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About Kurdish (Kurmanji) Language

Kurmanji (Kurmancî in Kurdish) or Northern Kurdish (sometimes misspelled as Kirmanji, Kurmangi or Kermanji) is the most commonly spoken variety of the Kurdish macrolanguage.

Scripts and books

The Kurmanji language, which uses the Latin script, is the most common variety of the Kurdish macrolanguage and spoken by 80 % of all Kurds.

Kurmanji is the ceremonial language of national Kurdish religion “Yezidism”. The sacred book Mishefa Reş (“Black Book”) and all the prayers are written and said in Kurmanji.

Most important native communities in Kurdistan

Kurmanji is the only Kurdish dialect that is spoken in all four parts of Kurdistan. Most Kurds in Northern Kurdistan (Eastern Turkey) speak Kurmanji. It’s also the mother tongue of the all Kurds in Kurdistan of Syria. Iran and Iraq also has a significant amount of Kurmanji speakers.

Kurmanji is also spoken in the Southern part of Kurdistan (Northern Iraq), in the cities of Mosul, Duhok, Zakho, Akre, Amedia, Sheikhan, Shangal, Zummar. In the southern part of Kurdistan, Kurmanji is mistakenly called by some as Bahdini, simply because Kurmanji speaking Kurds live in Bahdinan region, which consists of the above mentioned cities and towns.

In Iran, Kurmanji is spoken in the northern parts of the country, in the cities of Urmia, Maku, Xoy as well as exile by some two million Kurds living in Khorasan province of Iran. In Iran, it’s sometimes called "Shikaki", due to major Kurmanji tribe Shikak which is the tribe of legendary Kurdish leader Ismail Aghaye Shikak, also known as legendary Simko among the Kurds.


The main theory about the etymology of Kurmanji is that the term Kurmanji, according to Prince Jaladet Bedirkhan, the great Kurdish intellectual who prepared the Latin Kurdish alphabet, comes from Kurd+man+cî which means, those Kurds who remained in their places (not moved like others). In earler publicatons of this century, the term Kurmanji was sometimes spelled with a "d" like "Kurdmanji" but the standard spelling of the term is Kurmanji in English and Kurmancî in Kurdish.

One other theory is that the term Kurmanji is believed by some scholars to mean Median Kurd.[1] Some scholars say the older form of this word is Khormenj (also possibly Hormenj, which means “place of Khormens” or “land of Khormens” in Kurdish). Kurds historically lived in the area Greek sources defined as Armenia; thus Greek Armen could be a rendering of local Khormen. Note that modern Armenians' name for themselves has historically been Haiq.

The Magi Theory

Other scholars dismiss the above theories as false. These scholars claim the term Kurmanji originates from the two distinct words, kur (“boy” or “child”) and magi. Magi refers to one of the ancient tribes of the Median Empire whose priests are referenced in the Bible and are commonly known as the Three Wise Men from Medya. The direct translation applied to the term Kurên Magî is “Children of Magi”. Scholars say that Manji is simply a distorted form of the original term. These scholars also claim that the Magi tribe, or followers of the priests that were referred to as “Magi of the people”, may have been the original speakers of Proto-Kurdish. Indeed pre-modern documents write the name Kurmanj as Kurmaj; For instance Masture Ardalan writes: ... the third group of Kurmaj are Baban... Also there is a desire in Kurdish to add a n before j. (ex. Iranian taj in Kurdish becomes tanj.and " n" in some words is optional eg. "mi" English" i" can be spoken "min"). But probably it has more than one meaning as it is seen above since all these meanings fully related to each other and as many important names and countless words in Kurmanci/Kurdish has more than one meaning.Thus the name/word Kurmanc and Kurmanci has e few meanings.

Kurdish (Kurdish: Kurdî or کوردی) is the macrolanguage spoken by the Kurds in western Asia. Genealogically, it is part of the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It has between 16 and 26 million speakers today. It exists in a continuum of dialects spoken in a geographic area spanning Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, and a small number of speakers in the South Caucasus. The written literary output in Kurdish was confined mostly to poetry until the early 20th century, when a general written literature began to be developed. In its written form today Kurdish has two regional standards, namely Kurmanji in Turkey, and Sorani further east and south. Roughly half of Kurkish speakers live in Turkey. Written Kurdish was illegal in Turkey for most of the 20th century.

Origin and roots

The Kurdish language belongs to the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European family. The older Hurrian language of the people inhabiting the Kurdish areas was replaced by Indo-European around 850 BCE, with the arrival of the Medes to Western Iran.

Systematic comparison of significant features of Kurdish with other Iranian languages shows that Kurdish proper differs on a number of important points from what is known about Median.


Although Kurdish has a long history, little is known about Kurdish in pre-Islamic times. Among the earliest Kurdish religious texts is the Mashafa Rash/Mishefa Reş (The Black Book) the sacred book of Yazidi faith. It is considered to have been authored by Hassan bin Adi (b. 1400 AD), the great-grandnephew of the founder of the faith (Shiekh Adi), sometime in the 13th century AD. It contains the Yazidi account of the creation of the world, the origin of man, the story of Adam and Eve and the major prohibitions of the faith. From the 15th to 17th centuries, classical Kurdish poets and writers developed a literary language. The most notable classical Kurdish poets from this period were Ali Hariri, Ahmad Khani, Malaye Jaziri and Faqi Tayran.

The Italian priest Maurizio Garzoni published the first Kurdish grammar titled Grammatica e Vocabolario della Lingua Kurda in Rome in 1787 after eighteen years of missionary work among the Kurds of Amadiyah. This work is very important in Kurdish history as it is the first acknowledgment of the originality of the Kurdish language on a scientific base. Garzoni was given the title Father of Kurdology by later scholars. The Kurdish language was banned in a large portion of Kurdistan for some time. After the 1980 Turkish coup until 1991 the use of the Kurdish language was illegal in Turkey.

Current status

Today, Kurdish is an official language in Iraq. In Syria, on the other hand, publishing material in Kurdish is forbidden. Before August 2002, the Turkish government placed severe restrictions on the use of Kurdish, prohibiting the language in education and broadcast media. The Kurdish alphabet is still not recognized in Turkey, and the use of Kurdish names containing the letters X, W, and Q, which do not exist in the Turkish alphabet, is not allowed. Kurdish education in private institutions is allowed in Turkey, but there has been little demand for these courses.

In Iran, though it is used in some local media and newspapers, it is not used in public schools. In 2005, 80 Iranian Kurds took part in an experiment and gained scholarships to study in Kurdish in Iraqi Kurdistan.

In March 2006, Turkey allowed private television channels to begin airing programming in the Kurdish language. However, the Turkish government said that they must avoid showing children's cartoons, or educational programs that teach the Kurdish language, and could broadcast only for 45 minutes a day or four hours a week. However, most of these restrictions on private Kurdish television channels were relaxed in September 2009.

The state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) started its 24-hour Kurdish television station on 1 January 2009 with the motto “we live under the same sky.” The Turkish Prime Minister sent a video message in Kurdish to the opening ceremony, which was attended by Minister of Culture and other state officials. The channel uses the controversial X, W, Q letters during broadcasting.

Other Kurdish satellite televisions are available in the Middle East and Europe.

Kurdish blogs have emerged in recent years as virtual fora where Kurdish-speaking Internet users can express themselves in their native Kurdish or in other languages.

Kurmanji Kurdish versus Sorani Kurdish

Kurdish has two standardized versions, which have been labelled 'Northern' and 'Central'. The northern version, commonly called Kurmanji, is spoken in Turkey, Syria, and the northern part of the Kurdish-speaking areas of Iraq and Iran, and it accounts for a little over three-quarters of all Kurdish speakers. The central version, commonly called Sorani, is spoken in west Iran and much of Iraqi Kurdistan. In historical evolution terms, Kurmanji is less modified than Sorani in both phonetic and morphological structure. The Sorani group has been influenced by among other things its closer cultural proximity to the other Iranian languages including the Gorani language of Iran.

Philip G. Kreyenbroek, an expert writing in 1992, says:

  • "Since 1932 most Kurds have used the Roman script to write Kurmanji.... Sorani is normally written in an adapted form of the Arabic script.... Reasons for describing Kurmanji and Sorani as 'dialects' of one language are their common origin and the fact that this usage reflects the sense of ethnic identity and unity among the Kurds. From a linguistic or at least a grammatical point of view, however, Kurmanji and Sorani differ as much from each other as English and German, and it would seem appropriate to refer to them as languages. For example, Sorani has neither gender nor case-endings, whereas Kurmanji has both.... Differences in vocabulary and pronunciation are not as great as between German and English, but they are still considerable.

According to Encyclopaedia of Islam, although Kurdish is not a unified language, its many dialects are interrelated and at the same time distinguishable from other western Iranian languages. The same source classifies different Kurdish dialects as two main groups, northern and central. The reality is that the average Kurmanji speaker does not find it easy to communicate with the inhabitants of Suleymania or Halabja.

Sorani differs on six grammatical points from Kurmanji. This appears to be a result of Gorani (Haurami) influence.

  • The passive conjugation: the Sorani passive morpheme -r-/-ra - corresponds to -y-/-ya - in Gorani and Zazaki, while Kurmanji employs the auxiliary verb, come;
  • a definite suffix -eke, also occurring in Zazaki;
  • an intensifying postverb -ewe, corresponding to Kurmanji preverbal ve-;
  • an 'open compound' construction with a suffix -e, for definite noun phrases with an epithet;
  • the preservation of enclitic personal pronouns, which have disappeared in Kurmanji and in Zazaki;
  • a simplified izāfa system.

Some linguistic scholars assert that the term "Kurdish" has been applied extrinsically in describing the language the Kurds speak, while Kurds have used the word "Kurdish" to simply describe their ethnic or national identity and refer to their language as Kurmanji, Sorani, Hewrami, or whatever other dialect or language they speak. Some historians have noted that it is only recently that the Kurds who speak the Sorani dialect have begun referring to their language as Kurdî, in addition to their identity, which is translated to simply mean Kurdish.


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