The Hindi script (writing system) is called Devanagari.
In Devanagari, the letters in each word hang down from a "clothesline
Every consonant letter by itself automatically includes a short "a" vowel
sound unless otherwise specified. This short "a" sound is like the "a" in
English "about" or "career." In linguistics, this sound has
a special name: "schwa ." Thus the letter
क is pronounced
like the first syllable of the word "career" (consonant and vowel together).
· A consonant's "schwa" can be
changed to any other vowel by using a " matra " sign. A matra
sign is attached to the consonant letter. The matras are also called the dependant
forms of the vowels.
: since schwa is the consonant's "default vowel," there is no matra for schwa.
These three movies show how the vowel matras are used:
In addition to the matras, every vowel letter also has an independent
form. Thus each vowel letter has two forms:
The dependent form (matra) is used to indicate that a vowel (other
than schwa) is attached to a consonant.
The independent form is used when the vowel occurs alone, at the beginning
of a word, or after another vowel. In other words, the independent form is
used whenever there is no consonant for the vowel to attach to. This
movie describes the independent forms of the vowels:
The chart below gives the independent and dependent forms of each vowel. the
dependent vowel matras are shown attached to the letter "sa" =
Dependent Form (matra)
Dependent form with consonant
Pronunciation of consonant+matra
as in about
as in father
as in sin
as in seen
as in book
as in food
as in sad
as in soda
as in saw
Hindi has several consonant sounds that are not found in English. For example,
almost every consonant has an aspirated version as well as an unaspirated
version. Aspirated consonants are pronounced like normal consonants with the
addition of a simultaneous puff of breath.
Hindi distinguishes between the retroflex ”t” sound
(ट) and the dental “t” sound
The retroflex “t” is pronounced with the tongue touching the roof
of the mouth further back than the English “t” sound.
The dental “t” is pronounced with the tongue touching the roof
of the mouth further forward than for the English “t” sound; the
tongue should touch the back of the teeth.
Each of these also has an aspirated version.
Hindi likewise distinguishes between the retroflex ”d” sound
the dental “d” sound
each of these also has an aspirated version.
Here is a chart of all of the consonants you will need for Lesson 1.
= ta (retroflex “t”)
= ta (dental “t”)
= da (unaspirated dental “da”)
= pha (aspirated “p,” NOT “f”)
= chha (aspirated cha)
= ja (as in English “j,” NOT as in French “j”)
Hindi vowels can be nasalized, that is a nasal quality is added to the vowel
sound. The sign for nasalization is a small dot placed above the “clothesline.”
pronounced like the French word “main” (“hand”)
two syllables: the second syllable is a nasalized long "ee" sound.
In some words containing long vowels (e.g.
ऊ ) the
nasalization dot is accompanied by a small moon. This sign is called “chandra bindi.”
like "hoo" with the vowel nasalized
two syllables: the second syllable is a nasalized long "aa" sound.
Remember, every consonant letter automatically is follwed by a "schwa" sound.
What if we want to write a consonant cluster, i.e. two consonants lumped together
without any intervening vowel? In such cases we can literally chop off the
trailing part of the first consonant letter and attach what’s left to
the second consonant.
attached to the following
is attached to the following
Another way of indicating a “half” or “schwa-less”
consonant is the “halant” sign, as shown here under the letter
The halant sign is used mostly in words borrowed from Sanskrit.
The following is a chart of the entire Devanagari alphabet. Don't try to memorize
it all at once. Memorize the letters only as you need them. Also note the
alphabetical order in Hindi. The vowels are listed first, followed by the
consonants. See if you can figure out how the consonant order is determined.
(Note: Letters with dots below them were not part of the original Devanagari
alphabet. They mostly represent "imported" sounds. They are shown below their