DP16086 A Lingua Franca for Kurdish Populations

Author(s): Sacha Bourgeois-Gironde, Victor Ginsburgh, Hossein Hassani, Shlomo Weber
Publication Date: April 2021
Keyword(s): Kurdish languages, Linguistic Distances, Three-language formula
JEL(s): D63, Z13
Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=16086

Kurdish languages and multiple dialects spread across several nation-states under various regimes varying from regional recognition (e. g. Iraq) to persistent attrition (e. g. Turkey). Kurdish linguistic faces a variety of challenges which can be attributed to different causes such as the historical background of the language, sociopolitical reasons, and forced compliance with national linguistic policies in some of the countries where Kurds live to name a few. In this paper we do not discuss the normative issue of linguistic rights entitlements of the speakers of different varieties of Kurdish. We consider their complex sociolinguistic situation from the point of view of communication efficiency in the face of the following dilemma: Either unification through the adoption of a lingua franca or standardized Kurdish, with the implication of disenfranchisement of some speakers, or the maintenance of multiple dialects, with the risk of fractionalization and its political and economic consequences. For reasons such as the multi-dialect feature of the language and its sociocultural attributes, the attempts to standardize Kurdish have not succeeded. To address this dilemma, we proceed to compute the lexical-linguistic distances between six dialects of Kurdish: three which are representative of Kurmanji and three of Sorani, i. e. the two main linguistic and regional varieties of Kurdish. Our selection of dialects, although incomplete, covers about 75% of the whole population of Kurdish speakers. Our study is the first one to propose an application of the Jaro-similarity index on a Swadesh-list of dialects of Kurdish. Our results reveal some significant distance within Sorani and Kurmanji dialects, and an expected more significant distance between Sorani and Kurmanji dialects. The latter distance is sufficiently important to favor a three-language policy rather than any other one: an international language, the national language (Turkish, Farsi or Arabic), and the local Kurdish variety. This policy maximizes efficiency, Kurdish identity as well as within and without group intercommunication. We compare it to similar linguistic policy attempts in India, Nigeria and Kazakhstan.