“a species of Oriental lyric poetry, generally of an erotic nature, distinguished from other forms of Eastern verse by having a limited number of stanzas and by the recurrence of the same rhyme.” (OED)It is found in the literature of Persian, Urdu and other south Asian cultures.
And how do we pronounce it? It’s not in any of our three pronunciation dictionaries. The OED says it’s ˈgæzæl. But the OBGP gives “guz-ul /ˈgʌzʌl/”. So it’s one of those words like pandit/pundit, in which an a-like vowel in a foreign language, or a ə-like vowel of Hindi/Urdu, can be mapped either onto æ, following the spelling, or onto ʌ, following the pronunciation in the language of origin.
What about the initial gh spelling? We pronounce it g in English, as in ghost, ghastly and ghoul, but what is it in the source language(s)?
As far as I know it is not a voiced-aspirated Hindi/Urdu plosive such as we find in the words ghat, dhobi, Bharat. Rather, it is a voiced velar fricative, ɣ (or perhaps somewhat further back, as far as ʁ). In Arabic script the word is written غزل and in Devanagari ग़ज़ल. Both غ and ग़ stand for ɣ. (I am sure someone will write to tell me if I have got this wrong.)
All this musing is prompted by the comment in Wikipedia that
The Arabic word "ghazal" is pronounced roughly like the English word "guzzle", but with the first, g-like consonant further back in the throat.This is unfortunately a piece of phonetic ignorance: the gh-sound might be “further back in the throat” than g (though that is not necessarily the case). But the important thing is that it’s not a plosive but a fricative. How do we explain that in a way that would be meaningful for the layman?
Here’s part of an English-language ghazal from Wikipedia.
Where are you now? Who lies beneath your spell tonight?
Whom else from rapture’s road will you expel tonight?
Those “Fabrics of Cashmere—” “to make Me beautiful—”
“Trinket”— to gem– “Me to adorn– How– tell”— tonight?
I beg for haven: Prisons, let open your gates–
A refugee from Belief seeks a cell tonight.
God’s vintage loneliness has turned to vinegar–
All the archangels– their wings frozen– fell tonight.
Lord, cried out the idols, Don’t let us be broken
Only we can convert the infidel tonight.
Mughal ceilings, let your mirrored convexities
multiply me at once under your spell tonight.