My Nemesis: Egyptian Dialect

It’s not the Js that are pronounced like hard Gs. I can deal with that. It’s not the various non-S letters that are pronounced like S. It sounds funny, but I can deal with that. What I can’t deal with is not pronouncing the qaf.

For those who don’t speak Arabic, qaf (ق) is pronounced like a k from the very back of your throat. It’s one of the letters that Arabic has that English doesn’t, that is actually pretty easy to master. So I’m fond of it. Some dialects change it to a hard g sound, and I can deal with that.

But not Egyptian. Not insidious, dastardly Egyptian. Egyptian just doesn’t pronounce it at all. To be generous, you could say they replace it with a glottal stop, if you call that pronouncing it.

On Who’s Line is it Anyway?, they sometimes play a game where the players have to replace a letter of the alphabet with another letter and talk that way, and hilarity ensues. But it’s all for laughs and at the end of the day, nobody’s livelihood depends on their understanding each other.

Since English doesn’t have a qaf sound, imagine talking to someone who doesn’t pronounce Ks at all.

“I’m going to take the ids to the par for a pi’ni’ and ‘i’ the ball around.”

“Hey, you know that Star Tre’ movie where Ri’ardo Montalban plays ‘an, and aptain Ir’ yells out, ‘AAAAAAAAAAaaaaan!’?”

Or the song, “Oo’ie oo’ie, lend me your omb”?



Filed under arabic, language

9 responses to “My Nemesis: Egyptian Dialect

  1. jtothemo

    I know, it’s rough. Amir Diab’s song “Amerain” always used to confuse me before I understood the qaf business. I was like, clearly he knows that he is not saying the word for moon correctly, right? Although as someone with a name that starts with J, I really don’t like the jim to a g sound, either.

    • Yes, the Egyptian J always reminds me of Gennifer Flowers, whose name I thought should be pronounced with a hard G.
      I’ve heard enough Arabic pop music to get used to Elbi and Amerain, but I think that’s about the limits of it, for me.

  2. mantiqaltayr

    You will find also that the glottal stop for the qaf is commonly found in Beirut, Damascus, Jerusalem and Amman and other metropolitan areas. Also the “Geem” sound is found sometimes in Oman and in Yemen. My favorite variation is in the Gulf where the “jiim” becomes a yaa. So tajlis becomes taylis. You should see what happens to the verb jaa’a there.

    • Darn, and I think I’d like to go to some or all of those cities one day.
      I forgot the one other word I’ve gotten used to from pop music: Ool! Ool!
      Maybe this pop music is doing me some good.

  3. we have the same issue with city folk in palestine. ‘ahwa

  4. ibnqays

    Sure it’s a little strange if you’re used to other dialects. But there’s plenty of English dialects that replace letters with glottal stops. I’m thinking ‘t’s in some British accents. It even happens in American accents — I got friends in New York who say “Manha’an” as opposed to “Manhattan.”

  5. You’re right about that, ibnqays. I remember having a discussion about the proper pronunciation of A’lan’a, Georgia.

  6. majnnunciatore

    I’ve got to give my kudos to Egyptians, and I spell my “kudos” with a kaff, never a qaf. I applaud them for being individuals. Just because a letter is there, why pronounce it? Why climb a mountain? “Because it’s there.” C’mon, walk like an Egyptian, be an individual. In addition, our Masri pals are doing a service for the Kaff. Ever look through an Arabic dictionary and find yourself shaking your head in dismay at how woefully underrepresented kaffs are? I’m sure you’re not alone. There are those who criticize the Arab world for its lack of free speech. To them, I say, look at what the Egyptians are doing. It takes true bravery to drop an easily pronounced and distinguishable letter out of the equation, allowing that non-sound to be confused with a hamza, or rendering thousands of other words that start with a qaf unclear, thus giving more nuance to the spoken word. I admire the Egyptians for their boldness. Mabruk! The only thing that would impress me more is if the folks in Qatar would cease using qafs. That would be a gutsy move.

  7. Pingback: Egypt’s most famous pop star « From the Green Dictionary

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