Should the looming invasion of Iraq come to pass, air bases located in the tiny Persian Gulf emirate of Qatar will be vital to the U.S. military's plans. What is the correct pronunciation of "Qatar"?
The most accurate English estimate is something halfway between "cutter" and "gutter." It's not "KUH-tar," the pronunciation that has become the standard among TV newscasters.
The Arabic language—particularly the colloquial dialect common in the Arabian Peninsula—features several sounds that are completely alien to native English speakers, beginning with the initial consonant in "Qatar." The "q" makes for a hard "k" sound but one with its origins deep within the throat—a poor English equivalent is the "c" in "cough." The word's first vowel sound is similar to "aw," as in "Aw, shucks!" but not nearly as heavy on the "w."
The middle "t" is perhaps the trickiest part. It is known as a velarized consonant, which means the back of the tongue must be pressed against the mouth's roof to achieve the requisite effect. The result is somewhat similar to the double "t" in "butter" but a lot more guttural. Native English speakers must train very hard to learn this trick, as our impulse when making a "t" sound is to push up the tongue's tip, rather than its aft section.
The terminal "ar" is nearly overpowered by this strong velarized consonant. If anything, it is supposed to sound like a little rumble escaping the epiglottis.
Click here to hear Terri DeYoung, a professor of Arabic, pronounce "Qatar."
Explainer thanks John Hayes of the University of California at Berkeley and Terri DeYoung of the University of Washington.