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July 14, 2005

Pronunciation

How do you pronounce "Iraq"?  Specifically, how do you pronounce the last syllable?  Is it "Rack"  or something closer to "Rock"?  (If you pronounce the vowel like the a in "father", I'll put you on the "Rock" team -- I think that's closer to the short "o" than to the short "a".)

George W. Bush, as we know, says "Rack."  I was just thinking that people used to pronounce it differently before he became President.  Sure enough, Bill Clinton said "Rock."  Linguist Geoff Nunberg avers that "Rock" is slightly closer to the correct pronunciation (he says it's rawq).  My sense is that "Rack" is much more common in the media today, though I only rarely watch TV, so I could be wrong. 

I'm curious to see how this transition took place.  It'd be really interesting if the Fox News people switched their pronunciation to cover Bush, and the rest of the media followed suit. 

--Neil the Ethical Werewolf

July 14, 2005 in Iraq | Permalink

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Comments

Something closer to "Rock" (and a Hard Place).

Posted by: grishaxxx | Jul 14, 2005 7:10:14 AM

'-ack' is not correct. Something between '-uck' and 'ock' is really what you're going for, with more of the latter; to really get the Arabic effect, you'll want to swallow your tounge as much as you can as you say it. The 'r' is done by hitting the top of the tounge, much like Itallian 'r' (you can also think of it as rolling the r, but only such that the tounge hits once--more like a flick of the tongue). The 'I' is really not a vowel at all: say 'a' as in 'bat', but say it more like Frankenstein's monster.

Posted by: pantomimeHorse | Jul 14, 2005 7:47:24 AM

correction: the tongue hits the top of the mouth for the 'r' (not the tongue, which makes no sense).

Posted by: pantomimeHorse | Jul 14, 2005 7:49:13 AM

I have wondered the same thing about "nookyulur". If 'fans', unconsciously or not, start to talk like the people they admire. I'm thinking more of the non-famous rather than talking heads. "Bush said 'nookyulur', I believe it, that settles it." Sounds like it would be hard to study.

Posted by: James M | Jul 14, 2005 8:11:36 AM

Back in the mid-90s, Dawn French made the following joke on her show The Vicar of Dibley:

Where does Saddam Hussein keep his CDs?

In Iraq...

Get it? Iraq...a rack...well, it's a lot funnier on the show - but offered here to authenticate a pre-W pronunciation...thekeez

Posted by: Jeff Keezel | Jul 14, 2005 9:32:49 AM

If 'fans', unconsciously or not, start to talk like the people they admire.

Then you should be criticizing black leaders for their absolute butchering of the English language. Why not "axe" Jesse Jackson when his "birfday" is?

Posted by: Robert Zimmerman | Jul 14, 2005 9:33:55 AM

Robert, I get your point, but I'm not quite sure the situations are comparable. Most of the black (and white) youths who make those mistakes do it, I'd wager, because that's how their parents did it, not because that's how Jesse Jackson did it. What Neil was getting at here is the phenomenon where the general pronunciation of a word changes *because* some visible leader changes it...something akin to a spike in people saying "idears" had John Kerry or Wes Clark won the White House.

To be fair, the effects aren't totally separable. W probably grew up saying "Iraq" because his parents did. (We know, of course, that his dad probably said "Iraq" a good deal.) But it does seem like the news media report things in whatever drawl they're issued, especially where - as in the case of how to pronounce "Iraq" - they couldn't begin to guess what the actual right answer is. (I'd wager that Moammar/Muammar/Mohammar Qadaffi/Ghadaffi/Quadafi has triggered a similar effect in print media.)

Posted by: Daniel A. Munz | Jul 14, 2005 9:50:36 AM

Speaking of the 'new-clear' / 'new-kew-lar' thing, is this a Texas thing or a New England thing? I've seen History channel footage of Kennedy saying 'new-kew-lar' and whenever I hear Bush say it, it reminds me that he's actually not a Texan but a New Englander. I've been wondering if that's a valid judgement or if folks say 'new-kew-lar' in Texas (and, also, if Kennedy just mispronounced it himself and that's not a New England thing at all).

Posted by: NonyNony | Jul 14, 2005 9:57:13 AM

Rhymes with "clusterfuck."

Posted by: diddy | Jul 14, 2005 9:57:41 AM

Remember Chevy pulling their "Like a rock" ads right after the war began?

Posted by: Matt | Jul 14, 2005 10:11:37 AM

When I graduated college, the Dean(a black man) announced the graduates. When he announced the school of 'biniss', it reverberated thru the students. I could hear all around me 'school of biniss?' and giggles from some of the girls.

------"It'd be really interesting if the Fox News people switched their pronunciation to cover Bush, and the rest of the media followed suit."

Why would other media outlets follow FoxNews? Besides the obvious desire for FoxNews like ratings, I thought most of the newspapers and TV stations were going down with the ship.

Talk radio and Fox are the only media outlets gaining in popularity. Major newspapers and broadcast news ratings are plummeting. I have noticed the MSM has circled the wagons and are staying liberally biased.

I guess one thing you can say about the liberal media, they will stay liberal till the end. They won't give the people what they want(unbiased news), they are going to push the liberal agenda, ratings and revenue be damned.

Posted by: Captain Toke | Jul 14, 2005 10:35:29 AM

I guess one thing you can say about the liberal media, they will stay liberal till the end.

Whereas, the next time a Democrat is elected and liberalism is ascendant, Rupert Murdoch will gladly hand over the keys to George Soros?

Posted by: Daniel A. Munz | Jul 14, 2005 11:15:58 AM

I've seen History channel footage of Kennedy saying 'new-kew-lar' and whenever I hear Bush say it, it reminds me that he's actually not a Texan but a New Englander.

I assumed that Kennedy got it from the "Navy" by way of his southern Navymen. "New-clee-ar" refers to physics. "Nukes"/"Nukular" refers to weapons. I think that Carter did the same thing.

Bush pronounced the word "New-clee-ar" during the 2000 campaign and switched thereafter.

Does anyone actually know if pronunciation of Iraq in the media shifted between the CLinton administration and today? In 1991, the cover of Time Magazine titled its coverage of the crisis in Kurdistan "Between Iraq and a Hard Place."

Posted by: Constantine | Jul 14, 2005 12:19:48 PM

Most of the time when I hear an Arab saying it is it pronounced more like "E-rawk" or "E-ruck"

Posted by: Adrock | Jul 14, 2005 12:23:58 PM

Surely you should deal with the first syllable before the second.

Posted by: Ginger Yellow | Jul 14, 2005 12:54:05 PM

Both syllables are often pronounced incorrectly when spoken in the US or the west. A couple of Arab savvy friends have told me it's "Ear--roq. The first part is emphasized and should sound something like the first syllable in "error" or "airplane". That latter like Rock or Roq.

If my understanding and sources are accurate, "Eye-rack" is probably about as wrong as you can get it.

Posted by: ~DS~ | Jul 14, 2005 1:12:19 PM

It's really hard for English speakers to pronounce Iraq right, since it contains the two most difficult sounds in Arabic. First, the 'I': there's a consonant before the 'i' sound which isn't written, called 'ain'. It basically sounds as though you're trying to jumpstart a motorcycle in your throat, and has no English analog at all. You can sorta kinda approximate it by making a very, very hard and abrupt start to 'Iraq'.

Then there's the q on the end, which is one of two ks in arabic -- the hard one, naturally. Start by noticing that you can make a 'k' sound with your tongue meeting the top of your mouth at various points: close to your teeth, further back, in the middle... OK. Now make a k farther back than you would ever have thought possible -- preferably below your tonsils. That's the relevant sound.

Between those two sounds, it is more like 'irawk' than anything, with a slightly rolled r, as though you were trying to make an Italian rolled r, except that instead of feeling all florid and dramatic, which the Italian rolled r sort of wants, you were feeling sort of lethargic and bored, so had a lot less flourish to your 'r'.

That help?

Posted by: hilzoy | Jul 14, 2005 1:48:30 PM

Also, by the bye: the 'gh' in Arabic is like a French rolled r, and 'Baghdad', for instance, does not actually have a 'g' sound in it, in Arabic. Since it's very hard to say a French rolled r followed by an Italianate one, I've always wondered what sadistic person dreamt up the name 'Abu Ghraib'.

Posted by: hilzoy | Jul 14, 2005 1:57:08 PM

My understanding is that depending on your dialect, either 'ee-rah-q or 'ee-raa-q is correct. The Iraqis pronounce the particular vowel (fatHa) as "ah," but most other Arabs pronounce it "aa", the Palestinians, for example.

Generally, people speaking "literary Arabic" and not colloquial Arabic pronounce it "aa." At least, my teacher did.

"Eye-rack," on the other hand, is just an abomination...

Posted by: Mastiff | Jul 14, 2005 2:45:33 PM

Oddly, if you look at really old publications on the area, you'll notice that it used to be spelled 'Iraq rather than Iraq. (Just like Saudi Arabia used to be spelled Sa'udi Arabia).

I'm pretty sure the quote indicates a glottal stop, but i'm not sure how a glottal at the start of a word works.

Posted by: aphrael | Jul 14, 2005 3:07:24 PM

Actually, a glottal stop is in Arabic, but it's indicated by a different symbol (which isn't considered a letter). The apostrophe prefix you mention is meant to indicate the funny "consonant" sound, not a glottal stop though. So don't cough at the start of the word.

Posted by: pantomimeHorse | Jul 14, 2005 3:23:53 PM

I find it pretty funny that the proper pronunciation of "Iraq" actually involves three consonants, none of which are used in English. I can imagine trying to explain this to Daryn Karan.

Since it's very hard to say a French rolled r followed by an Italianate one, I've always wondered what sadistic person dreamt up the name 'Abu Ghraib'.

I think that to be formal about it it's supposed to be "ghuraib", but that doesn't make it any easier to say.

As for the apostrophe, generally in Arabic transliteration, a glottal stop is indicated by an apostrophe, and the funny consonant that begins "Iraq" (the 'ayn) is indicated by a curled apostrophe that looks like a little C, which we don't have on our keyboards. Therefore we just use the apostrophe for both of the sounds. Or, we use no symbol at all for both of the sounds.

Actually, a glottal stop is in Arabic, but it's indicated by a different symbol (which isn't considered a letter).

It's considered a letter, isn't it? It's the first letter in the alphabet. It's certainly included in Arabic writing, just like any other consonant, although its form depends on the surrounding vowels, which makes it unlike other consonants.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Jul 14, 2005 3:54:30 PM

If my understanding and sources are accurate, "Eye-rack" is probably about as wrong as you can get it.

Yes, you're right. None of the sounds involved in "Eye-rack" are actually involved in the Arabic pronunciation, unless you count the two "a" sounds as being technically the same Arabic phoneme.

That reminds me of the various basketball players named Wojciechowski, who pronounce their name "Wo-ja-how-ski". This pronunciation is notable because not a single one of the phonemes corresponds to the actual Polish pronunciation (except the "ski").

On the other hand, in Arabic they say "am-RREE-ka" instead of "America", which isn't much better.

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Jul 14, 2005 3:58:14 PM

The Iraqis pronounce the particular vowel (fatHa) as "ah," but most other Arabs pronounce it "aa", the Palestinians, for example.

I was taught that the pronunciation of that vowel depends on the surrounding consonants (i.e. if it was Irak, it would be "ee-raak", but because it's a Q, it's "ee-rahq".)

This all goes to show why teaching spoken Arabic in an American school is a nonsensical endeavor. I took four semesters and I wouldn't dare try and talk to anyone. They should have focused on reading and writing (e.g. newspapers).

Also, I was told that in Iraq the consonant that elsewhere is a Q is actually pronounced like a G.

" cee-RRAWG"?

Posted by: Cryptic Ned | Jul 14, 2005 4:01:10 PM

"It's considered a letter, isn't it?"

No, it isn't a letter; it's a diacritic mark in Arabic - the hamza.

Posted by: Phalamir | Jul 14, 2005 9:11:15 PM

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