Sanskrit Pronunciation Guide

 

Sanskrit Pronunciation Guide


The following simplified guide to pronunciation of Sanskrit phonemes is largely from the work of Charles Wikner, with help from Indian friends Vikas Alathur and Anima Pundeer. I then simplified the scheme based on my (mis)understanding and for ease of recall. Sanskrit sounds are produced primarily from one of five parts of the mouth cavity: guttural (from the back of the mouth as it narrows to form the throat; the 'a' vowel is an example) and successively toward the front of the mouth, palatal ('i'),  cerebral ('r'), dental (behind the teeth; 'l'), and labial (with the lips; 'u').  Wikner lumps the cerebral and dental consonants together, since the sounds are difficult for the Westerner to distinguish. (Cerebrals are written with a dot under them in Sanskrit and are capitalized in the ITRANS representation, which Wickner otherwise follows.) See A Practical Sanskrit Introductory by Charles Wikner for more detailed information. You may also be interested in taking a look at a Sanskrit dictionary (for which you'll need the alphabetical order described by Wickner).

Eng.

Phon.

Approximate pronunciation:

a

u

u as in but; NOT bat; final 'a' is not pronounced

a

aa

a as in arm, harm; NOT ham; long-a, sometimes written as a with a horizontal line over it; indicates duration, NOT two syllables

ai

ai

i as in fight, aisle, pie

au

au

down, hound

b

b

be, cab, imbibe; labial

bh

bh

clubhouse ('club-bhouse'); labial

c, ch

ch

cello, chair, church; palatal

ch

chh

like the 'chh' in coach-horse ('coa-chhorse'); palatal

d

d

day, dog, god; cerebral, dental

dh

dh

redhead ('red-dhead'); cerebral, dental

e

e

English long-a as in fate, fair, eight

g

g

goal, give, bug; guttural

gh

gh

loghouse ('log-ghouse'); guttural

h(a)

h

unvoiced aspirate: like the initial release of breath before the 'h' in hurry; or, following a consonant with a puff of audible breath before the next sound begins, as in pit and kit

h

H

an unvoiced breath following a vowel; e.g., aH would be pronounced as the 'uh' in uhh!

i

i

i as in bit, pink

i, ee

ee

ee as in peep, meet; long-i, sometimes written as i with a horizontal line over it; indicates duration, NOT two syllables

j

j

just, jolly, joy; palatal

jh

jh

hedgehog ('hej-jhog'); palatal

jn

j^n

whenever j is followed by palatal ^n, they are pronounced as one syllable j^n (the 'j' much like the French j in 'Jean', along with the strongly nasalized ^n); NOT ja-na (two syllables)

k

k

kiss, kiln, back; guttural

kh

kh

bunkhouse ('bung-khouse'); guttural

ksh

k^sh

whenever k is followed by cerebral sh, they are pronounced as one syllable k^sh; NOT ka-sha (two syllables)

l, li

l^

table for the vowel 'l'; l^d would be uld, NOT lid

l(a)

l

luck for the consonant (partial vowel); dental

m

m

amble, mumble; labial

m

M

a nasal sound following a vowel; e.g., aM would be pronounced as the 'um' in numb

n

n

gentle, hand, gain; cerebral, dental

n

^n

enjoy, canyon, pinch; palatal; sometimes written with a tilde (~) over the n or as N^

n, ng

ng

sing, long, tongue; guttural; sometimes written as n with a dot under it or as JN

o

o

between owe and awe

p

p

pick, pat, tap; labial

ph

ph

uphill ('up-phill'); labial; NOT 'ph' as in phone

r, ri

r^

acre for the vowel 'r'; r^d would be urd, NOT rid

r(a)

r

rum for the consonant (partial vowel); cerebral

s

s

seek, kiss; dental

s

sh^

like the German ich, reich; palatal; sometimes written as an s with an acute accent over it

sh

sh

ship, wish; cerebral; sometimes written as s with a dot under it

t

t

tub, top, cut; cerebral, dental

th

th

anthill ('an-thill'); cerebral, dental; NOT 'th' as in this

u

u

u as in put

u, oo

oo

oo as in boot; long-u, sometimes written as u with a horizontal line over it

v(a)

v

water (labial); somewhat between the English 'v' and 'w' sounds; sometimes written as w in the English

y(a)

y

yum; palatal

                     
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