Qoph (Phoenician Qōp ) is the nineteenth letter of the Semitic abjads. Aramaic Qop is derived from the Phoenician letter, and derivations from Aramaic include Hebrew Qof ק, Syriac Qōp̄ ܩ and Arabic Qāf ق.
The origin of the glyph shape of qōp () is uncertain. It is usually suggested to have originally depicted either a sewing needle, specifically the eye of a needle (Hebrew קוף and Aramaic קופא both refer to the eye of a needle), or the back of a head and neck (qāf in Arabic meant "nape"). According to an older suggestion, it may also have been a picture of a monkey and its tail (the Hebrew קוף means "monkey").
The Oxford Hebrew-English Dictionary transliterates the letter Qoph (קוֹף) as q or k; and, when word-final, it may be transliterated as ck. The English spellings of Biblical names (as derived from Latin via Biblical Greek) containing this letter may represent it as c or k, e.g. Cain for Hebrew Qayin, or Kenan for Qena'an (Genesis 4:1, 5:9).
Qoph is consistently transliterated into classical Greek with the unaspirated〈κ〉/k/, while Kaph (both its allophones) is transliterated with the aspirated〈χ〉/kʰ/. Thus Quph was unaspirated /k/ where Kaph was /kʰ/, this distinction is no longer present. Further we know that Qoph is one of the emphatic consonants through comparison with other semitic languages, and most likely was ejective /kʼ/. In Arabic the emphatics are pharyngealised and this causes a preference for back vowels, this is not shown in Hebrew orthography. Though the gutturals show a preference for certain vowels, Hebrew emphatics do not in Tiberian Hebrew (the Hebrew dialect recorded with vowels) and therefore were most likely not pharyngealised, but ejective, pharyngealisation being a result of Arabisation.
Qof in gematria represents the number 100. Sarah is described in Genesis Rabba as בת ק' כבת כ' שנה לחטא, literally "At Qof years of age, she was like Kaph years of age in sin", meaning that when she was 100 years old, she was as sinless as when she was 20.
The Arabic letter ق is named قاف qāf. It is written in several ways depending in its position in the word:
It is usually transliterated into Latin script as q, though some scholarly works use ḳ.
According to Sibawayh, author of the first book on Arabic grammar, the letter is pronounced voiced (maǧhūr), although some scholars argue, that Sibawayh's term maǧhūr implies lack of aspiration rather than voice. As noted above, Modern Standard Arabic has the voiceless uvular plosive /q/ as its standard pronunciation of the letter, but dialectical pronunciations vary as follows:
It is not well known when the pronunciation of Qāf ⟨ق⟩ as a velar [ɡ] occurred or the probability of it being connected to the pronunciation of Jīm ⟨ج⟩ as an affricate [d͡ʒ], but in most of the Arabian peninsula (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, UAE and parts of Yemen and Oman) which is the homeland of the Arabic language, the ⟨ج⟩ represents a [d͡ʒ] and ⟨ق⟩ represents a [ɡ], except in western and southern Yemen and parts of Oman where ⟨ج⟩ represents a [ɡ] and ⟨ق⟩ represents a [q], which shows a strong correlation between the palatalization of ⟨ج⟩ to [d͡ʒ] and the pronunciation of the ⟨ق⟩ as a [ɡ] as shown in the table below:
The earliest Arabic manuscripts show qāf in several variants: pointed (above or below) or unpointed. Then the prevalent convention was having a point above for qāf and a point below for fāʼ; this practice is now only preserved in manuscripts from the Maghribi, with the exception of Libya and Algeria, where the Mashriqi form (two dots above: ق) prevails.