Discussion paper

DP16086 A Lingua Franca for Kurdish Populations

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.


Bourgeois-Gironde, S, V Ginsburgh, H Hassani and S Weber (2021), ‘DP16086 A Lingua Franca for Kurdish Populations‘, CEPR Discussion Paper No. 16086. CEPR Press, Paris & London. https://cepr.org/publications/dp16086