Hindi alphabet (the 'Varnamala')
In this page, we will discuss about Hindi vowels and consonants. This discussion is followed by a pronunciation key with reference to the places of articulation of the Hindi sounds.
Hindi alphabet is scientific and well organized. It is divided in two groups -- (1) vowels and (2) consonants. The vowels are organized in a sequence of a short vowel followed by the long counterpart of it. The consonants are organized according to the places of articualtion and with each group of consonants, we move from the back of the mouth (velum) to the front of the mouth (lips).
Hindi vowels: Vowels have two forms, the independent form (the 'swaras') and the dependent form (the 'mAtrAs').
I. The 'independent form ': The independent form vowels are 'stand alone'. These forms are used when the vowels are pronounced in isolation, unattached and unassociated with any consonant.
II. The 'dependent form ': The dependent form vowels are always attached to consonalnts. When a vowels is pronounced associated with a consonaant, the dependent for of the that vowel (the 'mAtrA') is used.
Hindi consonants can be divided into five groups dependending on the places of articulation. Each group has five letters (sounds) and these sounds, in turn, are divided into three other subgroups -- voiced, unvoiced and nasal. The first two sounds in each group are unvoiced sounds and they are produced when the the airflow from the glottis is without any friction. The second group (of two sounds) is of voiced sounds. The voiced sounds are produced with a friction in the glottis.The third group is of the nasals. Fot the nasals, the oral cavity is closed and the air is allowed to pass through the nasal cavity. Click here for Hindi consonants.
The first group (the k-group) is the group of 'velar' sounds. The second group is (the c-group) belongs to the 'palatal' group. For these sounds, the front part of the tougue is raised to touch the palate region. For the third group (the T-group or the retroflex group), the tip of the toungue is raised to touch the retroflex region of the mouth. For pronuncing the 't-group' sounds (or the dental sounds), the tip iof the tongue is raised to touch the back of the upper teeth region. For the 'p-group' (or the labial) sounds, both the lips are used.
For a detailed diagram of rogans of speech used in producing Hindi sounds, please click here .
Some of the Hindi sounds, specially the Hindi regroflex and dental sounds, are very difficult to learn and pronounce for the non-native speakers. Here is an articulatory explanation of the Hindi retroflex-dental and English alveolars.
All Hindi consonants are supposed to be pronounced with 'a' (the shwa, as the vowel in the word 'cut') sound. When they are pronounced without the 'a' vowel (in case of conjuncts, for example), they can be represented with a sign (called 'halant') under a letter. Hindi borrows heavily from Sanskrit, hence some Sanskrit-based letters are retained in Hindi. Also, to represent other borrowed sounds (mostly form Persian-Arabic and English), Hindi has speceial letter.
Click here to listen to Hindi sounds.
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