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?

6 Answers 6


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.

  • Ah of course but is [ʼ] an IPA letter? Nov 3, 2011 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, 2011 at 14:14
  • 1
    Also many Arabic sounds used to be described as glottalized though I see more recently the word pharyngealized seems to be being used instead. Nov 3, 2011 at 14:21
  • 3
    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. Nov 4, 2011 at 16:04
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    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, 2012 at 1:48

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/.

  • 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. Dec 21, 2012 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, 2012 at 0:15
  • Yes I often heard this sound as something glottal or uvular followed by something raspy so that makes sense (-: Dec 22, 2012 at 1:29

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.


This doesn't exactly answer your question, but they're close enough that ყ is often used for ﻕ in Georgian words of Arabic origin. For example:

  • قرآن - ყურანი (Quran)
  • قصاب - ყასაბი (butcher)
  • قهوة - ყავა (coffee)
  • حقنة - ოყნა (enema)
  • عراق - ერაყი (Iraq)

However, there are some counterexamples:

  • خلق - ხალხი (people)
  • القاعدة - ალ-კაიდა (Al-Qaeda)

My guess is that ალ-კაიდა came into Georgian via Russian or English. ხალხი might have come into Georgian from Turkish or Armenian or something like that. That would explain the discrepancies.

See this Wiktionary page for more examples.


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

I speak Arabic and Georgian (elementary). some have said "ﻕ" have the same sound as 'q" whereas "ყ" has the sound of " q' ". but that is incorrect, since the sound of "ﻕ" has no equivalent in English or any Indo-European languages, and that goes for the Georgian Versions. To be precise, "ﻕ" and "ყ" share the same sounds in certain cases, coming from the back of throat with a little stop/change. however, the problem with "ﻕ" as every Arabic alphabet, the change that occurs depending on the word, will change the sound produced, whether it becomes harsher or softer than the original sound. whereas in dialects such as Saudi version it is pronounced as "ga", egyptian is silent, sudanese as "k" , and Yemeni as "q" ... BUT the original, proper read Arabic ""ﻕ" has a distinct sound not found in English and most languages other than Georgia and possible Farsi and Urdu

  • 2
    Nobody is suggesting that /q/ or /q'/ represent a sound in English: they are representations in IPA.
    – Colin Fine
    May 1, 2016 at 20:35
  • ""ﻕ" has no equivalent in English or any Indo-European languages, and that goes for the Georgian Versions." -- My statement is solely on the basis that the letter "ﻕ" has no equivalent sound in Georgian, Indo-European, English etc. I neither suggested nor hinted that someone mentioned your conjecture . I stand by comment, since the OP did not discuss IPA. IPA is a poor representation of some arabic phonology, for example, letter "ﻕ" , symbol q "somewhat close to c in scar", per IPA description, which is untrue, and more like a sudanese or Somalian dialect sound.
    – Elena
    Jun 2, 2016 at 19:26
  • the OP question, "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?".... The answer is letter "ﻕ" will sound like Georgian "ყ" in certain cases depending on the position of the letter, word and syntax. But the standard sound "Q'af" does not sound like ""ყ" and has a distinct unique sound of its own. However, Algerian, and Moroccan dialect tend to produce the Georgian sound quiet often.
    – Elena
    Jun 2, 2016 at 19:26
  • Obviously /q/ does appear in some Indo-European languages, sounds are not chosen by language family, /q/ even appears as a common allophone of /k/ in some (London) dialects of English. Sounds are more areal than family derived oftentimes. /q/ is phonemic in Persian and Ossetian. The Arabic realisation of "Qaf" as /q/ - is probably not the earliest, we see many hint of ejective realisations of Arabic emphatics during the spread of Islam
    – oyd11
    Nov 20, 2019 at 9:12

I'm Georgian and didn't get the part about ხალხი. We pronounce it "khalkhi" and didn't get the whole Turkish or Armenian part xD.

  • forvo.com/word/%E1%83%A7 ყ sounds like this
    – Gega
    Apr 29, 2016 at 17:29
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    The Georgian word "ხალხი" was borrowed a long time ago from the Arabic word "خَلْق" (ḵalq). Many other languages also borrowed the Arabic word including Armenian "խալխ" ‎(xalx) and Turkish "halk". But the sound of the first letter changed between Arabic and Georgian, possibly because the word wasn't borrowed directly from Arabic but from Armenian or Turkish which first borrowed it directly from Arabic. Neither of those languages have a sound like the one in Arabic or Georgian. May 1, 2016 at 3:10

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