Kurdish alphabets

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Kurdish restaurant sign written in Arabic script

The Kurdish languages are written in either of two alphabets: a Latin alphabet introduced by Jeladet Ali Bedirkhan (Celadet Alî Bedirxan) in 1932 (Bedirxan alphabet, or Hawar after the Hawar magazine), and a Perso-Arabic-based Sorani alphabet, named for the historical Soran Emirate of the present-day Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Hawar is used in Turkey, Syria and Armenia; the Sorani in Iraq and Iran. Two additional alphabets, based on the Armenian and Cyrillic scripts, were once used in Soviet Armenia.

Hawar alphabet

Kurmanji dialect of Kurdish language is written in an extended Latin alphabet, consisting of 31 letters (each having an uppercase and a lowercase form):

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31
Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
a b c ç d e ê f g h i î j k l m n o p q r s ş t u û v w x y z

In this alphabet the short vowels are E, I and U; the long vowels are A, Ê, Î, O and Û (see the IPA equivalents in the table below).

When presenting the alphabet in his magazine Hawar, Jeladet Ali Bedirkhan proposed using ⟨ḧ ẍ '⟩ for غ, ح, and ع, sounds which he judged to be "non-Kurdish" (see [1] page 12,13). These three glyphs do not have the status of letter and serve to represent these sounds when they are indispensable to comprehension.

Turkey does not recognize this alphabet. Use of the letters Q, W, and X, which did not exist in the Turkish alphabet until 2013, led to persecution in 2000 and 2003 (see [2], p. 8, and [3]). Since September 2003, many Kurds applied to the courts seeking to change their names to Kurdish ones written with these letters, but failed.[1]

The Turkish government finally legalized the letters Q, W, and X as part of the Turkish alphabet in 2013.[2]

Suggested Modification

Some scholars have suggested to add minor changes in the Bedirxan's Hawar alphabet to make it more user friendly.[3] The modifications are in the missing characters that exists in the Sorani Alphabet. These scholars suggest to use the following alphabet as a so-called Universal Kurdish Alphabet. The suggested characters are Ł, Ň, Ř and Ü. The velar "Ł" is for non-initial positions only, in Kurdish velar "Ł" never comes in initial position. The initial position in any Kurdish word beginning with r is pronounced and written as a trill Ř. The letter Ü is a new letter, which is sometimes written like ۊ in the Sorani alphabet, for the close front rounded vowel [y] used in the Southern Kurdish dialects. The velar nasal consonant [ŋ] is also a Kurdish phoneme[4] which never comes in initial position, and it is written as "Ň". The Universal Kurdish Alphabet consists of 35 letters in total.

Universal Kurdish Alphabet

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35
Majuscule forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
Minuscule forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
a b c ç d e ê f g h i î j k l ł m n ň o p q r ř s ş t u û ü v w x y z

In this alphabet the short vowels are E, I and U; the long vowels are A, Ê, Î, O, Û and Ü (see the IPA equivalents in the table below).

Non-Kurdish Phonemes
These three glyphs do not have the status of letter.

Majuscule forms
ʿ Hʿ Gh
Minuscule forms
ʿ hʿ gh
Arabic letter
ع[5] ح[6] غ[7]

Sorani alphabet

The Sorani Kurdish dialect is mainly written using a modified Arabic script with 33 letters introduced by Sa'id Kaban Sedqi. Unlike the standard Arabic alphabet, which is an abjad, Sorani is almost a true alphabet in which vowels are mandatory, making the script easier to read. Yet it is not a complete representation of Kurdish sounds, as it lacks short i, and is also unable to differentiate the consonant w from the short vowel u, and the consonant y from the long vowel î. However it does show the two pharyngeal consonants, as well as a voiced velar fricative, used in Kurdish.

A new sort order for the alphabet was recently proposed by Kurdish Academy in Erbil as the new standard:[8]

ێ ی وو ۊ ۆ و ە ھ ن م ڵ ل گ ک ق ڤ ف غ ع ش س ژ ز ڕ ر د خ ح چ ج ت پ ب ا ئـ

Note: The above sequences are read from right to left.

The alphabet is often represented with 34 entries because وو, which is arguably incorrect, is given its own position. There are also unofficial letters for the letter i (dotless alef maksura ى) and ü (ۊ) used in the Hawar alphabet as well as letters to differentiate the consonant w (ڥ) from the short vowel u (و), and the consonant y (ې) from the long vowel î (ي).

Kurds in Iraq and Iran mainly use this alphabet, though the Kurdish Latin alphabet is also in use.

Historical alphabets

Cyrillic script

A third system, used for the few (Kurmanji-speaking) Kurds in the former Soviet Union, uses a Cyrillic alphabet, consisting of 40 letters:

А, Б, В, Г, Г', Д, Е, Ә, Ә', Ж, З, И, Й, К, К', Л, М, Н, О, Ö, П, П', Р, Р', С, Т, Т', У, Ф, Х, Һ, Һ', Ч, Ч', Ш, Щ, Ь, Э, Ԛ, Ԝ

Armenian alphabet

From 1921 to 1929 the Armenian alphabet was used for Kurdish languages in the Soviet Armenia.[9]

Then it was replaced with a Janalif-like Latin alphabet during Latinisation campaign.

Uniform adaptation for Kurdish

In 1928 Kurdish language in all of the USSR, including Armenian SSR, was switched to a Latin alphabet containing some Cyrillic characters: a, b, c, ç, d, e, ә, f, g, г, h, i, ь, j, k, ʀ, l, m, ɴ, o, ө, w, p, n, q, ч, s, ш, ц, t, u, y, v, x, z, ƶ. In 1929 it was reformed and was replaced by:[10]

A a B b C c Ç ç D d E e Ə ə
Ə́ ə́ F f G g Ƣ ƣ H h Ħ ħ I i J j
K k Ķ ķ L l M m N n O o Ö ö P p
Q q R r S s Ş ş T t Ţ ţ U u
Û û V v W w X x Y y Z z Ƶ ƶ Ь ь


The Yekgirtú (Yekgirtí, yekgirig) alphabet is a recent devised writing system by Kurdish Academy of Language.[11] It has many advantages compared to the Kurmanji and Sorani alphabets. It is adapted for all Kurdish dialects and not exclusive to just one, and is therefore called Yekgirtú, which means "unified." It is also better adapted to the vowel-rich Kurdish language than is the Arabic script.

The Kurdish Academy of Language (KAL) realises that there are too many shortcomings with current Kurdish writing systems. These include workability, cross dialectal usage, and a lack of International IT-based Standards and representation for Kurdish. To avoid the communication obstacles presented by the existence of various Kurdish writing systems, KAL has introduced a standard Kurdish Unified Alphabet (Yekgirtú) based on International ISO-8859-1 Standards. This modern Kurdish (IS) alphabet contained some minor changes in the existing Latin based alphabet and adopting new signs. The new signs were introduced to improve the flexibility of the writing system in Kurdish. This effort was undertaken as part of KAL's broad endeavour to revive and promote the use of the Kurdish language for the benefit of young Kurds. The system devised and presented here by KAL is simple and adequate for the purpose of communicating via the Internet and any electronic media.

The development of the Unified Kurdish Alphabet has proceeded along three lines.[11] First one letter has been designated for each sound (with the exception of digraph characters such as velar [ll], trill [rr], "jh" and "sh"). Second, no diacritical marks have been allowed that are difficult to convey via the Internet without the use of specialised programs. Specifically, all characters in the unified alphabet have been chosen carefully from the ISO-8859-1 "Latin 1" system for West European languages in order to ensure that the Kurdish characters follow one single global standard only. Loanwords need to naturalise and comply with common global Kurdish spelling rules whilst local exceptional pronunciations are also justified. The Kurdish Unified Alphabet contains 34 characters including 4 digraph cases (jh, ll, rr, sh) and 4 characters with diacritics (é, í, ú, ù). It represents 9 vowels (a, e, é, i, í, o, u, ú, ù) and 25 consonants:[12]

A, B, C, D, E, É, F, G, H, I, Í, J, Jh, K, L, ll, M, N, O, P, Q, R, rr, S, Sh, T, U, Ú, Ù, V, W, X, Y, Z

Comparison of Kurdish alphabets

Universal Kurdish Alphabet Yekgirtú Cyrillic Kurmancî Sorani IPA
(isolated) (initial) (medial) (final)
A,a A,a А,а ا‎ ئا‎ ـا‎ []
B,b B,b Б,б ب‎ بـ‎ ـبـ‎ ـب‎ [b]
C,c J,j Щ,щ ج‎ جـ‎ ـجـ‎ ـج‎ [d͡ʒ]
Ç,ç C,c Ч,ч چ‎ چـ‎ ـچـ‎ ـچ‎ [t͡ʃ]
D,d D,d Д,д د‎ ـد‎ [d]
E,e E,e Ә,ә ە‎ ئە‎ ـە‎ [ɛ]
Ê,ê É,é Е,е (Э э) ێ‎ ئێـ‎ ـێـ‎ ـێ‎ [e]
F,f F,f Ф,ф ف‎ فـ‎ ـفـ‎ ـف‎ [f]
G,g G,g Г,г گ‎ گـ‎ ـگـ‎ ـگ‎ [ɡ]
H,h H,h Һ,һ ھ‎ ھ‎ ـھ‎ ـھ‎ [h]
I,i I,i Ь,ь [ɪ]
Î,î Í,í И,и ی‎ ئیـ‎ ـیـ‎ ـی‎ []
J,j Jh,jh Ж,ж ژ‎ ـژ‎ [ʒ]
K,k K,k К,к ك‎ كـ‎ ـكـ‎ ـك‎ [k]
L,l L,l Л,л ل‎ لـ‎ ـلـ‎ ـل‎ [l]
Ł,ł ll Л’,л’ ڵ‎ ڵـ‎ ـڵـ‎ ـڵ‎ [ɫ]
M,m M,m М,м م‎ مـ‎ ـمـ‎ ـم‎ [m]
N,n N,n Н,н ن‎ نـ‎ ـنـ‎ ـن‎ [n]
Ň,ň ng нг نگ‎ - ـنـگـ‎ ـنـگ‎ [ŋ]
O,o O,o O,o ۆ‎ ئۆ‎ ـۆ‎ [o]
P,p P,p П,п پ‎ پــ‎ ـپـ‎ ـپ‎ [p]
Q,q Q,q Ԛ,ԛ ق‎ قـ‎ ـقـ‎ ـق‎ [q]
R,r R,r Р,р ر‎ ـر‎ [ɾ]
Ř,ř rr Р’,р’ ڕ‎ ـڕ‎ [r]
S,s S,s С,с س‎ سـ‎ ـسـ‎ ـس‎ [s]
Ş,ş Sh,sh Ш,ш ش‎ شـ‎ ـشـ‎ ـش‎ [ʃ]
T,t T,t Т,т ت‎ تـ‎ ـتـ‎ ـت‎ [t]
U,u U,u Ӧ,ӧ و‎ ـو‎ [u]
Û,û Ú,ú У,у وو‎ ـوو‎ []
Ü,ü Ù,ù ۊ‎ ـۊ‎ []
V,v V,v В,в ڤ‎ ڤـ‎ ـڤـ‎ ـڤ‎ [v]
W,w W,w Ԝ,ԝ و‎ ـو‎ [w]
X,x X,x Х,х خ‎ خـ‎ ـخـ‎ ـخ‎ [x]
Y,y Y,y Й,й ی‎ یـ‎ [j]
Z,z Z,z З,з ز‎ ـز‎ [z]
Non-Kurdish Consonants
Universal Kurdish Alphabet Yekgirtú Cyrillic Kurmancî Sorani IPA
(isolated) (initial) (medial) (final)
Hʿ, hʿ H',h' Һ’,һ’ ح‎ حـ‎ ـحـ‎ ـح‎ [ħ]
ʿ ' ع‎ عـ‎ ـعـ‎ ـع‎ [ʕ]
Gh, gh X',x' Ѓ,ѓ غ‎ غـ‎ ـغـ‎ ـغ‎ [ɣ]

See also


  1. Karakaş, Saniye (March 2004). "Submission to the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: Working Group of Minorities; Tenth Session, Agenda Item 3 (a)". United Nations Commission on Human Rights. Archived from the original (MS Word) on 2007-06-28. Retrieved 2006-11-07. Kurds have been officially allowed since September 2003 to take Kurdish names, but cannot use the letters x, w, or q, which are common in Kurdish but do not exist in Turkey's version of the Latin alphabet. [...] Those letters, however, are used in Turkey in the names of companies, TV and radio channels, and trademarks. For example Turkish Army has company under the name of AXA OYAK and there is SHOW TV television channel in Turkey. Unknown parameter |coauthors= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Mark Liberman (2013-10-24). "Turkey Legalizes the Letters Q, W, and X. Yay Alphabet!". Slate. Retrieved 2013-10-25.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Kirmaşanî Alphabet and Pronunciation Guide". www.academia.edu. Retrieved 2015-11-03.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Fattah, Ismaïl Kamandâr (2000). Les dialectes kurdes meridionaux. Etude linguistique et dialectologique, ( Acta Iranica 37). E. J. Brill. ISBN 9042909188.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. The voiced pharyngeal approximant or fricative [ʕ] with the arabic letter ع is a non-kurdish sound, borrowed from arabic. Used in some dialects.
  6. The voiceless pharyngeal fricative [ħ] with the arabic letter ح is a non-kurdish sound, borrowed from arabic. Used in some dialects.
  7. The voiced velar fricative [ɣ] is originally a non-kurdish sound. Borrowed from arabic. Used in some dialects.
  8. (Kurdish) گۆڤاری ئەکادیمیای کوردی، ژمارە (١٦)ی ساڵی ٢٠١٠ (The 2010 Journal of Kurdish Academy, Issue 16), 14-16
  9. (Russian) Курдский язык (Kurdish language), Кругосвет (Krugosvet)
  10. (Russian) Культура и письменность Востока (Eastern Culture and Literature). 1928, №2.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Kurdish Academy of Language, Alphabet
  12. Kurdish Academy of Language, Yekgirtú, the Kurdish Unified Alphabet.

External links