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Ask Matthew Alice

Yo Matt:

How come so many Arabic words with a "k" sound are spelled with a "q" instead? Qaddafi, Qatar, Iraq, al-Qaeda, etc. Since these are Anglicized spellings and not Arabic ones, who decides on these spellings?

-- Sqott, San Diego

As we learned from our friend Moammar-Muommar-Mohamar-Kadaffi-Qadaffi-Ghadaffi, there's more than one or two ways to spell some Arabic words, so it looks like lots of different people decide which is the correct way. For some languages, there is near-worldwide agreement on how it's to be done. Chinese, f'rinstance, has two standard forms developed by language scholars. Nobody has to use either of them, but it makes life easier for everybody if you do. But so far, for Arabic, there are many systems but no single standard.

The Arabic alphabet has more letters than English, and the letter sounds are not entirely equivalent. There is a hard "K" sound in Arabic, which is usually represented in the roman alphabet by a K. So when we get to the Arabic letter sound that's like a guttural K-- like a K that you say way back in your throat-- we need a different roman letter. That's usually Q, sometimes G, since the letter sound is somewhere between a Q and a G. The resulting spelling doesn't help us pronounce the word with the proper Arabic sounds, but that's probably too much to hope for between two such different languages.

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Yo Matt:

How come so many Arabic words with a "k" sound are spelled with a "q" instead? Qaddafi, Qatar, Iraq, al-Qaeda, etc. Since these are Anglicized spellings and not Arabic ones, who decides on these spellings?

-- Sqott, San Diego

As we learned from our friend Moammar-Muommar-Mohamar-Kadaffi-Qadaffi-Ghadaffi, there's more than one or two ways to spell some Arabic words, so it looks like lots of different people decide which is the correct way. For some languages, there is near-worldwide agreement on how it's to be done. Chinese, f'rinstance, has two standard forms developed by language scholars. Nobody has to use either of them, but it makes life easier for everybody if you do. But so far, for Arabic, there are many systems but no single standard.

The Arabic alphabet has more letters than English, and the letter sounds are not entirely equivalent. There is a hard "K" sound in Arabic, which is usually represented in the roman alphabet by a K. So when we get to the Arabic letter sound that's like a guttural K-- like a K that you say way back in your throat-- we need a different roman letter. That's usually Q, sometimes G, since the letter sound is somewhere between a Q and a G. The resulting spelling doesn't help us pronounce the word with the proper Arabic sounds, but that's probably too much to hope for between two such different languages.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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