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Index / Languages / Iranian /
Kurdish



Dialects
Figures in 1000.
% of total Kurdish speakers
Northern
16,700 70.0%
Central
4,900 16.0%
Southern
3,600 14.0%
By country
Figures in 1000
% of country population
Iran
8,300 11.5%
Iraq
3,800 13.0%
Jordan
4 0.1%
Lebanon 80 2.0%
Syria
2,000 10.0%
Turkey
11,000 15.0%
TOTAL *)
25,200 5.1%

Kurdish alphabet

Kurdish alphabet

Latin script for Kurdish

Arabic script for Kurdish

Indo-European Iranian language(s) (Northwestern), spoken by Kurds, living in the region called Kurdistan; eastern Turkey, northern Iraq, western Iran and northeastern Syria. The number of Kurdish-speaking people is estimated to be about 22 million living in the Middle East, with a considerable number living abroad, mainly in Europe.
We may refer to Kurdish as languages in both singular and plural. The dialects within Kurdish varies enough to warrant a classification as independent languages, still Kurds speaking different languages may understand each other. Kurds of language groups far apart, however, often understand each other partially.
Modern Kurdish has not developed its own uniform writing system, rather there are three ways of writing it, depending on geography. In Turkey and Syria, a modified Latin alphabet is used. In Iran and Iraq, a modified Arabic alphabet has been used. In recent years, Iraqi Kurds has come more and more to use a writing system similar to the one of Turkey. Kurds living in the former Soviet Union use a modified Cyrillic alphabet.
The origins of Kurdish is either put with the ancient Medes, or as an independent group. Kurdish languages have some similarities with Persian, but it is not possible to decide which way influences have gone. The differences between Kurdish and Persian are far stronger than the similarities.
Kurdish may be divided into three main groups, plus two separate groups. Note that the naming of these languages or dialects varies from one Kurdish group to another, and in many cases only a group use their name for their own variant of Kurdish.

Northern
These often refer to themselves as Kurmanjī, and this group belongs the regions from the north and south to Mosul, Iraq. More specifically, it includes Kurds of the northwestern corner of Iran, to the south of Lake Orumiyeh; all Turkish Kurds; Kurds of northwestern Iraq; and the Kurds living in Syria.

Central
These often refer to themselves as Soranī, and it includes Kurds living in Iran south of Lake Orumiyeh and to the east of the Kurmanjī regions; and northeastern Iraq.

Southern
These often refer to themselves as Pahlavanī, and it does not constitute large continuous areas. In addition to the Kurds of Kermanshah, it generally consists of scattered small groups in the southern regions of Kurdistan, living in between mainly Kurmanjī-speaking Kurds.

Zazaki/Dimli and Gorani/Hawrami
These two last groups are sometimes classified as Kurdish languages, but in most cases they are defined as their own languages (see Zazaki and Gorani. Their relation to Kurdish is attested and undisputed, but influences from other languages and an independent history have set them apart.




By Tore Kjeilen