How do you pronounce Qatar? Probably wrong.
Sooner or later, the time will come for everyone, or at least for everyone who does not speak Arabic but hopes to chat this year’s world cup without looking like a complete idiot.
What happens when the circumstances of the conversation force us to say the word “Qatar” in public?
It’s Kuh-TAR, like the guitar? Or Kuh-TAH, like the British pronunciation of catarrh, a phlegmatic sore throat? What about corporate executives who say you’re 100% wrong and should say KUH-ter, like cutter (or gutter), or something closer to KAT-ar?
Why does everyone on TV seem to have a different answer? Can we trust random instructional YouTube videos? Is there a way to say it without adding “or how you pronounce it”? Why hasn’t FIFA issued a formal guideline? It’s been 12 years, after all, since football’s governing body started it all by awarding the sport’s greatest championship. to a small Gulf nation.
Karim Jaafar/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
But while a four-page phonetic guide created for journalists traveling to Qatar offers some linguistic relief – offering step-by-step pronunciations of handy phrases like “Help!” and “I’ve been robbed” – it’s silent on the name of where you might need to say them.
Let us clarify here that the problem is not willful ignorance or cultural arrogance, but that the Arabic pronunciation of “Qatar” — قطر in Arabic script — is very different from the English pronunciation:
Taoufik Ben-Amor, associate professor of Arabic studies at Columbia University
If you’re an English speaker, you probably pronounce it incorrectly, but only in the sense that your pronunciation of “Paris” or “Chile” would be considered wrong from the perspective of a Parisian or a Chilean.
Which means the real question is: what kind of evil is good?
“There’s no real direction,” said Neil Buethe, the director of communications for the United States Soccer Federation, whose team has been slowly pushing into the country with the name players would like. to be able to pronounce. “It has certainly been a debate.”
Yes it is. Online, a Qatari known as Mr. Q uploaded a series of videos for visitors, including the one who starts, “I went ahead and noticed a lot of foreigners teaching foreigners how to pronounce Qatar.” He then shows a few clips of people saying “Qatar” in different painful ways on American television and adds: “I respect you, you respect me, we all respect each other right now, but no.”
Ramon Van Flymen/EPA, via Shutterstock
Hassan Al Thawadi, the head of the Supreme Committee charged with spearheading preparations for the World Cup, said in an interview that the pronunciations of “Qatar” vary even within the host country.
Hassan Al Thawadi, Secretary General of the Qatari World Cup organization
This did not help alleviate the general confusion among visitors.
“People were saying ‘KUH-ter’ when we first got there last December,” Buethe said of his trips to the country ahead of the World Cup. “But we had many conversations with individuals and with members of the federation, and they told us that it was not correct: do not say ‘KUH-ter’.”
Jenny Taft, sideline reporter for Fox Sports, who will broadcast the World Cup in the United States, said the network made a command decision.
Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press
“I don’t know who made the call, but we’re going with Ka-TAR,” she said in an interview. “I don’t know why, but that’s the decision that was made. And it’s unique, isn’t it? Like, I was probably saying KUH-ter before that. But Ka-TAR is, I suppose, probably the most recognizable way of pronouncing the country.
Jenny Taft, Fox Sports sideline reporter
Walker Zimmerman, a defender for Team USA, said that was also what he planned to do. “I say Ka-TAR,” Zimmerman said in a fall interview. “I know that’s probably not the right way – KUH-ter is for those who probably know a little more what they’re talking about – but I’m going with Ka-TAR.”
Christof Koepsel/Getty Images
The German television channel ZDF took a different approach: its employees were informed by e-mail that they should opt for KAT-ar. Martin Tyler, the legendary Sky Sports broadcaster who is working his 12th World Cup this year, said he would do the same.
Martin Tyler, announcer for Sky Sports and SBS Australia
However, none of these idiosyncratic decisions resolves the main questions: what is the actual pronunciation of the word? And what is our problem?
Abir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock
For starters, said Sarab Al Ani, who teaches Arabic at Yale University, the first consonant in the word Qatar doesn’t really translate to a K or Q sound. It’s actually a glottal sound, which means it emanates from the glottis, at the back of the throat – a muscle English speakers don’t exercise much.
“What happens is the back of your tongue touches the roof of your mouth lightly and quickly, creating the initial sound,” Al Ani said.
She suggested flattening your tongue and tilting your head slightly forward, to shorten the distance between the tongue and the throat. “It makes the distance as close as possible,” she explained. “You have to push your tongue back a bit to make contact with the roof of your mouth – just a soft touch, a second – then make the sound.”
The word Qatar puts stress on the first syllable, she said. Then the T is fast and explosive – “a dark T,” she called it, slightly hollow. To produce the correct sound, it helps not to flatten your tongue by curving it slightly downward. The A is pronounced quickly and the R, Al Ani said, is “closer in pronunciation to a Spanish R”.
Sarab Al Ani, senior lecturer in Arabic at Yale University
She demonstrated a few times and then said, encouragingly, that English speakers, even World Cup reporters, might need a lot of practice before they get it right.
Now that we’ve clarified that, in a way, what are we supposed to do with our newly engaged glottis and new knowledge?
Proper usage expert and former New Yorker editor Mary Norris said foreign place names can be tiny minefields of pronunciation. Use the American pronunciation and you might sound deliberately ignorant; use native and you risk sounding aggressively pretentious.
She mentioned the Kabul riddle – Ka-BOOL? Or COB-ble? – and admitted that she had no independent information on the pronunciation of “Qatar”. “I’m sure in American English, we’re not expected to find an Arabic pronunciation,” Norris said.
She said she once overheard her doctor talking about a country he called “cotter” on the phone. “I think he said ‘cutter’,” she said, “but with a Brooklyn accent.”
If all of this only adds to your anxious confusion, please welcome the calming message delivered by an official from the Consulate General of the State of Qatar in New York. The official, who asked that her name not be used because she is not supposed to speak to the media, said she had to listen every day to English speakers mutilating the country’s name in various baroquely inaccurate ways.
But if you go with Ka-TAR, it’s fine, she said. (“Cutter” is worse.) “It’s not your fault,” she continued. “Some letters in Arabic that you don’t have in English, so you can’t pronounce them the same way we do. We know you’re doing your best.