Spelling of Sharm el-Sheikh confuses Latvians

The Sharm el-Sheikh resort city, grabbing international headlines recently, is usually written Šarm el Šeiha in Latvian. A parallel spelling of Šarm eš Šeiha exists as well. The former is used by tourism firms, and is more common. The media, including Latvian Television, however, refer to the city as Šarm eš Šeiha, which sounds foreign to many. 

Who is on the right? Latvian Television tried solving this mystery Monday evening.

The Latvian language renders foreign words according to the way the sound - to Latvian ears at least - unlike English, which errs on the side of preserving the writing of the original. It can get tricky with languages, like Arabic, that most Latvians have never heard and very few of them know well.

Imants Frederiks Ozols, a journalist at Latvian Television, explained that the Arabic "el" article in "Sharm el-Sheikh" changes to "esh" before another "sh" for phonetic reasons. That means the correct version is the one used by Latvian Television, as it uses the original sounds.

Agris Timuška, deputy director of the State Language Center, which serves as the Latvian-language watchdog, confirmed as much. If you need to ascertain the correct spelling for a Latvian toponym, the story recommended consulting the Jāņa sēta world atlas.

Latvians are very picky about correct language, and as most people can write, everyone can express an opinion on these matters and be heard.

Even pop stars get into the mix - "Dear radio and web journalists, the city is called Šarm El Šeiha or Šarmelšeiha, not Šarm Eš Šeiha. What's the EŠ doing there?" - idol Lauris Reiniks posted on Twitter.

 

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