Some thoughts on dabbling in a non-official language in Turkey
The short answer
No, I don’t need to learn Kurdish, but it will make my life more fun!
Some background: Using Kurdish in southeast Turkey
The Kurdish language (the Kurmanji dialect, if we are being more accurate) has a interesting place in Şanlıurfa, a city in southeastern Turkey where I am living. Apparently more than 60% of people here are Kurdish and speak Kurdish as a first language, and yet the language on the street is generally Turkish. Even in a Kurdish home, I witnessed parents and kids communicating in Turkish, and they didn’t do it for my benefit (I asked). They said that they switch depending on what they are saying.
Another thing I have noticed is a lack of confidence about Kurdish language ability, both in speaking and writing. When I asked for some phrases to be translated from English to Kurdish, people consulted each other for the correct Kurdish words and sometimes exclaimed, “Oh, I didn’t know that!” In terms of writing, I watched three teenagers argue about how to spell basic expressions. No doubt this is related to the fact that Kurdish is not taught at school.
I could probably get by with Turkish, but I think it would feel like speaking standard Arabic in Morocco. It wasn’t anyone’s first language, and many people with less formal education had to make an effort to communicate in it. Learning Moroccan Arabic, even though people said it had no rules, was not written, and was not worth learning, made life a lot more fun. I could connect better with people.
I could provide a lot of noble reasons for learning Kurdish, along the lines of minority language rights and solidarity, but I am learning primarily for my own quality of life. I am teaching English to some Kurdish speakers, and if I know a little Kurdish, then the cognates and similarities that help me can also help them, and I will have more insight into how they understand grammar. Our connection is better. For language education nerds like me, this means I have more fun.