19

For instance in words Iraq and Qashqai? Are there any historical reasons for that?

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3 Answers 3

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There are a small number of words and names used in English that have Q but no U and do not correspond to a "kw" sound:

  • Aqaba
  • Haq
  • Iraq
  • Qasr
  • qat
  • Qatar
  • Qi
  • Qian
  • Qiao
  • Qing
  • Qingdao
  • souq
  • Tariq

... among others

Most of these have a q because they are words or names that come from Arabic, which traditionally uses the letter Q to transcribe a sound that doesn't occur in English: the voiceless uvular stop, which sounds similar to but not quite like the sound of the letter "K", and is the sound usually used when saying these words in English.

A few of these—those starting with "QI", such as "Qi", "Qian", and "Qing"—come from Chinese, where Q is the letter used to transcribe a different sound—the voiceless alveolo-palatal affricate—which sounds similar to but not quite like the sound of the "CH", and is the sound usually used when saying these words in English.

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  • 2
    Heh. After living in China for a year, I kept pronouncing "Qatar" as /tʃæ tɑr/. Back to a /k'/ now though. Never did manage to pronounce the Chinese /t̠͡ɕ/ properly though. No matter how much I tried. I can barely hear the difference. Aug 10, 2010 at 22:20
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    Also, I prefer to write "Qi" as "Chi", because that is much more commonly used. I don't see why we should write everything Chinese in simplified Pinyin. Aug 10, 2010 at 22:31
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    @Vincent McNabb re:"Also, I prefer to write 'Qi' as 'Chi', because that is much more commonly used"—it's not in Scrabble ;-)
    – nohat
    Aug 11, 2010 at 5:26
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    Heh. Well, that settles the argument then :-) It's also interesting to note that beer from Qingdao is called Tsingtao beer on the label, and that beer from Xinjiang is called Sinkiang. Aug 11, 2010 at 5:50
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The place names that you mention are transliterations from Arabic, and the letter Q is traditionally used in transliterations of Arabic to represent a stop sound which doesn't exist in English.

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I remember from someplace that [older] Q words in English come from Latin words of Etruscan origin, and are always followed by a U. I guess that would probably apply to Romance languages too, but if so, then how come the French say "cinq" instead of "cinque"?

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  • How would French people pronounce cinque, if it would be a French word?
    – apaderno
    Aug 13, 2010 at 19:41
  • I think cinq and coq are exceptions to the rule.
    – gpr
    Feb 14, 2011 at 11:51
  • Possibly if cinque were a French word, the 'k' wouldn't go away before words like cent. That is, right now cinq cent (500) is pronounced without a 'k'. If if were spelled cinque, you would have to still pronounce the 'k' in cinq cent. Mar 9, 2012 at 18:51

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