How to pronounce Qatar, the World Cup host whose name everybody says wrong

In the 12 years since FIFA president Sepp Blatter dramatically opened a scandalous dossier and introduced the world to Qatar, millions of Westerners have learned a lot about the controversial host of the 2022 World Cup. They have learned about the scorching temperatures and the exploitation of migrant workers. They learned how oil transformed a peninsular desert into a bustling international hub. They learned that Qatari law criminalizes homosexuality and bans alcohol. They learned how a tiny emirate the size of Connecticut plans to stage the biggest sporting event on the planet.

They’ve learned almost all the basics, except the most basic of all: How to pronounce “Qatar.”

They’ve pronounced it “kuh-TAR” and “KA-tar” and “cutter.” Brits occasionally go for “kuh-TAAH”. Some Americans have done their homework and still somehow ended up with “cut-tar”. For a while, some online dictionaries strangely spit out “cotter.”

It’s all wrong, but the mispronunciations get out of hand so much that the state of Qatar has essentially given up on authenticity and accepted some of them.

“The pronunciation in English is different because the word uses two letters that only exist in Arabic,” Ali Al-Ansari, Qatar’s government media attaché, told Yahoo Sports via email. The accepted pronunciation “will sound like: Kuh-TAR.”

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

“Another way it also works is Kuh-Ter,” added Al-Ansari, “but sometimes that sounds like a ‘groove’ so we prefer it Kuh-Tar.”

Other Arabic speakers have explained that the English word closest 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 – the one that will unravel local languages ​​throughout the World Cup – cannot be written in the Latin alphabet. If you want to learn, your best bet is YouTube:

Soccer Soccer - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Preview - Doha, Qatar - October 26, 2022 General view of signage in Doha ahead of the World Cup REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed

Workers are still busy preparing Qatar to host this month’s World Cup. (REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed)

Why is the pronunciation of “Qatar” so difficult for English speakers

The difficulty stems from “stress sounds that English doesn’t have,” says Amal El Haimeur, a linguist and professor of Arabic at the University of Kansas. The Arabic name for Qatar, دولة قطر, is three letters, two of which are completely foreign to most Westerners, and therefore fiendish to pronounce without practice.

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

The first letter calls for either a deep “k” or a hard “g”, depending on the dialect, followed by an unstressed vowel similar to “ā”.

The second is a guttural ‘t’. In linguistics, they are referred to as “verified” or “oval” consonants, meaning 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 Maimeur.

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

Acceptable English pronunciation fails to incorporate all three of these nuances. But this, experts say, is a natural feature of language acquisition.

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“In any language – as for me when I speak English – if I have no sound in me [first language], I will replace it with the closest sound in my language,” says El Maimeur. When confronted with an “emphasized” Arabic sound, non-native speakers, including her students, “will replace it with its unemphasized counterpart.”

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

“Any language, any word,” says Aldawood. “Over time, people start changing it to make it easier to say.”

So even as Gianni Infantino, Blatter’s successor, opens the Qatar World Cup, he and his FIFA colleagues, some of whom have been visiting the Gulf for more than a decade, will have mixed views on the name host country.

Infantino, a Swiss polyglot, has taken some steps towards authenticity. But the Scottish media relations manager still says “KA-tar”. And Ireland’s World Cup chief operating officer Colin Smith will call it “kuh-TAR”.

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