Sanskrit Revival - Phonology - Vowels


The vowels of Classical Sanskrit written in Devanagari, as a syllable-initial letter and as a diacritic mark on the consonant प् (/p/), pronunciation transcribed in IPA, IAST, and approximate equivalent in English:

Letter प् IPA IAST English equivalent (GA unless stated otherwise)
/ɐ/ or /ə/ a short near-open central vowel or schwa: u in bunny
पा /ɑː/ ā long open back unrounded vowel: a in father (RP)
पि /i/ i short close front unrounded vowel: e in england
पी /iː/ ī long close front unrounded vowel: ee in feet
पु /u/ u short close back rounded vowel: oo in foot
पू /uː/ ū long close back rounded vowel: oo in cool
पृ /r̩/ syllabic alveolar trill: closest to er in butter in rhotic accents
पॄ /r̩ː/ syllabic alveolar trill: closest to ir in bird in rhotic accents
पॢ /l̩/ syllabic dental lateral approximant: le in turtle
पॣ /l̩ː/ syllabic dental lateral approximant: longer le
पे /eː/ e long close-mid front unrounded vowel: a in bane (some speakers)
पै /əi/ ai a long diphthong: i in ice, i in kite (US, Canadian, and Scottish English)
पो /oː/ o long close-mid back rounded vowel: o in bone (Scottish English)
पौ /əu/ au a long diphthong: ou in house (Canadian English)

The long vowels are pronounced twice as long as their short counterparts. Also, there exists a third, extra-long length for most vowels, called pluti, which is used in various cases, but particularly in the vocative. The pluti is not accepted by all grammarians.

The vowels /e/ and /o/ continue as allophonic variants of Proto-Indo-Iranian /ai/, /au/ and are categorized as diphthongs by Sanskrit grammarians even though they are realized phonetically as simple long vowels.

Additional points:

  • There are some additional signs traditionally listed in tables of the Devanagari script:
    • The diacritic ं called anusvāra, (IAST: ṃ). It is used both to indicate the nasalization of the vowel in the syllable and to represent the sound of a syllabic /n/ or /m/; e.g. पं /pəŋ/.
    • The diacritic ः called visarga, represents /əh/ (IAST: ḥ); e.g. पः /pəh/.
    • The diacritic ँ called chandrabindu, not traditionally included in Devanagari charts for Sanskrit, is used interchangeably with the anusvāra to indicate nasalization of the vowel, primarily in Vedic notation; e.g. पँ /pə̃/.
  • If a lone consonant needs to be written without any following vowel, it is given a halanta/virāma diacritic below (प्).
  • The vowel /aː/ in Sanskrit is realized as being more central and less back than the closest English approximation, which is /ɑː/. But the grammarians have classified it as a back vowel.
  • The ancient Sanskrit grammarians classified the vowel system as velars, retroflexes, palatals and plosives rather than as back, central and front vowels. Hence ए and ओ are classified respectively as palato-velar (a+i) and labio-velar (a+u) vowels respectively. But the grammarians have classified them as diphthongs and in prosody, each is given two mātrās. This does not necessarily mean that they are proper diphthongs, but neither excludes the possibility that they could have been proper diphthongs at a very ancient stage. These vowels are pronounced as long /eː/ and /oː/ respectively by learned Sanskrit Brahmans and priests of today. Other than the "four" diphthongs, Sanskrit usually disallows any other diphthong—vowels in succession, where they occur, are converted to semivowels according to sandhi rules.

Read more about this topic:  Sanskrit Revival, Phonology

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