Kurdish alphabets

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Kurdish restaurant sign in England, with sign written in Arabic script and English

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 Persian alphabet-based Sorani alphabet, named for the historical Soran Emirate of present-day Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has agreed upon a standard for Sorani, implemented in Unicode for computation purposes.[1]

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

Hawar alphabet[edit]

The Kurmanji dialect of the Kurdish language is written in an extended Latin alphabet, consisting of the 26 letters of the ISO basic Latin Alphabet with 5 letters with diacritics, for a total of 31 letters (each having an uppercase and a lowercase form):

Hawar 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
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 while the long vowels are A, Ê, Î, O and Û (see the IPA equivalents in the Help:IPA/Kurdish table).

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 official status of letters, but 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.[2]

The Turkish government finally legalized the letters Q, W, and X as part of the Turkish alphabet in 2013.[3]

Suggested modification[edit]

Some scholars have suggested to add minor additions to Bedirxan's Hawar alphabet to make it more user-friendly.[4] The additions correspond to sounds that are represented in the Sorani Arabic alphabet, but not in the Hawar alphabet. These scholars suggest this extended alphabet be called the universal Kurdish Latin alphabet. The suggested additional characters are Ł, Ň, Ř and Ü. The velar Ł/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/ř. The letter Ü/ü is a new letter, which is sometimes written ۊ‎ in the Sorani alphabet, and represents the close front rounded vowel [y] used in the Southern Kurdish dialects. The velar nasal consonant [ŋ] is also a Kurdish phoneme[5] which never comes in initial position, and it is written as Ň/ň. The universal Kurdish Latin alphabet consists of 35 letters in total.

Universal Kurdish Latin 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
Short vowels: E, I and U.
Long vowels: A, Ê, Î, O, Û and Ü (see the IPA equivalents in Help:IPA/Kurdish table).

Non-Kurdish phonemes[edit]

These three glyphs do not have the official status of letter.

Majuscule forms
ʿ Ḥ (or Ḧ) X̣ (or Ẍ)
Minuscule forms
ʿ ḥ (or ḧ) x̣ (or ẍ)
Arabic letters
ع‎ [6] ح‎ [7] غ‎ [8]

Sorani alphabet[edit]

Central Kurdish (Sorani) is mainly written using a modified Persian alphabet with 33 letters introduced by Sa'id Kaban Sedqi. Unlike the Arabic alphabet, which is an abjad, Sorani is almost a true alphabet in which vowels are mandatory, making the script easier to read. Yet contemporary Sorani does not have a complete representation of Kurimanji Kurdish sounds, as it lacks short i. Written Sorani also relies on vowel and consonant context to differentiate between the phonemes u/w and i/j instead of using separate letters, although usually this is sufficient enough to eliminate any and all ambiguity within written Kurdish. It does show the two pharyngeal consonants, as well as a voiced velar fricative, used in Kurdish. Reformed Sorani does have glyphs for the Kurdish short "i" [ٮ‎] and it is able to successfully differentiate between the consonant "w" from the short vowel "u" by representing "w" with a [ڡ‎]. It is also able to successfully differentiate between the consonant "y" from the long vowel "î" by representing "î" with a [ؽ‎] and the long vowel "û" can be represented with a [ۉ‎] or [ۇ‎] instead of double و‎.

A new sort order for the alphabet was recently proposed by the Kurdish Academy as the new standard,[9] all of which are letters accepted included in the Sorani Unicode Keyboard:[10]

ع ش س ژ ز ڕ ر د خ ح چ ج ت پ ب ا ئـ
17 16 15 14 13 12 11 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
ێ ی وو ۆ و ە ھ ن م ڵ ل گ ک ق ڤ ف غ
34 33 32 31 30 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22 21 20 19 18

Note - The above sequences are read from right to left. For pronunciations see comparison table below.

The alphabet is represented by 34 letters including وو which is given its own position. Kurds in Iraq and Iran mainly use this alphabet, though the Kurdish Latin alphabet is also in use. The standardization by KRG uses ک‎ (Unicode 06A9) instead of ك‎ (Unicode 0643) for letter Kaf (22 in above table), as listed in the Unicode table on the official home page for the standard.[10] However, the latter glyph is still in use by various individuals and organizations.


Kurdish Sorani has 8 vowels, whilst only 7 are represented by letters:[11]

# Letter IPA Example
1 ا با‎ (air)
2 ە ɛ سەر‎ (head)
3 و u كورد‎ (Kurd)
4 ۆ تۆ‎ (You)
5 وو دوور‎ (far)
6 ی شین‎ (blue)
7 ێ دێ‎ (village)

Similar to some English letters, both و‎ (w) and ی‎ (y) can become consonants. In the word وان‎ (Wan) the و‎ is consonant. Similarly, in the word یاری‎ (play), the ی‎ (y) is a consonant. Sorani stipulates that syllables must be formed with at least one vowel, whilst maximum two vowels are permitted.

Historical alphabets[edit]

Cyrillic script[edit]

A third system, used for the few (Kurmanji-speaking) Kurds in the former Soviet Union, especially in Armenia, used a Cyrillic alphabet, consisting of 40 letters. It was designed in 1946 by Heciyê Cindî:[12]

А а Б б В в Г г Г' г' Д д Е е Ә ә Ә' ә' Ж ж
З з И и Й й К к К' к' Л л М м Н н О о Ӧ ӧ
П п П' п' Р р Р' р' С с Т т Т' т' У у Ф ф Х х
Һ һ Һ' һ' Ч ч Ч' ч' Ш ш Щ щ Ь ь Э э Ԛ ԛ Ԝ ԝ

Armenian alphabet[edit]

From 1921 to 1929 the Armenian alphabet was used for Kurdish languages in the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic.[13]

Then it was replaced with a Yañalif-like Latin alphabet during the campaigns for Latinisation in the Soviet Union.

Uniform adaptation for Kurdish[edit]

In 1928, Kurdish languages in all of the Soviet Union, including the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic, were 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 the following alphabet:[14]

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.[15] 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."

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.[15] 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:[16]

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[edit]

Universal Kurdish Yekgirtú Cyrillic Kurmancî Sorani IPA
(isolated) (final) (medial) (initial)
A, a A, a А, а ا ـا ئا []
B, b B, b Б, б ب ـب ـبـ بـ [b]
C, c J, j Щ, щ ج ـج ـجـ جـ [d͡ʒ]
Ç, ç C, c Ч, ч چ ـچ ـچـ چـ [t͡ʃ]
D, d D, d Д, д د ـد د [d]
E, e E, e Ә, ә ە ـە ئە [ɛ]
Ê, ê É, é Е, е (Э э) ێ ـێ ـێـ ئێـ []
F, f F, f Ф, ф ف ـف ـفـ فـ [f]
G, g G, g Г, г گ ـگ ـگـ گـ [ɡ]
H, h H, h Һ, һ هـ ـهـ هـ [h]
I, i I, i Ь, ь




Î, î Í, í И, и ی ـی ـیـ ئیـ []
J, j Jh, jh Ж, ж ژ ـژ ژ [ʒ]
K, k K, k К, к ک ـک ـکـ کـ [k]
L, l L, l Л, л ل ـل ـلـ لـ [l]
Ł, ł ll Л’, л’ ڵ ـڵ ـڵـ [ɫ]
M, m M, m М, м م ـم ـمـ مـ [m]
N, n N, n Н, н ن ـن ـنـ نـ [n]
Ň, ň ng нг [ŋ]
O, o O, o O, o ۆ ـۆ ئۆ [o]
P, p P, p П, п پ ـپ ـپـ پـ [p]
Q, q Q, q Ԛ, ԛ ق ـق ـقـ قـ [q]
R, r R, r Р, р ر ـر [ɾ]
Ř, ř rr Р’, р’ ڕ ـڕ ڕ [r]
S, s S, s С, с س ـس ـسـ سـ [s]
Ş, ş Sh, sh Ш, ш ش ـش ـشـ شـ [ʃ]
T, t T, t Т, т ت ـت ـتـ تـ [t]
U, u U, u Ӧ, ӧ و ـو ئو [u]
Û, û Ú, ú У, у وو ـوو ئوو []
Ü, ü Ù, ù ۊ ـۊ []
V, v V, v В, в ڤ ـڤ ـڤـ ڤـ [v]
W, w W, w Ԝ, ԝ و ـو و [w]
X, x X, x Х, х خ ـخ ـخـ خـ [x]
Y, y Y, y Й, й ی ـی ـیـ یـ [j]
Z, z Z, z З, з ز ـز ز [z]
Non-Kurdish consonants
Universal Kurdish Yekgirtú Cyrillic Kurmancî Sorani IPA
(isolated) (final) (medial) (initial)
Ḧ, ḧ H', h' Һ’, һ’ ح ـح ـحـ حـ [ħ]
ʿ ' ع ـع ـعـ عـ [ʕ]
Ẍ, ẍ X', x' Ѓ, ѓ غ ـغ ـغـ غـ [ɣ]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Kurdistan Regional Government (Kurdish article)". cabinet.gov.krd. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  2. ^ Karakaş, Saniye; Diyarbakır Branch of the Contemporary Lawyers Association (March 2004). "Submission to the Sub-Commission on Promotion and Protection of Human Rights: Working Group of Minorities; Tenth Session, Agenda Item 3 (a)" (MS Word). 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. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  3. ^ Mark Liberman (2013-10-24). "Turkey legalizes the letters Q, W, and X. Yay Alphabet!". Slate. Retrieved 2013-10-25.
  4. ^ "Kirmaşanî Alphabet and Pronunciation Guide". Retrieved 2015-11-03 – via Academia.edu.
  5. ^ Fattah, Ismaïl Kamandâr (2000). Les dialectes kurdes meridionaux. Etude linguistique et dialectologique, (Acta Iranica 37). E. J. Brill. ISBN 9042909188.
  6. ^ The voiced pharyngeal approximant or fricative [ʕ] with the Arabic letter ع is a non-Kurdish sound, borrowed from Arabic. Used in some dialects.
  7. ^ The voiceless pharyngeal fricative [ħ] with the Arabic letter ح is a non-Kurdish sound, borrowed from Arabic. Used in some dialects.
  8. ^ The voiced velar fricative [ɣ] is originally a non-Kurdish sound. Borrowed from Arabic. Used in some dialects.
  9. ^ (in Kurdish) گۆڤاری ئەکادیمیای کوردی، ژمارە (١٦)ی ساڵی ٢٠١٠ (The 2010 Journal of Kurdish Academy, Issue 16), 14-16
  10. ^ a b Unicode Team of KRG-IT. "Kurdish Keyboard". unicode.ekrg.org. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  11. ^ "ڕێنووس". yageyziman.com. Retrieved 2016-03-01.
  12. ^ Һ'. Щнди (1974). Әлифба (3000 экз ed.). Ереван: Луйс. p. 96.
  13. ^ (in Russian) Курдский язык (Kurdish language), Кругосвет (Krugosvet)
  14. ^ (in Russian) Культура и письменность Востока (Eastern Culture and Literature). 1928, №2.
  15. ^ a b Kurdish Academy of Language, Alphabet
  16. ^ Kurdish Academy of Language, Yekgirtú, the Kurdish Unified Alphabet.

External links[edit]