The endless Arabic spelling problem

Nik S. writes:

Just wondering, is it Gaddafi, Kaddafi, or Qaddafi? Reminds me of a column you wrote a while back about the ”Islamization” of English words.

LA replies:

Everyone pronounces the first consonant of his last name as a “K”, right? So why should we spell it with a “Q” or a “G”? Do the people who spell it with “G” pronounce it as a “G”? No. So the most sensible way is to spell it Kaddafi. But the combination of fashion and PC militates against the sensible solution.

However, as we can see from this piece at the Christian Science Monitor, while the spelling of Arabic names is always a big problem, in the case of the leader of Libya, it’s even worse:

Each time Libya appears in the news, scores of newspaper editors go bananas. Once possessed of faculties that could detect a breaking story as readily as a dangling participle, these poor souls are now reduced to a jabbering stupor, as though they had gazed into the tentacled maw of Cthulhu himself.

Blame it on the name of the country’s head of state, Colonel Gaddafi. Wait, no, that’s Kaddafi. Or maybe it’s Qadhafi. Tell you what, we’ll just call him by his first name, which is, er … hoo boy.

Part of the problem here is that there’s no universally accepted authority for transliterating Arabic names. Normally, news outlets will just go with whatever spelling the subject prefers, but this particular subject hasn’t settled on a single Roman orthography for his name.

Instead, Libya’s Brother Leader lets a hundred flowers bloom. The banner at the top of his official website spells it, “AL Gathafi.” But if you go deeper into the site, you’ll see it variously rendered as “Al Qaddafi,” “Algathafi,” and “Al-Gathafi.” Adding to the multitude of his spellings is the increasingly ironically named “Al-Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights.”

And that’s just the surname. Variations on his given name include Muammar, Moammar, Mu’ammar, and Moamar, and many others. Once you’ve settled on how to spell his first and last names, you then have to decide whether you want to add the Arabic prefix “al-” before his last name. Which can also be spelled “el-.” And then you have to decide whether the prefix should be capitalized.

[end of article]

And here’s a writer who has found no less than 12 spellings for Kaddafi’s name.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at March 05, 2011 01:01 AM | Send

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