How to pronounce Qatar, the World Cup host whose name everyone mispronounces

How to pronounce Qatar, the World Cup host whose name everyone mispronounces

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In the 12 years since FIFA President Sepp Blatter dramatically opened a scandalous envelope and introduced Qatar to the world, millions of Westerners have learned a great deal about the controversial 2022 World Cup host. They have learned of scorching temperatures and the exploitation of migrant workers. You’ve learned how oil transformed a peninsular desert into a bustling international hub. They learned that Qatari law criminalizes homosexuality and prohibits alcohol. You’ve learned how a tiny emirate the size of Connecticut plans to host the world’s biggest sporting event.

You’ve learned almost all the basics except for the most basic one: How to pronounce “Qatar”.

They pronounced it “kuh-TAR” and “KA-tar” and “cutter”. The British occasionally use “kuh-TAAH”. Some Americans did their homework and somehow settled on cut-tar anyway. For a while, some online dictionaries, amazingly, spit out “Cutter”.

All are false, but the false pronunciations got so out of hand that the Qatari state essentially relinquished authenticity and accepted some of them.

“The pronunciation in English is different because the word uses two letters that are unique to Arabic,” Ali Al-Ansari, a media attaché for the Qatar government, told Yahoo Sports via email. The accepted pronunciation “would sound like saying: Cow TAR.”

In other words, what you hear when you search “how to pronounce Qatar” is fine.

“Another way that also works is cow ter‘ Al-Ansari added, ‘but sometimes it sounds like ‘gutter’ so we prefer it Cow Tar.”

Other Arabic speakers have stated that the English word closest to the native pronunciation may actually be “guitar”. In Gulf dialects, the first consonant in “Qatar” is a “g” rather than a hard “c”.

But the correct pronunciation – the one that will be adopted by local languages ​​during the World Cup – cannot be written using a Latin alphabet. If you want to learn, YouTube is the best choice.

AL KHOR, QATAR - NOVEMBER 20: A general view of the stadium ahead of the Group A match of FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar.  (Photo by Michael Regan - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

A general view of the stadium ahead of the World Cup opening match between Qatar and Ecuador at Al Bayt Stadium on November 20, 2022 in Al Khor, Qatar. (Photo by Michael Regan – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)

Why it’s so hard for English speakers to pronounce “Qatar”.

The difficulty comes from “emphatic sounds that English doesn’t have,” says Amal El Haimeur, a linguist and Arabic professor at the University of Kansas. Qatar’s Arabic name, دولة قطر, consists of three letters, two of which are completely foreign to most Westerners and are therefore fiendishly pronounceable without practice.

“It’s like we have sleeping muscles,” says Mohammed Aldawood, a professor of Arabic at American University in Washington DC. “We have to wake them up to pronounce them properly.”

The first letter requires either a low “k” or a hard “g” depending on the dialect, and then a deaccented vowel similar to “ā”.

The second is a guttural “t”. In linguistics, they are called “veralized” or “uvular” consonants, meaning the speaker has to press the back of the tongue against the palate. “It’s caused by obstruction to airflow [through the] mouth,” says El Maimeur.

And the final sound is an “ar” with a rolled “r”.

The accepted English pronunciation does not contain all three of these nuances. However, experts say it is a natural trait of language acquisition.

“In any language – like for me when I speak English – when I have no sound in me [first language], I will replace it with the most similar tone in my language,” says El Maimeur. When confronted with an ’emphatic’ Arabic sound, ‘non-native speakers, including their students, will replace it with its non-emphatic counterpart’.

“Qatar” is not unique in this sense. Aldawood points out that other common proper names – including “Saudi” and his own given name “Mohammed” – have been adapted and technically mispronounced by and for English speakers.

“Every language, every word,” says Aldawood. “Over time, people start changing it so it’s easier to say.”

Even if Gianni Infantino, Blatter’s successor, opens the World Cup in Qatar, he and his FIFA colleagues, some of whom have been visiting the Gulf for over a decade, will take the host nation’s name in different ways.

Infantino, a Swiss polyglot, has made several strides towards authenticity. But its Scottish Director of Media Relations still relies on “KA-tar”. And Ireland’s Chief Operating Officer of the World Cup, Colin Smith, will call it “kuh-TAR”.

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