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Jaffer Sheyholislami: Different Policies for the Same Language

Starts 29 June 2017 - 18:00
Finishes 29 June 2017 - 20:00
Venue Birkbeck
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Different Policies for the Same Language: Kurdish in Five States

Jaffer Sheyholislami, Associate Professor, School of Linguistics and Language Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.


Kurdish spoken by about 30 million people in five countries (Armenia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria) is a bi-standard language consisting of several distinct variety groups. A number of Western linguists and even some Kurds believe that some of these varieties are distinct languages. Despite this, state authorities of those five countries are unanimous in calling these varieties with one label: Kurdish. However, the same states pursue extremely different policies when it comes to the status of the language. For example, whereas Kurdish is an official language at both national and regional levels in Iraq it is barely tolerated in Iran and Turkey (Sheyholislami 2015). Informed by May (2015), historical institutionalism (Cardinal and Sonntag 2015), historical structural analysis (Tollefson 2015) and critical language policy and planning (Ricento 2006), this paper compares Kurdish language policy in those five neighboring countries to investigate why and how language policies are shaped differently, not only by different state traditions, but also in different junctures within each territorial context.

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