The latest post at the-kurdistani discusses what is apparently an accelerating displacement of Kurdish by Turkish in some areas of Turkey:

until the end of 1980s the kurdish language was still preserved, because the kurds were still in their villages, and mountains back then. and they had their own little worlds, most of them would not know one single word turkish and the women, in specific, did not know one single word turkish! even though there are some bad sides to this, such as they were not connected to the outer world in any way or this kind of things, it was still good because the kurdish language was still living and it was being passed to the younger generations by our holy mothers! but at the beginning of 1990s, and since then going on, we have been losing the kurdish language…
all the kurds started to go to school, where they would only speak turkish, and if, in any way someone were to speak kurdish s/he would punished for speaking kurdish and this way it would have a deterring effect on the other children (students) as well! kurdish students were despised and made fun of because of their accent so the families of those kurdish students thought that if they spoke only turkish at home it would help their children and they would be able to speak turkish better, and nobody would be able to fun of them…
they only watched the turkish tv channels! and especially the mothers were very badly affected by this, because they wree the ones who would stay at home and when they did not have anything to do they would watch the tv and improve their turkish, but after a while they started to use turkish words while speaking kurdish…

It’s an old, sad story and probably inevitable, but as Lameen (from whose post I got this link) says, “I had no idea the last decade or two had made such a difference.”


  1. Somewhere, Mustafa Kemal is smiling.

  2. The story is a tragic story about how a language becomes a minor language in a world of “offical languages”. I think the author, “the-kurdistani” tries to portray a conflict between turkish and kurdish in a naive way. And this naiveness reveals itself as the author blames Ocalan for writing in turkish, which is strange because the author is writing in english: this is not an example of assimilation, this is a very concious way of choosing the medium, the language. Ocalan and the author are talking to an audience they choose. The author could write this blog entry in kurdish to show an example of “unassimilatedness”, but does not try that.
    This paradox is very important i think, because it’s not only kurdish that goes through a process of assimilation, turkish and many other languages are being assimilated. Within the last 25 years, turkish has been deeply assimilated by english (before that it was being assimilated by french, but that’s another story). The assimilation process began with the official decision that english could be used for education; before that only a couple of colleges were using english as a base for education, but after the official decision it’s hard to find a school which does not educate in english. This may seem as a chance for children who are not lucky to get their education in USA, like the 18 years old author of the post at “the-kurdistani”, and a chance to be better educated in an english dominated world, but it has effects on turkish. The most interesting example for this may be the term “turkishness”.
    “Turkishness” seems like a translation of the word “türklük” which can mean “being turk” or “having the qualities of a turk”. But probably the situation is the other way: “türklük” is a translation of the word “turkishness”. Because, just a few years ago this word, which is a combination of the word “türk” and the suffix “lük” (which is same as the suffix “ness”) was not used. You could say “türk olmak” (“to be turk”) instead. But now turkish suffixes are used as they are used in english, and a word like “turkluk” or “turkishness” is invented but has absolutely no meaning. (This word is very popular in Turkey nowadays, and everyone is trying to understand what it means due to its use in some court cases against some authors like Orhan Pamuk, Elif Shafak..) So you see, there is not one assimilator, the process is very complicated and it has also to be said that in turkey it was not kurdish forbidden in classes: the official language dialect was “turkish used in istanbul, the old capital” and everyone used this dialect. It was not a matter of ethnicity, even if you were a “yörük” (turkish nomad) or an “Balkan turk” you could be humiliated for not being able to talk in “istanbul dialect”. Now in a world of ethnic multiculturalism this humiliation has evaporated, but i believe in England or France, humiliation was a custom also if you did not speak in official dialect and language.
    But, still beyond the question of who is being assimilated by whom, this turkish and kurdish topic is an important one. Because, while political conflicts of different interest groups go on in Turkey, it’s not clearly understood how do these two different languages interfere. Can a Altaic language assimilate an Indo-European one? Is borrowing the other’s words or using common words a sign of assimilation? Now i wrote this comment in english, am i assimilated? If i wrote this comment in my native language, turkish, i believe you could not publish it, because the “official” language of this site is english, so is this you assimilating me? But it was me trying to talk to you, at the site i with a great sympathy read, so how could i construct a dialogue (with a Bakhtinian sense) without talking in your language (which was yours but became ours as i tried to comment, to enter a dialogue)? So how will two ethnicities live together without assimilating each other, or how will two ethnicities or languages live not together after years of assimilating each other – this last question is totaly wrong for Turkey, because “Turkey’s turkish” is a strange combination of many layered assimilations, a most strange example of Bakhtinian “heteroglossia”; it has been assimilated by many different languages which are within Anatolia and surrounding Anatolia. It’s not just a “language of turks”. It’s a language constructed upon a Fino-Altaic skeleton and in Turkey this is clearly said even in textbooks as “Türkiye Türkçesi”, meaning “Turkish of Turkey”. But this is not revealed when you say just “turkish”.
    Most young kurds are in favour of “just using kurdish words”, most young turks are also in favour of “just using turkish words.” I believe this is a way of their attempt to protect themselves in a very ethnically marketed multi-culturalist world. They try to find ways to understand, to live, to object to daily problems, but most media gives them easy, short-termed conceptions. So an 18 years old boy thinks that “nice turks” living in richness “leaves to death” kurds after “assimilating” them. No need for sociological class analysis, no need for statistics, you can sum up the whole history with a couple of ethnicities in conflict and assimilating each other. But the truth is much more deeply located. In Turkey, this is true nowadays, but will be much more truer in about ten years: you can’t easily find a job if you don’t know english, and i am not talking about something like being a CEO (which is pronounced and used in turkish exactly the same way in english)or something like that, i am talking about being a waitress, chauffer, bell-boy or something like that. And this means money, “english education” has become a great sector in Turkey: an ordinary family spends most of their income for their children to learn english and this investment has no guarantee to payback to the child. You may invest a fortune, but you may not be lucky to get a job. So nowadays no one is making investment to turkish, it’s just bad investment. It’s not “turkishness” or “kurdishness” that’s helping your survival, it’s just your investment. So “nice” means “being capable of making investment.” And i believe assimilation of english by force of liberal market is a much more important topic in Turkey nowadays.
    And for “the turkish army”, i would like to comment that it must be corrected, it’s “Turkey’s army” and that army does not only include “turks”, military service is obligatory for every citizien of Turkey, and this includes every ethnicity living in Turkey. It’s tragic to think that some “kurd” soldiers may have participated to the emigration, but the truth is they may have.

  3. i’ve been passing by and saw this entry and i totaly see why people are worried and everything and i believe that all the cultures and languages are so important and i think kurdish language is a color of turkey and we should never loose it but gotta add that it’s not just kurdish people’s problem, like they are watching turkish tv and using turkish words while they are speaking, that’s not a big thing, i mean look at the world, the same thing happens everywhere, people watching american TV and now english words are in every language, even in French and yes in Turkish… It’s about media, internet and the way it’s changing our lives and as a person who believes an alternative-globalism i think we can agree a bit of this IF we are NOT loosing our own languages, a few words will not kill anybody…

  4. Sabri: Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I agree that “the-kurdistani” isn’t thinking very clearly (blaming Ocalan for writing in Turkish while he himself writes in English is, as you say, something of a contradiction), and the interaction between majority and minority languages is always fraught with problems and difficult to handle satisfactorily. But the main thing (in my view) is not the borrowing of Turkish words, which is normal and not a problem except for linguistic nationalists, but the loss of the language entirely because the younger generation grows up using Turkish. I’m sure “the-kurdistani” is exaggerating — he’s young and emotional — but the problem is real.
    berque: I agree about “a few words,” but as I said above, the real problem is when people stop using the language entirely.

  5. Strange thing is, in my opinion, kurdish is not lost. There is a strange dynamic in this problem: Last month Windows has made an agreement for a kurdish version of windows XP, the company must have seen a market, and probably other companies will be preparing translations of their products. But this means that there must be an official version of kurdish like there is one of turkish: there is not one “kurdish” still, it has its own dialects.
    But, yes, the problem is real: in Turkey nowadays everyone (turks, kurds, everyone) blames the “other” for being unable to develop themselves. You may have noticed that “the-kurdistani” has mentioned that “mothers were very badly affected by this, because they were the ones who would stay at home” and “watch turkish tv”: why do the women have to stay at home? why do they have to watch tv? Absurd it may seem, but in Turkey books sell only about 500-1000 copies for edition. In a country with about 70000000 people.
    A language is lost when nobody writes or says poems in that language, was a saying i heard, and now we may add to this saying something like, “when everybody watches tv”.

  6. The loss of any language is unfortunate. When a language dies it is not just words which die but a certain way of thinking which dies with it too. Yet, the historical trend has been for most languages to steadily die out over time. For example, there are fewer languages now than there were 500 years ago, and even then, there were fewer languages than there were 2,000 years before that.
    Kurdish is not the first language in Asia Minor (Turkey) to face extinction. The peninsula used to be the cradle of many prehistoric languages. At various times, it had sizeable Persian, Greek, Celtic and Armenian speaking populations as well.
    While Turkish oppression of the Kurds and other minorities in Asia Minor has been no help, there has never really been any stability in this region and no language has ever gained the upper hand there permanently.

  7. Isn’t it a bit much to say that “Kurdish faces extinction”? I believe it is thriving in Northern Iraq. Or are the dialects sufficiently different that the Kurdish of Eastern Turkey should be considered a separate language?

  8. michael farris says

    Warning: Don’t bet on the total accuracy of the following as it’s based on different sources and different levels of understanding/memory.
    Anyway: Kurdish in Turkey and Iraq has separate written standards (I don’t know how if Iran does or if so how it compares with the others) One of the standards is called Kurmanji? I forget the name of the other (sur-something). In Turkey they use a latin-based alphabet and Iraq uses the Arabic script (with additions some Persian, some unique). I don’t know how close the spoken versions are but IIRC “Kurdish” is like Quechua, Arabic and Chinese in that there were a number of different not necessarily mutually intelligible spoken forms.
    I heard a paper at a conference a couple of years ago that claimed that in the midst of the horrors that Iraqi Kurds faced in recent decades a small linguistic brightspot is that Kurds speaking different dialects have learned to communicate across dialect differences (a learned skill I think) which has helped shape standard Iraqi Kurdish.

  9. A language is a dialect with a TV station and a Windows UI.

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