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awy... alif or qaf?

A visitor to the web site contacted me recently to point out a mistake: the Egyptian arabic word 'awy, which means 'very', was spelt 'awi أوي, and he said that it should be spelt 'awi قـَوي.

For people from Cairo, the two are pronounced the same: both 'a أ and ' ق are pronounced as a gluttal stop. Does it really make a difference, then? I asked a friend from Cairo. "Of course it makes a difference!" he said. "If you write it with a qaf, people will think that you are a bit strange". He went on to say that Qawi قـَوي is used only as an adjective meaning 'strong'. I asked several other people from Cairo and Hurghada, and they all insisted that awy is spelt with an alif

I checked all of the dictionaries from Cameron (1895) to Stevens and Sallib (2004), and they all say that it's spelt with a qaf. Could they all be wrong?

There is an easy way to find the answer to all this: ask somebody from upper Egypt. They pronounce a qaf as a g, not as a gluttal stop. I asked my neighbour's doorman, who comes from Qina (or gina, as he says it), and he said gawy.

So the dictionaries are (or at least were) right- the word was spelt with a qaf, and in upper Egypt they still spell it that way. But language changes all the time- usually so slowly that nobody notices- and it is clear that as far as Cairenes are concerned, 'awy is now spelt with an alif-hamza.

Mike Green 04May2014

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