Kurdish Language Class in New York: A Platform for Social, Political and (Inter)personal Engagement

Renata Archanjo, Demet Arpacik
2016 Bellaterra Journal of Teaching & Learning Language & Literature  
Every country that encompasses Kurdistan faces extermination efforts, meaning that the Kurdish language has found refuge mainly in exile and has been associated increasingly with the Kurdish identity and with the political struggle of the Kurdish people. The present study looks at a very special case; a voluntarily-initiated Kurdish language class that takes place in the middle of Manhattan, New York, at a prestigious public university. We conducted interviews with 3 students and the teacher of
more » ... and the teacher of the class to understand the dynamics within and beyond the Kurdish language class, the interplay of their political ideologies, as well as the intricate process of identity negotiation through language practices. Results indicate that through the language class, people are exercising the right to a language, the right to a culture and the right of a people. Participants are challenging and resisting established relations of power and transforming the educational space into a space of freedom. Resumo O Curdo é uma língua que tem sofrido tentativas de extermínio e nos vários países que englobam a região do Curdistão. Por estar fortemente associada à identidade desse povo e à luta política por reconhecimento, a língua Curda tem luta por se manter viva e tem encontrado refúgio e expressão predominantemente em exílio. O presente estudo apresenta como estudo de caso um curso gratuito de Curdo para iniciantes, ministrado no coração de Manhattan, Nova Iorque, nas locações de uma universidade pública americana. Na pesquisa foram entrevistados três alunos e o professor do referido curso de Curdo para compreender a dinâmica em jogo dentro e fora da sala de aula, as interfaces com as ideologias políticas além do processo de construção identitária e de agência dos participantes em suas práticas de linguagem. Os resultados indicam que na sala de aula, os sujeitos estão exercendo o direito à língua, o direito à cultura e o direito de um povo de construir sua identidade pelo viés da língua. Nesta dinâmica, configuram-se estratégias de resistência a relações de poder arraigadas bem como estratégias de transformação do espaço educacional em um espaço de liberdade. Palavras chave: Língua Curda; diáspora; ensino de línguas; identidade, agência. Kurtayî Zimanê Kurdî disa jî ji xwe re cîh û zimênanîn li xerîbiye dîtiye. Ev xebat li vir, li dozekî gelek taybetî dinihêre; dersên zimanê Kurdî ji aliyê dilxwesta de pêk tê li 15 zaningehekî gelî yê bi nav û deng li navbera Manhattan, NY'ê. Me bi çar xwendekaran re û bi mamoste re hevpeyvîn çêkirin ji bo fêmkirina dînamîkên di nav û derve dersa zimanê Kurdi, hev têkilkirina îdeolojiya wan a polîtîk hem jî xebitinek tevlîhevî dewana nasnameyî bi reya pratîkên zimanî. Bi reya hin buna dersa ziman mirov pratîkê mafên zimanekî, mafên çandekî û mafên netewîkî pêk tînin. Beşdarvan sazbûna têkildarîyê hêz li hember hev dikin û li ber xwe didin û navbirî perwerdeyî bedilandin navbirî azadî. What makes a language such as Kurdish so essential to learners in diasporic contexts? What is its symbolic importance and relation with the Kurdish political movement from a distant reality? What different positionalities do speakers and learners from different backgrounds have in this class in relation to the language? What dynamics play within and beyond this classroom in addition to the stated purpose of learning the language itself? By trying to answer these questions, this research is ultimately concerned with exploring two main issues. First, it aims to understand the capacity of languages such as Kurdish in areas that expand beyond language classrooms to invigorate various social and political platforms for their users. Second, this study attempts to understand how learners from different social, linguistic, ethnic, political and ideological backgrounds position themselves as pertaining to this minority language classroom. This paper also devotes special attention to the agency of language speakers and learners in language revitalization efforts in diaspora. Based on interviews with students and the teacher of the Graduate Centre of CUNY's voluntarily-initiated Kurdish language class, the study aims to discuss the complex interrelated issues around language, people's positionalities and identities, the interplay of their political ideologies and their sense of belonging. The diverse population of the Kurdish language class offers opportunities to understand the entangled relations of language, culture, politics, and the interconnectedness of these to identities and positionalities of learners.
doi:10.5565/rev/jtl3.676 fatcat:wp5wo5yzxnbivigfs6q36rnmme