A Language Gap: Kurdish and Arabic

Recent reports from the Iraq Programme of the Institute of War & Peace Reporting indicate a continuing language problem between Arabic-speaking Iraq and its Kurdish-speaking neighbors.

“Though they share the same country, Arabs and Kurds know little of each other’s history and even less today of each other’s languages,” writes Husam al-Saray, a journalist in Baghdad. “Their shared legacy of revolts against colonial Britain lies long forgotten amid a simmering internal conflict over land and resources.”

Under the Iraqi constitution Arabs and Kurds have equal rights as citizens. Both languages must be taught in all Iraqi schools. But few young Kurds speak Arabic, and even fewer young Arabs learn Kurdish.

Signs on roads and official buildings in each region tend to be either in Arabic or in Kurdish, rarely both. If a second language is used, it is usually English.

Journalist Najeeba Mohammed in Erbil reports the number of Kurds who can speak Arabic fluently is rapidly shrinking, and analysts say the next generation of Kurdish leaders could be compromised by their lack of fluent Arabic.

Some 44 of 21,635 schools in Kurdistan offer education in Arabic at present, according to government figures. Many private language academies have popped up in the region, and English courses appear to be the most popular.

For the whole story, see IRAQI CRISIS REPORT, No. 306: http://iwpr.net/iraq

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