Arabic with a Kurdish Accent?

As the action adventure show Burn Notice ended last week, the lead character Michael said that the mysterious agent Carla spoke “Arabic with a Kurdish accent”. Hmmm.

What could this mean? First, I should note that Kurdish is actually a separate language from Arabic. In fact Kurdish is very distantly related to English (but more closely related to Persian and Pushto).

So “Arabic with a Kurdish accent does not mean Carla is speaking Arabic with a native accent, but rather that she has somehow picked up Arabic with a foreign accent (e.g. it would be like a French person learning to speak English with a Mexican accent). I initially thought this might be another TV screw up, but I decided to see if “Arabic with a Kurdish accent” was plausible.

If you look at the UCLA Kurdish Map, you’ll see that the Kurds are a minority group living in several countries including Turkey, Armenia, Iran and Iraq. Because they are a minority group, it’s likely than many are bilingual in Kurdish and the main language of the country they are currently living in. The candidate countries would be Turkey (Turkish), Armenia (Armenian and possibly Russian), Iran (Persian/Farsi) and … Iraq (Arabic!).

So I would guess that “Arabic with a Kurdish accent” would mean Northern Iraq. Interestingly, there may be people of Kurdish heritage in northern Iraq who now primarily speak Arabic, but may be maintaining Kurdish phonology (i.e. “a Kurdish accent”). This would be similar to speakers of Hiberno-English (Irish English) who only speak English, but with phonolofical features of Irish (Gaelic) or even some New York English speakers of Latino descent who mostly speak English, but with a slight Spanish accent

I’ll be interested to see if mystery agent Carla has indeed spent some time in northern Iraq (it would make plot sense). I’ll also be curious to see if she speaks both Kurdish and Arabic….

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