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How to pronounce the letter “ق” when SPEAKING Arabic Posted by on Dec 12, 2018 in Arabic Language, Culture, Dialect, Language, Pronunciation

So, you’ve learned to read in Arabic and you’ve practiced how to pronounce the “قwhich is a “Q” sound in the back of your throat. Then, you hear Arabic speakers talk and realize that sometimes the letter “ق” is being replaced with another sound. Why is this so?

Before reading this post, did you ever notice “ق” being pronounced differently?

Like many concepts in spoken Arabic, nothing is written in stone. It’s difficult to give a rule of thumb. Some things you’ll just have to learn while conversing with native speakers. So, before I continue, know that it’s not the end of the world if you pronounce “ق” in any of the following ways. This post is to help you be aware of these differences and the reasons behind them to prevent any confusion.

How to pronounce Qaf?

Image provided by Yasmine K.

What are these other sounds?

  • The first sound is the Hamza ءor in English, a glottal stop.
  • The second sound is a “g” sound as in the English word “girl”.
  • The third sound is ك or “k”.

In order to understand why it could be pronounced differently, let’s first look at which cases Arabic speakers speak only in MSA, only in dialect, and mix the two.

MSA is used when discussing formal topics such as news, academic matters, religion, technical vocabulary, etc. Thus, since we are speaking in MSA, the “formal” pronunciation of “ق” is used just as if you were reading a text.

Dialect is used when informal topics are discussed such as everyday conversations with family and friends. Here, you’ll find any of the above pronunciations being used.

Sometimes a speaker will mix the two, for example, a man is discussing the country’s economy and using economical terms which of course is in MSA, then decides to give his own opinion on the matter and switches to dialect. Here, you’ll find both the formal “ق” pronunciation and one of the three above.

Two other factors to consider is area (city or rural), and gender.

For example, in Palestine, depending on which city you are in, you could hear “ق” pronounced as hamza, “ك”, or “g”.

In Jordan and Palestine, some men pronounce “ق” as “g” due to it sounding more Bedouin hence more masculine. Whereas, women pronounce it as a hamza since it’s softer to sound more feminine.

In Lebanon and Syria, both men and women pronounce the “ق” as a hamza.

Here is a short clip in Jordanian dialect of a man excited to drive his new car. Listen closely to hear how words with “ق” such as: قواعد، سواقة، بتلزق، بقلقني، طريق are being pronounced.

السواقة

I’ll end this post by saying that if you are strictly learning MSA, then stick to the formal “ق” pronunciation. Yet, for those of you who wish to converse with native speakers, it’s good to know beforehand that such nuances exist in spoken Arabic. Most importantly, do not let these nuances discourage you from talking to native speakers. When ever you get the chance, whether online, or in person to speak Arabic, go for it!

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About the Author:yasmine

MarHaba! I am half Jordanian of Circassian descent and half American. I have a Master's in Second Language Teaching and I teach Arabic as a foreign language here in the US, both MSA and Levantine Arabic. I hope to help you become more familiar and interested in the Arabic language and culture.


Comments:

  1. Sawsan Fetouh:

    Very interesting and useful post, thank you Yasmin 🙂

  2. J N:

    You should continue and explain how ق is pronounced in other countries and regions. Only the Levant has been discussed and there are 22 some Arabic speaking countries.

    Egypt has the largest number of speakers and the Arabian Peninsula is where the language originated. North Africa too has it’s differences that should also be explained as many students study Arabic in Morocco nowadays. Lots of tourists there and Tunisia, which is important for this interested in the Arab Spring and the progress there since.

    Thanks!

    • yasmine:

      @J N !شكراً
      Yes, in this post I focused on the Levant. I could definitely continue with another post about other Arab countries’ pronunciations of “qaf”.
      Thank you!

  3. Larhubarbe Denis:

    Great article as usual Yasmine. Sometimes when you mostly listen to egyptian songs you can hear albi instead of qalbi. Even when the egyptians speak you can hear that. For example they can say a2ul instead of aqul. 🙂

    • yasmine:

      @Larhubarbe Denis !شكراً دنس
      Yes, you are absolutely right! I’m glad you’re noticing the difference and listening to Arabic songs. That’s definitely a fun way to learn! 🙂


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