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In Sanskrit, there is no accentuation but a flow of long and short
syllables. A long syllable (called guru) is held exactly twice as long
as a short syllable (called laghu). Long syllables are those containing
the vowels a, i, u, e, ai, o and au; with the modifiers m or h added; or
any syllable followed by a double consonant (excepting aspirated
consonants, which are counted as a single consonant: these include
kh, gh, jh, ch, th, dh, th, dh, ph, and bh).
In English, we are accustomed to pronouncing most vowels as
diphthongs: the mouth moves while pronouncing the vowel sound.
Thus the “aw” sound in “law” is not the same as the Sanskrit a. This is
also true of the Sanskrit o and e. The Sanskrit o is like o in “go” but
the mouth does not move while pronouncing it. This is common to
all Indian languages. Similarly, the Sanskrit e is like ay in “hay” but
the mouth does not move while pronouncing it. Sanskrit contains
two diphthongs, ai and au, but they are composed of two simple
vowel sounds joined together. They are closer to “uh-ih” and “uhooh”
than to “eye” and “ow”.
Keeping the above in mind, here are the Sanskrit vowels arranged
in the ancient order used by Sanskrit grammarians:
a - like u in but.
a - like a in father.
i - like i in pin.
i - like ea in peak.
u - like u in push.
u - like u in rule.
ri - like ri in ring.
l - like llri in bellringer.
e - like ay in pay. (See note above)
ai - like i in rise.
o - like o in show.
au - like ow in bow.
m - a simple nasal stop, like ng in sing.
h - like h in “aha!” it echoes the preceding vowel at the end of
a line. Before hard consonants like k and p it becomes a simple
stoppage of breath.
k - like k in look. Normally this is pronounced with breath,
and most English speakers will have to practice pronouncing initial
k without breath.
kh - like kh in look-hard.
g - like g in log. See note above for k.
gh - like gh in dog-house.
n - like n in sing.
c - like ch in reach.
ch - like ch-h in beach-house.
j - like dge in ridge.
jh - like dge-h in dodge-hard.
n - like n in punch.
t - like t in bat. Pronounced with the tongue against the front
gum ridge behind the upper row of teeth.
th - like t-h in boat-house. See note for t.
d - like d in bad. See note for t.
dh - like d-h in road-house. See note for t.
n - like n in horn. Like t, pronounced with the tongue against
the alveolar ridge.
t, th, d, dh, n - like their English equivalents, but with the
tongue against the back of the upper front teeth. This is lighter than
the sounds normally used in English.
p - like p in keep.
ph - like p-h in stop-hard. This is similar to the normal p in
English, and the p without breath is not found in English.
b - like b in rub.
bh - like bh in rub-hard.
m - like m in mother.
y - like y in young.
r - like r in very as a British speaker might pronounce it. Not
guttural but almost like “d” with the tongue flapping briefly against
the gum ridge behind the upper front teeth.
l - like l in lock.
v - like v in victory. When following t or v, like w in twain.
sh - halfway between sh in shy and s in sigh.
n - like sh in shy.
s - like s in song.
h - like h in hard.