A Door Into Hindi: Devanagari Writing System

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A DOOR INTO HINDI

Introduction to the Hindi Writing System (Devanagari)

 

At any point you may wish to visit the SOAS Devanagari Learning Site for an excellent introduction to the Hindi writing system.

·       The Hindi script (writing system) is called Devanagari.

·       In Devanagari, the letters in each word hang down from a "clothesline ."

·       Every consonant letter by itself automatically includes a short "a" vowel sound unless otherwise specified. This short "a" sound is like the "a" in English "about" or "career." In linguistics, this sound has a special name: "schwa ." Thus the letter is pronounced like the first syllable of the word "career" (consonant and vowel together).

·       A consonant's "schwa" can be changed to any other vowel by using a " matra " sign. A matra sign is attached to the consonant letter. The matras are also called the dependant forms of the vowels.Note : since schwa is the consonant's "default vowel," there is no matra for schwa.
These three movies show how the vowel matras are used: Vowel Movie 2 Vowel Movie 3 Vowel Movie 4

·       In addition to the matras, every vowel letter also has an independent form. Thus each vowel letter has two forms:

·       The dependent form (matra) is used to indicate that a vowel (other than schwa) is attached to a consonant.

·       The independent form is used when the vowel occurs alone, at the beginning of a word, or after another vowel. In other words, the independent form is used whenever there is no consonant for the vowel to attach to.  This movie describes the independent forms of the vowels: Vowel Movie 1
 

·       The chart below gives the independent and dependent forms of each vowel. the dependent vowel matras are shown attached to the letter "sa" = .

Vowel

English Equivalent

Independent form

Dependent Form (matra)

Dependent form with consonant

Pronunciation of consonant+matra

a

as in about

 

sa

a

as in father

सा

saa

i

as in sin

ि

सि

si

i

as in seen

सी

see

u

as in book


सु

su

u

as in food


सू

soo

e

as in


से

se

ai

as in sad


सै

sai

o

as in soda

सो

so

au

as in saw

सौ

saw

·       Hindi has several consonant sounds that are not found in English. For example, almost every consonant has an aspirated version as well as an unaspirated version. Aspirated consonants are pronounced like normal consonants with the addition of a simultaneous puff of breath.

Examples:

Unaspirated

Aspirated

 

·       Hindi distinguishes between the retroflex ”t” sound (ट) and the dental “t” sound (त).

The retroflex “t” is pronounced with the tongue touching the roof of the mouth further back than the English “t” sound.

 

The dental “t” is pronounced with the tongue touching the roof of the mouth further forward than for the English “t” sound; the tongue should touch the back of the teeth.

 

Each of these also has an aspirated version.

 

·       Hindi likewise distinguishes between the retroflex ”d” sound (ड) and the dental “d” sound (द), and each of these also has an aspirated version.

 

·      Here is a chart of all of the consonants you will need for Lesson 1.

= sa

= na

= ya

= ma

= ha

= la

= ka

= ra

= va

= ba

= sha

= ta (retroflex “t”)

= ta (dental “t”)

= da (unaspirated dental “da”)

= dha

= pa

= pha (aspirated “p,” NOT “f”)

फ़

= fa

= cha

= chha (aspirated cha)

= ja (as in English “j,” NOT as in French “j”)

 

 

·       Hindi vowels can be nasalized, that is a nasal quality is added to the vowel sound. The sign for nasalization is a small dot placed above the “clothesline.”

Examples

 

मैं (“I”)

pronounced like the French word “main” (“hand”)

दाईं (“right”)

two syllables: the second syllable is a nasalized long "ee" sound.

 

·       In some words containing long vowels (e.g. and ) the nasalization dot is accompanied by a small moon. This sign is called “chandra bindi.

Examples

 

हूँ (“am”)

 

like "hoo" with the vowel nasalized

कहाँ (“where”)

two syllables: the second syllable is a nasalized long "aa" sound.

·       Remember, every consonant letter automatically is follwed by a "schwa" sound. What if we want to write a consonant cluster, i.e. two consonants lumped together without any intervening vowel? In such cases we can literally chop off the trailing part of the first consonant letter and attach what’s left to the second consonant.

Examples

 

क्या("what")

 

half is attached to the following

अच्छा(“good”)

half is attached to the following

Another way of indicating a “half” or “schwa-less” consonant is the “halant” sign, as shown here under the letter स्. The halant sign is used mostly in words borrowed from Sanskrit.


The following is a chart of the entire Devanagari alphabet. Don't try to memorize it all at once. Memorize the letters only as you need them. Also note the alphabetical order in Hindi. The vowels are listed first, followed by the consonants. See if you can figure out how the consonant order is determined.

 

VOWELS

Vowel

as in

Vowel

as in

up

father

it

green

put

boot

ri

 

 

make

dad

over

awful

 

CONSONANTS

(Note: Letters with dots below them were not part of the original Devanagari alphabet. They mostly represent "imported" sounds. They are shown below their "undotted" counterparts.)

k (unasp.)

kha (asp.)

ga (unasp.)

gha (asp.)

 

क़

ख़

ग़

 

 

qa (uvular)

kha (fricative)

gha (fricative)

 

 

 

cha (unasp.)

chha (asp.)

ja (unasp.)

jha (asp.)

 

 

 

ज़

 

 

 

 

za

 

 

 

retro. ta (unasp.)

retro. tha (asp.)

retro. da (unasp.)

retro. dha (asp.)

retro. na

 

 

ड़

ढ़

 

 

 

retro. ra (flap, unasp.)

retro. rha (flap, asp.)

 

 

dental ta (unasp.)

dental ta (asp.)

dental da (unasp.)

dental dha (asp.)

na

 

pa (unasp.)

pha (asp.)

ba (unasp.)

bha (asp.)

ma

 

फ़

 

 

 

 

fa

 

 

 

 

ya

ra

la

va

 

sha

sha

sa

ha

 

Some special consonant combination characters:

 

क्ष

त्र

ज्ञ

श्र

ksha

tra (dental)

gya

shra