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I recently got puzzled as to why American journalists spell the surname of the current Turkish president in articles written in English as Erdogan, with g (see, e.g., this article in New York Times). We spell his surname as エルドアン, which does not include the g sound.

In the original language, Turkish, his surname is spelt as Erdoğan, using the letter ğ, not g.

The Turkish letters ğ and g are two different letters. The letter ğ has no sound on its own, with its effect varying depending on the location in a word and the surrounding vowels. This letter can have zero phonetic effect, slightly lengthen the preceding vowel, or somewhat separate two vowels. The letter g, in contrast, has its own consonant sound, which is practically the same as the English sound g in the English words "gross," "big," and "bogan."

The Turks pronounce the surname of their president as /ˈeɾdo‿an/, not making even a slightest consonant sound between o and a. They simply pronounce о and а distinctly.

My question is this: Besides the visual similarity between the letters ğ and g, is there any other reason why Erdoğan and many other Turkish proper names are spelt in English with the letter g?

Being not a native English speaker, I possibly do not see some important factors that native English speakers easily see, so I decided to ask here.

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    Because they don't speak Turkish and just write what they see? Which English alphabet letter do you think should be used? – Weather Vane Jun 20 at 23:35
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    So what are you actually asking? "Why are American journalists ignorant about Turkish?" We also say "Paris" with the silent s pronounced. – Weather Vane Jun 20 at 23:38
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    It's called "Anglicising". – Weather Vane Jun 20 at 23:43
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    Well your written language does not seem to bear even a passing resemblance to Turkish, so that's rather different. – Weather Vane Jun 20 at 23:52
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    +1. Interesting question—and I appreciate the thought you've put into trying to account for the English spelling. – Sven Yargs Jun 21 at 3:31
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Besides the visual similarity between the letters ğ and g, is there any other reason why Erdoğan and many other Turkish proper names are spelt in English with the letter g?

The visual (and historical) relationship between ğ and g is the most important factor. There isn't a big tradition in English of spelling names from other languages according to an English-based transcription of the names' pronunciations. Instead, names tend to have a spelling based on:

  1. The original spelling (if the source language is written in the Latin alphabet); or...

  2. If the source language is not written in the Latin alphabet, some existing transliteration or transcription that is viewed as a "standard" (not necessarily one designed to show pronunciation to monolingual English speakers). E.g. the pinyin transcription of Chinese has become more or less standard, even though it uses letters like X and Q in ways that are unknown in the spelling system used for English words.

Sometimes there are older spellings that don't follow one of these two patterns, but they tend to become deprecated over time. E.g. the spelling "Hindoo" has now been replaced more or less entirely by "Hindu"; the spelling "Koran" has been overtaken by the spelling "Qur'an".

Removing "funny foreign lines, dots and squiggles" from letters or words is another habit of English speakers. Hence, Erdoğan > Erdogan. English speakers don't instinctively think of ğ as a separate letter from g; they think of it as a g with something on top. The use of diacritics in English texts varies a lot and is discussed in other posts on this site, so I won't try to cover it here. It is not impossible to encounter the spelling "Erdoğan" in an English text.

  • Wow. That's my new favorite lame Wikipedia argument (displacing "yog[h]urt"). – Kevin Jun 21 at 6:23

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