Not often I get an email with the subject line “style advice”. On this occasion it could not be dealt with by a pithy “cowboy boots go with anything” sort of response. In fact it was from Telegraph HQ, from the poor chap who has to make sure that assorted correspondents around the world agree to use the same spelling for troublesome words – often proper names – such as Gadaffi, Koran and so on. The problem is those languages that simply refuse to use the Latin alphabet. Transliteration gives a range of options. All could be considered correct. But which is the best one to use?
The issue for news organisations is consistency. There may be no correct answer, but for reasons of neatness a single spelling is preferred. Different spellings will be a distraction to the reader.
And so it was that my story this week on the madrassah in Karachi seems to have sparked a bit of a debate, hence the email asking whether I have much of a preference. The options are…
- Madrassah – this is the current preferred choice, according to the 2010 style guide edited by Simon Heffer. But it looks a little archaic to my eye
- Madrasah – one discussion suggests this may be the best spelling according to the Pakistani Urdu pronunciation
- Madrassa – this was my favourite. But that was based on my lousy English pronunciation of an Arabic word. So probably not a great guide
- Madrasa -preferred by The Guardian and it seems to be the most widely used online. That shouldn’t really matter, but these days with SEO and so on you don’t want readers missing your site because they are using a different spelling variant to search the web
Anyway, enough of my wittering. Just wondered if there were any proper linguists who could tell me the best spelling? And everyone else can lodge their vote on the poll below…