|Kurdî / کوردی|
|Native to||Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia|
|Region||Kurdistan, Anatolia, Khorasan|
|C. 20–30 million (2000–2010 est.)|
Sorani alphabet (Perso-Arabic script; used mostly in Iraq and Iran)
Hawar alphabet (Latin script; used mostly in Turkey and Syria)
Cyrillic alphabet (former Soviet Union)
Official language in
ckb – Central Kurdish
kmr – Northern Kurdish
sdh – Southern Kurdish
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Kurdish history and Kurdish culture
Kurdish (کوردی, Kurdî) is a continuum of Northwestern Iranian languages spoken by the Kurds in Western Asia. Kurdish forms three dialect groups known as Northern Kurdish (Kurmanji), Central Kurdish (Sorani), and Southern Kurdish (Pehlewani). A separate group of languages, Zaza-Gorani, is also spoken by several million Kurds, but is linguistically not Kurdish. Recent (as of 2009) studies estimate between 20 and 30 million native speakers of Kurdish in total. The majority of the Kurds speak Kurmanji.
The literary output in Kurdish was mostly confined to poetry until the early 20th century, when more general literature began to be developed. Today, there are two principal written Kurdish dialects, namely Kurmanji in the northern parts of the geographical region of Kurdistan, and Sorani further east and south. The standard Sorani form of Central Kurdish is, along with Arabic, one of the two official languages of Iraq and is in political documents simply referred to as Kurdish.
Classification and origin
The Kurdish languages belong to the Iranian branch of the Indo-European family. They are generally classified as Northwestern Iranian languages, or by some scholars as intermediate between Northwestern and Southwestern Iranian. Martin van Bruinessen notes that "Kurdish has a strong south-western Iranian element", whereas "Zaza and Gurani [...] do belong to the north-west Iranian group".
Ludwig Paul concludes that Kurdish seems to be a Northwestern Iranian language in origin, but acknowledges that it shares many traits with Southwestern Iranian languages like Persian, apparently due to longstanding and intense historical contacts.
The present state of knowledge about Kurdish allows, at least roughly, drawing the approximate borders of the areas where the main ethnic core of the speakers of the contemporary Kurdish dialects was formed. The most argued hypothesis on the localisation of the ethnic territory of the Kurds remains D.N. Mackenzie's theory, proposed in the early 1960s (Mackenzie 1961). Developing the ideas of P. Tedesco (1921: 255) and regarding the common phonetic isoglosses shared by Kurdish, Persian, and Baluchi, Mackenzie concluded that the speakers of these three languages may once have been in closer contact.
He has tried to reconstruct the alleged Persian-Kurdish-Baluchi linguistic unity presumably in the central parts of Iran. According to Mackenzie's theory, the Persians (or Proto-Persians) occupied the province of Fars in the southwest (proceeding from the assumption that the Achaemenids spoke Persian), the Baluchis (Proto-Baluchis) inhabited the central areas of Western Iran, and the Kurds (Proto-Kurds), in the wording of G. Windfuhr (1975: 459), lived either in northwestern Luristan or in the province of Isfahan.
Kurdish is divided into three groups, where dialects from different groups are not mutually intelligible without acquired bilingualism.
- Northern Kurdish (Kurmanji) is the largest dialect group, spoken by an estimated 15 to 20 million Kurds in Turkey, Syria, northern Iraq and northwestern Iran.
- Central Kurdish (Sorani) is spoken by an estimated 6 to 7 million Kurds in much of Iraqi Kurdistan and the Iranian Kurdistan Province. Sorani is a written standard of Central Kurdish developed in the 1920s (named after the historical Soran Emirate) and was later adopted as the standard orthography of Kurdish as an official language of Iraq.
- Southern Kurdish (Pehlewani) is spoken by about 3 million Kurds in Kermanshah and Ilam provinces of Iran and in the Khanaqin district of eastern Iraq.
In historical evolution terms, Kurmanji is less modified than Sorani and Pehlewani in both phonetic and morphological structure. The Sorani group has been influenced by among other things its closer cultural proximity to the other languages spoken by Kurds in the region including the Gorani language in parts of Iranian Kurdistan and Iraqi Kurdistan. The Kermanshahi group has been influenced by among other things its closer cultural proximity to Persian.
Since 1932 most Kurds have used the Roman script to write Kurmanji.... Sorani is normally written in an adapted form of the Arabic script.... Reasons for describing Kurmanji and Sorani as 'dialects' of one language are their common origin and the fact that this usage reflects the sense of ethnic identity and unity among the Kurds. From a linguistic or at least a grammatical point of view, however, Kurmanji and Sorani differ as much from each other as English and German, and it would seem appropriate to refer to them as languages. For example, Sorani has neither gender nor case-endings, whereas Kurmanji has both.... Differences in vocabulary and pronunciation are not as great as between German and English, but they are still considerable.
According to Encyclopaedia of Islam, although Kurdish is not a unified language, its many dialects are interrelated and at the same time distinguishable from other Western Iranian languages. The same source classifies different Kurdish dialects as two main groups, northern and central. The reality is that the average Kurmanji speaker does not find it easy to communicate with the inhabitants of Suleymania or Halabja.
Some linguistic scholars assert that the term "Kurdish" has been applied extrinsically in describing the language the Kurds speak, whereas ethnic Kurds have used the word term to simply describe their ethnic or national identity and refer to their language as Kurmanji, Sorani, Hewrami, Kermanshahi, Kalhori or whatever other dialect or language they speak. Some historians have noted that it is only recently that the Kurds who speak the Sorani dialect have begun referring to their language as Kurdî, in addition to their identity, which is translated to simply mean Kurdish.
Zazaki and Gorani
The Zaza–Gorani languages, spoken by communities in the wider area who identify as ethnic Kurds, are not linguistically classified as Kurdish. They are classified as adjunct to Kurdish within the Northwestern Iranian languages, although authorities differ in the details. Windfuhr 2009 groups Kurdish with Zaza Gorani within a "Northwestern I" group, while Glottolog based on Encyclopedia Iranica prefers an areal grouping of "Central dialects" (or "Kermanic") within Northwest Iranic, with Kurdish but not Zaza-Gorani grouped with "Kermanic".
Gorani appears to be distinct from Kurmanji and Sorani, yet shares vocabulary with both of them and some grammatical similarities with Sorani. Hewrami, a dialect of Gorani, was an important literary language since the fourteenth century but was replaced by Sorani in the twentieth.
European scholars have maintained that Gorani is separate from Kurdish and that Kurdish is synonymous with the Kurmanji-language group, whereas ethnic Kurds maintain that Kurdish encompasses any of the unique languages or dialects spoken by Kurds that are not spoken by neighboring ethnic groups.
Gorani is often classified as part of the Zaza–Gorani branch of Indo-Iranian languages. The Zaza language, spoken in the northernmost parts of Kurdistan differs both grammatically and in vocabulary and is generally not understandable by Gorani speakers but it is considered related to Gorani. Almost all Zaza-speaking communities, as well as speakers of another closely related language spoken in parts of Iraqi Kurdistan called Shabaki, identify themselves as ethnic Kurds.
Geoffrey Haig and Ergin Öpengin in their recent study suggest grouping the Kurdish languages into Northern Kurdish, Central Kurdish, Southern Kurdish, Zaza, and Gorani, and avoid the subgrouping Zaza–Gorani.
During his stay in Damascus, historian Ibn Wahshiyya came across two books on agriculture written in Kurdish, one on the culture of the vine and the palm tree, and the other on water and the means of finding it out in unknown ground. He translated both from Kurdish into Arabic in the early 9th century AD.
Among the earliest Kurdish religious texts is the Yazidi Black Book, the sacred book of Yazidi faith. It is considered to have been authored sometime in the 13th century AD by Hassan bin Adi (b. 1195 AD), the great-grandnephew of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir (d. 1162), the founder of the faith. It contains the Yazidi account of the creation of the world, the origin of man, the story of Adam and Eve and the major prohibitions of the faith. From the 15th to 17th centuries, classical Kurdish poets and writers developed a literary language. The most notable classical Kurdish poets from this period were Ali Hariri, Ahmad Khani, Malaye Jaziri and Faqi Tayran.
The Italian priest Maurizio Garzoni published the first Kurdish grammar titled Grammatica e Vocabolario della Lingua Kurda in Rome in 1787 after eighteen years of missionary work among the Kurds of Amadiya. This work is very important in Kurdish history as it is the first acknowledgment of the widespread use of a distinctive Kurdish language. Garzoni was given the title Father of Kurdology by later scholars. The Kurdish language was banned in a large portion of Kurdistan for some time. After the 1980 Turkish coup d'état until 1991 the use of the Kurdish language was illegal in Turkey.
Today, Central Kurdish is an official language in Iraq. In Syria, on the other hand, publishing materials in Kurdish is forbidden, though this prohibition is not enforced anymore due to the civil war.
Before August 2002, the Turkish government placed severe restrictions on the use of Kurdish, prohibiting the language in education and broadcast media. The Kurdish alphabet is not recognized in Turkey, and the use of Kurdish names containing the letters X, W, and Q, which do not exist in the Turkish alphabet, is not allowed. In 2012, Kurdish-language lessons became an elective subject in public schools. Previously, Kurdish education had only been possible in private institutions.
In Iran, though it is used in some local media and newspapers, it is not used in public schools. In 2005, 80 Iranian Kurds took part in an experiment and gained scholarships to study in Kurdish in Iraqi Kurdistan.
In March 2006, Turkey allowed private television channels to begin airing programming in Kurdish. However, the Turkish government said that they must avoid showing children's cartoons, or educational programs that teach Kurdish, and could broadcast only for 45 minutes a day or four hours a week. However, most of these restrictions on private Kurdish television channels were relaxed in September 2009.
In 2010, Kurdish municipalities in the southeast decided to begin printing water bills, marriage certificates and construction and road signs, as well as emergency, social and cultural notices in Kurdish alongside Turkish. Friday sermons by Imams began to be delivered in the language, and Esnaf provided Kurdish price tags.
The state-run Turkish Radio and Television Corporation (TRT) started its 24-hour Kurdish television station on 1 January 2009 with the motto "we live under the same sky". The Turkish Prime Minister sent a video message in Kurdish to the opening ceremony, which was attended by Minister of Culture and other state officials. The channel uses the X, W, and Q letters during broadcasting.
In Kyrgyzstan, 96.4% of the Kurdish population speak Kurdish as their native language. In Kazakhstan, the corresponding percentage is 88.7%.
According to the Kurdish Academy of Language, Kurdish has the following phonemes:
|Plosive||p 3 b||t 3 d||k 2,3 ɡ 2||q||ʔ|
|Affricate||t͡ʃ 3 d͡ʒ|
|Fricative||f v||s z||ʃ ʒ||x ɣ||ħ ʕ||h|
|Lateral||l k 1|
- ^1 Just as in many English dialects, the velarized lateral does not appear in the onset of a syllable. Additionally, in some dialects, the velarized lateral /ɫ/ changes to a [ɾ] in women's speech.
- ^2 /ɫ/ and /ɡ/ are strongly palatalized before the close and mid front vowels (/i/ and /e/) as well as the rounded high front allophone [ɥ] of the phoneme /w/, closing on /t͡ʃ/ and /d͡ʒ/.
- ^3 In the Kurmanji dialect, a phonemic distinction is made between aspirated and unaspirated voiceless stops. Thus /p/ contrasts with /pʰ/, /t/ with /tʰ/, /k/ with /kʰ/, and the affricate /t͡ʃ/ with /t͡ʃʰ/. This may be an areal feature shared with languages such as Armenian.
As in most modern Iranian languages, Kurdish vowels contrast in quality; they often carry a secondary length distinction that does not affect syllabic weight. This distinction appears in the writing systems developed for Kurdish. The four "short" vowels are /ɛ/, /ɪ/, /o/, and /u/. The five long vowels are /aː/, /eː/, /iː/, /uː/ and /ʉː/. Variations occur, e.g. in Southern Kurdish where long vowel /ɑː/ is used instead of /aː/ and short vowel /ɡ/ is used instead of /ɛ/.
|b, d, g||w, y, (')||w, y, (/nil)||w, y, (nil)||β, ð, ɣ||b, d, g||*b, *d, *g|
|p, t, k||b, d, g,||b, d, g||w, h, y, (/nil)||β, ð, ɣ||p, t, k||*p, *t, *k|
|fr-||fr- (hr-)||for- etc.||fr-||fr-||fr-||*fr-|
|θw||h||h||h? or w/v?||f||θw||*θw|
|rd||l, r||l||unclear (maybe: l, ł, r)||rð & rz||rd & rz||*rd & *rź|
|Všm, Vhm||-šm, -hm||-šm, -xm||-v (-w)||-šm, -hm||-šm, -hm||*šm?|
Indo-European linguistic comparison
Because Kurdish is an Indo-European language, there are many words that are cognates in Kurdish and other Indo-European languages such as Avestan, Persian, Sanskrit, German, English, Norwegian, Latin and Greek. (Source: Altiranisches Wörterbuch (1904) for the first two and last six.)
|ez "I"||azəm||adam [Old Persian]||aham||egō||I ( < OE ić)||ich||jag||ego||aš||ja (related to OCS azŭ)||*h₁eĝh₂om|
|lep "paw"||palāme "palm"||(OE lōf "fillet, band") to lob||(OHG lappo "palm (of the hand)")||(hand)love "palm (of the hand)"||labor (hand)work||lṓpa "paw, claw"||lápa "paw"||*tlāp-|
|jin "woman"||ɣənā- "woman"||zan||janay-||gynē||queen||(OHG quena)||kvinna||genus "birth, origin"||(OPruss. genna)||žená "wife"||*gʷenh₂-|
|leystin (bileyzim) "to play (I play)"||ley ley kardan(to jump with one foot)||réjati||ālma "jump"||(OE lācan "to play")||leich||leka||láigyti||*(e)leig'- "to jump, to spring, to play"|
|mezin, gewre "great"||maz-, mazant||masan (middle Persian), gošn "numerous"||mah(ī)-/mahānt-||megas||much ( < OE mićil, myćil)||(OHG mihhil)||mycket "much"||magnus||moshch "power"||*meĝh₂- "big, great"|
|mêzer "headband/turban"||Miθra "binding", "god name"||*Miça "god name"(Old Persian)||mitra "headband, turban",||mitre "belt, turban"||metat' "to sew, to tack"||*mei- "to tie"|
|pez "sheep"||pasu- "sheep, goat"||boz "goat"||paśu "animal"||poemne "herd"||fee ( < OE feoh "cattle")||Vieh "cattle"||får "sheep" fä "domestic animal"||pecus "cattle"||pekus "ox"||pasti "to herd"||*pek̂-u- "sheep"|
|çiya چيا), kash کاش) "mountain"||kūh, chakād "peak/summit"||kakúd-, kakúbh- "peak/summit"||koryfē "top"||kupfa Gipfel "peak/summit"||cacūmen||kucha "pile"||*kak-, *kakud- "top"|
|jîyar "alive" jiyan "to live"||gaêm [gaya]||zend[e] "alive", zî[stan] "to live", zaideh "child"||jīv-||zoi "life", zō "live"||quick||quick "bright"||kvick "quick"||vīvus "alive", vīvō "live", vīta "life"||gývas||žyzn' "life", žyvój "living, alive"||*gʷih₃(u̯)-|
|[di] [a]zan[im] "I know" zan[în] "to know"||zan-||[mi]dān[am] "I know", dān[estan] "to know"||jān-||[gi]gnō[skō]||know||kennen||kunna "to be able to", "to know"||nō[scō], [co]gn[itus]||žin[au]"I know" žin[oti] "to know"||znat' "to know"||*ĝneh₃-|
The bulk of the vocabulary in Kurdish is of Iranian origin, especially of northwestern Iranian. A considerable number of loanwords come from Semitic, mainly Arabic, which entered through Islam and historical relations with Arab tribes. Yet, a smaller group of loanwords which are of Armenian, Caucasian, and Turkic origins are used in Kurdish, besides some European words. There are also Kurdish words with no clear etymology.
The Kurdish language has been written using four different writing systems. In Iraq and Iran it is written using an Arabic script, composed by Sa'id Kaban Sedqi. More recently, it is sometimes written with a Latin alphabet in Iraq. In Turkey, Syria, and Armenia, it is now written using a Latin script. Kurdish was also written in the Arabic script in Turkey and Syria until 1932. There is a proposal for a unified international recognized Kurdish alphabet based on ISO-8859-1 called Yekgirtú. Kurdish in the former USSR is written with a Cyrillic alphabet. Kurdish has even been written in the Armenian alphabet in Soviet Armenia and in the Ottoman Empire (a translation of the Gospels in 1857 and of all New Testament in 1872).
- Kurdish culture
- Kurdish Institute of Paris
- Kurdish Institute of Istanbul
- List of countries by Kurdish-speaking population
- University of Kurdistan (Iran)
- University of Kurdistan - Hawler
- Only very rough estimates are possible. SIL Ethnologue gives estimates broken down by dialect group, totalling 31 million, but with the caveat of "Very provisional figures for Northern Kurdish speaker population". Ethnologue estimates for dialect groups: Northern: 20.2M (undated; 15M in Turkey for 2009), Central: 6.75M (2009), Southern: 3M (2000), Laki: 1M (2000). The Swedish Nationalencyklopedin listed Kurdish in its "Världens 100 största språk 2007" (The World's 100 Largest Languages in 2007), citing an estimate of 20.6 million native speakers.
- Pavlenko, Aneta (2008). Multilingualism in post-Soviet countries. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters. pp. 18–22. ISBN 978-1-84769-087-6.
- Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Kurdish". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
- Kaya, Mehmet. The Zaza Kurds of Turkey: A Middle Eastern Minority in a Globalised Society. ISBN 1-84511-875-8
- "Languages of the Middle East". Archived from the original on 18 January 2012. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
- A Modern History of the Kurds: Third Edition - David McDowall - Google Books. Books.google.com. 2004-05-14. Retrieved 2012-12-18.
- Demographic data is unreliable especially in Turkey, where the largest number of Kurds reside, as Turkey has not permitted gathering ethnic or linguistic census data since 1965; estimates of ethnic Kurds in Turkey range from 10% to 25%, or 8 to 20 million people.
- "Kurmanji". Retrieved 24 February 2016.
- "Kurmanji Kurdish" (PDF). Retrieved 24 February 2016.
- Allison, Christine. The Yezidi oral tradition in Iraqi Kurdistan. 2001. "However, it was the southern dialect of Kurdish, Sorani, the majority language of the Iraqi Kurds, which received sanction as an official language of Iraq."
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- Bruinessen, M.M. van. (1994). Kurdish nationalism and competing ethnic loyalties
- Paul, Ludwig (2008). "Kurdish language I. History of the Kurdish language". In Yarshater, Ehsan. Encyclopædia Iranica. London and New York: Routledge. Retrieved 28 August 2013.
- Windfuhr, Gernot (1975), "Isoglosses: A Sketch on Persians and Parthians, Kurds and Medes", Monumentum H.S. Nyberg II (Acta Iranica-5), Leiden: 457-471
- Professor Garnik Asatrian (Yerevan University) (2009)."Prolegomena to the Study of the Kurds", Iran and the Caucasus, Vol.13, pp. 1–58, 2009 Published in 2009, Iran and the Caucasus, 13, pp.1-58.
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- Philip G. Kreyenbroek, "On the Kurdish Language", a chapter in the book The Kurds: A Contemporary Overview. The book is previewable at Google Book Search.
- Joyce Blau, Methode de Kurde: Sorani, Editions L'Harmattan (2000), p. 20
- Ranjbar, Vahid. Dastur-e Zaban-e Kurdi-ye Kermanshahi. Kermanshah: Taq-Bostan. 1388
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- Archived 1 May 2008 at the Wayback Machine.
- Glottolog 2.3, Subfamily: Central Iran Kermanic. "The Central dialects thus constitute the southernmost group of the so-called Northwest Iranian dialects," Central Dialects (iranicaonline.org)
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- Meri, Josef W. Medieval Islamic Civilization: A-K, index. p444
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- J. N. Postgate, Languages of Iraq, ancient and modern, British School of Archaeology in Iraq, [Iraq]: British School of Archaeology in Iraq, 2007, p. 138.
- Abd al-Jabbar, Falih. Ayatollahs, sufis and ideologues: state, religion and social movements in Iraq. University of Virginia 2008.
- Sykes, Mark. The Caliphs' last heritage: a short history of the Turkish Empire
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Kurds have been officially allowed since September 2003 to take Kurdish names, but cannot use the letters x, w, or q, which are common in Kurdish but do not exist in Turkey's version of the Latin alphabet. [...] Those letters, however, are used in Turkey in the names of companies, TV and radio channels, and trademarks. For example Turkish Army has company under the name of AXA OYAK and there is SHOW TV television channel in Turkey.
- "Turkey to allow Kurdish lessons in schools". Aljazeera. 12 June 2012. Retrieved 12 June 2013.
- The Kurdish Language and Literature, by Joyce Blau, Professor of Kurdish language and civilization at the National Institute of Oriental Language and Civilization of the University of Paris (INALCO)
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- McCarus, Ernest N. (1997), "Kurdish Phonology", in Kaye, Alan S.; Daniels, Peter T., Phonologies of Asia & Africa (Including the Caucasus), 2, Winona Lake, Indiana: EISENBRAUNS, p. 693, ISBN 1-57506-017-5
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- "The Kurdish Academy of Language - Unified Kurdish Alphabet - IPA". Retrieved 14 April 2012.
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- Feryad fazil Omar: Kurdisch-Deutsches Wörterbuch (Soranî), Institut für Kurdische Studien e.V., Berlin 2005, p.332 ISBN 978-3-932574-10-8
- Abdul Rahman Sharafkondi Hazhar: (1st ed. 1990) Farhang Kurdi-Farsi, Tehran, 4th ed. 2005, p. 601 ISBN 964-435-701-9 and ISBN 964-376-341-2
- kupfa is Old High German; Kuppel is Middle High German, Kopf is head,Oskar Schade (1866)
- Georg Scherer (1588)
- "The Kurdish Unified Alphabet". www.kurdishacademy.org. Retrieved 2 December 2011.
- "The Gospels in Kurdish in Armenian characters, 1857, Constantinople". Google.com. 2010-02-18. Retrieved 2014-03-02.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kurdish language.|
|Kurmanji Kurdish edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
|Sorani Kurdish edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia|
|Southern Kurdish test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
|Laki test of Wikipedia at Wikimedia Incubator|
|Wikivoyage has phrasebook for Kurdish.|
- Wîkîferheng (Kurdish Wiktionary)
- inKurdish: English–Kurdish Translation
- Online English Kurdish Translation
- Dictio: English–Kurdish Dictionary
- The Kurdish Institute of Paris: Language and Literature
- Kurdish Language and Linguistics, at Encyclopedia Iranica (article written by Ludwig Paul)
- History of Kurdish Written Literature, at Encyclopedia Iranica (article written by Philip G. Kryeenbroek)
- Kurdish Language Initiative of Seywan Institute
- Kurdish Institute of Istanbul
- KAL: The Kurdish Academy of Language
- Kurdish Language Academy in Iran
- Kurdish Kurdish links and language information, dictionary etc.
- Kurdish languages at DMOZ
- Grammar of a Less Familiar Language (MIT OpenCourseWare)
- Southern Kurdish phonetic
- Gorani Influence on Central Kurdish
- Reference Grammar with Selected Readings both for Sorani and Kurmanji written by W. M. Thackston