From the Book:
The origins of the Kurds and their language
Taufiq Wahby (1891-1984)
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Once more, Dr. MacKenzie seeks to place Kurdish closer to Middle Persian than to the North-Western Group. He writes:
“Again, Kurdish appears to share the development of Old Iranian ‘θr’ to ‘s’ with Persian. The only example Tedesco quoted with justifiable caution was the numeral ‘three’, the Kurdish ‘sê’. But to this, one can add a word most unlikely to have been borrowed, as its nearest traceable relative is found only in the Bâshkardî dialect of Makrân. The Kurdish word is ‘pê-xwâs’ or ‘pê-xâwus’ (barefoot) Bashkardî ‘pâ-xwaves’. Gorânî, in contrast, has ‘pâ-wirwâ’, and in Zahrâi one finds ‘pâ-xarwâ’ and ‘pâ-xârapâ.”
Dr. MacKenzie continues:
“All these forms can be traced back, as was kindly pointed out to me by Dr. I. Gershevitch, who discovered the Bashkardî, to the Avestic xᵛâ-aoθra (having one’s own footwear, thus:
Avestic xᵛ-â-aoθra-˃ *xwâussa-˃ xwâs (in Kurdish)
Avestic xᵛ-â-aoθra-˃ *(x)wâu(h)ra˃ *wâwir˃ wirwâ (in Gorânî)
(cf. Gorânî, yarê ‘3’ ˂ *hrê ˂ *θrayah-, and the metathesis in Central Kurdish ‘biřwâ’ ˂ ‘bâwiř’ (belief))
Avestic xᵛ-â-aoθra-˃ *x(w)âu(h)ra-˃ *xâru-(+pâ) (in Zahrâi) (Cf. Zahrâi xas- ‘sleep’ ˂xᵛafsa-)”.
The etymology of pê-xwâs, etc. is not so complicated; indeed, it is simple:
Let us see beginning with the Gorânî form ‘pâ-wirwâ’. This word is a compound adjective apparently composed of pâ-wê-rwâ, (a person who goes on his own feet or a barefoot man). The Zahrâi ‘pâ-xarwâ’ seems similarly composed from ‘pâ-xa-rwâ’ and has the same meaning as a second Zahrâi form ‘pâ-xa-rapâ’, with the Avestic? form ‘rap’ instead of ‘raw’ meaning the same as the Gorânî ‘pâ-wê-rwâ’.
Now, we come to the Kermânjî word and find that it is ‘pê-xo-âs’ meaning the same as the foregoing compounds, and made with the Avestic ‘âs’ instead of the Avestic ‘rap’. All these forms go back to a possibly Median origin.
In these circumstances there seems no reason to accept that Kurdish has followed the Persian pattern in changing ‘θr’ to ‘s’. In passing the number ‘thirty’ in Hawrâmî is ‘sî’ which is the Persian form.
Dr. MacKenzie mentions still other forms to show Kurdish may be closer to Persian than to Median. On the way he attributes an imaginary origin to the Kurdish word ‘pâlâwten’ (to filter). Instead of the imaginary *‘para-daâwaya-’, I suggest as more likely the Avestic ‘apa-raethwa’ which in the southern language Pâzand is ‘pârûdan’ and in Sassanian Pahlavi and Persian ‘pâlûdan’. But Kurdish ‘pârzûn’ and Hawrâmî ‘parzên’ seem derived from the Avestic ‘pairi-herez’ meaning (to filter thoroughly). Dr. MacKenzie finds a tendency in Kurdish for the ‘-rz-’ to become an ‘-l-’ as in Persian. He presents a list of words showing in their Kurdish form the allegedly more Persian ‘-1-’ and in Baluchî the more north-western ‘-rz-’. He writes that: “The difference between Kurdish and Baluchî in this respect suggests that proto-Kurdish was in closer contact with the middle Persian South.’’
But in fact, Kermânjî has kept ‘-rz-’ in a number of words while Baluchî in at least one word which is not a loan word from Persian has changed ‘-rz-’ to ‘-l-’. The word is not ‘siphulk’, Avestic ‘sperezan’ (spleen). The changing of ‘-rz-’ to ‘-l-’ should not be regarded as indicating a definite South-Western formative influence. The example of such words as ‘sipurz’ (spleen) in the Middle Persian, and ‘sepel’ and ‘espul’ (spleen) in tire Central Iranian, Gahwârayî (Gorânî) and Kâshân dialects argue forcefully against such an assumption. It is also found in the Hawrâmî ‘mel’ (Avestic ‘mrz’), (neck). Persian, however, has kept ‘rz’ of these Avestic words: ‘garez’ (complaint), varez (work, labour) are in Persian ‘garz-’, ‘varz-’, and in Kermânjî ‘kurûz-’, ’warz-’.
Dr. MacKenzie also suggests that in Kurdish the combination ‘-nd-’ as in Middle Persian has become simply ‘-n-’.
The answer is that the combined sound ‘nd’ does not exist in Northern Kermânjî, Mukrî, or Sorânî dialects. Both sounds are pronounced separately and ‘d’ is not dropped. There are, however, in these dialects a very few words in which ‘d’ and ‘g’ of Sulaimani ‘nḍ’ , ‘ng’ combinations are dropped, such as ‘banî’ (tied) [‘banî’ in Sena means (tied, prisoner), in Sorânî, Mukri, and Sulaimani, however, in the form of ’bandî’ (prisoner)], hinak, hanêk (little), daŋ (sound), bâŋ (call).
In Sulaimani, ‘nd’ is combined and interchanged with the combination ‘ng’ and vice versa; each is pronounced as a single sound and with something of twang ‘nd’ being nasal and ‘ng’ guttural. On the other hand, in Sulaimani often and Senayî and Kirmanshahî always ‘nd’ becomes ‘n’. Even in Hawrâmî ‘-nd-’ has become ‘n’.
(My detailed study of the development of ‘d’ in Kurdish be found in Galâwêzh, No. 4, 1940, where it was first published.)
Have the Kirmanshahî, particularly, Hawrâmî dropped ‘d’ in the ‘nd’ combination under the influence of the Middle Persian? Of course not. It must be noted that neither in the Sassanian Pahlavi (unlike the Manichaean Middle Persian) nor in the New Persian has the ‘nd’ been dropped in favour of ‘n’ alone.
Finally, Dr. MacKenzie writes: “A last agreement between Kurdish and Persian is in the preservation of initial ‘fr-’ while in many North-West Iranian dialects, this has become ‘hr-’ of the like and in Baluchî’s’.”.
But in Hawrâmî where the ‘fr-’ has been changed to ‘har-’ as in the word ‘harmana’ (work), the original ‘f-’ is kept in the infinitive ‘farmâwây’ (to order).
Dr. MacKenzie’s point is weakened by the example of Kermânjî words in which the original ‘f’ in ‘fr’ has changed to ‘h’. For example, the Avestic ‘frayah’, comparative adjective (more) is now in Sulaimani ‘hara’ (most) which is used with an adjective to make it superlative, as ‘hara kurt’ (shortest). Similarly, the Avestic ‘frâ-’ meaning (forth), has become in Kermânjî ‘hařâ’ and ‘řâ’. e.g., ‘hařâ’ kerden, ‘řâ kerden’, to run.
Dr. MacKenzie set out on a bold and original venture of linguistic detection. Unfortunately, an examination of the suggestions he offers in support of his hypothesis are, as I hope this talk has shown, not satisfactory.
Indeed, investigation of Dr. Mackenzie’s account reinforces the more familiar belief. In so far as we can now determine, the weight of evidence strongly indicates that the position of the Kurdish language is among the North-Western Iranian group. By an unexceptional extension, we may properly assume that Kurdish is in direct descent from the Aryan Kurdish-Avestic-Median languages.
I wish to conclude by reiterating the crucially important assertion made by Professor Minorsky. For me, there is no reason to qualify, as Dr. McKenzie did. Minorsky’s statement that “the unity of the Kurds must be explained by its Median basis.” On the contrary, I see every reason to support it.
To put it another way: I would say that “while the first proto Indo-Iranian Kurds were not. the Kurds of today are Medes”.
This evening I have been occupied with refuting arguments which cast doubt on a Kurdish Median connection. But on another occasion, I should like to present to you positive evidence for the relationship between Avestic-Median and Kurdish, including evidence from my own observations.