Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Update on Libyan Linguistics

I was wrong. A New York Times blog connects to this explanation by the AP of the different spellings of Qaddafi's name. Contrary to what I guessed, the first consonant in Qaddafi (to use the Times spelling) is indeed the same Q as in Al Qaeda or Qatar, one pronounced like an English k but further down in the throat. This is distinct from what is usually  transliterated as K, which is more or less the same as in English.

So why all the different spellings of the name? The first complication is that while this is the pronunciation in Classical Arabic, in the Libyan dialect that letter is pronounced as a g. I don't know if it's pronounced like an English g or further down in the throat; I suspect the latter. Next, the second consonant is doubled, which doesn't affect pronunciation in English but does in other languages, including Arabic. It's really pronounced like two letters, which basically just means you hold it longer.

Finally, the second consonant should be transliterated as dh, which is pronounced like the first two letters in "this" or "that," as distinct from the sound in "thick" and "thin." But writing "dhdh" looks silly, so some people, like the Times, have gone with "dd." As it happens, a lot of Libyans pronounce it dh as d anyway (like "dis" and "dat" in certain American cities).

In the end the AP decided to go with how he spells it himself, in accordance with "general policy," and found a letter where he called himself "Gadhafi." So that's what they use, and I guess what I'll use from now on.

Actually, he called himself "Moammar El-Gadhafi" which means "Moammar the Gadhafi." I would guess, though my guesses haven't been too good thus far, that "Gadhaf" is either a place or a clan.

1 comment:

  1. I have always voted for "K," but now that I have learned that the man, himself, uses "G," I'll have to reconsider.