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.