1919 Sep 26
ENGLISH and Kurdish.
A QUESTION FOR THE PHILOLOGISTS.
By Dr. A. Mingana (of the Rylands Library, Manchester).
It is well known that the English language belongs to the Indo-European, Aryan, or Indo-Germanic group, and is thus affiliated to the Teutonic, Italic, Hellenic, and Balto-Slavonic dialects, which, in their turn, area king to Iranian and some of the North Indian dialects.
In opening any English dictionary which professes to give the derivation of any word, one notices that most of the concrete words are referred back to Old English, Norse, and other Teutonic languages, while most of the abstract words are referred back to Old French, Latin, and Greek.
Besides the structure of a language, it is thus its concrete words, rather than its abstract words, that establish its kinship with other languages.
English does not stand alone in possessing a double vocabulary. Persian is in a similar position and for similar reasons, for she, too, was conquered by a foreign people at an early date in her history.
When the Semitic Arabs conquered Persia in the seventh Christian century they left on the genius of her language a mark which she will never obliterate unless very drastic measures are taken. About two-thirds of the abstract and one-third of the concrete terms of Persian are derived from Arabic, although Arabic belongs to an entirely different family. To establish affinity between two languages it is necessary to neglect almost entirely the abstract words of both, because these were generally borrowed from a more civilised nation endowed with a previously acquired literature.
The peoples who have more tenaciously preserved the purity of their language are generally those who had less intercourse with the outside world; for instance, is not Arabic, although the latest in the field, the purest and the oldest of the Semitic languages because the Arabs had in antiquity less dealing with foreign peoples than the Assyrians, Arameans, Hebrews, and Ethiopians?
Within the Persian family there is a powerful and numerous clan, commonly called Kurds. These half-primitive Kurmanjs (as they call themselves) lead a distinct tribal life, and dwell mainly in the country known on the maps as Kurdistan, but their settlements extend as far west as Cilicia and Central Anatolia. In their long history they have had no empire, although they struct independent blows for the overthrow of many empires; they have had little dealing with tribes foreign to themselves, although their predatory instinct sometimes marked them as the pest of neighbouring peoples; they have nearly always been independent, although from the data furnished by geographical atlases one is wrongly induced to believe that they have alternately been Parthian, Sasanian, Roman, Arab, and Turk. Apart from some tribal songs, they have never had any literature worth mentioning. If, therefore, in the primitive language of these tribes who belong to the Indo-European family one finds a considerable number of concrete words in daily use which with slight and insignificant variations are phonetically identical with the corresponding words of another language, one is led to believe that at some period of their history there might have been closer ties of relationship and more intimate linguistic connections between the two than is generally supposed.
Towards the end of 1915 I was asked by the War Office to write a practical English-Kurdish and English-Syriac vocabulary for the use of troops fighting in the Near and Middle East. In performing this duty I noticed that many Kurdish words were almost similar to their English equivalent. I collected many such roots to satisfy a natural curiosity. I will give below some of these roots for purposes of comparison, but as English philology is not my speciality, and as my only authorities on this matter are the well-known works of Webster, Skeat, Murray, and others, I shall be thankful if a specialist in English will come forth and show the intrinsic merits and demerits of my comparisons. I am preparing for a later study a complete list of these Perso-Kurdish terms, In which ever word will be discussed at some length, but before venturing into a new sphere of scientific groupings I most earnestly appeal for a reasoned and healthy criticism. The subject appears to me to be of importance in many respects, and little did I think in writing the Kurdish vocabulary that I was ushering British heroes into a new philological school of the origin of words.
canin, or carin
bu, or buin
khal, or zu-khal
cof, or cokh
patch, or pat
shiwer (to be terrified)
The list can be increased by scores of other words, which we deemed useless to put down for the present. I must, however, add a final remark. In my comparisons I have noticed two phonetical features worth mentioning here: (a) the person-Kurds have a certain dislike for words beginning with W, which they often change into G — e.g., garm, for warm; girm for worm, &c.; (b) they also apocopate the letter D at the end of many words—e.g., lao, for lad; shwor, for sword. &c.