Pronunciation of Sanskrit Letters

Pronunciation of Sanskrit letters

In this pre-lesson we will take a quick look at the pronunciation of Sanskrit letters. Practice pronouncing these.

[This is meant for people who do not know Indian languages. People who know Indian languages can pronounce these letters naturally as they are used to.]

Vowels

अ  a – as in English “far”; आ  ā – as in “farther”

इ  i – as in “pin”; ई  ī – as in “pique”

उ  u – as in “pull”; ऊ  ū – as in “rule”

ऋ  r̥ – vocalic “r” as the “re” in “prefer” ; ॠ ṝ – like ऋ  r̥ but longer

ऌ ḷ – vocalic “l” s the “le” in “bottle”; ॡ ḹ – like ऌ ḷ but longer

Click here to hear the vowels on YouTube.

Diphthongs

ए  e – as in “paint”; ऐ  ai – as in “kite”

ओ  o – as in “pole” ; औ  au – as in “cow”

Click here to hear the diphthongs on YouTube.

Consonants

ka series

क्  k – as in “sky” but unaspirated “k”

ख्  kh – like “c” in “cake”

ग्  g – as in god

घ्  gh – aspirated ग्  g

ङ्  ṅ – like the “ng” in “going”

Click here to hear the ka series on YouTube.

ca series

च्  c – as in “chain” but unaspirated “ch”

छ्  ch – as in “chain”

ज्  j – as in jump

झ्  jh – aspirated ज्  j

ञ्  ñ – as in the “gn” in Italian “gnocchi” or French “cologne”

Click here to hear the ca series on YouTube.

ṭa series

ट्  ṭ – as in “total” but with “t” retroflex and unaspirated [Note these retroflex sounds have no European equivalents]

ठ्  ṭh – as in “total” but retroflex “t”

ड्  ḍ – as in “different” but retroflex

ढ्  ḍh – aspirated ड्  ḍ

ण्  ṇ – as in “earn” but more retroflex

Click here to hear the ṭa series on YouTube.

ta series

त्  t – as in “total” but dental and unsapirated;  like the Italian “t” in “telefono”

थ्  th – as in “total” but dental

द्  d – as in “different” but dental; like the Italian “domani”

ध्  dh – aspirated द्  d

For the retroflexion rules of na to ṇa see the sandhis page in the grammar reference section.

न्  n – like “nose” but dental; sometimes it is also pronounced exactly as in “nose” (alveolar)

When do you articulate the न as dental and when as alveolar?

Our grammarians have classified it as dental.

The rule as I understand it (for comments)

  • At the start of a word it is always dental [However, in many traditions, I hear many people using alveolar here also]
  • At the end of a word it is always alveolar
  • Within a word, before vowels it is always alveolar. Before consonants (as first part of conjunct consonants)  it is dealt with as normal sandhi. After consonants (as second part of conjunct consonants) it is always dental. [However, in many traditions, I hear people using alveolar like in the word swapna etc.]

Note: Different regions and different schools may have different traditions of pronouncing (dental or alveolar) the above.

Click here to hear the ta series on YouTube.

pa series

प्  p – as in “pet” but unaspirated

फ्  ph – as in “pet”

ब्  b – as in “bat”

भ्  bh – aspirated ब्  b

म्  m – as in “mother”

Click here to hear the pa series on YouTube.

semivowels

य्  y – as in “yacht”

र्  r – sometimes like in “raven” but sometimes more alveolar and sometimes retroflex

ल्  l – as in “laugh”

व्  v – like in “vixen” but more bi-labial

ळ्  ḷ – retroflex “l”

When do you articulate “r” as retroflexed and when as alveolar/dental?

The rule as I understand it (for comments)

  • Normally, alvelolar/dental. However,
  • At the end of a word it becomes visarga
  • After a consonant (as second part of conjunct consonant) it is sometimes retroflexed (eg. kra) and sometimes alveolar/dental (eg. gra). Am not sure of any clear rule here.
  • Before consonants (as first part of a conjunct consonant) [the hook on top as in र्क] it is retroflexed except before “y” य. [That is retroflexed before the वल् pratyahara, but dental/alveolar before others.]

Note that the retroflexed ळ्  ḷ is used in sanskrit only as a subsititute for ड्  ḍ between vowels [Example īḷe  ईळे for  īḍe ईडे.] There is also an aspirated version of ḷh  ळ्ह् which is substituted for ढ्  ḍh between vowels [Example mīḷhuṣe  मीळ्हुषे for mīḍhuṣe  मीढुषे]

Click here to hear the semivowels on YouTube.

fricatives

श्  ś – palatal “sh”; like in “ship” but palatal

ष्  ṣ – like “ti” in “motion” but more retroflex

स्  s – as in “sit”

For the retroflexion rules of sa to ṣa see the sandhis page in the grammar reference section.

Click here to hear the fricatives on YouTube.

others

ह्  h – as in “hat”

Click here to hear the others on YouTube.

ः  ḥ (the visarga) – pronounced as a voiceless h and is articulated at the tongue position of the previous vowel. It is not a full syllable.  [In front of क्  k and ख्  kh the visarga, called the  jihvāmūlīya जिह्वामूलीय, ẖ   is pronounced as a guttural breathing approximately like “ch” of “loch”. In front of प्  p and फ्  ph the visarga, called the upadhmānīya उपध्मानीय, ḫ  is pronounced as a labial breathing approximately like “f”]

[However, in many traditions and regions I hear the visarga being pronounced as a full syllable with ह्  h and an added previous vowel. For example rāmaḥ as rāmaha रामः as रामह, hariḥ as harihi हरिः as हरिहि and guruḥ as guruhu गुरुः as गुरुहु]

ं  ṃ (the anusvāra) – The anusvara is pronounced as a nasal of the class of the following mute. ṅka  ङ्क,  ñca  ञ्च,  ṇṭa  ण्ट,  nta  न्त,  mpa  म्प. At the end of a word and before vowels it is “m”. Before semi-vowels, sibilants or ‘h” it nasalises the previous vowel. In the last case, that is when the anusvāra nasalises (anunāsika) the previous vowel, it is sometimes represented by the chandrabindu sign m̐.