Dec 08

Kurdish Language and Sexism

Nabaz Samad

There is a strong relationship between thought and language. Spoken and written words are symbols for our thoughts. Language is not merely a tool to communicate with each other in our daily lives, language is, rather, much more. Language relates to our being as human. Because our very being, thoughts and ideas all manifest in our language, we live and dwell in our language. As Heidegger states: ”language is the home of Being”. As a result, I think language and thoughts are identical. We cannot separate them from each other.

Thoughts manifests in language and, in turn, language shapes our thoughts. We have received our culture, traditions, customs, literature, philosophy, etc., through language either in spoken or written words. From our language, we know our ancestors’ thoughts and ideas.

From the relationship between language and thought, we will be able to identify sexism and masculinity in language. Male dominance, masculinity, gender discrimination and women’s subordination all manifest themselves through the medium of, and crystallized by, language. In this article, I will provide a brief analysis of how both sexism and masculinity manifest in Kurdish language.

Kurdish language is male dominated, biased and sexist – all of which is reflected in Kurdish patriarchy. Kurdish patriarchy (and all the norms association with it) typically relegates women to subordinate power positions. Whilst a woman is seen as a mother, sister, and wife, she is also perceived as being dependent (on a man), weak, and overtly emotional rather than being perceived as an autonomous human being with free-will.

All virtues are tied to men. For example, ”piaw” (a Kurdish word for man) is synonymous with virtue and the good; they are interchangeable. If someone is a good person, in Kurdish the person is called things like: ”kaseki piawa” (He is a man), or ”piaw qsa dakat” (Man’s word). The Kurdish adjective ”piawati” (manhood) is also attached to goodness, along with all kinds of good wills, and virtues.

There is a certain sexism – and obviously a reinforcing of masculinity – in Kurdish names as well. This is largely owing to the fact that women’s names are typically represented as beautiful, emotional, weak, soft, shamefaced, etc., in the Kurdish language, whereas the names of men are represented as powerful, strong, courageous, success, etc. Some examples of women’s names include: Nask (soft), Narmin (softness), Sharmin (shamefaced), Kner (a kind of flower), Gulabax (rose), etc. By contrast, men’s names include: Sardar (master), Sarkawt (success), Dler (courageous), Shaho (name of a mountain), Sherzad, Sherko, Sherwan (all three are related to the powerful lion – a representation of man’s strength).

Sexism is also extant in Kurdish proverbs and sayings, such as: ”ba dayki kuran bit” (be a mother of boys), ”ba xushki hawt brayan bit” (be a sister of seven brothers), ”noberat ner bet” (your first child must be male). Moreover, there is sexism in Kurdish curses, and most of them are male dominated and curses mothers and women more broadly (e.g. fuck your mother, fuck your sister, fuck your wife, son of a bitch).

What, though, are we take from the above? We should not overlook the fact that there are strong links between thought and language. Thus, we should be asking ourselves what kind of ideas language reinforces and perpetuates, and the implications this has on how we, as Kurds, should perceive and address our own language. Whether we want to believe it or not, the Kurdish language is unpardonably sexist. This manifests as a form of sexism and masculinity in Kurdish words, names, proverbs and curses. Whether we can change this is debatable, but starting the conversation is surely a good place to start, and it is something that we as Kurds must surely confront for the very sake of those who are most victimised as a result of our language – women.