General Question

mattbrowne's avatar

Why are there so many spelling variations for Gaddafi?

Asked by mattbrowne (31471 points ) March 23rd, 2011

Well, there seems to be at least

Gaddafi, Qaddafi, Gadaffi, Qadaffi, Gadhafi and Qadhafi. More variations probably exist. Why is this so?

Why are there no standardized transliteration and transcription rules from Arabic to English?

Does every newspaper follow its own rules?

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28 Answers

snowberry's avatar

Arabic does not have any of our vowel sounds, and based on the variation in spelling, other sounds that we pronounce. As far as I know, Arabic does not even have a phonetic counterpart in the English Alphabet, such as the Japanese do. (In Japanese you can write in Japanese using our ABC’s).

mattbrowne's avatar

Yes, @snowberry, but why not agree on a written approximation when a phonetic counterpart doesn’t exist?

morphail's avatar

There are standard romanization rules for Arabic. In ISO 233 the name is ʾal-Qaḏḏāfī.

In Libyan Arabic, the q is pronounced /g/ and is pronounced /d/, so Gaddafi is a good approximation of the Libyan pronunciation. As for why the name is spelled so many different ways in English, I don’t know.

http://www.economist.com/blogs/johnson/2011/02/libya

@snowberry Arabic has vowel sounds. It just doesn’t represent all of the vowels in the writing.

mattbrowne's avatar

Ah, so there’s two competing variations because one is closer to ISO 233 and the other is closer to an English letter best representing the Libyan Arabic sound, i.e. Q vs. G. Correct?

bhec10's avatar

In Portugal we say Khadafi, don’t ask me why.

mattbrowne's avatar

Does Kh sound like a soft English G?

MrItty's avatar

@mattbrowne we English speakers can’t even agree if “data” is pronounced with a long or short A, or if the red sauce from tomatoes is spelled “ketchup” or “catsup”, and you think the entire international community should be able to just agree on a standard translation between two cultures who, in general, have pretty much never gotten along?

AstroChuck's avatar

Here’s a few more spellings for you, Matt:
Qaddafi, Muammar
Al-Gathafi, Muammar
al-Qadhafi, Muammar
Al Qathafi, Mu’ammar
Al Qathafi, Muammar
El Gaddafi, Moamar
El Kadhafi, Moammar
El Kazzafi, Moamer
El Qathafi, Mu’Ammar
Gadafi, Muammar
Gaddafi, Moamar
Gadhafi, Mo’ammar
Gathafi, Muammar
Ghadafi, Muammar
Ghaddafi, Muammar
Ghaddafy, Muammar
Gheddafi, Muammar
Gheddafi, Muhammar
Kadaffi, Momar
Kad’afi, Mu`amar al
Kaddafi, Muamar
Kaddafi, Muammar
Kadhafi, Moammar
Kadhafi, Mouammar
Kazzafi, Moammar
Khadafy, Moammar
Khaddafi, Muammar
Moamar al-Gaddafi
Moamar el Gaddafi
Moamar El Kadhafi
Moamar Gaddafi
Moamer El Kazzafi
Mo’ammar el-Gadhafi
Moammar El Kadhafi
Mo’ammar Gadhafi
Moammar Kadhafi
Moammar Khadafy
Moammar Qudhafi
Mu`amar al-Kad’afi
Mu’amar al-Kadafi
Muamar Al-Kaddafi
Muamar Kaddafi
Muamer Gadafi
Muammar Al-Gathafi
Muammar al-Khaddafi
Mu’ammar al-Qadafi
Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi
Muammar al-Qadhafi
Mu’ammar al-Qadhdhafi
Mu`ammar al-Qadhdhāfī
Mu’ammar Al Qathafi
Muammar Al Qathafi
Muammar Gadafi
Muammar Gaddafi
Muammar Ghadafi
Muammar Ghaddafi
Muammar Ghaddafy
Muammar Gheddafi
Muammar Kaddafi
Muammar Khaddafi
Mu’ammar Qadafi
Muammar Qaddafi
Muammar Qadhafi
Mu’ammar Qadhdhafi
Muammar Quathafi
Mulazim Awwal Mu’ammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Qadhafi
Qadafi, Mu’ammar
Qadhafi, Muammar
Qadhdhāfī, Mu`ammar
Qathafi, Mu’Ammar el
Quathafi, Muammar
Qudhafi, Moammar
Moamar AI Kadafi
Maummar Gaddafi
Moamar Gadhafi
Moamer Gaddafi
Moamer Kadhafi
Moamma Gaddafi
Moammar Gaddafi
Moammar Gadhafi
Moammar Ghadafi
Moammar Khadaffy
Moammar Khaddafi
Moammar el Gadhafi
Moammer Gaddafi
Mouammer al Gaddafi
Muamar Gaddafi
Muammar Al Ghaddafi
Muammar Al Qaddafi
Muammar Al Qaddafi
Muammar El Qaddafi
Muammar Gadaffi
Muammar Gadafy
Muammar Gaddhafi
Muammar Gadhafi
Muammar Ghadaffi
Muammar Qadthafi
Muammar al Gaddafi
Muammar el Gaddafy
Muammar el Gaddafi
Muammar el Qaddafi
Muammer Gadaffi
Muammer Gaddafi
Mummar Gaddafi
Omar Al Qathafi
Omar Mouammer Al Gaddafi
Omar Muammar Al Ghaddafi
Omar Muammar Al Qaddafi
Omar Muammar Al Qathafi
Omar Muammar Gaddafi
Omar Muammar Ghaddafi
Omar al Ghaddafi

SundayKittens's avatar

Also pronounced: Batshit Cray Cray McNutjob.

bolwerk's avatar

Why are there so many different words for “asshole”?

Supacase's avatar

I was just mentioning to my husband last night that I remember his name being spelled with a Q back in the 80s and wondered why that was. The G and the Q do sound quite a bit alike in this case, which I never realized before.

blueiiznh's avatar

There are articles written that spell his name different in the same article.
What gives with that?
It should be one of our demands to get the offical spelling.

rawpixels's avatar

Just call him jackass…much easier

snowberry's avatar

ROFL@rawpixels! I agree!

I was the first to answer this question. I wrote what I did because I teach English to Arabic speaking students. Because the English vowel sounds do not correspond with the sounds in Arabic, my students do not care whether I spell their names with one vowel or another. It’s all the same to them.

To illustrate, in an English speaking country, you might spell an Arabic name such as Aban, with a variety of vowels: Aben, Eban, and so on. Of course, in English speaking countries, they must have a certain spelling for official papers, but for every day and for people like my students, it just does not matter.

morphail's avatar

@snowberry I think that’s because they have trouble distinguishing between certain vowel sounds in English, for instance /ɑ/ and /æ/ and /ɛ/, because Arabic doesn’t make those distinctions. Is that what you’re saying?

LostInParadise's avatar

@snowberry , In Hebrew, words are determined by their consonants, so a word is still recognizable if the vowels are mispronounced. Does the same hold true for Arabic?

snowberry's avatar

@morphail Yes.

@LostInParadise I suppose. I am certainly not an authority on Arabic. It makes sense though. I do know that I had to run my students through all of the short vowel sounds repeatedly until they understood and could recognize and reproduce the appropriate sound.

One time one of my students was at a party and tried to ask the host for an empty cup. However because he did not understand the role of short vowel sounds in English, he asked for an “empty cop” instead! We both laughed when we realized what he had really asked for!

morphail's avatar

@LostInParadise I’m not an expert in Arabic either, but I’d guess no. Just because not all vowels are written in Arabic doesn’t mean you can just change the pronunciation of words and still have them be recognizable. I’m sure Arabic has homographs, like English “lead”, where the vowel sound makes a difference, even tho both pronunciations are spelled the same.

It is possible to represent all the vowels in written Arabic and Hebrew, but it’s not normally done.

AstroChuck's avatar

Spell it anyway you want. I spell it G-U-I-T-Y…

… of being hot!

anartist's avatar

I thought they were evolutions in what the leading newspapers hawked as the correct spelling.
For that matter, why is Bombay now Mumbai?
Not really a new name—more a new spelling.

mattbrowne's avatar

@anartist – That’s different. Bombay is a British name and to many people in India it represents the time of colonial imperialism. Mumbai is the native name.

anartist's avatar

@mattbrowne I know it is associated with Britain—Bombay Gin and all that—but maybe it was merely the Brits mispronouncing Mumbai? They are such similar names

gasman's avatar

The entertaining linguistics website LanguageLog addressed this subject on Feb 22, 2011:
—————
Gadafi, Gadaffi, Gaddafi, Gaddaffi, Gadhafi, Gadhaffi, Ghadafi, Ghadaffi, Ghaddafi, Ghaddaffi, Ghadhafi, Ghadhaffi, Kadafi, Kadaffi, Kaddafi, Kadhafi, Khadafi, Khaddafi, Khaddaffi, Khadhafi, Khadhaffi, Qadafi, Qadaffi, Qaddafi, Qaddaffi, Qadhafi, Qadhaffi, Qadhdhafi, Qathafi, … I give up.

The last hold-out for the Elizabethan approach to spelling. One of the few reasons that he’ll be missed. – Update — see R.L.G. at the Economist’s Johnson Blog for an exegesis…
February 22, 2011 @ 12:30 pm · Filed by Mark Liberman under Writing Systems
—————

gasman's avatar

Here’s an excerpt from the article appearing in The Economist, referenced above:
—————
A Qaddafi by any other name would still be a bloodthirsty dictator by “R.L.G.”

There are a few problems in turning Arabic into Roman letters.

1) Arabic has sounds that aren’t easily renderable in Roman letters without diacritics…

2) Arabic has moved a long way in the 14 centuries since the advent of Islam, but the writing system hasn’t…

3) When transliterating, experts like to try to match one Roman letter to each Arabic letter, so we don’t have the Qaddafi problem…
—————

Response moderated (Obscene)

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