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How do You Say ‘Qatar’?

Doha, Qatar skyline at night as photographed from the Arabian Gulf, also known as the Persian Gulf.

Photo by Flavius Torcea on Unsplash

The best thing I read this week was published in late November: How Do You Pronounce Qatar? Probably Incorrectly. from the New York Times.

I'm one of those nerds who likes knowing the correct way to say things. I have given up on ever pronouncing Qatar correctly.

I always thought it was pronounced like kuh-TAR. But then I heard Charles Gibson pronounce it in clipped, American newsreader English as "COT-ter" or "CAH-tur." I am nothing if not pretentious, so I too, started to adopt this pronunciation.

Yeah, we're1 all still saying it wrong.

If my ears correctly heard the audio samples in the featured clips, the Qa is somewhere between a K and hard G, but not quite. I think it uses the same tongue positioning as a hiss, with the brevity of a dainty cough, and involves the back of your throat.

There's also a soft T in the middle. Maybe it's a little bit T and a little bit Th, or D. Then you have to roll the R at the end. It needs to flap a little bit. I'm sure some linguist somehwere has already discussed whether this flapping Arabic rrrr has anything to do with the rolling rrr of spoken Spanish. I'll Google it later.

Anyhow, if you can put all of that together, you're closer, but probably still saying it wrong. I know I am.

You can be forgiven. Arabic has sounds that Anglophone ears and mouths aren't used to hearing or saying. But if I had to enforce an English pronunciation, it would probably be KAAH-tar.

  1. We meaning native English speakers who do not speak Arabic.