In the 12 years since FIFA president Sepp Blatter dramatically opened the envelope of scandal and introduced the world to Qatar, millions of Westerners have learned a lot about the controversial 2022 World Cup host. They are accustomed to the heat and exploitation of migrant workers. They have learned how oil transformed a desert peninsula into a thriving international hub. They learned that Qatari law criminalizes homosexuality and prohibits alcohol. They learned how a small kingdom the size of Connecticut plans to host the biggest sporting event on the planet.
They just learned about all the basics, except the most basic: how to pronounce “Qatar”.
They pronounced it “kuh-TAR” and “KA-tar” and “cutter”. The British sometimes go for “kuh-TAAH”. Some Americans have done their homework and are still somehow sitting on the “cut-tar”. For a while now, several online dictionaries have been confusingly spelling out “cotter”.
All of them are wrong, but the mispronunciations have gotten so out of hand that the state of Qatar has essentially given up on the truth 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, a media spokesman for the Qatari government, told Yahoo Sports via email. The accepted pronunciation would be: Kuh-TAR.
In other words, what you hear when you search for “how to pronounce Qatar” is good.
“Another way that works is this Kuh-TerAl-Ansari added, “but sometimes the sound of ‘spoon’ is heard, so we prefer it Kuh-Tar.
Other Arabic speakers have stated 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 the correct pronunciation – which will emerge from regional languages throughout the World Cup – is not written in the Latin alphabet. If you want to learn, YouTube is your best bet:
Why is ‘Qatar’ so difficult to pronounce for English speakers
The difficulty comes from “English sounds that don’t exist in English,” says Amal El Haimeur, a linguist and professor of Arabic at the University of Kansas. Qatar’s Arabic name, دولة قطر, is three letters, two of which are completely foreign to most Westerners, and therefore devilish to say without practice.
“It’s like we have sleep muscles,” says Mohammed Aldawood, professor of Arabic at the American University in Washington DC, “and we have to wake them up to pronounce them correctly.”
The first letter sounds either a deep “k” or a hard “g” depending on the dialect, and then a voiceless vowel like “ā”.“
The second “t” is gut. In linguistics, they are referred to as “fixed” or “uvular” consonants, meaning they require the speaker to push the back of their tongue against the roof of their mouth. “It is produced by blocking the air [through the] mouth,” says El Maimeur.
And the last sound is “ar” with a rolled “r”.
Acceptable English pronunciation fails to include all three nuances. But this, experts say, is a natural feature of language acquisition.
“In any language – like me when I speak English – if I don’t have a voice [first language]I’ll replace it with the closest sound in my language,” says El Maimeur. When faced with a “congratulatory” Arabic sound, non-native speakers, including her students, “will replace it with their own replace the non-emphatic.”
“Qatar”, in this sense, is not unique. Aldawood points out that other common proper names—including “Saudi,” and his first name, “Mohammed”—have been adapted by and for English speakers, and are technically mispronounced.
“Every language, every word,” Aldawood says. “Over time, people start changing it to say it’s easy.”
So even when Gianni Infantino, Blatter’s successor, sets the World Cup in Qatar, he and his FIFA colleagues, some of whom have been visiting the Gulf for more than a decade, will have some variety on behalf of the host nation.
Infantino, a Swiss polyglot, has taken some steps towards accuracy. But his Scottish media relations director still goes for “KA-tar”. And Ireland’s World Cup chief executive, Colin Smith, would call it “kuh-TAR”.