Hindi-Urdu Phonology - Consonants


Hindustani has a core set of 28 consonants inherited from earlier Indo-Aryan. Supplementing these are 2 consonants that are internal developments in specific word-medial contexts, and 7 consonants originally found in loan words, whose expression is dependent on factors such as status (class, education, etc.) and cultural register (Modern Standard Hindi vs Urdu).

Most native consonants may occur geminate (doubled in length; exceptions are /bʱ, ɽ, ɽʱ, ɦ/). Geminate consonants are always medial and preceded by one of the interior vowels (that is, /ə/, /ɪ/, or /ʊ/). They all occur monomorphemically except, which occurs only in a few Sanskrit loans where a morpheme boundary could be posited in between (i.e. /nɪʃ + ʃiːl/ for 'without shame').

For the English speaker, a notable feature of the Hindustani consonants is that there is a four-way distinction of phonation among plosives, rather than the two-way distinction found in English. The phonations are:

  1. tenuis, as /p/, which is like ⟨p⟩ in English spin
  2. voiced, as /b/, which is like ⟨b⟩ in English bin
  3. aspirated, as /pʰ/, which is like ⟨p⟩ in English pin, and
  4. murmured, as /bʱ/.

The last is commonly called "voiced aspirate", though Shapiro (2003:260) notes that,

"Evidence from experimental phonetics, however, has demonstrated that the two types of sounds involve two distinct types of voicing and release mechanisms. The series of so-called voice aspirates should now properly be considered to involve the voicing mechanism of murmur, in which the air flow passes through an aperture between the arytenoid cartilages, as opposed to passing between the ligamental vocal bands."

The murmured consonants are quite a faithful preservation of these sounds right from Proto-Indo-European, a phonation that was lost in all branches of the Indo-European family except Indo-Aryan. In the IPA, the five murmured consonants can also be transcribed as /b̤/, /d̪̤/, /ɖ̈/, /dʒ̈/ and /ɡ̈/ respectively.

Hindustani consonants
Bilabial Labio-
Retroflex Post-alv./
Velar Uvular Glottal
Nasal m n (ɳ)1
Plosive p



Fricative f s z ʃ (x)1 (ɣ)1 ɦ
Tap or Flap ɾ (ɽ)1
Approximant ʋ l j
  1. Marginal and non-universal phonemes are in parentheses.

Stops in final position are not released; /ʋ/ varies freely as, and can also be pronounced ; /ɾ/ can surface as a trill (mostly in word-initial and syllable-final positions), and geminate /ɾː/ is always a trill, e.g. (ज़रा – زرا 'little') versus well-trilled (ज़र्रा – ذرّہ 'dust'), this happens in loanwords of Arabic and Persian origin. The palatal and velar nasals occur only in consonant clusters, where each nasal is followed by a homorganic stop, as an allophone of a nasal vowel followed by a stop, and in Sanskrit loanwords. There are murmured sonorants, but these are considered to be consonant clusters with /ɦ/ in the analysis adopted by Ohala (1999).

The palatal affricates and sibilant are variously classified by linguists as palatal or post-alveolar or palato-alveolar, hence the sound represented by grapheme श can be transcribed as or, and the grapheme च can be transcribed as, or even plosive . However, in this article, the sounds are transcribed as and respectively. The fricative /h/ in Hindustani is typically voiced (as ), especially when surrounded by vowels, but there is no phonemic difference between this voiceless fricative and its voiced counterpart (Hindustani's ancestor Sanskrit has such a phonemic distinction).

Hindustani also has a phonemic difference between the dental plosives and the so-called retroflex plosives. The dental plosives in Hindustani are pure dentals and the tongue-tip must be well in contact with the front teeth, and have no alveolar articulation like the /t/ and /d/ of English. The retroflex series is not purely retroflex; it actually has an apico-postalveolar (also described as apico-pre-palatal) articulation, and sometimes in words such as /ʈuːʈaː/ (टूटा – ٹُوٹا 'broken') it even becomes alveolar.

In some Indo-Aryan languages, plosives (/ɖ, ɖʱ/) and flaps are allophones in complementary distribution, with the former occurring in initial, geminate and postnasal positions and the latter occurring in intervocalic and final positions. However, in Standard Hindi, the two are in non-allophonic contrast and occur in similar positions, e.g. nīṛaj vs niḍar (bird vs fearless). This phonemic distinction is believed to be shared by several other languages such as Rajasthani (most dialects), Haryanvi, Braj, Bundeli, Punjabi, Sindhi, Dogri and Kashmiri.

Read more about this topic:  Hindi-Urdu Phonology

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