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«BACKGROUND TO THE LANGUAGE, COMMUNITY, AND FIELDWORK 1.1 Introduction The present work is a grammatical description of the Mukri variety of Central ...»

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CHAPTER

BACKGROUND TO THE LANGUAGE, COMMUNITY, AND FIELDWORK

1.1 Introduction

The present work is a grammatical description of the Mukri variety of Central

Kurdish accompanied by a collection of texts and a brief lexicon. More theoretical

aspects of person marking and argument indexation patterns in Central Kurdish

are presented in a companion volume currently being prepared for publication (Öpengin forthc.). Central Kurdish, more widely known as Sorani, is one of the major varieties of Kurdish, itself a branch of Western Iranian languages (cf. Korn 2003). Central Kurdish is spoken in Iraq and Iran by the majority of the Kurdish population in these two countries. McCarus (2009:587) estimates the number of its speakers as around 5 million, while in Lewis, Simons & Fennig (2013) the number is more specifically stated as 6,750,000. This background chapter presents the language and the speech community under study (§1.2); the position of the variety within Kurdish dialectology (§1.3); a synopsis of previous work (§1.4); a description of the fieldwork and data collection process (§1.5), and a presentation of the corpus of this study (§1.6).

1.2 Mukri Central Kurdish and its speech community Mukri (more precisely Mukrī) or Mukriyani is the indigenous name for the variety of Central Kurdish spoken in the northern half of the Central Kurdish speech area in Iran. Figure 1 shows the speech zone of Mukri within (Central) Kurdish and with respect to its contact languages. Mahabad (also called Sablax1), the historical and current sociopolitical center of the region, is the principal city of the dialect area. Other important towns in the speech zone of Mukri are Bokan, Sardasht (Kr.

Serdeşt), Piranshahr (Kr. Pîranşehr and Xanê), Naqadeh (Kr. Neẋede), Shino or Oshnaviyeh (Kr. Şino), and Miandoab. The only extant statistics Lewis et al. (2013) put the number of Central Kurdish speakers in Iran as 3,250,000, approximately one third of which (i.e. more than one million) could be considered as speakers of Mukri. However, both of the estimates are meant to be provisional and should thus be treated with due caution.

The term “Mukri” is obtained from the name of the principality of Mukriyan, which ruled in the region from the late fourteenth to the late nineteenth century.2 The names “Mukri” and “Mukriyani” denote provenance from the region, in addition to referring to the variety of Central Kurdish spoken there. We will refer to it as “Mukri” or “Mukri Kurdish”.

1 This name comes from the name of the river Sauj-boulagh (or Sauj-bulaq), originally a Turkic name, which was replaced by Mahabad during the nationalist Pahlavi regime (Minorsky 1957:65), more precisely, in 1935 (Vali 2011:26).

2 See Hassanpour (1989), but also Oberling (2010) and Minorsky (1957:73–74).

16 The Mukri variety of Central Kurdish

–  –  –

The speakers refer to their language as kurdī ‘Kurdish’, but they also employ names such as mukrī and mukrīyānī ‘Mukri Kurdish’ or a more learned form, binzārāwey mukrīy soranī or binzārāwey kurdīy navendī ‘the Mukri sub-dialect of Sorani/Central Kurdish’.3 The Mukri variety has been observed to be “a very pure” form of (Central) Kurdish by orientalists such as Soane (1912:375, cited in Hassanpour 1992) or Nikitine (1956:164). It is the variety in which a number of influential authors wrote in the second half of the twentieth century, and served as the basis for the written language of Central Kurdish in Iran, used in publications and broadcasting. It is also claimed that Mukri has partially been the basis for the codification of modern standard Sorani Kurdish in Iraq and Iran (Hassanpour 1992: Ch. 8).

The variety is in close contact with Iranian Azeri in Naqadeh and with Kurmanji Kurdish in Oshnaviyeh. Mukri Kurdish is also spoken as a second language by portions of Iranian Azeri and Kurmanji-speaking communities, as well as by a small Kalhori-speaking4 community in the Mukriyan region.

Persian is the only official language and the medium of education in Iran, as laid down by Article 15 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Although the same article allows for a restricted use of the regional and “tribal” languages in the educational system, in practice, they are rigidly excluded from such high domains (Sheyholislami 2012:31). In spite of the strict exclusion of Kurdish from education and other official restrictions on its use in Iran (see Hassanpour 1992;

Sheyholislami 2012), the Mukri variety is a thriving medium of communication in its dialect zone in almost all of the social domains, excluding strictly official institutions such as courts of law. For instance, it is the sole language of the marketplace in predominantly Kurdish towns such as Mahabad (the center of the region), Oshnaviyeh, Bokan, and Piranshahr.

Mahabad and other towns of the Mukriyan region are administratively under Azerbaijan-e Gharbi (Western Azerbaijan) province, with its majority of IranianAzeri speakers. The de facto working language in the province is Iranian Azeri, and it is the main language which is promoted as part of the state-sanctioned cultural activities in local languages. The use of Kurdish in cultural activities is much more restricted than that of Iranian Azeri. There is thus one private language center where Kurdish grammar and literacy are taught, one statesponsored bilingual (Kurdish-Persian) bi-monthly magazine (Majallay Mahabad) and one public radio station broadcasting a few hours a day in Mukri Kurdish (see also Sheyholislami 2012:32–37).





The speech community of Mukri is predominantly made up of bilinguals in Kurdish and Persian, whereas, especially in town-centers and areas with mixed populations, trilingualism in Kurdish, Persian and Iranian Azeri is widespread. In 3 For instance, in a recent book (Wetmani & Xelife 2009), describing the villages of Mahabad, written in Kurdish by two local researchers, the Mukri variety is specified as binzaravey mukrīy kurdīy soranī ‘the Mukri sub-dialect of Sorani Kurdish’, where soranī ‘Sorani’ is the term covering the whole branch of CK and mukrī ‘Mukri’ one of its dialects.

4 Kalhori is a dialect of Southern Kurdish. See for the speech zone of SK, and see Fattah (2000) for an extensive treatment of the grammar of SK dialects.

18 The Mukri variety of Central Kurdish such areas, Persian, as the only official language in Iran, is mostly learned in school and by means of popular culture, whereas Azeri is functional in the marketplace. As a result of the dominant gender roles favoring males for higher social mobility, both forms of multilingualism seem to be more widespread among men than women. On the other hand, the speakers of Mukri and the dialects of Kurmanji,5 spoken in the northern lines of the dialect zone, are mostly able to communicate in their respective dialects usually without code-switching, but with some speech accommodation. If there is any code-switching at all, it is most often the speakers of Kurmanji who switch to Mukri Kurdish, which reflects the higher status of Mukri among the varieties of Kurdish.

1.3 The status of Mukri within Kurdish dialectology The speech zone of Mukri corresponds to the north-east part of the Central Kurdish-speaking region, as shown in the map of Kurdish varieties in Figure 1. The status of Mukri as a distinct dialect of CK is acknowledged in most of the works on Kurdish,6 such as de Morgan (1904), Mann (1906), MacKenzie (1961), Hassanpour (1992), McCarus (2009), and Asatrian (2009), though the geographical extent of the dialect varies among the sources. For instance, MacKenzie (1961) divides CK dialects of Iraq into Suleimani, Warmawa, Bingird, Piždar, Arbil, Rewandiz, and Xošnaw, and adds Mukri as the CK dialect on the Iranian side which neighbors Rewandiz and Piždar dialects. He thus restricts it to Iran. With a different view, Hassanpour (1992) divides the CK speech area into two main dialect groups, namely, Mukriyani (our Mukri), comprising the northern half of CK, and Suleimani (“Suleimaniya” in the original), corresponding to the southern half of CK. This division implies the close affinity of Mukri with geographically neighboring varieties on the Iraqi side of the border (namely, the CK varieties spoken in Rewandiz and Piždar), a fact also emphasized in MacKenzie (1961).

McCarus (1958:4) states, in a note on Mann’s (1906) grammatical sketch of Mukri Kurdish, that Mukri is remarkably similar to Suleimani Kurdish. Hassanpour (1992:353–354) discusses main differences (i.e. isoglosses) between Suleimani (abbreviated Sul.) and Mukri dialects. Accordingly, in their phonologies, Mukri differs from Sul. in that the combination of [nd] is usually found as [ng] in the latter; the sound [d] in a large number of words and formatives in Mukri is realized as a centralized vocalic element [əM] in Sul. Note that both of the distinctions are related to the treatment of the /d/ phoneme in the language, which is generally unstable with different outputs in different dialects (see McCarus 2009:597 for discussion). In terms of morphology (cf. Hassanpour 1992:365–387; MacKenzie 1961; §2.3 below), to mention only a few distinctions, Sul. differs from Mukri in not having the oblique case suffixes in its nominal system; in the form of the indicative present and imperfective prefix (Mukri de- vs.

Sul. e-); in its system of personal pronouns in that Mukri has an additional set of

–  –  –

pronouns; and in its demonstratives, in that Sul. has distinctive forms of proximal and distal demonstratives, while Mukri only has a single demonstrative form.

In short, what is regarded as Mukri (or Mukriyani) may change depending on the level of variation taken into consideration. In this study, however, Mukri refers to the variety of CK spoken in the area extending from the south-east of Urmiya lake through Mahabad and Naqadeh in the center to Bokan and Sardasht in the east and south, and Piranshahr and Oshnaviyeh in the west. Thus, as Figure 1 indicates, the dialect zone is situated entirely in Iran.

The Mukri dialect has often been regarded as an outstanding one among all other Kurdish dialects, both by orientalists and native scholars. Thus, de Morgan (1904:2) claimed that Mukri is the best conserved variety of Kurdish in Iran on the grounds that it has been in contact with only Iranian Azeri, thus spared from the influence of other languages. E. B. Soane (1912) also considered that Mukri is very well “preserved” and should serve as the basis for the standard language (cited in Fossum 1919:8). Given the historical, cultural, and political importance of Mahabad for the Kurds of Iran, Mukri was also the accepted high code among the Kurds of the region in general, such that, as reported in Hassanpour (1992:163), it was used as the language of press even under the rule of the Kurmanji-speaking princes of the region at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Although modern standard Sorani or Central Kurdish is principally based on the Suleimani variety (cf. McCarus 1958:12–44 or Hassanpour 1992:351, Ch. 8), the phonological and morphological characteristics of the Mukri variety have also been largely integrated into the standard language (MacKenzie 1961:1), sometimes replacing the Suleimani forms.

It should be added to the above views on Mukri that, in terms of its lexical and grammatical features, it shows features that reflect its geographic proximity with Kurmanji dialects, indicating a degree of structural convergence, though less than the neighboring Soran/Rewandiz dialects on the Iraqi side of the frontier. In Mukri and the Soran/Rewandiz dialects, some of the case distinctions are preserved in the parts of the pronominal and nominal systems, bringing them closer to the casebased (more conservative) Kurmanji morphosyntax. In some varieties of Mukri, e.g. the variety spoken by the Dehbokrī clan (Kr. Dēbokrī),7 the aspectual verbal particle is a preverb we-, similar to the Kurmanji preverb ve-, while it is a postverbal morpheme -ewe in the rest of CK and also in some neighboring Kurmanji dialects. As an areal feature of Mukri along with Soran/Rewandiz and neighboring Kurmanji varieties of Oshnaviyeh and Şemdinli (Kr. Şemzînan, cf.

Haig & Öpengin forthc.), the v-w distinction is lost in favor of a generalized w, while the demonstrative system is different from that found in the rest of CK and NK. However, more comprehensive investigations are needed in order to state more about this presumed convergence zone between NK and CK. The KurdishAzeri contact in this region, where the bilingualism in the two languages is relatively common, especially in some towns, has not yet been studied, to the best

–  –  –

of our knowledge.8 As noted in previous literature, comprehension between speakers of Mukri and other varieties of CK is straightforward, while we are not informed about the questions of mutual intelligibility between the speakers of Mukri and Southern Kurdish as well as Gorani varieties. In the same vein, comprehension between NK and Mukri speakers is also a complex issue, since the linguistic repertoire of the speakers of these varieties is heavily influenced by the official language and the general context of the country in which the varieties are spoken. Accordingly, we assume that the NK speakers from Iran and Iraq have little difficulty, if any, in communicating with speakers of Mukri, while the NK speakers from Turkey and Syria would in general require a certain amount of exposure to the language before they can communicate with its speakers.

1.4 Previous work on Mukri and Central Kurdish The Mukri variety has been the object of many studies, both by orientalists and native scholars.9 The first works relating to the Mukri dialect are Chodzko (1857), Houtum-Schindler (1884), de Morgan (1904), Mann (1906), and Fossum (1919).

Chodzko (1857) is an impressionistic grammar sketch, while Houtum-Schindler’s work consists mainly of a wordlist containing a mixed set of words from diverse Iranian languages. De Morgan (1904) is a dialectological survey of Kurdish varieties in Iran. Mann (1906:XXII–XXV) notes, however, that de Morgan’s study is fraught with inconsistencies and outright errors, an opinion that we share as well (see Öpengin 2013:9–11).



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