Pronouncing words
March 29, 2003 10:01 AM   Subscribe

Qatar Home of Central Command and Al Jazzera television, it's a small oil-rich country we've all heard of, and that's the problem: I hear Qatar called Cutter, Gutter, Katar, and Kwatar. How do the Qataris' pronounce it; is it possible to accurately pronounce foreign words in English? Who decides? More inside...
posted by Mack Twain (32 comments total)
This business of flexible pronouncement of words seems rampant: Words such as didn't, couldn't and wouldn't used to be pronounced did-ent, could-ent and would-ent but now seem to have an extra "d' and are often pronounced did-dent, could-dent and would-dent. What's up with that? Did it all start when someone called the Planet Uranus (formerly called your-a-niss) your-anus?
posted by Mack Twain at 10:03 AM on March 29, 2003

This article, from Slate explains how to pronouce Qatar, and includes an audio clip of an arabic speaker pronouncing the word.
posted by blue mustard at 10:08 AM on March 29, 2003

so, it's pronounced 'Carter'? No wonder the media doesn't want to get it right. ;)
posted by RobbieFal at 10:13 AM on March 29, 2003

Mack Twain, where have your heard such pronunciation?

And, regarding how you say the name of a certain planet:

Q. What does toilet paper and the starship Enterprise have in common?

A. They both circle Uranus and wipe out Klingons.

See how important these things are?
posted by Ayn Marx at 10:13 AM on March 29, 2003

Usama bin Laden and Saddam Husayn are probably behind this.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 10:18 AM on March 29, 2003

I must just be lazy. When I say "didn't" "couldn't" or "wouldn't", the tip of my tounge doesn't leave the roof of my mouth once I hit the last "d". No "ent" or "dent", I'm not even sure if I pronounce the final "t". "wouldn't" differs pretty much only in inflection from "wooden".

Only space robots say 'would dent'.

Related thread here.
posted by duckstab at 10:18 AM on March 29, 2003

You're mixing up different things; the pronunciation of English words doesn't have much to do with the pronunciation of foreign place names. As far as Qatar is concerned, there are two issues. The first is that nobody had much occasion to refer to the place in English conversation until recently (and even less occasion to hear Arabic-speakers pronounce it), so when people saw the word they just applied basic rules on "how to pronounce funny-looking foreign words" and it came out sounding like "catarrh." This would have been reasonably close if the second a were long in Arabic, but it's not, so it should be "cutter" or "gutter." The problem here is that both are already English words, so there's a slight discomfort (which will presumably disappear as we get used to the more nearly correct pronunciation).

The other issue is that the initial q varies in pronunciation depending on Arabic dialect. In Classical Arabic it's a guttural consonant like a k pronounced as far back in the throat as possible without choking, and this is kept in most dialects for "high-class" words or contexts but replaced in common words by a glottal stop (like the one in the middle of "uh-oh"). I'm assuming Qatar keeps the classical q in standard Saudi Arabic. But in many dialects of the Arabic Peninsula the q becomes a g, hence the "gutter" version. (Also, the -t- is "emphatic," but there's no point getting into that unless you want to learn Arabic.) The dialect spoken in Qatar itself is Gulf Arabic.

Probably more than you wanted to know!
posted by languagehat at 10:25 AM on March 29, 2003

my dad lived there for about 2 years and he insists it's pronounced "ka TAR" < my 2 cents
posted by sixtwenty3dc at 10:33 AM on March 29, 2003

British pronunciation joke (and how many of those are there?):
Q: What's the difference between a buffalo and a bison?
A: You can't wash your hands in a bison.
posted by carter at 10:34 AM on March 29, 2003

Damn. Buffalo. Aaargh!
posted by carter at 10:37 AM on March 29, 2003

sixtwenty3dc: my housemate who has lived in Kuwait agrees it's "katar" with emphasis on the "tar".
posted by mfli at 10:40 AM on March 29, 2003

carter, that joke isn't funny unless you screw it up. So, that was my first spit-take in days.
posted by chicobangs at 10:54 AM on March 29, 2003

Remember when the Moslem (Muslem? Muslim?) Bad Guy du Jour was Kadafi (Gadafi? Qu'daiffi?)? Maybe spiritual answer to these dilemmas could be found in the Koran (Qu'rann?).

This will always be a problem translating between character sets. Imagine trying to translate our simple English word for canine into another set of characters. Is the word pronounced dog, dawg, doog, or dug?
posted by spartacusroosevelt at 11:01 AM on March 29, 2003

I've been wondering about this myself. The audio clip that blue mustard posted sounds like "caught uh" to me. Thanks for the analysis languagehat. I had always suspected that the "gutter" variant was a subtle slur by certain cable news organizations where this pronounciation is mostly heard. I'm glad that is not the case. I don't think there can be a definitive pronounciation throughout the Arabic speaking world any more that there is a definitive U.S. English pronounciation of "Oregon" or "idea(r)". I guess we should ask the Oregonians and Qatari.
posted by AstroGuy at 11:18 AM on March 29, 2003

Never say Or-e-gone.
The correct pronunciation is Or-a-gun.
posted by maus501 at 11:40 AM on March 29, 2003

No joke, they had a professor from Qatar on one of the major US network news broadcasts a few weeks ago, talking about this exactly. He also went with ka-TAR.
Journalist: So how do you say it? Is it cater, cutter, cotter...?
posted by whatzit at 12:04 PM on March 29, 2003

Re: The Misspellings (Usama, Husayn)

Arabic does not use the same alphabet as English. That's those funny little squigles you see on the screen when al Jazeera is playing.

I work with a woman who natively speaks Arabic. She signs her name with initials because, "the spelling is at best a guess based on the pronunciation."
posted by benjh at 12:21 PM on March 29, 2003

no, no.
it is oh-REG-un.
like oregano.


please? it would make me laugh every time...
posted by jann at 1:12 PM on March 29, 2003

I think we can all agree. If it's hard to pronounce, you'd probably never want to live there.
posted by askheaves at 1:32 PM on March 29, 2003

Guys, it's clearly pronounced "Cooter."

Also, Saudi Arabia is pronounced "Uncle Jess", Saddam Hussein is pronounced "Boss Hogg", and while Bush and Ashcroft think they're pronounced "Bo" and "Luke" respectively, they're actually pronounced "Enos" and "Cletus." Hope this clears it all up.
posted by arto at 1:38 PM on March 29, 2003

ee-raq, uh-raq, eye-raq, yah-raq, ah-raq, or ih-raq?
posted by iconomy at 2:02 PM on March 29, 2003

God invented war to teach Americans pronunciation.
posted by Soliloquy at 2:38 PM on March 29, 2003

Probably more than you wanted to know!

Nope. Thanks for the info.
posted by yerfatma at 2:43 PM on March 29, 2003

British pronunciation joke (and how many of those are there?):
Q: What's the difference between a buffalo and a bison?
A: You can't wash your hands in a bison.

I always though it worked best with an australian accent.
posted by inpHilltr8r at 3:50 PM on March 29, 2003

Thanx for the input, friends; Just one of 10,743 reasons Metafilter is better than Google...Ayn Marx, I'm ashamed to admit I heard those different pronouncements on the teevee, as always blaming it on 'the children'. I've already used the Enterprise joke! MSNBC is obviously reading Metafilter; they just changed from Cutter to Caughter. As a native Oregonian I need to add that our State is pronounced OREYGUN.
posted by Mack Twain at 4:21 PM on March 29, 2003

Ug, a couple of years ago the business I worked for was going to do a big deal with Qatar. Inevitable lunchroom brawl could be generated by the question of how to pronounce "Qatar." Agreement was never reached (on the pronounciation or the deal).
posted by loafingcactus at 4:44 PM on March 29, 2003

Dacula, GA pronunciation guide.

What about Colorado? Color-ah-do or Colo-rad-o?
posted by Frank Grimes at 5:23 PM on March 29, 2003

a ray gun?
what a cool state.
posted by jann at 5:55 PM on March 29, 2003

Lets call the whole thing off.
posted by groundhog at 5:59 PM on March 29, 2003

duckstab :
we are the space robots
we are here to protect you
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 11:31 PM on March 29, 2003

So, how do you pronounce Babel?
posted by newlydead at 5:24 AM on March 30, 2003

BAY-ble (as in "The babe'll be there"). Some people do say BABB-le, but that's confusing because it sounds exactly like "babble" (which is not related, by the way—it's onomatopoetic).

Unless you speak Yiddish, in which case you say bovvle.
posted by languagehat at 6:37 AM on March 30, 2003

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