When is qaf actually pronounced as a qaf?

18 February 2015
Talk In Arabic

For Modern Standard Arabic leaners, making the transition to colloquial Arabic can be difficult for more reasons than one.

The pronunciation of letters like ظ ث and ق frequently change to ‘z’ ‘s’ and ‘ah’ (hamza) sounds in spoken Egyptian Arabic, confusing non-native speakers who may no longer recognize words they dutifully memorized in class thanks to the altered pronunciation.

To make matters worse, there are always exceptions to the rule, and often times Arabic learners apply the letter changes where there are none, making themselves sound a bit too over-eager.

Here I’ve compiled a list of some common words in Egyptian Arabic that retain the ق to spare you the embarrassment of repeated overcorrections.

قصة = story
مقاومة = resistance
قرية = village
مثقف = cultured, educated (pronounced mosaqaf)
ثقافة = culture (pronounced saqafa)
اعتقد = I think
عبقري = genius
معقد = complicated
تعقيد = complex
قوي = strong (only when used in the context of describing someone as physically strong; not used for ‘very’ which is pronounced ‘awi’)
قرآن = The Qur’an
القاهرة = Cairo

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Written by Caitlyn (aka #TeamMaha).

  • Bernie

    The general rule is that classicisms (high-register “educated” words borrowed from MSA into colloquial Arabic) are pronounced exactly or approximately as they are in MSA, with factors such as the speaker’s education level as well as the register of the discourse influencing how closely approximated the pronunciation is to MSA. The letter ق in classicisms is pronounced either as voiceless velar stop /q/ (the same as the prescribed MSA pronunciation) or as a pharyngealized voiceless velar stop /kˤ/ (an approximation of the former), with the latter being particularly prevalant in Egypt and Lebanon but less so elsewhere. Sometimes the same word or root in MSA is the source of two distinct words or roots in colloquial, with one being a basilect word and the other a classicism. For example the word دقيقة “minute” (noun, a unit of time) is typically pronounced in Cairene Arabic as /daʔiːʔa/ with a glottal stop, but the closely related word دقيق “minute” (adjective, precise or exact) is typically realized as /daqiːq/ or /dakˤiːkˤ/, as the latter is a classicism but the former is not.

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