Iraq's growing language gap

Two articles from the Institute for War & Peace Reporting highlight a growing language gap between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq.

“Arabic is officially the second language of Kurdistan and the primary language of Iraq,” Najeeba Mohammed writes. “Though studying Arabic is currently compulsory in Kurdish schools, the number of Kurds who can speak it fluently is rapidly shrinking.”

This linguistic barrier within a single country is a symptom of strained Arab-Kurdish relations but the fear is that it could also start to exacerbate them.

It is not just a problem of schooling. “Before the uprising [in 1991], television and radio broadcasts were mostly in Arabic, so the public had to learn Arabic to understand them,” the Kurdish education minister, Dilshad Abdulrahman, is quoted as saying.

“After the 1991 uprising, Kurds came to regard themselves as independent,” Abdullah Qirgaiy, a Kurdish writer, says. “They no longer felt obliged to learn Arabic and made no effort to master it.”

Kurds who learn a foreign language now often prefer English to Arabic because it enhances their employment prospects. At one private language school in Erbil, students of English outnumber students of Arabic by six to one.

In the second article, Husam al-Saray in Baghdad looks at the issue from the other side. “While Kurdish students no longer pay the same attention to Arabic, young Arabs in Baghdad continue their neglect of Kurdish,” he writes. “Most [Arab] Iraqis are only troubled by their lack of Kurdish when they come to Kurdistan as tourists.”

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 26 September 2009.