Kurdish Translation: When The Right Words Unlock The Iron Door

There’s a popular saying among the Kurdish communities that goes; “Kind words will unlock an iron door”. We also believe that It’s ONLY through using the right words, you can unlock the iron door and freely communicate with the Kurdish-speaking communities.

The digital age empowers many native language groups that could grow beyond the leading and dominant languages. And more and more companies understand the value of a multilingual strategy to take their product/service to those emerging markets. They understand that in doing so, they will generate revenues through the leading, competitive markets of Long-Tail languages, referring to the languages often neglected in favor of a small percentage of global superstars such as Spanish and German. Today, we’d like to focus on a particularly interesting long-tail language, Kurdish.

Why Kurdish? Well, despite its generously sized community, Kurdish is not exactly well-known in business or even translation and localization circles. Overshadowed by more well-known relatives and having a reputation as a rather complex language, Kurdish doesn’t benefit from the same tools available for only a fraction of the world’s languages.

Let us run you through the challenges and benefits of adding long-tail languages such as Kurdish to your strategies, and touch upon some promising advances in the conversation and advancement of long-tail languages.

Let’s Get Started: The Kurdish Language At A Glance

The Kurdish language is part of the Indo-Iranian family and finds its closest relative in the more famous language of Persian. As the official language of Kurdistan, Kurdish shares its administrative power with Arabic. The community of an estimated 20 – 30 million native speakers can be divided into three major dialect groups and a handful of smaller ones, making the Kurdish language both interesting and complicated from a translation’s perspective. The biggest groups include:

  •  Northern Kurdish, also known as Kurmanji, as the largest dialect group with an estimated community of 15-20 million. These communities reside in Turkey, northwestern Iran, northern Iraq, and Syria.
  • Central Kurdish, also known as Sorani, is the second-largest group with a native community of around 7 million in the Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan Provinces.
  • Southern Kurdish, or Pehlewani, is spoken by roughly 3 million natives residing in the Iranian Kermanshah and Ilam Provinces, and the eastern Iraqi Khanaqin district.

The Most Common Kurdish Translation Challenges

You may have already suspected by the introduction on Kurdish, that this language will have some unique translation challenges and hurdles to overcome. So, before we jump into the work being set in motion to overcome some of the challenges, let’s focus on some characteristics of the Kurdish language, and why they pose a challenge for translators and localization professionals.

Diversity In Kurdish Dialects

The main challenges when translating into Kurdish are related to correctly interpreting and respecting regional dialects and scripts. Let’s take Kurmanji (Northern Kurdish) and Sorani (Central Kurdish) as an example, as the two most commonly spoken and standardized Kurdish dialects. When localizing content for a Kurdish-speaking audience, regional linguistic and also cultural differences should always be respected if you’d like to truly connect with the target locales.

Kurmanji and Sorani are distinguished by morphological differences including the use of, for example, gender and case opposition for nouns and pronouns. This means that while the users of different dialects will not only have difficulty understanding the context, but when they do, they might feel disconnected due to the unfamiliar application of grammatical structures.

Diversity In Kurdish Scripts

These major dialects also display distinct phonological differences. In fact, the Kurdish language makes use of four different writing systems. While Kurmanji  follows the Latin script, Sorani is written in Arabic Script. Next to that, Cyrillic and Armenian are used among the smaller dialects. Additionally, the Kurdish language finds itself on a crossroads of various cultures and also includes loanwords from Caucasian, Turkish, Armenian, and Arabic origins.

Lack Of Linguistic Resources And Terminology

Depending on the innovative nature of your product and its availability in the regions you intend to target, it is possible that there isn’t a well-developed vocabulary available yet to effectively describe your industry. In this case, the terminology will need to be created and you will meet a double challenge in introducing new products on a conceptual as well as linguistic level.

Of course, another challenge lies in the availability of technologies on a local level as well as the online resources available to, if necessary, automate parts of the translation process. Kurdish had been largely disregarded by the Information Retrieving (IR) and Natural Language Processing (NLP) research communities, but today we can speak of some progress for Kurdish and other low-resource languages.

Creating Virtual Resources And Revolutionizing Long-Tail Languages

Speaking of resources, With an increasing desire for the world to become more connected and to prevent the exclusion of certain communities as well as the extinction of their language, efforts have been made to make the translation into long-tail languages easier.

While it might seem logical that Machine Learning and other technological applications can support the online availability of certain languages, it is worth keeping in mind that machines can only be properly trained when they have information. The larger the backlog of information based on manual translations from all types of content, the better the machine can be trained.

A Proposed Method: Machine Translation In Aid Of Long-Tail Languages?

Ehsaneddin Asgari and Heinrich Schutze from the Ludwig-Maximilian University of, have set themselves the task 1 of building a large set of data on linguistic constructions that lists over 1000 languages, including Kurmanji (listed as Northern Kurdish). Starting from an extensive database pulled from the most translated work in the world, the bible, Asgari, and Schutze further developed a rather unique linguistic framework based on the way tenses appear in different languages.

Since the majority of languages utilize certain word – and letter combinations to form tenses, Asgari and Schutze set out to identify the signals. Subsequently, data mining is employed to track strings and structures that follow the same rules and create clusters. But here is the clever part that helps speed up the process. Rather than starting from English, which has, so the researchers state, “too much historical baggage”, they start out with a set of Creole languages, since they are far younger and have developed less idiosyncrasies.

The graph below shows a 1/10 slice of this enormous cake. More specifically, the past tense clusters for 100 languages.

Image: Ehsaneddin Asgari and Heinrich Schutze

This project shows that long-tail languages such as Kurdish, could have a real chance at producing more commonly translated content, by creating maps such as these so researchers can effectively work out grammatical relations between languages and, by extension, increase the understanding of its development and application.

While we support the use of technologies and automation in translation, we also acknowledge the crucial part played by human linguists. Find out more about the value of adding human quality to a machine-based strategy in our blog about Machine Translation Post-Editing Best Practices.

The Benefits Of Adding Kurdish Translation To Your Expansion Strategies

With experts and researchers devoted to the preservation of rare languages and LSP’s equipped to hunt down the best linguists trained in even the more obscure languages, Kurdish deserves a place in your expansion strategy. Let’s give you a quick overview of what some of the most interesting benefits are:

  • Play the first-mover advantage and get there before your competitors do! Not only would you be able to move into largely untapped markets, but you will also have the chance to form a connection that is more meaningful and fresh, depending on the extent of your localization efforts. 
  • With around 30 million native speakers, the Kurdish communities offer significant benefits for those keen and  ready to move into a new and sizable market.
  • Despite English still being the dominant language used online, others are growing more rapidly. In fact, according to the CSA, 60% of online consumers strongly prefer buying in their own language and wouldn’t consider an English-only platform. This is why expanding into different markets would vastly improve your conversion rate.

Combine High Numbers With Snatching Easily Missed Opportunities

The benefits and recent developments aside, we’d like to stress that any language added to your strategy, should be added with a specific goal in mind. For example, we recommend that you start by expanding from your product as well as which languages are gaining more traction out there. You can use Google Analytics and Geotargeting to take note of the locations of your visitors and expand your strategy accordingly.

When it comes to long-tail languages, we highly recommend that they become part of your strategy when you have a foundation built around the languages most beneficial to your specific product. Let’s assume you are expanding into the Middle East. You will no doubt be targeting Arabic, the fastest growing online market that increased its online presence with 9348 percent between the 2000 and 2020. With a strong content strategy built-in Arabic, you can claim further authority in the Middle East by including other languages such as the Kurdish language.

Frequently Asked Question

Do you have some questions left unanswered? Have a look at the questions we get asked most about the Kurdish language!

What is the difference between Kurdish and Arabic?

While Sorani uses an Arabic-based script, Kurdish is in fact an Indo-European language. From this point of view, Kurdish has more in common with English and Greek than it does with Arabic, which belongs to the Afro-Asiatic family.

Is Kurdish similar to Turkish?

While Northern Kurdish, or Kurmanji, is spoken in parts of Turkey, it is only spoken by the ethnic Kurds. That being said, Kurds are multilingual and the communities residing in Turkey, generally master the Turkish language as well.

Conclusion:

Multilingual strategies are expanding beyond the handful of languages we all know so well. If your translation strategies are ready to be taken to the next level, now is the ideal time to benefit from untapped markets and connect with new communities. Laoret offers highly specialized Kurdish Translation and Localization services delivered by in-country, native professionals experienced in your industry. With the development of our own technologies and the integration of streamlined workflow, we can match top-quality translations with a speedy, online delivery that meets your deadlines.

Leave a Reply