Assyrian loanwords in Kurdish

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While many make a huge deal of foreign loanwords in Classical Syriac or Modern Assyrian Aramaic, little do we realise how much our own language has affected our neighbours, particularly the Kurds.

As a result, the various dialects of Kurmanji (including Bahdinani) are full of Syriac/Aramaic words borrowed from their Assyrian Christian and Jewish neighbours over centuries of coexistence.

Such words include "matâla" (shield), "mednâxe" (dawn), "atîn" (furnace), "bêdar" (threshing floor), "dêr" (church/monastery), "kiniştê" (synagogue), "bêrî" (milking area), "gûz" (walnut), "pâlê" (laborers), "zele" (reed), "sawit" (to talk), just to name a few.

Here is another one I found, while having something to drink at a café near the hotel I've been staying at in Duhok (Assyrian: Ittuk). This brand of water, bottled by the Tiyan company in Zakho, is named "Dilop" which, in Kurdish, means "drop, teardrop, etc."

dilop water

Not many Kurds would know that the word actually comes from the pure Syriac/Aramaic verb "Dlap" (ܕܠܲܦ), meaning "to drop, drip, trickle down, or leak (as from a roof)," and the verbal nouns derived from this are "Dilpa" (ܕܸܠܦܵܐ), "Dalpa" (ܕܵܠܦܵܐ) and "Dalopa" (ܕܵܠܘܿܦܵܐ) - which all mean the same thing.

The verb and corresponding nouns are also shared in other Semitic languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, which have the cognate verbs "Dalafa" (دَلَف) and "Dalaf" (דלף) respectively. However, from the way the word is pronounced in Kurdish, it is clear that it was borrowed from Eastern Assyrian Aramaic.

In my opinion, a very important study for a serious linguist would be to research such (especially Eastern) Assyrian Aramaic or Syriac loanwords in the various dialects of Kurdish, particularly those of the Kurmanji variety.

Some ground in this field has already been made by scholar Michael L. Chyett, however, much more needs to be done.

Ideally, the person conducting such research would need to be a native or near-native speaker of both languages, with a knowledge of different local dialects in both - as such, an Assyrian from Northern Iraq would definitely fit the bill.

Therefore, I hope this post creates awareness of the the need for such studies in our community, as well as encouraging our youth to step up to the challenge of contributing to such necessary collections of knowledge!

Nicholas Al-Jeloo is a professor in Assyrian Studies based in Turkey.

READ MORE: The Assyrians of Ukraine, Donbass and Crimea.

Guest Contributor

This piece was written for Greek City Times by a Guest Contributor