Purveyor. Not of goods, but of good ideas

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Here's what I do not and never have understood: Why aren't foreign words based in non-Roman alphabets simply spelled in English as they would be pronounced in English?

For example, the country whose name is spelled Qatar in English is pronounced either as "ke TAR" or "Cutter" depending on the prevailing winds.

So why isn't it just spelled Ktar or Cutter?

This tends not to happen with Japanese for some reason; Tokyo, if you can imagine, is pronounced Tokyo. But in Chinese the city of Xi'an is allegedly pronounced (try to guess) shi-ahn. What genius thought of that?

The only explanation I can imagine is that this is an affectation, a desire to make the word appear more exotic and difficult in transliteration than it otherwise needs to be. This leaves those of us not knowledgeable about the language not only helpless to know what things mean, but also sounding hopelessly foolish in our attempts to better ourselves.

If this is the case, it reminds me of the bureaucrat's office whose occupant uses a high and straight chair for himself but a low and slouchy one for his subjects and guests, ensuring their discomfort and inferiority.


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