Overzealous foreign pronunciation

Dutch original 30 March 2011, English translation

Overdoing it can be wrong

Sometimes people are trying too hard. Doing what? Pronouncing foreign names. Perhaps it is my fault, because if anyone does it wrong I start complaining about it right away. Suppose people are going to listen to me and make that extra effort!

For example, the city of Benghazi is in the news a lot lately. On Dutch radio and TV I nearly always hear this name pronounced with the ‘g’ sound that occurs in French ‘grand’, English ‘go’ or German ‘gut’.

The Dutch language does not have this sound. Some Dutch speakers find it difficult and tend to replace it by some sort of a [k]. But it should be a voiced and lax [k], that is, a [g]: the vocal chords vibrate and the plosive release is less forceful.

It isn’t really that hard and most Dutch speakers manage to pronounce this sound. The fact remains, however, that it is a non-Dutch sound and extra care is required to get it right.

No need!

Now guess what? For pronouncing the name Benghazi there’s no need to make this effort!

In Arabic the city is called بنغازي. You can see it in Wikipedia, which also specifies the name in Arabic script.

The third letter is a so-called ghain, in Arabic script غ. There aren’t too many languages that have a sound like that. But Dutch (especially its Northern, Hollandish varieties) do have it!

When binghaaziy is pronounced with the sound of the letter g of (Northern) Dutch words such as ‘ingaan’, ‘ingang’, ‘algemeen’, ‘heel goed’ or ‘wegenkaart’, you get a close approximation of the real Arabische pronunciation. (Readers might want to listen to these Dutch language sound samples.)

(The transliteration binghaaziy follows the qalam system; alternatives are DIN 31635 and ISO 233. See also the Wikipedia article on Romanization of Arabic.)

So using the [g] of French, English or German is nothing but a totally unnecessary and overzealous pronunciation effort.


Like Dutch, Classical Arabic does not have a sound [g] (as in English ‘go’)!

Classical Arabic (or its modern counterpart MSA, Modern Standard Arabic) is an extensively used, but basically artificial language, which is nobody’s native tongue. Modern Arabic vernaculars (you could also say: dialects) do have a sound [g]. In some, it is the sound of the letter jiym ج (parts of Egypt and Lebanon), in others that of the letter qaaf ق. This realisation may also occur in (parts of) Libya, for example in the name Qaddhafi (القذافي), but I don’t know that for sure.

What I do know is that the Arabic ghain doesn’t sound like a [g] anywhere.

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