February 08, 2006

Arabic in Kurdistan

From one of Tristan Mabry's dispatches in the Pennsylvania Gazette, a description of the Dec. 15 elections in Iraqi Kurdistan:

As the day wore on, it was clear that Kurds were very proud of their hard-won right to vote, though some had misgivings about the draft constitution. This document unequivocally gives Kurdish status as an official language of the country, but a few citizens were disappointed by a last minute amendment that also made Arabic an official language of government institutions operating inside the Kurdish region. Still, the future of Kurdish in Iraq is now more secure than at any time in the last century. Remarkably, there is an effort to merge the two dialects of Kurdish in Iraq into a bona fide national language. In this case, the strength of sharing a national identity as Kurds trumps any quarrels between Kurmanji and Sorani. They are united also by a strong dislike for Arabic: not the sacred language of their holy book, but the modern form that forcibly displaced their mother tongue for decades. While the first language of all school children is Kurdish, the Ministers of Education in both governorates told me they are developing a more robust curriculum for the second language of public education: English.

An earlier Language Log post remarked on the evident negative feeling that some Kurds feel towards Arabic, and linked to an exchange in the Financial Times on the subject of English vs. Arabic in Kurdistan. Bill Poser has posted here on the suppression of Kurdish (associated with the oppression of Kurds) in other places and times, including a recent decision in Turkey to fine 20 Kurds for displaying placards containing the letters Q and W.

[As the Gazette explained in connection with an earlier report:

Tristan Mabry is a former economics reporter for The Wall Street Journal and producer for CNN who is currently a Ph.D. candidate in political science. This is the first in a series of reports for the Gazette on his travels to meet with the leaders of Muslim independence groups as part of his research for his dissertation, “Nationalism and the Politics of Language in Muslim Minority Conflict.”


Posted by Mark Liberman at February 8, 2006 06:29 PM