Sunteți pe pagina 1din 8

A Door Into Hindi: Devanagari Writing System

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:

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:

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

as in
about

as in
father

Dependent
Form (matra)

Dependent
form with
consonant

as in sin

as in seen

as in book

as in food

as in

ai

as in sad

as in soda

au

as in 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

() and the dental t sound ().

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 () and the dental d sound (), 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)

= 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

(I)

(right)

pronounced like the French word

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

(am)

like "hoo" with the vowel nasalized

(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 whats left to

the second consonant.


Examples

("what")

half

is attached to the following

(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 . 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

up

it

put

ri

make

over

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.)

qa (uvular)

kha (fricative)

gha (fricative)

cha (unasp.)

chha (asp.)

ja (unasp.)

jha (asp.)

za

retro. ta
(unasp.)

retro. tha
(asp.)

retro. da
(unasp.)

retro. dha
(asp.)

retro. ra (flap,

retro. rha

unasp.)

dental ta
(unasp.)

dental ta
(asp.)

dental da
(unasp.)

pa (unasp.)

pha (asp.)

ba (unasp.)

(flap, asp.)

dental dha

bha (asp.)

fa

ya

ra

la

va

sha

sha

sa

ha

Some special consonant combination characters:

ksha

tra (dental)

gya

shra