Rig Vedas

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Vowels

The vowels of Classical Sanskrit with their word-initial Devanagari symbol, diacritical mark with the consonant प् (/p/), pronunciation (of the vowel alone and of /p/+vowel) in IPA, equivalent in IAST and (approximate) equivalents in English are listed below:

Letter प् Pronunciation Pronunciation with /p/ IAST equiv. English equivalent (GA unless stated otherwise)
/ɐ/ or /ə/ /pɐ/ or /pə/ a short near-open central vowel or schwa: u in bunny or a in about
पा /ɑː/ /pɑː/ ā long open back unrounded vowel: a in father (RP)
पि /i/ /pi/ i short close front unrounded vowel: e in england
पी /iː/ /piː/ ī long close front unrounded vowel: ee in feet
पु /u/ /pu/ u short close back rounded vowel: oo in foot
पू /uː/ /puː/ ū long close back rounded vowel: oo in cool
पृ /ɻ/ /pɻ/ short retroflex approximant: r in run
पॄ /ɻː/ /pɻː/ long retroflex approximant r in run
पॢ /ɭ/ /pɭ/ short retroflex lateral approximant (no English equivalent)
पॣ /ɭː/ /pɭː/ long retroflex lateral approximant
पे /eː/ /peː/ e long close-mid front unrounded vowel: a in bane (some speakers)
पै /əi/ /pəi/ ai a long diphthong: i in ice, i in kite (Canadian and Scottish English)
पो /oː/ /poː/ o long close-mid back rounded vowel: o in bone (some speakers)
पौ /əu/ /pəu/ au a long diphthong: Similar to the ou in house (Canadian English)

The long vowels are pronounced twice as long as their short counterparts. Also, there exists a third, extra-long length for most vowels, called pluti, which is used in various cases, but particularly in the vocative. The pluti is not accepted by all grammarians.

The vowels /e/ and /o/ continue as allophonic variants of Proto-Indo-Iranian /ai/, /au/ and are categorized as diphthongs by Sanskrit grammarians even though they are realized phonetically as simple long vowels. (See above).

Additional points:

  • There are some additional signs traditionally listed in tables of the Devanagari script:
    • The diacritic ं called anusvāra, (IAST: ṃ). It is used both to indicate the nasalization of the vowel in the syllable ([◌̃] and to represent the sound of a syllabic /n/ or /m/; e.g. पं /pəŋ/.
    • The diacritic ः called visarga, represents /əh/ (IAST: ḥ); e.g. पः /pəh/.
    • The diacritic ँ called chandrabindu, not traditionally included in Devanagari charts for Sanskrit, is used interchangeably with the anusvāra to indicate nasalization of the vowel, primarily in Vedic notation; e.g. पँ /pə̃/.
  • If a lone consonant needs to be written without any following vowel, it is given a halanta/virāma diacritic below (प्).
  • The vowel /aː/ in Sanskrit is realized as being more central and less back than the closest English approximation, which is /ɑː/. But the grammarians have classified it as a back vowel.[24]
  • The ancient Sanskrit grammarians classified the vowel system as velars, retroflexes, palatals and plosives rather than as back, central and front vowels. Hence ए and ओ are classified respectively as palato-velar (a+i) and labio-velar (a+u) vowels respectively. But the grammarians have classified them as diphthongs and in prosody, each is given two mātrās. This does not necessarily mean that they are proper diphthongs, but neither excludes the possibility that they could have been proper diphthongs at a very ancient stage (see above). These vowels are pronounced as long /eː/ and /oː/ respectively by learned Sanskrit Brahmans and priests of today. Other than the «four» diphthongs, Sanskrit usually disallows any other diphthong—vowels in succession, where they occur, are converted to semivowels according to sandhi rules.

Consonants

IAST and Devanagari notations are given, with approximate IPA values in square brackets.

Labial
Ōshtya
Labiodental
Dantōshtya
Dental
Dantya
Retroflex
Mūrdhanya
Palatal
Tālavya
Velar
Kanthya
Glottal
Stop
Sparśa
Unaspirated
Alpaprāna
p प [p] b ब [b] t त [t̪] d द [d̪] ṭ ट [ʈ] ḍ ड [ɖ] c च [c͡ç] j ज [ɟ͡ʝ] k क [k] g ग [ɡ]
Aspirated
Mahāprāna
ph फ [pʰ] bh भ [bʱ] th थ [t̪ʰ] dh ध [d̪ʱ] ṭh ठ [ʈʰ] ḍh ढ [ɖʱ] ch छ [c͡çʰ] jh झ [ɟ͡ʝʱ] kh ख [kʰ] gh घ [ɡʱ]
Nasal
Anunāsika
m म [m] n न [n̪] ṇ ण [ɳ] ñ ञ [ɲ] ṅ ङ [ŋ]
Semivowel
Antastha
v व [ʋ] y य [j]
Liquid
Drava
l ल [l] r र [r]
Fricative
Ūshman
s स [s̪] ṣ ष [ʂ] ś श [ɕ] ḥ ः [h] h ह [ɦ]

The table below shows the traditional listing of the Sanskrit consonants with the (nearest) equivalents in English (as pronounced in General American and Received Pronunciation) and Spanish. Each consonant shown below is deemed to be followed by the neutral vowel schwa (/ə/), and is named in the table as such.

Plosives—Sprshta
Unaspirated
Voiceless
Alpaprāna Śvāsa
Aspirated
Voiceless
Mahāprāna Śvāsa
Unaspirated
Voiced
Alpaprāna Nāda
Aspirated
Voiced
Mahāprāna Nāda
Nasal
Anunāsika Nāda
Velar
Kanthya

/kə/; English: skip

/kʰə/; English: cat

/ɡə/; English: game

/ɡʱə/; somewhat similar to English: doghouse

/ŋə/; English: ring
Palatal
Tālavya

/cə/; English: exchange

/cʰə/; English: church

/ɟə/; ≈English: jam

/ɟʱə/; somewhat similar to English: hedgehog

/ɲə/; English: bench
Retroflex
Mūrdhanya

/ʈə/; No English equivalent

/ʈʰə/; No English equivalent

/ɖə/; No English equivalent

/ɖʱə/; No English equivalent

/ɳə/; No English equivalent
Apico-Dental
Dantya

/t̪ə/; Spanish: tomate

/t̪ʰə/; Aspirated /t̪/

/d̪ə/; Spanish: donde

/d̪ʱə/; Aspirated /d̪/

/n̪ə/; English: name
Labial
Ōshtya

/pə/; English: spin

/pʰə/; English: pit

/bə/; English: bone

/bʱə/; somewhat similar to English: clubhouse

/mə/; English: mine
Non-Plosives/Sonorants
Palatal
Tālavya
Retroflex
Mūrdhanya
Dental
Dantya
Labial/
Glottal
Ōshtya
Approximant
Antastha

/jə/; English: you

/rə/; English: trip

/l̪ə/; English: love
व (labio-dental)
/ʋə/; English: vase
Sibilant/
Fricative
Ūshman

/ɕə/; English: ship

/ʂə/; Retroflex form of /ʃ/

/s̪ə/; English: same
ह (glottal)
/ɦə/; English behind

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