In the 12 years since FIFA president Sepp Blatter dramatically opened an envelope of scandal and introduced the world to Qatar, millions of Westerners have learned a lot about the controversial 2022 World Cup host. They have learned about the scorching temperatures and the exploitation of migrant workers. They have learned how oil has transformed a peninsular desert into a bustling international hub. They have learned that Qatari law criminalizes homosexuality and bans alcohol. They learn how a small state the size of Connecticut plans to host the biggest sporting event on the planet.
They have learned almost all the basics, except the most basic: how to pronounce “Qatar”.
They pronounced it “kuh-TAR” and “KA-tar” and “cutter.” The British occasionally go for “Mount Tah”. Some Americans have done their homework and are still somehow sitting on the ‘Taqvir’. For some time now, several online dictionaries have been confusingly pronouncing: “cater.”
All are wrong, but the mispronunciations got so out of hand that the Qatari government basically gave up on authenticity and accepted a few of them.
“The pronunciation is different in English because the word uses two letters that only exist in Arabic,” Ali Al Ansari, Qatar’s government media liaison, told Yahoo Sports via email. The accepted pronunciation “seems to say: tar mountain“
In other words, what you hear when you search “how to pronounce Qatar” is good.
Another way it works is this more mountain“But sometimes it sounds like ‘gutters’ so we prefer it,” added Ansari tar mountain“
Other Arabic speakers have explained that the closest English word to the native pronunciation may actually be “guitar”. In Gulf dialects, the first consonant in “Qatar” is more of a “g” than a hard “c”.
But proper pronunciation – the pronunciation that destroys local languages during the World Cup – cannot be expressed in the Latin alphabet. If you want to learn, your best bet is YouTube:
Why is “Qatar” difficult for English speakers to pronounce?
Amal Al-Haymor, a linguist and professor of Arabic at the University of Kansas, says the difficulty comes from “stress sounds that English doesn’t have.” The Arabic name of Qatar, the State of Qatar, is three letters, two of which are completely foreign to most Westerners, and thus pronunciation is devilish without practice.
“It’s like we have dormant muscles,” says Mohammad Aldawood, a professor of Arabic at American University in Washington, DC.
The first letter sounds a deep “k” or a hard “g,” depending on the accent, followed by an unstressed vowel similar to “a.”“
The second is a guttural “t”. In linguistics, they are referred to as “confirmed” or “partial” consonants, meaning that they require the speaker to press the back of their tongue against the roof of their mouth. “It is produced by obstructing the flow of air [through the] Mouth,” says El Maimore.
And the final sound is an “ar” with an “r”.
The accepted English pronunciation of all three does not include these nuances. But according to experts, this is a natural feature of language acquisition.
“In any language—like when I speak English—if there’s no sound in my language [first language]I will replace it with the closest sound in my language, says El Maymore. When faced with an Arabic “stress” sound, non-native speakers, including his students, “replace it with their unstressed sound.”
“Qatar” is not unique in this respect. Aldawood points out that other common proper names—including “Saudi” and his own first name “Mohammed”—have been adapted by and for English speakers and are technically mispronounced.
Aldawood says: “Any language, any word. Over time, people start changing it to make it easier to say.
So even as Gianni Infantino, Blatter’s successor, opens the World Cup in Qatar, he and his FIFA colleagues, some of whom have visited the Gulf for more than a decade, will have different takes on the name of the host country.
Infantino, a Swiss polyglot, has taken steps towards authenticity. But his Scottish media relations manager still goes by “KA-tar”. And Ireland’s director of World Cup operations, Colin Smith, calls it “kuh-TAR”.