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A Pan-Kurdish Alphabet

The Concise Encyclopædia of Kurdistan
A Pan-Kurdish Alphabet

In developing a pan-Kurdish alphabet, four major and several minor points must be constantly kept in mind. These include:

  1. The objective is solely to create a literate Kurdish society unified by a single alphabet capable of ‘adequately’ serving all the existing dialects. At no time should the creation of such a paramount national medium be to impress the linguists and their preference for recording every localized vocalic intricacy. A simple pan-Kurdish alphabet to serve the people should be the sole goal.
  2. Being an Indo-European language, a Latin-based alphabet better suits this vowel-rich language than a Semitic-based medium, like Arabic. Nevertheless, an Arabic-based alphabet is not in itself a source of disadvantage for development of Kurdish literacy or literature. The monumental mass of classical and modern literature in Persian—the Indo-European sister language to Kurdish—is the obvious proof. Nonetheless, as the majority of Kurds today use some form of Latin-based alphabet for their writing of Kurdish, a pan-Kurdish alphabet based on Latin is a more logical choice.
  3. Second factor to keep in mind is the diversity of vocalic forms in the cluster of Kurdish dialects. A pan-Kurdish alphabet must accommodate all of these, without becoming a zoo of diacritics like cedillas, breve and circumflex accents, macrons and umlauts, that often cannot be found on normal typewriters or even computer programs. A single letter may present various pronunciations in various Kurdish dialects.
  4. The third factor is a universal one. No ordinary alphabet in the world is "perfectly phonetic," nor should there be any attempt to create one for Kurdish. To create a "perfect phonetic" Kurdish alphabet is to clutter it with unnecessary complexity and rigidity that would bring out dialectal differences in the language instead of masking them. One must mask these differences in order to create a common, standard Kurdish alphabet, not accentuate them. There shall always be a few cases in any language that do not conform to rules set for a simple, but adequate alphabet. Let it be so for Kurdish as well. To err is human.
  5. No letters should be allowed for the imported Semitic sounds (like ·ayn or Ha) or Turkic (like ö, ü) in a reformed Kurdish alphabet. These imported Semitic sounds are found exclusively in South Kurmanji of Iraq and small portions of Iran’s, but are absent from North Kurmanji. Conversely, the imported Turkic sounds are found exclusively in North Kurmanji. These localized imports should not be marked in any fashion in the Kurdish alphabet. Instead, their eventual expulsion should be facilitated by their non- representation.
  6. Finally, a standard, pan-Kurdish alphabet must never conform to anything present in Turkish alphabet and standards. Firstly, the Turkish system is strange and rife with Kemalian innuendos, being a source of numerous mispronunciations and puzzlement to people proficient in any one of major European languages. Secondly, adoption of the Turkish norms for Kurdish alphabet would readily produce the erroneous and unwelcome impression of affinity between Kurdish and Turkish. Better for Kurdish to resemble its cousin languages in Europe—such as English, French or German—than the utterly alien, Turco-Mongolian, East Asiatic tongues like Turkish. No Ç ç etc.

All marks of izafe should be rendered as "-i" whether it follows a consonant or a vowel. All sentences should begin with a capital letter. All proper names should have their initial letter in capital. A single small stroke ( ' ) should be inserted between two Roman consonants that in combination may otherwise stand for a different consonant in this pan-Kurdish alphabet. Thus the name of the Yezidi holy book should be rendered as "Mis'hef-i Resh," not "Mishef-i Resh," or the name of the palace of "Is'haq Pasha" and not "Ishaq Pasha."

The following, 26-letter alphabet is an example incorporating the conditions set forth above. Various other systems may likewise be possible. By necessity, however, none can be too far removed from this.

The consonants

b

as in English "ball"

ch

"chair"

d

"door"

f

"four"

g

"good"

h

"horse"

j

"jack"

jh

"pleasure" and "measure"

k

"kilo"

kh

as in Scottish "loch" or German "achtung"

l

light l, as in "lamb" "let"

ll

dark l, as in "feel" and "file"

m

"man"

n

"nut." Nasal before g, as in English "sing"

p

"pot"

q

a glottal "k", not found in English

r

"row." Rolled if initial

rr

rolled, as in Scottish "thrill" (for non-initial positions only)

s

"sag"

sh

"shore"

t

"tap"

v

"vat"

w

"wind" or alternatively, the French "oiest"

y

"yet"

z

"zero"

 

The vowels:

a

as in English "car" and "tar"

e

"but" and "mud", or alternatively, "cat", "bat"

æ (or ae)

long e sound, close to "hair" and "lair"

i

"bit" and "sit", OR "let" and "bet"

î (or ee)

"bee" and "see"

o

almost like English "omit" and "over", but more like French "automobile"

u

"look" and "book"

û (or uu)

"lute" and "boot"

 

Diphthongs

ay

"my" and "by"

ey

"may" and "pay"

oy

"boy" and "soy"

ûy (or uuy)

"ooy"

 

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