Northern Kurdish
کورمانجی, Kurmancî
Kurmanji Kurdish written in both scripts
RegionAutochthonous to Kurdistan, Kurdish diaspora[1]
Native speakers
16 million (2021–2023)[2]
  • Botani (Boti)
  • Marashi
  • Ashiti
  • Bayezidi
  • Hekari
  • Shemdinani
  • Badini
  • Shikaki
  • Silivi
  • Mihemedi[1]
Official status
Official language in
Recognised minority
language in
Language codes
ISO 639-1ku
ISO 639-3kmr
Geographic distribution of the Kurdish languages spoken by Kurds

Kurmanji (Kurdish: کورمانجی, Kurmancî, lit.'Kurdish'),[5][6][7][8] also termed Northern Kurdish,[1][9][10] is the northernmost of the Kurdish languages, spoken predominantly in southeast Turkey, northwest and northeast Iran, northern Iraq, northern Syria and the Caucasus and Khorasan regions.[11] It is the most widely spoken form of Kurdish.

Kurmanji is also the common and ceremonial language of Yazidis.[12] Their sacred book Mishefa Reş and all prayers are written and spoken in Kurmanji.[13]

Ethnologue reports that the use of Kurmanji is declining in Turkey even when the language is used as a language of wider communication (LWC) by immigrants to Turkey, and that the language is threatened because it is losing speakers.[14]


Pre-modern Kurmanji

Although Kurds are mentioned in the pre-Islamic period, there is no information of the Kurdish language before the Islamic period. The first mention of Kurmanji Kurdish is by the medieval Chaldean author Ibn Wahshiyya (d. 930/1) in his treatise about alphabets. Orientalist Joseph Hammer also purported the existence of an alphabet for the language.[15]

Kurmanji may have potentially been a literary language from the 10th to the 12th century with the formation of many Kurdish dynasties such as the Hasanwayhids, Rawadids, Ayyubids and especially under the Marwanids who commanded sizeable economic and cultural prosperity. However, the language of Marwanid administration and culture life was reported to be exclusively Arabic. Under the Ayyubids, many scholars note that Kurmanji gained a privileged status but admit that there is a paucity of evidence due to the lack of written Kurmanji documents from the Ayyubid court.[16]

The first known written attestation of Kurmanji is from the geographical work Mu'jam ul-Buldān by Yaqut al-Hamawi in which few words have been identified in a mostly indecipherable text. The first proper text in Kurmanji is a Christian missionary prayer in the Armenian script from the first half of the 14th century.[17]

A growing interest in the use of Kurmanji in literature began from the 14th century on when Kurdistan had relative political stability and economic prosperity. However, it was not until the 16th century, that a Kurmanji literary tradition arose. During this era, Sharafkhan Bidlisi from the Principality of Bitlis, wrote that a certain leader of the Derzin Castle wrote most of his poetry and theological commentaries in Kurmanji. Furthermore, during his trips to Kurdistan, Evliya Çelebi praised the educational institutions of the Amedi and Akre regions and quoted a Kurmanji poem by local poet in his work. Prominent scholars from this period, whose works are preserved today include Melayê Cizîrî, Feqiyê Teyran, Elî Teremaxî and Ehmedê Xanî. Unlike his peers, Xanî consciously worked to codify Kurmanji as a written language.[18] Pre-modern Kurmanji began to decline in the 19th century simultaneously with decline of the Kurdish principalities.[19]


Phonological features in Kurmanji include the distinction between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops and the presence of facultative phonemes.[20][21] For example, Kurmanji Kurdish distinguishes between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops, which can be aspirated in all positions. Thus /p/ contrasts with /pʰ/, /t/ with /tʰ/, /k/ with /kʰ/, and the affricate /t͡ʃ/ with /t͡ʃʰ/.[21]

Dialect continuum

Kurmanji forms a dialect continuum of great variability. Loosely, six dialect areas can be distinguished:[22]

Ezdîkî and Yazidi politics

Among some Yazidis, the glossonym Ezdîkî is used for Kurmanji to differentiate themselves from Kurds. While Ezdîkî is no different from Kurmanji,[12][24][25][26][27] some attempt to prove that Ezdîkî is an independent language, including claims that it is a Semitic language. This has been criticized as not being based on scientific evidence and lacking scientific consensus.[28]

On January 25, 2002, Armenia ratified the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and placed Kurdish under state protection.[29] However, because of the divided Yazidi community in Armenia and after strong criticism from parts of the community, the authorities chose to ratify the charter by mentioning both "Kurdish" and "Yezidi" as two separate languages.[30] This resulted in the term Êzdîkî being used by some researchers when delving into the question of minority languages in Armenia, since most Kurdish-speakers in Armenia are Yazidis.[31] As a consequence of this move, Armenian universities offer language courses in both Kurmanji and Êzdîkî as two different dialects.[32]

Kurmanji among other groups

During the end of the Ottoman era, Assyrians in Tur Abdin shifted from speaking their traditional Turoyo language to either Kurmanji or Arabic.[33] Kurdophone Armenians also exist and there were prior to the Armenian genocide around 110 Kurmanji-speaking Armenian villages in Beşiri and Silvan.[34][35]

Bulgarian,[36] Chechen and Circassian[37] immigrants in Turkish Kurdistan also speak Kurmanji.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "Ethnologue - Kurmanji Kurdish". Retrieved 3 February 2018.
  2. ^ Kurmanji at Ethnologue (27th ed., 2024) Closed access icon
  3. ^ "Social Contract - Sa-Nes". Self-Administration of North & East Syria Representation in Benelux. Archived from the original on 9 December 2018. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  4. ^ "Rojava could be a model for all Syria". Salih Muslim. Nationalita. 29 July 2014. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  5. ^ Captain R. E. Jardine (1922). Bahdinan Kurmanji - A grammar of the Kurmanji of the Kurds of Mosul division and surrounding districts of Kurdistan. Baghdad: Government Press. p. ii.
  6. ^ Ayfer Gokalp (August 2015). "Language and Literacy Practices of Kurdish Children Across Their Home and School Spaces in Turkey" (PDF). Arizona State University. p. 146. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 March 2019. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  7. ^ Paul, Ludwig (2008). "Kurdish language I. History of the Kurdish language". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). Encyclopædia Iranica. London and New York: Routledge. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
  8. ^ Georg Krotkoff (1997). Humanism, Culture, and Language in the Near East. p. 299.
  9. ^ "Ethnologue - Kurdish". Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  10. ^ E. S. Soane (1909). Notes on Kurdish Dialects. Asian Educational Services. p. 906. ISBN 9788120617506. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  11. ^ Philip G. Kreyenbroek, Stefan Sperl (2005). The Kurds : a Contemporary Overview. Routledge. ISBN 1134907656.
  12. ^ a b "Yazidis i. General". Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  13. ^ Arakelova, Victoria (2001). "Healing Practices among the Yezidi Sheikhs of Armenia". Asian Folklore Studies. 60 (2): 319–328. doi:10.2307/1179060. JSTOR 1179060. As for their language, the Yezidis themselves, in an attempt to avoid being identified with Kurds, call it Ezdiki.
  14. ^ "Northern Kurdish (Kurmanji)". Ethnologue. Retrieved November 26, 2023.
  15. ^ Sheyholislami (2021), pp. 611–612.
  16. ^ Sheyholislami (2021), pp. 612–613.
  17. ^ Sheyholislami (2021), p. 613.
  18. ^ Sheyholislami (2021), p. 614-617.
  19. ^ Sheyholislami (2021), pp. 620–621.
  20. ^ Khan, Celadet Bedir; Lescot, Roger (1970). Grammaire Kurde (Dialecte kurmandji) (PDF). Paris: La librairie d'Amérique et d'Orient Adrien Maisonneuve. Retrieved 28 October 2017.
  21. ^ a b Haig, Geoffrey; Matras, Yaron (2002). "Kurdish linguistics: a brief overview" (PDF). Sprachtypologie und Universalienforschung. 55 (1). Berlin: 5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 October 2017. Retrieved 27 April 2013.
  22. ^ Öpengin, Ergin; Haig, Geoffrey (2014), "Regional variation in Kurmanji: A preliminary classification of dialects", Kurdish Studies, 2, ISSN 2051-4883
  23. ^ "The Kurdish language". previous.cabinet.gov.krd. Retrieved 13 August 2019.
  24. ^ "The Human Rights Situation of the Yezidi Minority in the Transcaucasus" (PDF). Refworld. May 2008. p. 5. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  25. ^ Sebastian Maisel (2017). Yezidis in Syria: Identity Building among a Double Minority. Lanham: Lexington Books. p. 123.
  26. ^ Coene, Frederik (2009-10-16). The Caucasus - An Introduction. Routledge. ISBN 9781135203023.
  27. ^ Tork Dalalyan (2011). "Construction of Kurdish and Yezidi Identities among the Kurmanji-speaking Population of the Republic of Armenia, in: Changing Identities: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia – 2011". Changing Identities: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia (Collection of Selected Works, Edited by V. Voronkov, S. Khutsishvili, J. Horan), Heinrich Böll Stiftung South Caucasus: 6. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  28. ^ Majid Hassan Ali (15 February 2019). "The identity controversy of religious minorities in Iraq: the crystallization of the Yazidi identity after 2003". British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies. 47 (5). Routledge: 8. doi:10.1080/13530194.2019.1577129. ISSN 1353-0194. S2CID 150358224.
  29. ^ Witzlack-Makarevich, Kai; Wulff, Nadja (2017-08-08). Handbuch des Russischen in Deutschland: Migration – Mehrsprachigkeit – Spracherwerb (in German). Frank & Timme GmbH. ISBN 9783732902279.
  30. ^ "Kurds (Kurdmanzh)". Minority Rights Group International. 19 June 2015. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  31. ^ Schulze, Ilona. "Methodologische Überlegungen zur soziokulturellen Dokumentation von Minderheiten in Armenien. Iran and the Caucasus Vol. 18, 2, pp. 169-193" (in German).
  32. ^ Serinci, Deniz (28 May 2014). "The Yezidis of Armenia Face Identity Crisis over Kurdish Ethnicity". Rudaw.
  33. ^ Gaunt, David (2006). Massacres, Resistance, Protectors: Muslim-Christian Relations in Eastern Anatolia During World War I. Gorgias Press. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-59333-301-0.
  34. ^ Galip, Özlem Belçim (2020). New Social Movements and the Armenian Question in Turkey: Civil Society vs. Springer. p. 161. ISBN 9783030594008.
  35. ^ Kévorkian, Raymond (2011). The Armenian Genocide: A Complete History. Bloomsbury Publishing. p. 355. ISBN 9780857730206.
  36. ^ "Türkçe için getirilen Bulgarlar Kürtçe konuşuyor". Rûdaw. 17 May 2017. Retrieved 21 May 2019.
  37. ^ Aşiretler raporu (1st ed.). İstanbul: Kaynak Yayınları. 2000. ISBN 9753432208.


Further reading