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According to the article Quran or Koran?, in 2000, AP started to use Quran instead of the more familiar Koran.

Does anybody have information as to why this happened, and why newspapers today are using Quran instead of Koran?

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You could ask Norm Goldstein, editor of the AP Stylebook. Style Weekly did just that, although somewhat frustratingly, the quote appears to be cut off toward the end. –  snailboat Jun 25 '13 at 20:09
This does not answer your question but I would like to mention that both transliterations 'Koran' and 'Quran' exist in English at least since 19th century. For example, F. Steingass uses both in his Arabic-English and Persian-English dictionaries. –  Name Jun 25 '13 at 21:03
Did you read the article? It answers both your questions. 1): The changes reflect a balancing act taking place not only at the AP but also in newsrooms around the country. In an e-mail interview, Stylebook Editor Norm Goldstein wrote: "We try to come up with a spelling that is understandable to United States readers and as close as possible to the actual pronunciation." 2) And then five editors and a journalist answer why their newspaper uses what they do. –  Hugo Jun 26 '13 at 9:38
Somewhat similar question on English Language Learners: ell.stackexchange.com/q/823/54 –  Andrew Grimm Jun 26 '13 at 10:06

5 Answers 5

up vote 17 down vote accepted

It represents a more careful transliteration:

  • There are two different Arabic letters 'ka' and 'qaf' which both correspond more or less to Latin (English) 'k'. They have different sounds, but the difference is not a significant one in English. So an unlearned transliterator might use 'k' for both, but that will lose a distinction in the Arabic, so it is now more usual to use a transcription which distinguishes these two letters, and their sounds, even though people who are unfamiliar with Arabic will probably not make a distinction between them.
  • Standard literary Arabic does not have an 'o' vowel, though some varieties of Arabic do. So in the most general Arabic, the word has the 'u' vowel.

Thus in modern transliterations of Arabic, the word will appear as "quran" (or for an even more careful transliteration, "qur'an").

There has been an increasing tendency to replace traditional English versions of foreign words, especially names, by more scholarly or official versions in the last few decades (consider "Beijing" and "Mumbai" as opposed to "Peking" and "Bombay"), though in the end I think this is a political rather than a literary trend.

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+1 And a yet more careful transliteration will employ < ’ > instead of < ' > in order to distinguish the sound represented by IPA [ʔ] from that transliterated < ‘ > and represented by IPA [ʕ]. –  StoneyB Jun 25 '13 at 21:22

The 'K' is the equivalent of Arabic "Kaf" in English and French (mybe other languages), to highlight the difference between 'Kaf' and 'Qaf', using 'Q' instead of 'K' is more appropriate.

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Hebrew transliteration as well distinguishes between K and Q. –  Adam Mosheh Jun 28 '13 at 19:41
@AdamMosheh: I had the impression that Hebrew transliteration is highly non-standardized and variable between different transcribers (and even different words). Take “קבלה”. We see the initial consonant transcribed as K, Q, or even C; the second transcibed as B or BB, and it may end with -AH or a simple A. The forms with "k,"like "Kabbalah" or "Kabbala," seem to me to be more common than those with Q. –  sumelic Jul 24 at 2:10
@sumelic – K and Q actually are intended to make different consonantal sounds in Hebrew. –  Adam Mosheh Jul 31 at 3:18

Organizations that want to look sophisticated and non-nationalistic and sensitive may use a more "accurate" and "scholarly" spelling such as "quran"

In the column "Don't Mention the Jihad" (warning: the column may be offensive), right-wing commentator Mark Steyn, who is against being sophisticated, non-nationalistic, and sensitive, mocks such changes, saying

Do you find our language too insensitive? Fine. Let's make "Koran" "Quran", or better yet, "Qu'ran", or, if you prefer, "Qu'~*ran", whatever you want, the more the merrier, toss a couple of wingdings in there. In the Thirties, when Churchill was attacking the Munich Agreement, the sensitivity-check didn't automatically amend it to "München". ... Hitherto, Anglicisation of foreign place names has been an accepted custom ...

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Why didn't he change his name to Stine? –  Andrew Lazarus Jun 26 '13 at 21:22
@AndrewLazarus because some people (e.g Mark Steyn) like to talk a lot and do nothing. :) –  Sufian Mar 13 at 14:21

Nevermind the fact that it's not pronounced ko-ran, or kor-an. It's said just like we spell it. If you need pronunciation spelling, it would be closest to kur-on. It's the name of a holy book. Use the accurate title and learn the correct way to pronounce it. It's not difficult.

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Hello, Deanna, and thanks for your interest in English Language & Usage. The person who posted this question wasn't complaining about the change in spelling or doubting its validity; he or she was simply asking why it happened—and unfortunately, your answer is rather sketchy on that point. As I recall, a similar change occurred in the spelling of the last name of the former leader of Libya, which at various times was given as (among other things) Ghaddafi, Gaddafi, Kadhafi, and Qadhafi. Is the spelling change to Quran part of a larger shift in Arabic-to-English transliteration? –  Sven Yargs Jul 23 at 18:59

I think many people who do this are motivated by the fact that "Quran" doesn't look at all like a native English word. By implication, therefore, it might be an original "native Arab" form.

Obviously it isn't, since any relevant "native Arabs" didn't even use our alphabet, let alone our written conventions regarding the letter q. But most dictionaries will have several words starting with the letter q where it's not followed by u, and they're invariably to do with "things Arabic".

The form we're looking at here looks like an effort to allude to that "u-less q". I don't speak Arabic, so I don't know if the lack of a "pronounceable" vowel after qu may also reflect the fact that native speakers of the relevant languages don't normally enunciate much of a vowel before -ran.

But I doubt that's really a significant factor. Mostly it's just a somewhat clumsy attempt to show respect for what might have been a traditional native spelling (but in fact it's not).

EDIT: In case it's not obvious, I'm aware that 'Kaf' and 'Qaf' are distinct phonemes in Arabic. By long-standing convention, we use that latter representation, even though it "breaks the rules" for English, because there's no reasonable alternative in that particular circumstance.

I wouldn't object to Quoran (which has been used, though not so often). But I don't see why we should welcome a relatively new trend that runs counter to an otherwise strictly-observed aspect of English orthography, simply to represent a phonemic difference that doesn't actually exist for us...

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It's not "an effort to allude to that 'u-less q'. It is a precise rendering of a distinction which English fails to have. –  Colin Fine Jun 25 '13 at 21:11
The problem with this answer is that it's factually incorrect to say this is done by relatively few people. As this chart from Google Ngram Viewer shows, the spelling Quran caught up to Koran in print twenty years ago: i.stack.imgur.com/HNGrj.png –  MετάEd Jun 25 '13 at 22:34
I tend to agree, at least in part, with @FumbleFingers. "Quran" would lead me to want to pronounce that "u" in the same way "u" is pronounced in such English words like "quit" or "quiet" -- i.e. a little "uh" in there somewhere. Is this how the Arabic sounds when it pronounces "Quran"? +1 because I think this is a valid quibble. –  Cyberherbalist Jun 26 '13 at 0:35
@MετάEd: Well I doubt all those downvotes are because people take issue with the accuracy of (relatively few) in my answer, since that's hardly a substantive point anyway. Imho, the downvotes reflect the fact that many people think it's right and proper to override established standards for written English as a mark of "intercultural respect". Either that, or they think it's important that we write the word Koran in a way that reflects Arabic pronunciation, even though it involves a phoneme that Anglophones themselves don't naturally generate. –  FumbleFingers Jun 26 '13 at 23:23
@FumbleFingers I can relate to your opinion that the popularity of "Quran", despite the existing well-established "Koran", may reflect a tendency to make words better resemble their donor languages, and your facts are well-supported, but I downvoted because of the excessive editorialisation. I sense an opinion, stated as fact, that presumes that loanwords are better spelled using as many English rules as possible, rather than foreign language rules. Even if this opinion was widely shared, it's presented in a less-than-respectful tone. I believe these traits do not belong in good answers. –  congusbongus Jun 27 '13 at 2:12

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