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Lesson 1: Letters of the Alphabet

 

INTRODUCTION

 

Devanagari (lit. “land of the demigods”) is indeed one of the most popular scripts in India. Languages like Hindi, Marathi, Bhojpuri, Nepali, Sindhi, Avadhi, and Braja Bhasa have Devanagari as their script language. The most classical language as well as the origin of Devanagari script is the Sanskrit language. While minor evolutions have taken place with the language script, the essence of the construction of words is the same. We will current, widely accepted formation of the letters.

 

DIVISIONS OF THE LETTERS

 

The Devanagari alphabet is one of the most organized alphabet systems that exist today. It has thirteen vowels (swara) and thirty-three consonants (vyañjana) along with the nasal element (anusvāra) and aspirated element (visarga).

 

VOWELS:

1. The letter “a” is pronounced as “u” in “but.”

 

2. The letter “ā” is pronounced as “a” in “father.”

 

3. The letter “i" is pronounced as “i” in “sin” (say “seen” with a shorter “ee” sound)

 

4. The letter “ī” is pronounced as “ee” in “seed”

 

5. The letter “u” is pronounced as “u” in “should” (say “shood” with a shorter “oo” sound)

 

6. The letter “ū” is pronounced as “oo” in “roof”

 

7. The letter “ṛ” is pronounced as “ri” in “rip” (say “reep” with a shorter “ee” sound)

 

8. The letter “ṛ ́” is pronounced as “ree” in “reed”

 

9. The letter “ļ” is pronounced as “lary” in “salary.” Sounds more like “lree” actually.

 

10. The letter “e” is pronounced as “ay” in “pay” (avoid adding the “y” sound at the end)

 

11. The letter “ai” is a combination of the letters “a” and “i

 

12. The letter “o” is pronounced as “o” in “no” (avoid the u/w sound as the end)

 

13. The letter “au” is a combination of the letter “a” and “u”

 

CONSONANTS

In the Devanagari alphabet, there are many subdivisions. The first major set of subdivisions consists of five rows of consonants. Each row depends on where the sound was originated. Within each of these five subdivisions is another division of five. Each row has the letters formed in this manner:

Letter 1: Voiceless non-aspirated: Without any aid of a vowel, the sound can be produced. No additional puff of air is needed

Letter 2: Voiceless aspirated: This is the same letter as Letter 1, but it requires a puff of air to produce a slightly harder sound.

Letter 3: Voiced non-aspirated: The sound of this letter will require the voice to allow correct pronunciation of the letter.

Letter 4: Voiced aspired: This is the same letter as Letter 3, but it requires a puff of air to produce a slightly harder sound.

Letter 5: Nasal element: Usually, for Letters 1-4, this letter will allow a nasal combination. This will be discussed later on in detail.

 

GUTTURALS

The first set of five consonants is known as the gutturals. They are sounds pronounced through the throat.

1. ka 2. kha 3. ga 4. gha 5. ńa

1. The letter “k” is pronounced as “k” in “kite”

2. The letter “kh” is pronounced as “ck-h” in “kick-hard”

3. The letter “g” is pronounced as “g” in “goat”

4. The letter “gh” is pronounced as “g-h” in “dig-hard”

5. The letter “ń” is pronounced as “n” in “song.” (Just the n, not the g. This is the nasal element for the gutturals)

 

PALATALS

The second set of five consonants is known as the palatals. They are sounds pronounced through the palette.

1. ca 2. cha 3. ja 4. jha 5. ña

1. The letter “c” is pronounced as “ch” in “church.”

2. The letter “ch” is pronounced as “ch-h” in “staunch-heart”

3. The letter “j” is pronounced as “j” in “jiffy”

4. The letter “jh” is pronounced as “dge-h” in “hedge-hog”

5. The letter “ñ” is pronounced as “ny” in “canyon” (This is the nasal element for the palatals)

 

CEREBRALS

The third set of five consonants is known as the cerebrals. They are sounds pronounced through the tongue touching the roof of the palette.

1. ṭa 2. ṭha 3. ḍa 4. ḍha 5. ṇa

1. The letter “ṭ” is pronounced as “t” in “hot”

2. The letter “ṭh” is pronounced as “t-h” in “hot-house”

3. The letter “ḍ” is pronounced as “d” in “road”

4. The letter “ḍh” is pronounced as “d-h” in “red-hot”

5. The letter “ṇ” is pronounced as “na” in “nut.” (This is the nasal element for the cerebrals).

 

DENTALS

The fourth set of five consonants is known as the dentals. They are sounds pronounced through the tongue touching the teeth.

1. ta 2. tha 3. da 4. dha 5. na

1. The letter “t” is pronounced as “t” in “hot”

2. The letter “th” is pronounced as “t-h” in “hot-house” or “thick”

3. The letter “d” is pronounced as “d” in “road”

4. The letter “dh” is pronounced as “d-h” in “red-hot” or “th” in “though”

5. The letter “n” is pronounced as “na” in “nut.” (This is the nasal element for the dentas).

 

LABIALS

The fifth set of five consonants is known as the labials. They are sounds pronounced through the lips.

1. pa 2. pha 3. ba 4. bha 5. ma

1. The letter “p” is pronounced as “p” in “popcorn.”

2. The letter “ph” is pronounced as “p-h” in “up-hill” (This is not pronounced like f. There is no “f” in Sanskrit.)

3. The letter “b” is pronounced as “b” in “baby”

4. The letter “bh” is pronounced as “b-h” in “tub-hot”

5. The letter “m” is pronounced as “m” in “mother.”

 

SEMI-VOWELS

The next four consonants are known as semi-vowels. They reason why they are “half-vowels” is because they require the human voice in order to make a sound. Some of the semi-vowels are derivatives of some previously mentioned vowels.

1. ya 2. ra 3. la 4. va

1. The letter “y” is pronounced as “y” in “yes.”

2. The letter “r” is pronounced as “r” in “right.”

3. The letter “l” is pronounced as “l” in “light.”

4. The letter “v” is pronounced as “v” in “victory.” If “v” is the second half of a combined letter, then it will be pronounced like a “w.”

 

SIBILANTS

There are three sibilants in the Devanagari alphabet. Sibilants are letters that give a hissing sound.

1. śa 2. ṣa 3. sa

1. The letter “ś” is pronounced as “sh” in “shut.” (This is the palatial s)

2. The letter “ṣ” is pronounced as “sh” in “shine.” (This is the cerebral s)

3. The letter “s” is pronounced as “s” in “seven.” (The is the universal and dental s)

ASPIRATE

1. The last official consonant in the Devanagari alphabet is “ha.” The letter “h” is pronounced as “h” in “heaven.”

 

MISCELLANEOUS

These last two are not really letters, but more or less markings that will be used in later applications.

1. The anusvāra is the nasal element (ḿ). It is pronounced as “n” in “wrong” (no “g” sound included). It assumes any appropriate nasal element.

2. The visarga is the aspirate element (ḥ). It causes a “ha” sound to come. For instance, aḥ is pronounced as “aha” or iḥ is pronounced as “iḥ.”

 

Study these letters carefully and know each letter before entering Lesson 2.

UPDATED: June 16, 2009