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Should there be any difference in the pronunciation of (the suffixes in) "Pakistan" and "Afghanistan"?

I noticed that Obama treats the words quite differently, pronouncing "Pakistan" like PUH-KIST-UHN, but pronouncing "Afghanistan" in an American way, with the end syllable "-stan" as in "stand" or "stance".

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Yeah, I noticed this too. It definitely sounds strange when he says both in the same sentence. –  Ken Aspeslagh Mar 10 '11 at 21:43
He went to Pakistan as a student in college and had a Pakistani roommate. Maybe that is why. He is an insider. –  user8070 May 2 '11 at 15:32
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3 Answers

In AmE, all the a's in 'Afghanistan' and 'Pakistan' are the same as that in 'cat', that is, the 'a' in '-stan' should be pronounced the same.

As noted, Obama may have experience with Pakistanis and their own pronunciation, which probably has a different pronunciation of the 'a'.

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They should be pronounced the same, the -stan suffix means "land of", "home of" or "nation of".

So: Pakistan = Land of the Paki's Afghanistan = Land of the Afghani's

The same applies for Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and any number of other countries in that region of the world.

I suspect that Obama pronounces Afghanistan differently because people wouldn't know where he was talking about if he said it in a way that doesn't conform with how the US media has been pronouncing it. It's probably this same reason that the Iraq is pronounced eye-rak rather than ee-rak which is closer to the Arabic, people might think they are talking about another country.

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Your explanation is very helpful. You said exactly what I wanted to say! –  Dia Sep 1 '10 at 14:38
You are right about the -stan suffix meaning "land"or "place", but "Pakistan" doesn't mean "Land of the Paki's" (apparently "Paki" is a derogatory term); it means "Land of the pure". (Actually, "Pakistan" comes from "Punjab, Afghania, Kashmir, Sindh and BalochisTAN.") Similarly, "Hindustan" doesn't mean "Land of the Hindus" but is the Persian name for "Land beyond the Indus river" (river Sindhu in Sanskrit, is Indus in Greek and Hindu in Persian). BTW, Wikipedia has an article on the -stan suffix. –  ShreevatsaR Sep 3 '10 at 18:36
Etymology does not prove pronunciation though. Middleton, WI and Middletown, CT both mean "town in the middle" but the part that means town is pronounced differently. Pronunciations of morphemes can and do diverge, especially when they are part of a larger word unit. –  Kosmonaut May 2 '11 at 15:51
+1 for the note on Iraq, as an Arabic speaker it always bugs me when I have to correct myself when I say Iraq (ee-rak) because people don't understand me. –  Unkwntech Jul 5 '11 at 0:15
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No, their actual (native) pronunciations have a similar final syllable. Roughly, PAH-ki-STAHN and uf-GHAH-ni-STAHN, where "AH" stands for the vowel of 'a' in "father". (The 't' is also closer to dental, as in "pasta".
(IPA: /pɑːkistɑːn/ and /ɐfɣɑːnistɑːn/, but these are the IPA vowels I use for Indian languages, and may not be perfect.)

The Language Log had a post on this; the comments may have some helpful discussion.

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protected by RegDwigнt May 16 '11 at 17:55

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