April 24, 2013

Lesson 1: Introduction to Devanagari

Welcome to the first lesson!

In this lesson, you will learn about Devanagari, the script used to write Hindi.

This lesson is just an introduction. I’ll talk about Devanagari in more detail in the next few lessons.

I’m going to talk about the spelling of two words: देवनागरी and नमस्ते.

The Spelling of देवनागरी

Here’s how the word “Devanagari” is written:

देवनागरी

Click the button to hear how it sounds.

Let’s look at the spelling of देवनागरी:

देवनागरी +   + () +  + + () + +  

Notice how every letter has a horizontal line on top. When the letters are put together, the word has a horizontal line on top.

Now let’s look at each letter.

The letter 

The first letter is . Here’s how this letter sounds:

It sounds like a ‘d’, doesn’t it? There is an important difference, though. Here’s how to pronounce this letter: first, say the “th” sound in the word “the”. Feel where your tongue is. Do you feel how it is touching your teeth? Now, keep your tongue in the same place and pronounce a ‘d’ sound. In other words, don’t blow any air between your tongue and teeth like you do when you say “the”. You will probably pronounce correctly.

All consonants that are pronounced with the tongue touching the teeth like are called dental consonants.

Try to say  a few times. When you say it, say it with an “a” vowel (as in “amaze”), like “duh”. Practice it a few times and compare your pronunciation with the recording.

Great! You’ve learned a letter!

Letters in Hindi don’t have names like letters in English. Just pronounce a vowel to refer to it, and pronounce a consonant with the same “a” vowel that you pronounced with .

The letter ( )

Now let’s look at the second letter:  .

This letter is the vowel . All vowels have two forms. When a vowel comes after a consonant, its maatraa form is used. The maatraa form of  is  . Here’s how it looks with the consonant दे. It is a diagonal line that is above the letter.

The vowel  is pronounced like the “ay” in “pay”. Here’s how it sounds:

)

Listen to how it sounds a few times. Now, try to pronounce it.

When do we use  then? Here are a few examples:

Word Pronunciation
एक
जाइए

In the first example, came at the beginning of the word. In the second example,  came after a vowel.

So, the answer is:

We use the independent form any time that a vowel doesn’t come after a consonant.

The letter

Okay, let’s move on to the next letter: . It is sometimes pronounced like a “w”, and sometime like a “v”. With some experience, you’ll learn which pronunciation to use with which words. In the word देवनागरी, it is pronounced like a “v”.

Try to pronounce this letter a few times, and listen to the audio recording.

The letter

Let’s talk about the next letter.

Notice that I wrote it as ():

देवनागरी +   + () +  + + () + +  

What does that mean? is pronounced like the “a” in “amaze”. Remember how you pronounced ? You pronounced it with .

has no maatraa form. In Devanagari, if a consonant doesn’t have a maatraa, then it is followed by the default vowel: . If there is no maatraa, then  is implied.

When a vowel comes before the consonant before , and a vowel comes after the consonant after , it often isn’t pronounced. Look at the word देवनागरी. The vowel   comes before the first , and the vowel  comes after it. “Devanagari” is pronounced as if it were written “Devnagri”.

Don’t worry. This might seem complicated, but once you start using it, it won’t be hard. I’ll give more examples later. Just remember:

  • is the default vowel
  • Sometimes, is not pronounced.

The letter

Okay, next letter: . It’s pronounced like “n”. Do you remember how you pronounced ? Put your tongue in the same place again. Feel where your tongue is when you say the “th” in “the”. Keep your tongue there, and make an “n” sound. You’ll probably pronounce  correctly this way. In other words, it is another dental consonant.

Try it a few times. Listen to the audio recording and compare your pronunciation.

The letter

Okay – now you’ve learned the first five letters of the word देवनागरी. The next one is . is a vowel. It is pronounced like the “a” in “awesome”, but your mouth should be more open.

It’s maatraa form is . The maatraa is written to the right of the consonant.

)

Listen to the recording. Try to pronounce it a few times.

The letter

On to the next letter:  is pronounced like the “g” in “go”.

The letter (again)

The next letter is again the default vowel: देवनागरी +   + () +  + + () + +  

Why is it there? There’s no maatraa following the .

Is it pronounced or not? It isn’t pronounced since there are vowels on both sides: the vowel ) on the left, and the vowel ) on the right.

The letter

The next letter is . It is pronounced like ‘r’. It even looks like an “R” doesn’t it? It is usually flapped (i.e. “rolled”, but quickly).

Listen to the pronunciation and try to pronounce it a few times:

The vowel )

The final letter is . The vowel  is pronounced like the “i” in “thing” or the “ee” in “feet”. It’s maatraa form is .

Listen to its pronunciation and try to pronounce it a few times.

)

Now you know every letter in the word देवनागरी!

Try to pronounce that word a few times:

देवनागरी

What you’ve learned so far

So, to review, you’ve learned the following letters: , ), , , , ), , ).

Here are a few words with these letters. First try to pronounce them, then listen to their pronunciation to see if you got it right.

WORD PRONUNCIATION Meaning
नए New (plural)
देव god/demigod
देवी goddess/demigoddess
दावा Claim
दवा Medicine / Drug
वादा Promise
नाग Snake
गाना Song / To Sing
गीत Music
राग Musical term, like “scale” or “mode”
वरना Or else / otherwise
आग Fire
नान A kind of bread
नींद Sleep
आना To come
Not
दांत Tooth
दादा Paternal grandfather
दादी Paternal grandmother
वेद Scripture (religious)
गीता The Gita (Hindu text)
दर्द Pain

Some words had a dot. A dot can mean several different things. In all of the examples above, the dot represents . For instance, नींद can be spelled नींद or नीन्द, but नींद is more common. This dot is called an anusvar. A dot can represent other things too.  We’ll discuss them later.

The word दर्द has a little “hook” on the top right. This is one way that the letter is written. We’ll talk about this more later.

See – you can already read and say a lot of words!

The word नमस्ते

Let’s learn another word: नमस्ते (“namaste”). Maybe you’ve heard this word before.

नमस्ते

नमस्ते is a formal greeting in Hindi. Let’s look at its spelling:

नमस्ते = + () + + () + + +

You already know . Remember, if no vowel is written between two consonants, there is an implied . The next consonant is . It is pronounced like “m”. The consonant is . It is pronounced like “s”.

Notice how is written in नमस्ते. The line on the right side is missing, and it is joined to the next letter, . This is called a “conjunct”. A conjunct is used when the vowel is not pronounced between two letters. Thus, there’s no between the and . Notice that I didn’t write () between them.

is pronounced like ‘t’, but it is a dental consonant.

Finally, the last vowel is , which you already know.

Okay – try to say नमस्ते. Then, listen to the following recordings:

Letter Pronunciation

Okay, you’ve just learned 3 new letters!

Some more examples

Here are some more words. Try to pronounce them all. Listen to the audio recordings.

Word Pronunciation Meaning
सम्मान Respect
मन Mind
मर्द Man
मदद Help
समान Similar
सामान Things/Stuff/Luggage
समानता Similarity
मस्त Used as slang, like “cool!”, “great!”
मत Not
ममता Motherly affection
देना To give
सेना Military
रास्ता Way/Path

Summary

You’ve learned a lot in this lesson. Here’s what you learned:

  • Hindi is written using a script called “Devanagari”
  • The letters , ( ), , , , ( ), , , ( ), , ,
  • All vowels have two forms, the independent form and the maatraa form.
    • The independent form is used when a vowel is not preceded by a consonant.
    • Otherwise, the maatraa form is used.
  • The vowel has no maatraa form. It is the default vowel. It is sometimes not pronounced when there are adjacent vowels.
  • The default vowel can be suppressed with a conjunct.

Exercises

Read each of the following words. First, try to pronounce them. Then, listen to the recording to see if you pronounced it correctly.

Word Meaning Pronunciation
नदी  river
मनस्वी Manasvee (girl’s name), “thoughtful person”
संत  saint
दस  ten
गाव  village
अनंत  endless/infinite
वेद  Veda (scripture)
संगीत  Music
संगीता Sangita (girl’s name)
संग together
देसी  “desi”, fellow countryman, hence “Indian”
नाम  name
मानव  human being
मानना  to believe, suppose
मनाना  to celebrate, to conciliate, to convince
मना  forbidden, prohibited
मामी  mother’s brother’s wife
माता  mother
तीन  three
  • Katka Látalová

    Really big thanks to you. It´s something completely different from the “gramatical” articles, summaries… mostly because of the pronounciation recordings. These are really great and useful. And for me it´s a good way how to practise reading the devanagari, too. Like I´ve said, I´ll be glad if you post another lessons, similar to this one 🙂

    • You’re welcome! I’m glad that you like this lesson. I will consider adding new lessons. You are welcome to “like” the Facebook page, “follow” the Twitter account, or subscribe to e-mail notifications for updates, if you haven’t already. I have written drafts for a few more lessons, but they require more work before they will be ready.