Call for provisional abstracts: The Sociolinguistics of Kurdish

19 11 2014

Workshop to be held at Societe Linguistique Europeenne 2015, Leiden, The Netherlands

Strict deadline for provisional abstracts (ca. 200 words) and expression of interest in participation: November 24, 2014.

Workshop proposal: The Sociolinguistics of Kurdish

Convenors: Margreet Dorleijn and Michiel Leezenberg

The fact that the Kurds are the largest nation in the world without a state of their own has given rise to a number of distinctive, and possibly unique, sociolinguistic features of their language. This panel aims at exploring some of these, and invites scholars working on Kurdish sociolinguistics to submit proposals concerning their research.

The new states that emerged after World War had different strategies of dealing with their Kurdish population groups, ranging from repression and assimilation to literization and standardization. In early Soviet Armenia, which only had a minute Kurdish minority, the Kurmanji dialect was developed into a fully functional medium for education, printing, and broadcasting in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The fledgling republic of Turkey, by contrast, pursued the most radically repressive policy, banning the public and private use of Kurdish in 1925; this ban remained in place until the 1990s, and its effects can still be seen today. In Iraq, a Southern dialect of Kurdish became an official language during the British mandate period; subsequent Iraqi regimes have not been able to undo or revert this official recognition of Kurdish. Remarkably, however, the present-day Kurdish Regional Government, which has had a constitutionally recognized autonomous status since 2005, has thus far largely refrained from formulating, let alone pursuing, any substantial linguistic policies. In Iran, Kurdish can be studied at universities, and books of Kurdish poetry can be published; but the use of Kurdish in elementary education and in administration has not been allowed.

Given these varying policies, the actual use of Kurdish is subject to a number of constraining factors. Although many Kurds dream of a unified and independent Kurdish state with a unified language, at the same time, there is considerable resistance from speakers of different dialects against proposals to create and impose a unified spoken and written variety.

Given this situation, an explicitly sociolinguistic approach towards the diversity of the linguistic situation of the Kurds is bound to yield fruitful insights.

For example, the persistence of variability and contestation of attempts at standardization may be fruitfully employed by having recourse to some of the more recent approaches in sociolinguistics that question long-held assumptions. Thus, Peter Trudgill’s recent ‘sociolinguistic typology’, (2011) which provides an alternative against the assumption of the equicomplexity of languages, or Jens Norman Jorgensen’s model of ‘polylanguaging’ which provides an alternative for the structuralist belief in languages as ultimately impenetrable holistic structures, and other recent approaches seem to offer fruitful ideas when dealing with standardisation in the linguistically diverse area that Kurdistan is.

Other topics for discussion include, but are not exhausted by, language contact, not only with the official languages of the states in which Kurds live (Turkish, Modern Standard Arabic, Persian), but also with locally spoken vernaculars of neighbouring peoples, like Armenian, Syriac, and dialectal Arabic; and by Kurdish linguistic ‘superdiversity’, i.e., the emergence of new varieties and blends of different languages spoken by Kurds, exemplified perhaps most visibly in Kurdish hiphop, which have emerged especially but not exclusively in emigration settings outside the Middle East. Pursuing such and other questions, we hope to help in calling more attention to the distinct trajectory of Kurdish and its speakers, not only in the Middle East, but in the present-day globalized world and media landscape at large.


Thus, questions that may be addressed in individual papers include (but are not restricted to) the following:

What is the prestige of Kurdish dialects among its speakers?

What is the actual vitality (in terms of actual usage) of Kurdish dialects among its speakers?

What is the impact of recent political changes and political turbulence on language policy in the area?

What is the extent of intra-dialect variation? And what is the prestige of the pertaining varieties?

What is the role, status and (mutual) influence of other languages spoken in the Kurdish region?

Are new contact varieties emerging and if so, what is their status?

What is the status, prestige and vitality of Kurdish among Kurds in the diaspora?

We welcome colleagues who are interested to send a provisional abstract before November 24th (strict deadline) to: