The name Al Qaeda, as it's customarily spelled in the American press, appeared as usual in an article in today's paper. However, the article extensively quoted a government document, in which it was consistently spelled Al Qaida. What is the correct pronunciation of the word? Is that E an English "long E" so it actually sounds like a cardinal I? I know that Arabic is fragmented into dozens of dialects in which pronunciation varies as much as between Glasgow and Dallas. But I also know that "classical" Arabic is accepted as the standard everywhere, so I would assume that transliterations always represent "classical" pronunciation. Or is Arabic spelling not terribly phonetic, so we're literally "transliterating" the letters of the Arabic alphabet rather than the sounds of the spoken language? We do that with Russian: the name we spell "Mendeleev" is pronounced Myen-dyel-ye-YOFF. Or it could be that Arabic has a set of phonemes that don't map conveniently to the Roman alphabet? Big deal, neither does Mandarin Chinese. That didn't stop the Chinese from inventing the Pin-Yin standardized romanization system and it doesn't stop us from using it. Anyone who wants to recite written romanized Chinese perfectly can learn the system in a couple of days. Arabic is far too important a language to not have a similar resource. How about the Arabic news network Al Jazeera? Everyone pronounces it as if it's spelled Al Jazira with a cardinal I. Why don't we write it that way? Or is it actually a double-long cardinal E -- Al Jazayra -- and we're all saying it wrong? Considering that we go out of our way to spell Al Qaeda, Aqaba, Qom, and now even Quran, with a Q, to faithfully represent a sound almost none of us knows how to pronounce, you'd think we could do a slightly better job with the vowels!