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The Arabic letter and the Georgian letter are often described as being similar, also they are both transliterated using q.

... the Georgian letter ყ is difficult for most Westerners to pronounce. It is similar to the Arabic "qaf" (ﻕ)

So how is it similar and how is it not quite the same?

I realize that Arabic pronunciation varies a lot from country to country, is the Georgian sound closer to the sound in any particular variety of Arabic or does it have some quality that keeps it always apart?

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3 Answers 3

To be precise, while the IPA for ﻕ is /q/ (N.B. I'm considering standard Arabic), the one for the Georgian ყ is /qʼ/.

The first one is a q sound, the second one is an ejective consonant (you can listen to the sound in the linked page). The main characteristic of this voiceless consonant is that it's non-pulmonic with a simultaneous closure of the glottis while it's being pronounced.

Now, I don't know Georgian, but you can see in the page for the Georgian IPA that the consonant you asked for is indeed an ejective one.

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Ah of course but is [ʼ] an IPA letter? –  hippietrail Nov 3 '11 at 14:12
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It's a symbol, look in the IPA summary from Wikipedia... Check the table on the left, "Non-pulmonic consonants". –  Alenanno Nov 3 '11 at 14:14
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Also many Arabic sounds used to be described as glottalized though I see more recently the word pharyngealized seems to be being used instead. –  hippietrail Nov 3 '11 at 14:21
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You're talking about the "emphatic" consonants, I'm guessing -- tā', zā', sād, zād and qāf? They're actually a bit of a mixed bag. The first four are pharyngealized. Qāf actually isn't pharyngealized or glottalized -- it's just plain /q/. The reason qāf is grouped together with the other four is that there are some patterns of allophony that treat all five the same way. But when it comes to articulation, there aren't actually any articulatory properties that distinguish the "emphatic" sounds from the "non-emphatic" ones. –  Dan Velleman Nov 4 '11 at 16:04
    
While the "emphatics" are generally pharyngialised in Arabic, some cognate languages (Amharic, some varieties of Aramaic) show glottalised consonants in corresponding words, and some scholars have suggested that the glottal realisation is original in the family. –  Colin Fine Dec 26 '12 at 1:48
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The (Modern Standard) Arabic "qaf" is an voiceless uvular stop [q]. It is pronounced like a plain [k], except that to make the [q], the back of the tongue touches the uvula, instead of the soft palate (to make [k]).

The Georgian sound is an uvular ejective [q']. It's also pronounced as a voiceless uvular stop, like the Arabic qaf, except that it is an ejective consonant, meaning the air is created by pumping the glottis upward. [q], like most of our "normal" sounds, is an pulmonic one, meaning the air is created by solely pushing air with the lungs and the diaphragm.

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I've found this useful paper on contemporary Georgian phonetic realisation, Standard Georgian, by Ryan K. Shosted and Vakhtang Chikovani.

Georgian ყ is realised as any of these four allophones: [q'] [χ'] [ʔ] [q'χ'], which matches my listening impression as well; They say even the same speaker uses these allophones as free-variation.

As for the Arabic letter transcribed as /q/, "ق". See Qāf.

I've found the most common Georgian pronunciation to be /χ'/ to something like /qχ'/, and both are accepted. /χ'/ is quite different to /q/.

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A very good answer, @oyd11. The only bit I'm confused about is which groups of symbols are for each allophone? There seems to be enough for at least five. Maybe it would be clearer to put each in its own [], or to explain each very briefly. –  hippietrail Dec 21 '12 at 12:14
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Ok, I've separated them, I'm copying these symbols from this article, I couldn't reproduce one symbol - hence the weird orthography: [q^('χ)], it's a /q'/ and /χ'/ co-articulated, in the article they put the 'χ' into superscript, I hope it's a bit clearer now. –  oyd11 Dec 22 '12 at 0:15
    
Yes I often heard this sound as something glottal or uvular followed by something raspy so that makes sense (-: –  hippietrail Dec 22 '12 at 1:29
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