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Rudaw

Opinion

Kurmanji Google Translate: A virtual revolution on Int’l day of mother tongue

By Amir Sharifi 24/2/2016
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Kurds more than ever needed to celebrate Feb 21, the International Day of Mother Tongue on the auspicious occasion of the advent of the Kurmanji Google Translate. Google has now officially added Kurmanji to its list of Google Translate languages of the world. This momentous International Day of Mother Tongue recognized since 2008, fosters and contributes to cultural and linguistic diversity of our world. For Kurds any gains no matter how small in the sphere of language rights calls for celebration as it is a step in presenting and promoting our rich legacy.

Cyber space has by and large offered the Kurdish language a breathing space free from the yoke of central and tyrannical states who have tried to subordinate, subdue, and marginalize our language.  However, the Kurdish language is little by little finding its rightful place in cyber place, ensuring linguistic and cultural autonomy against the controlling states. Google now offers translation in more than103 languages, a tiny portion of more than six thousands languages of the world, more than half of which are in danger of disappearing. The inclusion and the accessibility of Kurmanji to linguistic communities as a medium of communication would create a new linguistic marketplace and as such it would be transformative in terms of spreading and elevating Kurmanji.

Many languages have become extinct as a result of physical conquest, genocidal destruction of the speakers or brutal political suppression and denial of fundamental linguistic and cultural identity of a speech community. Kurds have woefully suffered language shift in Turkey, Syria, and Iran. Such a loss often means that there is also cultural loss and alienation. There were thousands of languages spoken in Americas before Europeans came. Now only a handful of languages have survived, some of which are in danger of extinction. In Turkey, Iran, and Syria millions of children have been sent to school over the last century to be educated in Turkish, Persian, and Arabic in a dual and incongruent world, as a result of which they suffer emotionally and academically. Kurdish struggle has been in large part to save our children from the tyranny of authoritarian governments of the dominant nations and languages against language discrimination and exclusion.

What Google has done reinforces and revolutionizes the United Nations Education and Scientific and Cultural Organization’s resolutions; it promotes native languages like Kurmanji that is spoken by over 20 million people. The Universal Declaration of Cultural Diversity approved by UNESCO in 2001 gives legitimacy to all languages and cultures of the world but countries where Kurds live continue to repress Kurdish language rights including the right to education in their mother tongue. Internet and Cyber space are now rising above and shattering the artificial boundaries and traditional classrooms. The Google Translate will also be fostering and facilitating mutual intelligibility within and across different dialects of Kurdish.

It is noteworthy to say that Google Translate recognizes Kurmanji as a written language because it meets their criteria of being a written language and providing a significant volume of translated texts from and into the language.  Although machine translation poses its own challenges and demands and should work in concert with a community of translators, Google Kurmanji Translate is a revolutionary stride for a vibrant and vigorous language, particularly, Kurmanji, that until recently was forbidden and subjected to draconian suppression to which the world remained oblivious.

Google Translate can serve as an incredible pedagogical resource; although it may prove to be inadequate and inaccurate in some areas of translation, but it has created a novel impetus for students and teachers of Kurdish in the same way that the phenomenal development of Kurdish media and websites has contributed to the spread of the Kurdish language and its cultural richness.

The Google translate can be seen as a crucial crusade to elevate the status of Kurmanji and to reverse language shift among the young generation both in the homeland and diaspora. On the international Mother’s Day, this development for the community of Kurmanji speakers in the homeland and diaspora would open a new vista for linguistic and cultural space to contest Turkey’s, Syria’s, and Iran’s denial of the language rights of the Kurdish people. The inclusion in Google Translate is offering Kurdish a transnational and international dimension that would contribute to the language find its rightful place by creating an virtual space for Kurmanji, one of the most ancient and authentic languages of the world. This recognition of a language spoken by the great majority of Kurds in most areas of Turkey, in all areas of Rojava, in Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and in Khurasan region of Iran.

As we observe the celebration of the UNESCO’s language rights as embodied in the International Mother Language day, we should consider Kurmanji Google Translate a great service to our linguistic and cultural revival, reconstruction, and translation by opening new avenues and loci for revival, recovery, discovery, and cultural continuity of Kurmanji and its cultural and literary history and legacy.

Dr.Amir Sharifi, President of the Kurdish American Education Society in California.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.

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cyax animosus | 24/2/2016
I advise those of you that speak Kurmanji and Sorani + another language to help google with translating. https://translate.google.com/community?source=t-return-user Sorani is also there, and if you help them translate it might be added in the future
Shoresh Barzinji | 24/2/2016
Although overall is a good article but the Kurdish language as the root and the oldest of all an Indo-European languages which is suppressed heavily by the centralzed nationalist fascist governments especially in 'Turkey' and Syria since after the horrors of first world one, that heavy handed suppression of Kurdish language cannot be applied to the Eastern Kurdistan or Iranian Kurdistan because as a Kurd from the south of Kurdistan I know that Kurdish language is part of the an Indo-lranian of languages which is a brunch of an Indo-European languages therefore Kurdish language is a sister of the Persian language as a Russian language is a sister of all others slav languages, further more the overwhelming majority of the Kurds in Iran speak in Sorani brunch of Kurdish language and comes as the third largest language in Iran after Azari,which is not the same case in fascist 'Turkey', Syria and in Iraq where Kurdish language is the second largest language.lt's important and imperetive for the sake of easier and fluid communication among Kurdish people from all parts of Kurdistan to succeed in unification of all brunches of Kurdish language in one standard Kurdish language in writing and in the media just like Arabic language, Albainan language, German language, English language and so on instead of telling the world that Kurdish language is two languages one is called Kurmanji and the other one is called Sorani.
Knameran | 24/2/2016
I am a sorani speaking Kurd and I always believed the main Kurdish language should be Kurmanji with sorani terminology, I love Kurmanji!
Reber | 24/2/2016
Google didn't suddenly wake up and realize that million of people use the Kurdish language and they should maybe offer this in their services, they knew this very well but still chose to ignore Kurdish for political reasons (Turkish Iranian lobby). Google took this step because Kurdish language portals and translation sits has exploded these past few years, there's a marked for it some of them are starting to get quite popular. Google monitors all traffic on the internet and sees that some these sites if they become more established will take potential marked from them, specially in areas like translation. Google just wants to eliminate the competition before it even starts. This is not necessarily good for the Kurdish language as Google will now have definition power of the Kurdish language.
Gerbert d'Aurillac | 24/2/2016
The E.U.has just stated its opposition to a Kurdish State to be established.The Western countries deny the existence of Kurds as a nation and do oppose their right to self-determination.What could one expect from those countries who armed Saddam Hussein to commit genocide on Kurds ?.Just look into History :- The so much celebrated French revolution suppressed and outlaweded many languages spoken at the time in France.In the year 1794 they found that only 3 million had the French as mother tongh among the 27 million of the county's population,with the other 24 million having other native languages,and thus unable to understand French ,a language that was imposed forcefully on them.They have even denied by law the right to marry couples who were unable to understand and speak French.So,the French revolution was a genocidal movement,a sort of jihad launched on minorities,a war declared on humanity.And they say that it made the declaration of human rights.Which human right has the West left for the Kurds as it denied them their right to self-determination ?.
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