Metro Morning

Why a civil engineer is translating Emily Dickinson into Kurdish

An engineering student at the University of Toronto is trying to keep his mother tongue alive, by translating books and poems into Kurdish.

U of T engineering student is translating famous literary works into Kurdish

Madeh Piryonesi is of Kurdish heritage. He arrived in Toronto from Iran in 2015. He is translating literary works into his native tongue in hopes of keeping the language alive.

He's gone from data analytics and hydraulics, to sonnets and quatrains.

A doctoral engineering student at the University of Toronto wants Kurdish speakers around the world to enjoy the works of Emily Dickinson.

Madeh Piryonesi, 25, arrived in Canada in 2015 from Iran. He quickly realised he had a responsibility for preserving his mother tongue, and started translating thousands of pages of literature into Kurdish.

Madeh Piryonesi has published a translation of Emily Dickinson's poems in Kurdish. The book is available to buy online, and in bookstores in Iraq and Iran.

Kurdish is the language of the Kurdish people, an ethnic group that lives in the region currently spanning parts of Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. The language has been the subject of oppression over many decades, even banned at times. 

Language is 'forbidden fruit'

Piryonesi calls Kurdish a "forbidden fruit" for his generation, because they received no formal education.

"All of your emotions and your desires are in your mother tongue," he told Metro Morning. "When you learn stuff in another language, it's difficult to communicate those concepts."

He says he was always interested in languages, but Kurdish has always been special. When he saw Kurdish literature and music struggling to survive while living in Iran, he decided to take action.

Madeh Piryonesi is a PhD student of engineering at the University of Toronto. He translates books into Kurdish and Farsi in his free time.

Piryonesi has recently published two books of Emily Dickinson poetry, and translated several other works since 2012. He chose to translate Dickinson's works because of her universal themes.

"Emily's raising questions which are really important, some have been around for centuries, like questions about life, about death."

'Every language has its own beauty'

Piryonesi says regardless of the language's past, it deserves to survive like any other colourful language and culture. 

"It's not only about the Kurdish people, other minorities have this problem as well, it's kind of a serious problem" he says. "Every language has its own beauty, its own capability."

He has received positive feedback for his work, and says he will continue to protect the language, and his heritage. Piryonesi has also published translations in Farsi. His books can be purchased online, as well as bookstores in Iran and Iraq.

With files from Metro Morning