Review of Michael Chyet’s Kurdish-English dictionary Ferhenga Birûskî


Volume 1

Michael Chyet has worked for decades on this seminal dictionary that thoroughly records both living and near history of the vocabulary of Kurmanji, a major dialect of the Kurdish language.

The decades-long research and collection of the Kurmanji vocabulary by the author not only provide an extensive list of words with their English equivalents. Rather, the work goes well beyond what is usually expected of a bilingual dictionary. Ferhenga Birûskî provides the main entries in both Latin and Arabic based Kurdish alphabets, followed by information concerning, for instance, part of speech, inflection, alternative forms, synonyms, related words, etymology etc.

For every entry, Chyet provides information on where the entry is taking from. The compiler has made extensive use not only of dozens of existing dictionaries but, maybe to even a greater degree, from recorded oral texts, written literature as well many native informants that the author has interviewed over the past four decades.

The current, second edition of the dictionary has been remarkably improved not only because of numerous new entries, but especially due to providing further essential information and documentation on the already existing entries.

Volume 2

The dictionary pioneers in the representation of Kurdish phonetics by providing necessary information on aspirated/unaspirated and emphatic consonants of each word where present, a figure lacking in almost all other currently available dictionaries, especially those written in the Latin-based Kurdish alphabet.

However, since Kurmanji has a relatively well standardized Latin- and Arabic-based orthographies used in thousands of books, newspapers, news portals, social media groups etc., where no aspiration and emphatic consonants are marked, it would have been useful to provide the entries as they are written in ordinary texts followed by pronunciation notes where necessary.

For instance, words for “airplane, four, seven” are written as “balafir, çar, heft” in ordinary texts. In the present dictionary, however, these forms are not given as main entries. Rather, the words are presented as “balafiř, ç’ar, ḧeft” to indicate that the R in the end of the first word is trilled, the Ç in the second word is aspirated and the H in the third word is the voiceless pharyngeal fricative rather than the voiceless glottal fricative.

The author has made a peculiar choice by splitting entries beginning with H according to pronunciation: first listing those pronounced as the voiceless glottal fricative by presenting them with H, then the voiceless pharyngeal fricative presenting them with Ḧ. However, no such distinctions are made in the standard Latin-based Kurdish orthography and the choice made for this dictionary looks as strange as if English entries beginning with, say, TH were listed in two different sections based on whether they are pronounced as the voiced dental fricative /ð/ like “the, there, this” or as the voiceless dental fricative /θ/ as in “three, thing, through”.

In the future editions, entries will hopefully be given as they are encountered in the ordinary written language, then followed by pronunciation, ideally presented in the International Phonetic Alphabet. Another figure lacking in the current dictionary, as well as all other existing Kurdish dictionaries, is the indication of the word stress. At least some guiding notes on the word stress in Kurmanji would have been useful for the non-Kurmanji speakers of the dictionary.

Regardless of the aforementioned shortcomings, Ferhenga Birûskî dictionary is the most important reference Kurdish-English dictionary and it will remain so for decades to come.


Husein Muhammed, Senior Specialist, The Institute for the Languages of Finland (

Volume 3

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