March 16, 2013

Lesson 2: Devanagari Vowels

Welcome to lesson 2! In this lesson, you will learn about the vowels in Hindi.

There are 11 vowels: अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ऋ ए ऐ ओ औ.

All vowels have two forms: an independent form, and a maatraa form. The independent form is used whenever a vowel doesn’t follow a consonant (at the beginning of a word, or after another vowel). The maatraa form is used whenever a vowel follows a consonant.

All vowels have two forms: an independent and maatraa form.

The vowel is an exception (it has no explicit maatraa form), which will be explained later.

The following table shows every vowel with its maatraa form, how it looks with the consonant , and its pronunciation.

Vowel Maatraa With Pronounciation
none
का
ि कि
की
कु
कू
कृ
के
कै
को
कौ

The Vowel 

Listen to the audio recording of the vowel :

The vowel  is a special vowel. It is the default vowel. Here’s an example:

मन (“mind”)

Only two letters are written: मन = + . The vowel is implied. The vowel is pronounced between the and the . Thus, the vowel  has no maatraa form. You could think of a space between consonants as representing the vowel .

Here’s an example of  in independent form:

अन्दर (“inside”)

Now, consider the following word:

मोती (“pearl”)

A vowel was written after the : (). Since an explicit vowel was written, the default vowel is overridden. The default vowel is only pronounced if no other vowel is written with a consonant.

Now, consider another word:

हिन्दी (“Hindi”)

The vowel is unusual: its maatraa ( ि ) is written before the consonant. Thus, the first letter of the word हिन्दी is . Since a vowel ( ि ) is written with , the default vowel isn’t there.

The next letter is . Notice how the line on the right side of is missing in the word हिन्दी. That’s because it is written in a conjunct. A conjunct indicates that there is no vowel between two consonants. If a letter has a vertical line like , the line is deleted, and it is appended to the next consonant, like the न्द in हिन्दी. You will learn about conjuncts in future lessons.

There is one more way: The word हिन्दी could also be written हिन््दी. The symbol is called a halant. When it is written underneath a consonant, it means that there is no vowel after that consonant. It is somewhat rare. Conjuncts are much more common. The word हिन्दी is usually not spelled with a halant.

The vowel is generally not pronounced at the end of a word, with the exception of certain one-letter words. Thus, मन is “man”, not “mana”, etc. However, the word is pronounced with the vowel because it is a one-letter word. In Sanskrit, the vowel is pronounced at the end of a word if the word ends with a consonant. For this reason, sometimes, people might pronounce an at the end of certain words. When a word ends with certain conjuncts, such as the word मित्र, a slight is often pronounced, since it is difficult to pronounce without a final vowel.

The vowel is implied after every consonant, unless:

  • Another vowel (maatraa) is written with the consonant
  • The consonant is the first letter of a conjunct
  • A halant is underneath the consonant
  • The consonant is the last letter in a word, and the word has more than one letter

Often, the vowel  is not pronounced. If there is a vowel on both sides of the consonants around , then it is often not pronounced. For instance, in the name “केतकी“, there is a (in maatraa form). It is surrounded by consonants ( and ). There are vowels on both sides of those consonants ( and ). Thus, the is not pronounced. The name is pronounced “Ketki”, even though it is still spelled “Ketaki”.

In fact, this is very common. The reason that it is so common is because many word endings beginning with with are added to words. Every infinitive has the suffix ना, for instance, which is added with the vowel to the verb stem.

Sometimes, the vowel is just pronounced lightly or quickly in these situations, but not fully omitted.

Often, when singing, singers will pronounce the in order to emphasize the word or make the word match the rhythm, etc.

If the vowel is surrounded by consonants, and the consonants are surrounded by vowels, then it is generally not pronounced.

Here are several examples; notice how some vowels are not pronounced:

Word Meaning Pronunciation
नमकीन salty snack food
गलती mistake
करना to do
देवनागरी Devanagari
ममता motherly affection

The vowel is sometimes pronounced like the “e” in “end”. If there are two  vowels on both sides of the letter , then both vowels are usually pronounced like “e”. However, this is technically not the proper pronunciation.

The vowel is often pronounced differently by native speakers when two vowels are on both sides of the consonant

Here are a few examples:

Word Meaning Pronunciation Proper Pronunciation
बहन sister
कहना to say
पहनना to wear
अहम important
महल palace

The Vowel

The vowel  is pronounced like the “a” in “call”, but it is more open (your mouth should be a little more open). Its maatraa form is . The maatraa is written to the right of the consonant.

)

Here is an example word:

दावा (“claim”)

Notice how there were two maatraa forms of this vowel in the previous example ( ).

Here’s an example of the independent form ():

आग (“fire”)

The Vowel 

The vowel  is usually pronounced like the “i” in “it”. When it is at the end of a word, it is often pronounced like the “ee” in “feet”. Technically, the distinction between the vowel and the vowel is duration; is pronounced for a longer amount of time. However, in modern Hindi, they are usually pronounced distinctly, regardless of duration.

Its maatraa form is ि. Its maatraa form is written to the left of the consonant. It is the only maatraa that is written to the left of its corresponding consonant. All other maatraas are written to the right of, above, or below the consonant. Note how the curve on the top goes toward the right.

ि )

Here’s an example of the maatraa in a word:

स्थित (“located / situated”)

Here’s another example; notice how it is pronounced differently when it appears at the end of a word:

स्थिति (“position / situation”)

Here’s an example of the independent form:

इधर (“here”)

This vowel can tend to be pronounced more like when it is followed by or other vowels, etc. Here are two examples:

इन्द्रिय (“sense [bodily, etc.]”)
आइए (“come”)

The Vowel 

The vowel  is pronounced like the “ee” in “feet”. Its maatraa form is . Note how the curve goes toward the left. The maatraa is written to the right of the consonant.

)

Here’s an example of the maatraa form:

पीठ (“back [of body]”)

Here’s an example of the independent form:

स्थाई (“permanent / long-lasting”)

The Vowel

The vowel is pronounced like the “u” in “put”. Its maatraa form is written below the consonant. Technically, the distinction between and is the duration; is pronounced for a shorter amount of time, and is pronounced for a longer amount of time. However, in modern Hindi, they are pronounced distinctly, regardless of the duration.

( )

Here’s an example of the maatraa:

सबुत (“proof”)

Here’s an example of the independent form:

उपेक्षा (“neglect”)

The Vowel

The vowel is pronounced like the “oo” in “boot”. Its maatraa form is and it is written below the consonant.

( )

Here’s an example of the maatraa:

भूमिका (“role”)

Here’s an example of the independent form:

ऊपर (“above”)

The vowel has a special form when used with the consonant : रु. Here is an example:

रुपया (“rupee”)

The Vowel

The vowel is really a semi-vowel. It is pronounced like the “ri” in “rip”. Some speakers pronounce it like the “ree” in “reed”. The “r” sound is flapped (i.e. “rolled”) by the tongue.

In the Marathi language, it is pronounced like the “ru” in “rumor”. Thus, for instance, if you meet someone named ऋषि from Maharashtra, the name might be pronounced “Rushi”, rather than “Rishi”.

Its maatraa form is written below the consonant.

( )

Here’s an example of the maatraa:

कृपया (formal “please”)

Here’s an example of the independent form:

ऋचा (female name, “verse / hymn”)

The Vowel

The vowel is pronounced like the “ey” in “hey”. Its maatraa form is written above the consonant.

( )

Here’s an example of the maatraa:

सेना (“army / military”)

Here’s an example of the independent form:

जाइए (“go”)

The Vowel

The vowel is pronounced like the “a” in “bat”. Its maatraa form is written above the consonant.

( )

Here’s an example of the maatraa:

बैठना (“to sit”)

Here’s an example of the independent form:

ऐश (“revelry”)

The Vowel

The vowel is pronounced like the “o” in “bow”. It is a pure vowel, not a glide like the English “o”, however. In other words, the lips generally do not taper when pronouncing it. Its maatraa form is , which is written to the right of the consonant.

( )

Here’s an example of the maatraa:

मोती (“pearl”)

Here’s an example of the independent form:

आओ (“come”)

The Vowel

The vowel is pronounced like the “aw” in “saw”. It is a rounded vowel. Its maatraa form is , which is written to the right of the consonant.

( )

Here’s an example of the maatraa form:

सौ (“hundred”)

Here’s an example of the independent form:

औरत (“woman”)

Review

Here’s what you learned:

  • There are 11 vowels in Devanagari: अ आ इ ई उ ऊ ऋ ए ऐ ओ औ
  • Every vowel has two forms, the independent and maatraa form
    • The independent form is used when a vowel does not follow a consonant, such as at the beginning of a word, or
      after another vowel.
    • The maatraa form is used otherwise, that is, when a vowel follows a consonant
  • The vowel is special.
    • It has no maatraa form. It is implied after every consonant, except in the following cases:
      • The consonant has a halant ( ) underneath it
      • The consonant is the first member of a conjunct
      • The consonant is followed by another vowel
      • The consonant is the last letter of a word that has more than one letter
    • It is sometimes not pronounced. If it is surrounded by two consonants, and those two consonants are surrounded by vowels, then it is generally not pronounced. Sometimes, it is pronounced, however.
    • If there are two vowels on either side of the consonant , then both vowels are usually pronounced like the “e” in “bed”.
  • The vowel , when following , is written रु

Exercises

  1. Identify all the vowels in the following words:
    1. परिस्थिति
    2. मनाना
    3. औसत
    4. स्त्रोत
    5. घृणा
    6. तोता
    7. एकता
    8. कबूतर
    9. उत्तर
    10. कुत्ता
    11. परिणाम
    12. रेगिस्तान
    13. बनाइए
    14. इतिहास
    15. साहित्य
    16. सौर
    17. जाओ
    18. अन्दर
    19. आसमान
    20. मीठा
    21. भाई
    22. उबना
    23. टिकाऊ
    24. साबुत
    25. पैमाना
    26. ऐनक
    27. विस्फोट
    28. औसत
    29. ऋतू
    30. रूचि
  2. Determine which of the vowels in the following words are not pronounced:
    1. करना
    2. अवकाश
    3. मानना
    4. अवसर
    5. अवतार
    6. जानना
    7. आसमान
  3. How is the vowel pronounced in the following words?
    1. बहस
    2. सहना
  4. In the word परिस्थिति, the first two vowels are pronounced differently than the last one by many speakers. Why?
  5. In the word सम्मान, no vowel is pronounced between the two consonants. Why?
  6. In some contexts people will pronounce an vowel at the end of the word धर्म, but often no vowel is pronounced. Why? Hint: this word means “religion”, and it is a Sanskrit word.