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Review of Elementary Kurmanji grammar

posted January 12th, 2012

Elementary Kurmanji grammar. By Ely Bannister Soane. (Lincom gramatica 71.) Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2010. Reprint of 1919 edition. Pp. 197. ISBN 9783862901654. $84.

Reviewed by Elly van Gelderen, Arizona State University

This book is a reprint of the 1919 edition, printed in Baghdad at the Government Press. There is no preface or explanation for why the book was reprinted, which would have been helpful to know. The author wrote many articles and books about Kurdish and is well-known for his book To Mesopotamia and Kurdistan in disguise (Cosimo Inc, 2007); he also wrote Grammar of the Kurmanji or Kurdish language (Luzac and Co., 1913).

Kurdish, an Indo-European language of the Iranian branch, forms a dialect continuum with three standardized varieties, one of which is Kurmanji. The elementary grammar was meant to be a guide for officers with duties in southern Kurdistan; the dialect is that of Sulaimaniyah. This book can still be of use as a grammar for people learning introductory Kurdish. It begins with a brief description of the sounds and then discusses characteristics of the noun (the singular, plural, and diminutive), provides a word list of about forty words and two sets of exercises. This pattern of short grammatical explanation followed by new vocabulary and exercises repeats itself. The series of grammatical points, vocabulary, and exercises are followed by an English–Kurmanji word list of seventy-four pages and two appendices.

The grammatical topics that S deals with are the five cases of the noun, derivational suffixes, independent and enclitic personal pronouns, other pronouns, adjectives, and numerals, as well as eleven pages of paradigms for the auxiliaries ‘to be’ and ‘to become’, five pages on the absence of the verb ‘to have’, eight pages on the first conjugation (the transitive verb), fourteen pages on the other four conjugations (the intransitive, causal, and passives), compound verbs with chun ‘to go’ and keshan ‘to pull’, the adverb, conjunctions, and prepositions. There are two pages on syntax and idioms and a chart on the constructions of the sentence. The intricacies of the languages look to have been viewed as residing in the morphology and not in the syntax.

Some of the grammatical points that S describes are interesting but often raise more questions; this is to be expected from a short grammar. Kurmanji is split ergative language; that is, the past tense verb (but not the present tense one) agrees with the object of the transitive verb in the same way as it does with subjects of intransitives. There are only hints of this in a description of the pronominal system. S makes an interesting point that the diminutive -aka, which he considers a number, ‘has largely lost its meaning’ and is used as a euphonic (3). In such a case, it would be beneficial to have a little more insight from texts. In short, in studying a language, it is always helpful to have the use of a multitude of grammars, written for different audiences. This book serves this purpose for learners of Kurdish.