. Because the Kurds of Turkey are most numerous, the forms Awistirye and Poloniye have been chosen, although theoretically any one of the forms could have been selected. To ensure that the largest possible number of listeners understand our terminology, we often add explanatory comments, such as "Poloniye, i,e, Lehistan" or `Awistirye, i.e. Nemsa’ with the standardized form first, followed by an explanatory word. It is hoped that eventually the standardized form will catch on, and that it will not always be necessary to have such long, time consuming tags. Within one text, the explanatory tag is only used the first time, after which exclusively the standardized form is to be used.

Until there is a unified educational system and a unified government body to support such divisions, our linguistic choices at the Kurdish Service of the Voice of America must be seen as little more than suggestions. To the extent possible, by keeping up on the usage in Kurdish publications, we try to reinforce and standardize on the radio the vocabulary appearing in these written sources.

Other examples include modern journalistic vocabulary, such as words for ‘interview’ and ‘candidate’. If we try to take a scientific view of word coinage, it is desirable to look at the other Middle Eastern languages — particularly Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish, but also Hebrew and Armenian — to see if there is a clear pattern which they all use, which can then be reflected in the new Kurdish word. In the case of ‘interview’, this is in fact what has happened. The Arabic, Farsi, and Turkish words for ‘interview’ all follow a clear pattern. The Arabic word is muqâbalah while Farsi uses another Arabic word, musâhabah, and Turkish features an old Arabic word — mûlâkat (from Arabic mulâqâh) — as well as a neologism, söyleşi, and a French borrowing, röportaj. If we look at the three Arabic words muqâbalah, musâhabah, and mulâqâh, it is apparent that all these belong to the same triliteral pattern — mufâ3alah, verbal noun of the third form — which indicates that the action involves two people. In essence, muqâbalah is one person meeting face to face with another; musâhabah is befriending or having a friendly conversation with another; while mulâqâh denotes one Person meeting another. Likewise, the Turkish neoligism söyleşi, with the infix -ş- also refers to speaking between two people: while söylemek is `to tell’, söyleşmek is ‘to tell one another’, and is a derivative nominal form.

Having established that there is a clear pattern here which can be described as ‘one person doing something to another’, in this case one person speaking with another — the next question is: How can this be rendered in Kurdish? Fortunately, the most common word in use in modern written Kurmanji provides an appropriate answer. While Farsi often uses a prefix ham- to express an action shared by two people, e.g. hamvatan for compatriot, the Kurdish equivalent is hev- in Kurmanji (and haw- in Sorani). The new coinage for interview is hevpeyvîn, which consists of the aforementioned prefix hev- plus the verb peyivîn, meaning ‘to speak’ This word can be readily found in any modern Kurmanji newspaper or journal.

Another word commonly in use for ‘interview’ is çavpêkeftin in Badinani or the Kurmanji of Iraq, and its equivalent çawpêkewtin in Sorani. This word is a compound, consisting of the words çav or çaw =’`eye’; pê = ‘to him’ or perhaps pêk = ‘to one another’; and keftin or kewtin ‘to fall’. In other words, someone on whom one’s eye falls. The argument then usually ensues that such a word must be limited to interviews conducted in person, because in a phone interview one doesn’t see the other person, so one’s eye does not fall on him. If we were to extend this logic to the English word interview, which consists of the Latin prefix = ‘between’ or ‘among’ and view, from French vue = ‘sight’, we would have to find another word for phone interviews. Whereas this seems unnecessary in English, at least in Sorani Kurdish, there are two words commonly used for an interview conducted over the telephone: wut-û-wêj and gift-û-go, both of which originally meant only ‘negotiation’, and still retain this meaning as well as the more recently acquired added meaning of ‘phone interview’.

I would like to invite comments from you the reader on two points. First of all, do you know of other Middle Eastern languages in which one word does duty for both ‘negotiation’ and ‘interview’. And secondly, do you know of other languages which make a distinction between an interview conducted face-to-face as opposed to one over the telephone. When I noticed that there were four Kurmanji equivalents for ‘candidate’ or ‘nominee’ floating around, I realized that this was indicative of a fairly common phenomenon. Namely, a lack of coordination between the words in use in print — largely by Kurds from Turkey using the Latin alphabet — and words being coined by my colleagues at the Voice of America — mostly Iraqi Kurds more comfortable with the Arabic alphabet. This is in addition to the Sorani coinings for the same thing. It seems to me that when four words have been coined for a particular item, it is time to stop coining new words and to try to reduce the inventory, perhaps teasing out helpful distinctions in the process. The four Kurmanji coinages in question are: berendam; berbijar; navkirî, and namzet. They can conveniently be divided into two sub-groups: both berendam and berbijar, which manifest the prefix ber-; and both navkirî and namzet include a word meaning ‘name’. The prefix ber- is equivalent to English pre-: hence, berendam is literally a ‘pre-member’: this is a word proposed by Kurds from Turkey. Likewise, berbijar — proposed by my Iraqi Kurdish colleagues at the Voice of America — is literally a ‘pre-elect’. The other two words, navkirî and namzet, share with the Turkish neologism aday a derivation from words meaning ‘name’. Namzet is the Farsi word, and navkirî is ‘one who is named’, not unlike the Latin-derived English word nominee My colleagues at the VOA reject berendam, or ‘pre-member’, with the argument that it is only applicable if the candidate in question is hoping to be a member of parliament. For a presidential candidate, they argue — and I think rightly so — the idea of ‘membership’ has no basis. Even if we sweep aside this proposed coinage, we are still left with three others. Moreover, there is no guarantee that Kurds in Europe and the Middle East will hear our comments and stop using that word in solidarity with us.

The Sorani words for candidate include nawlêndraw – ‘one who has been named’, or ‘nominee’, and paLêwraw = ‘one who has been filtered’, a literal translation of the Arabic term murashsha.h, itself patterned on the original Latin meaning of candidatus, one whose purity is symbolized by his white gown. The word kandîdat is also occasionally heard. I would like to suggest that it is desirable, whenever possible, to use the same word for Kurmanji and Sorani, or at least to bring them closer together. With this in mind, I would point out that Kurmanji navkirî and Sorani nawlêndraw are the closest to each other of the proposals for ‘candidate’.

Other challenges include the need to come up with a Kurdish term for an English one, when no Kurdish term has as yet been coined. An example is the English term American Indian or Native American. In Turkish the original inhabitants of the Americas are known as KIzIl Derililer, literally ‘redskins’ — rendered in Farsi as sorkhpûst, similar to the Arabic term al-Hunûd al-.humr, literally ‘red Indians’, all three reflecting an outdated conception that these people had red skin. This terminology runs the risk of being labelled as racist. Moreover, many Kurds would argue that out of respect for the struggle of the Amerinds, which they see as parallel with their own plight, it is politically untenable to give this outdated Western terminology new life in modern Journalistic Kurdish. This is a sensitive issue which needs to be treated with care. However, to my knowledge, a viable alternative has yet to be proposed, although at the Kurdish Service of the Voice of America we have recently agreed on using the term Emrîkîyên Resen, i.e., Native Americans.

Another example that came up of late is how to render in Kurdish the English word Gypsy. The term Gypsy itself is being questioned nowadays, and there seems to be movement in favor of adopting the word Rom, which is what the Gypsies call themselves. In Kurdish there are numerous words for the Gypsies indigenous to Kurdistan, but not one of them is neutral– much less positive — in connotation. Moreover, certain Kurdish names seem to refer specifically to Gypsy musicians, while other designate only Gypsy artisans. There seems to be no single over-arching term for this ethnic group. Nor is there one term uniformly understood across Kurdistan, an issue which we will return to. In attempting to solve this problem, I have pointed out that the word Dome is undoubtedly derived from the Romany word Rom, and hence perhaps we should go with this word.

On a meta-linguistic level, perhaps it will interest this audience to know that while our Kurdish radio announcer from Turkey immediately understood the need to proceed cautiously in finding a politically correct Kurdish equivalent for the term, several of our Iraqi Kurdish colleagues seemed not to grasp the concept, clinging stubbornly to the rather biased term Qereç instead.

As alluded to just now, yet another issue is the existence of different regional words for the same thing. For example, ‘to teach’ is usually rendered as hîn kirin by the Kurds of Turkey, and as fêr kirin by Iraqi Kurds, the latter both in Kurmanji and in Sorani. A unifying term would be e’limanidin. understood by both, however its clear Arabic derivation makes some Kurds hesitant to use it. At the VOA, we have combined the first two terms, creating the form hîn û fêr kirin, particularly with the meaning of ‘to train’. At an earlier stage in the development of English, such doublets were not uncommon. This is supposedly how the term ‘last will and testament’ came about, the logic being that those elements of the population who did not understand the Anglo-Saxon word ‘will’ would understand the Norman French word ‘testament’ and vice versa.

Other examples of terms for which there are a plethora of regionalisms but no single term understood by all include words for spider and bat, as well as the names for certain diseases. This issue is particularly evident when attempting to translate radio scripts of a scientific nature into Kurdish. When speaking of spiders, for instance, it is necessary at the beginning of the piece to give several different names for that creature, although thereafter only one name will be used for the duration of that discussion. For the time being, I have left it to the discretion of the radio announcer assigned that script to decide which term to use for the duration. On the Kurdish language program of the Voice of America. I have initiated a language program on Saturdays, Zimanê Me (i.e., Our Language), in which I openly present these and other linguistic issues to our Kurdish listening audience, and encourage them to share their views with us. As of today we are still waiting for responses to trickle in.

The aforementioned examples are intended to be a mere sampling of the types of issues being hotly debated in Kurdish circles today. Until such time as the Kurds have an educational system and government services which function on a regular basis in the Kurdish language, there can be no unilaterally reliable source to confer with when linguistic questions of this nature come up. As much as possible, the Kurdish Service of the Voice of America will continue to strive to keep up with the language used in Kurdish written journalistic sources, and to deliberate with Kurdish intellectuals regarding usage.

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