Why do some people pronounce the word "Punjabi" as "Poonjabi"?

It's not a dialect issue, but it's strange because

"pun" : "a joke exploiting the different possible meanings of a word or the fact that there are words that sound alike but have different meanings." is always prouncuned pun, not "poon".

So why the word Punjabi as "Poon"jabi?

  • There needs to be stronger evidence given that both pronunciations are at least fairly common amongst Anglophones, and that this is not merely a mistake made by some people / groups of people. Jul 30, 2017 at 0:23
  • 2
    The word "pun" has no relation to the etymology of "Punjabi," so why would that have any bearing on its pronunciation?
    – vpn
    Jul 30, 2017 at 0:24
  • Wiktionary en.wiktionary.org/wiki/Punjabi gives /pʊnˈdʒɑːbi/ as a "spelling pronunciation", so this may be widespread enough to be a point of confusion. Jul 30, 2017 at 16:10

1 Answer 1


They probably assume it is more accurate (a so-called "hyperforeignism"). In English words, the letter "u" is often pronounced as /ʌ/ (the sound of "pun"). But English is fairly unusual in using the letter "u" this way: people expect the letter "u" in a word from another language to represent a sound like [u] or [ʊ] (usually represented in English as "oo": [u] is approximately the vowel in "boot" and [ʊ] is approximately the vowel in "soot").

So if someone has the impression that "Punjabi" is a scientific or standard transliteration of a word from another language, it makes some sense to assume that the "u" represents a vowel that was pronounced in that language as [u] or [ʊ].

Actually, it seems that "Punjabi" is an anglicized spelling of an Urdu word that would be scientifically transliterated as "Panjābī". But there is no easy way for a native English speaker to know this. There are all sorts of words like "Urdu", "Muslim" and "Hindu" where the letter "u" is actually supposed to represent a vowel like [u] or [ʊ] in the original language (the more anglicized spellings "Oordoo", "Moslem/Mooslim/Moslim" and "Hindoo" have now fallen out of favor).

For "Urdu" and "Muslim", English "spelling pronunciations" with /ɜr/ and /ʌ/ respectively exist. So even someone who has heard the word "Punjabi" pronounced aloud with /ʌ/ might assume that it is just a spelling pronunciation like this, and not realize that it is actually the closest sound to the vowel used in the original language.

  • The irony is that the sound transcribed varyingly as a and u in Punjab(i) is very close to just being an /ʌ/ in the source language(s). Jan 21, 2018 at 4:42
  • Wow! Guilty as charged. Great research Apr 24, 2018 at 4:15

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