Central Kurdish

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Central Kurdish
سۆرانی، کوردیی ناوەندی
Native to Iraq, Iran
Native speakers
6 million in Iraq (2012)[1]
3 million in Iran
  • Mukriyani
  • Hewleri
  • Ardalani
  • Gerrusi
  • Babani
  • Wermawi
  • Germiyani
  • Jafi
Sorani alphabet
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3 ckb
Glottolog cent1972[3]
Linguasphere 58-AAA-cae
Kurdish languages map.svg
Geographic distribution of Kurdish and other Iranian languages spoken by Kurds

Central Kurdish (کوردیی ناوەندی; kurdîy nawendî), also called Sorani (سۆرانی; Soranî) is a Kurdish language spoken in Iraq, mainly in Iraqi Kurdistan, as well as the Kurdistan Province and West Azerbaijan Province of western Iran. Central Kurdish is one of the two official languages of Iraq, along with Arabic, and is in political documents simply referred to as "Kurdish".[4][5]

The term Sorani, named after the former Soran Emirate, is used especially to refer to a written, standardized form of Central Kurdish written in the Sorani alphabet developed from the Arabic alphabet in the 1920s by Sa'íd Sidqi Kaban and Taufiq Wahby.[6]


In Sulaymaniyah (Silêmanî), the Ottoman Empire had created a secondary school, the Rushdiye, graduates from which could go to Istanbul to continue to study there. This allowed Central Kurdish, which was spoken in Silêmanî, to progressively replace Hawrami dialects as the literary vehicle for Kurdish.

Since the fall of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party – Iraq Region, there have been more opportunities to publish works in the Kurdish languages in Iraq than in any other country in recent times.[7] As a result, Central Kurdish has become the dominant written form of Kurdish.[8]


Central Kurdish is written with a modified Arabic alphabet. This is in contrast to the other main Kurdish language, Northern Kurdish (Kurmanji), which is spoken mainly in Turkey and is usually written in the Latin alphabet.

However, during the past decade, official TV in Iraqi Kurdistan has mainly used the Latin script for Central Kurdish.


The exact number of Sorani speakers is difficult to determine, but it is generally thought that Sorani is spoken by about 6 to 7 million people in Iraq and Iran.[9][10] It is the most widespread speech of Kurds in Iran and Iraq. In particular, it is spoken by:


Following includes the traditional internal variants of Sorani. However, nowadays, due to widespread media and communications, most of them are regarded as subdialects of standard Sorani:

  • Mukriyani; The language spoken south of Lake Urmia with Mahabad as its center, including the cities of Piranshahr and the Kurdish speaking part of Naghadeh. This region is traditionally known as Mukriyan.
  • Ardalani, spoken in the cities of Sanandaj, Marivan, Kamyaran, Divandarreh and Dehgolan in Kordestan province and the Kurdish speaking parts of Tekab and Shahindej in West Azerbaijan province. This region is known as Ardalan.
  • Garmiani, in and around Kirkuk
  • Hawlari, spoken in and around the city of Hawler (Erbil) in Iraqi Kurdistan and Oshnavieh. Its main distinction is changing the consonant /l/ into /r/ in many words.
  • Babani, spoken in and around the city of Sulaymaniya in Iraq and the cities of Saghez, Baneh, Bokan and Sardasht in Iran.
  • Jafi, spoken in the towns of Javanroud, Ravansar and some villages around Sarpole Zahab and Paveh.

As an official language[edit]

A recent proposal was made for Central Kurdish to be the official language of the Kurdistan Regional Government. This idea has been favoured by some Central Kurdish-speakers but has disappointed Northern Kurdish speakers.[11]


Sorani Kurdish has a rich consonant inventory and a fairly rich vowel inventory as well. This section makes use of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).


The following table contains the vowels of Sorani Kurdish.[12][13] Vowels in parentheses are not phonemic, but have been included in the table below because of their ubiquity in the language. Letters in the Sorani alphabet take various forms depending on where they occur in the word.[13] Forms given below are letters in isolation.

IPA Sorani Alphabet Romanization Example Word (Sorani) Example Word (English)
i ى î hiʧ = "nothing" "beet"
ɪ - i gɪr'tɪn = "to take" "bit"
e ێ e, ê hez = "power" "bait"
(ɛ) ه e bɛjɑni = "morning" "bet"
(ə) ا ه (mixed) "but"
æ ه â tænæ'kæ = "tin can" "bat"
u وو û gur = "calf" "boot"
ʊ و u gʊɾg = "wolf" "book"
o ۆ o gor = "level" "boat"
ɑ ا a gɑ = "cow" "balm" ("father")

Some Vowel Alternations and Notes[edit]

The vowel [æ] is sometimes pronounced as [ə] (the sound found in the first syllable of the English word "above"). This sound change takes place when [æ] directly precedes [w] or when it is followed by the sound [j] (like English "y") in the same syllable. If it, instead, precedes [j] in a context where [j] is a part of another syllable it is pronounced [ɛ] (as in English "bet").[13]

The vowels [o] and [e], both of which have slight off-glides in English, do not possess these off-glides in Sorani.


Letters in the Sorani alphabet take various forms depending on where they occur in the word.[13] Forms given below are letters in isolation.

IPA Sorani Alphabet Romanization Example Word (Sorani) Example Word (English" Notes
b ب b b in "bat"
p پ p p in "pat"
t ت t t in "tab"
d د d d in "dab"
k ک k c in "cot"
g گ g g in "got"
q ق q Like Eng. k but further back in the throat
ʔ ا ' middle sound in "uh-oh"
f ف f f in "fox"
v ڤ v v in "voice"
s س s s in "sing"
z ز z z in "zipper"
x خ kh Like the ch in German "Bach"
ɣ غ gh Like the sound above, but voiced Mostly in borrowed words, usually pronounced [x]
ʃ ش sh sh in "shoe"
ʒ ژ zh ge in "beige"
ʧ چ ch ch in "cheap"
ʤ ج j j in "jump"
ħ ح More guttural than the English h Presence of this is regional
h ھ h h in "hat"
m م m m in "mop"
n ن n n in "none"
w و w w in "water"
j ى y y in "yellow"
ɾ ر r t in Am. Eng. "water"
r ڕ ř, rr Like Spanish trilled r
l ل l l in "let" (forward in the mouth)
ɫ ڵ ł l in "all" (backward in the mouth)

Grammatical features[edit]

Word order[edit]

The standard word order in Sorani is SOV (subject–object–verb).[14]


Nouns in Sorani Kurdish may appear in three general forms. The Absolute State, Indefinite State, and Definite State.

Absolute State[edit]

A noun in the absolute state occurs without any suffix, as it would occur in a vocabulary list or dictionary entry. Absolute state nouns receive a generic interpretation.[12][13]

Indefinite State[edit]

Indefinite nouns receive an interpretation like English nouns preceded by a, an, some, or any.

Several modifiers may only modify nouns in the indefinite state.[13] This list of modifiers includes:

  • chand [ʧand] "a few"
  • hamu [hamu] "every"
  • chî [ʧi] "what"
  • har [haɾ] "each"
  • ...i zor [ɪ zoɾ] "many"

Nouns in the indefinite state take the following endings:[12][13]

Singular Plural
Noun Ending with a Vowel -yek -yân
Noun Ending with a Consonant -ek -ân

Definite State[edit]

Definite nouns receive an interpretation like English nouns preceded by the.

Nouns in the definite state take the following endings:[12][13]

Singular Plural
Noun Ending with a Vowel -ka -kæn
Noun Ending with a Consonant -aka -akæn

When a noun stem ending with [i] is combined with the definite state suffix the result is pronounced [eka] ( i + aka → eka)


There are no pronouns to distinguish between masculine and feminine and no verb inflection to signal gender.[15]

Dictionaries and translations[edit]

There are a substantial number of Sorani dictionaries available, amongst which there are many that seek to be bilingual.

English and Sorani

  • English–Kurdish Dictionary by Dr. Selma Abdullah and Dr. Khurhseed Alam
  • Raman English-Kurdish Dictionary by Destey Ferheng

As a main program, Iranian Kurdish-speaker scholar, Hamid Hassani, is supposed to compile a Sorani Kurdish Corpus, consisting of one million words.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Central Kurdish at Ethnologue (19th ed., 2016)
  2. ^ "Full Text of Iraqi Constitution". Washington Post. 12 October 2005. Retrieved 12 June 2013. 
  3. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Central Kurdish". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History. 
  4. ^ Allison, Christine (2012). The Yezidi Oral Tradition in Iraqi Kurdistan. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-136-74655-0.  "However, it was the southern dialect of Kurdish, Central Kurdish, the majority language of the Iraqi Kurds, which received sanction as an official language of Iraq."
  5. ^ "Kurdish language issue and a divisive approach | Kurdish Academy of Language". 5 March 2016. Archived from the original on March 5, 2016. 
  6. ^ Blau, Joyce (2000). Méthode de Kurde: Sorani. Editions L'Harmattan. ISBN 978-2-296-41404-4. , page 20
  7. ^ "Iraqi Kurds". Cal.org. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  8. ^ "Language background of major refugee groups to the UK - Refugee Council". Languages.refugeecouncil.org.uk. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  9. ^ "Kurdistan Democratic Party-Iraq". Knn.u-net.com. Archived from the original on 2012-08-07. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  10. ^ SIL Ethnologue (2013) under "Central Kurdish" gives a 2009 estimate of 3.5 million speakers in Iraq and an undated estimate of 3.25 speakers in Iran.
  11. ^ "Kurdish language issue and a divisive approach | Kurdish Academy of Language". Kurdishacademy.org. Retrieved 2012-07-15. 
  12. ^ a b c d Merchant, Livingston T. Introduction to Sorani Kurdish: The Principal Kurdish Dialect Spoken in the Regions of Northern Iraq and Western Iran. University of Raparin. ISBN 978-1483969268. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h Thackston, W.M. (2006). Sorani Kurdish: A Reference Grammar with Selected Readings. 
  14. ^ Soranî Kurdish, A Reference Grammar with Selected Readings, by W. M. Thackston
  15. ^ Kurdish Sorani language developmental features


  • Hassanpour, A. (1992). Nationalism and Language in Kurdistan 1918–1985. USA: Mellen Research University Press. 
  • Nebez, Jemal (1976). Toward a Unified Kurdish Language. NUKSE. 
  • Izady, Mehrdad (1992). The Kurds: A Concise Handbook. Washington, D.C.: Taylor & Francis. 

External links[edit]