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The Devanagari Script - Basics

To write, the Indians use their own script, called DEVANAGARI. Hindi is a very easy to read language, since all is read as it's written. The script looks very beautiful and at first maybe strange and kinda unintelligible, since to a beginner all letters look alike. I'm here to prove the opposite - that Hindi is even more logical and easy to read than English. The only "disadvantage" about the Hindi script is that there exist some letters that are written before certain characters, but read after it..., and that there exist many letter combinations forming, for example, one letter from two others, that I unfortunately cannot list all here, for I myself don't know them all! :-) But..., enough of my talking. Let's start learning!

We'll start with a few consonants - ' h, n, d, m, r, k':

That's the letter for the sound "H" as in "Hindi". It's easy to pronounce, as it sounds just the same as English H in HAND. A point here is that every Hindi consonant "inherits" the vowel A with it. So if you see "H" you have to read it "HA". A better understanding you'll gain after learning some more letters and see some examples.

The next letter we will learn is "N". It's the same as the English "N". So, having two letter is quite a treasure :) Let us join them together (by the two only possible ways) and pronounce them!

हन

At first sight, this looks probably to you like "HN", and it is, you're right. BUT, as I told you - with every consonant comes the vowel 'a', so we have to read that as "hana". Another BUT comes into play. In modern Hindi, the last a in a word isn't pronounced, so we have to read this as "HAN". In past times, that is, a very long time ago, that last "a" was pronounced. For example the name of Buddha would be pronounce from a contemporary Hindi speaker as "Siddharth Gautam Buddh", but not as it's known round the world: Siddharta Gautama Buddha.

नह

That would be of course "NAH"

That's "D" as in "hinDi". There is another D in Hindi, which mostly is pronounced as R or as a sound between D/R. We'll deal with it later.

That's the M as in "magnet", same as English M. If we join two Ms we'll have a word, which will be pronounced in Hindi exactly the same way as the English "mom":  मम

R as in "roll". No need of further explanations.

K as in "keen", same as Englis K.

You could be wondering at this stage why I've started with the consonants and not with the vowels (well, you could be also not wondering...). For those wondering (and for those - not), I'll gladly explain. In Hindi there exist two types of vowel letters - detached vowel letters and vowel marks. The latter ones you can (in my opinion) encounter more often than the detached vowels. There is one simple rule about where to use the two types of vowels: If you have to start a word with a vowel OR you have to write a vowel after another vowel OR you have to write a vowel after the nasal mark (which is a dot over the letter) you have to use the detached vowels! In all other cases you have to use the vowel marks. All that will be cleared out after we've learned some vowels.

We'll start with the vowel marks:
(I hope you remember, that every consonant comes with an "A")

A

That's the vowel "A" - a straight vertical line -, usually pronounced a bit longer - "AA". (the dashed little circle left of it isn't written at all, nor it is some kind of letter or character. It's there just to show that this letter cannot stand alone, and to the left of it should be another letter)

हा
ि

I

That's the short "i", pronounced as the i in English "hit". The most important thing about it, you should certainly know, is that it's written before a consonant, but read after it!

हि

I

That's the long version of the "i" (ee), pronounced as the English "ee" in "see". It's written after the consonant.

ही

O

O as in "domain". Not the same as the usual English O, which sounds like "ou".

हो

AU

AU (what is actually "O", but spelled like that to differ from the O, you see above) is pronounced almost like O, but it's a bit of a closed sound and a bit longer.

हौ

U

That's LONG U, as in "coooool".

हु

U

That's the SHORT U as in "look".

हू

E

This E is pronounced as in the English word "hElm". 

हे

AI

That's also an E. It's related to the E in the same way as AU is to O. So it's E, but a bit closed sound.

है

An important thing, before we continue. A dot over a letter nasalizes it. Let's have a look at that "dot":

That mark (a dot) put over a letter nasalizes it (gives it an -n or -ng sound). For example if we have dot over NO, we'll pronounce that as "NO~" (non) - exactly the same as the French word for "no". नो -> नों (no -> no~). In the lessons, I note the nasalized letter as ~

Those were the Vowel Marks, but we won't hurry to learn the other vowels - the detached ones. First, we'll write some words, using the letters we've learned so far:

हिंदी - At last! We can write "HINDI". Now let's have a closer look. First we see that the word starts with "i", but since that the short I, it's read after the next letter, i.e. after the next consonant. So knowing that we have to look at the next letter. It's "H". So far we have "HI", next we see the dot, for which I told you that you should nasalize, so "hi~" (hin). Next two letters: D and the long "i". Now we can read the whole word: "HINDI"... (actually "hi~di", i.e. a nasalized 'i', but in middle of words I don't use the ~ to show nasalization, but a plain N).

है - "hai". Means "is".

हैं- "hai~" (hain), meaning 'are'.

मैं - "mai~" = I

I think it's pretty easy. The beauty of the Devanagari script is not only in its shapes, but also in the easy pronunciation.

Next come the Detached forms of the Vowels:

First, a word about them. They're used after a vowel or at the beginning of a word, which starts with a  vowel. They have exactly the same pronounciation as their cousins - the vowel marks:

A

That's the sound, which is the equivalent of the "inherited a", I told you about - which comes after every consonant, if there is not other vowel.

AA

Equivalent of ा - pronounce it the same way

I

Same as the short i vowel mark.

I

Same as the long i vowel mark.

O

Same as the O vowel mark.

AU

Same as AU vowel mark.

U

Same as long U vowel mark.

U

Same as short U vowel mark.

E

Same as E vowel mark.

AI

Same as AI vowel mark.

As I told you, those sounds are pronounced exactly the same way as the vowel marks, so no need to explain here. I'll just give you some examples:

एक - "ek" = one

उन्नीस - "unnis" = nineteen

आप- "aap" = you

उनका - "unka" = Their

अब - "ab" = now

आंख - "aankh" = eye

अच्छ- "accha" = good

और - "aur" = and

भाई - "bhai" = brother

Don't bother about the letters you don't know. We'll learn them in a short time. The more important thing is that you should recognize and see the detached vowels. Now I'll continue with comparatively a full list of Hindi consonants. Learning them you make you able to read in Hindi. Of course as I said in the beginning, there exist many combinations of letters etc, but they don't appear very often. For convenience I'll show the consonants in groups.

 

Gutturals (sound is made from the back of throat)
K KH G GH
Palatals (sound is made by the tongue touching the hard palate)
CH CCH J JH
Cerebrals (sound is made by rolling the tongue)
T TH D DH
Dentals (sound is made by the tongue touching the teeth)
T' TH' D' DH' N
Labials (sound is made with lips almost closed or closed - by M)
P F B BH M
Semi Vowels (pronounced with lips and throat open)
ज़
Y R L V/W Z
Sibliants / Aspirants
SH SSH S H
Compound and Others
क्ष त्र ज्ञ श्र
KSH T'R GY SHR RI

Double Letters (formed only from one consonant, but which is doubled. Actually easy to spot)
(* Note that on some browsers, you won't see the letters properly and instead of seeing one letter under another, you'll see one letter left to another with the first letter having under it the special mark, called "viraama" to make it semi-consonant.)

क्क ट्ट ठ्ठ त्त न्न ड्ड द्द
KK TT TTH T'T' NN
(*Note the similarity with TR)
DD D'D'

After learning all that letter you should be able to read Hindi texts! Well, you could encounter occasionally some compound letters, but that'll be pretty seldom. Now, just one thing before we end that lesson, and it's very important thing: THE HALF CONSONANTS:

I told you that every consonant comes with the vowel "a" with it. So when you see "SM" you should read this as "SAM". But what if you want to say something that begins with "SM", not "SAM". You cannot write such thing in Hindi you may think, but that's not so. For such occasions, where one want to mute the inherited A-vowel, there exist a special mark called "virama". It's put below the letter and if you see a letter with such mark you don't have to pronounce "A" after it. Let us see how that virama-thing looks like:

टम = T + M = TAM
ट्म = T + virama + M = TM

You see the small mark under the T? I bet you do! Well, that's the virama, it mutes the A, so we pronounce "TM", not "TAM". However as useful it may be, it's not used that much! Why? Almost all consonants in Hindi have their "HALF CONSONANT" equivalent, so it's not necessary to write the virama, but instead of this one has to write the corresponding half consonant. Half consonant are extremely easy to notice, since they look like the left half of a consonant. Lemme give you some examples:

सस = S + S = SAS
सक = S + K = SAK
स्स = Half S + S = SS
स्क = Half S + K = SK

Easy, huh?

By the way, some half letter do combine with the next consonant and change shape. I'll give you some of the most used (i.e. those which you may encounter more often):

Half Letter + N:
(again: on some browsers you won't see the proper combinations, but consonant + virama + n)

ब् + न = ब्न
ह् + न = ह्न
ग् + न = ग्न
द् + न = द्न
प् + न = प्न
र् + न = र्न  * that needs an extended explanation, see below
क् + न = क्न
त् + न = त्न
म् + न = म्न
व् + न = व्न
स् + न = स्न

 

Half Letter + R:

ब् + र = ब्र
ह् + र = ह्र
ग् + र = ग्र
द् + र = द्र
ज् + र = ज्र
ड् + र = ड्र
प् + र = प्र
र् + र = र्र * that needs an extended explanation, see below
क् + र = क्र
त् + र = त्र
च् + र = च्र
ट् + र = ट्र
म् + र = न्र
न् + र = न्र
व् + र = व्र
ल् + र = ल्र
स् + र = स्र
य् + र = य्र

Note HOW similar the "half letter + N" and "half letter + R" are. There is only one little difference, something like a little hook on the N version.

HALF R + Consonant:

The half R, followed of course by a consonant, is showed by a mark over the second consonant. This mark looks the same as the mark which differentiate the short i detached vowel from the long detached vowel i. Remember if you see that mark, read it as R, but before the consonant it modifies. Some examples:

र्ह, र्स, र्म, र्न, र्ज, र्द, र्ट, र्त

That letters should be read, according to their order: RH, RS, RM, RN, RJ, RD, RT, RT'

So, that's it. I told you most of what I know about the Hindi script, and what's more important, I told you as much as you'll need to know to be able to read most Hindi texts. For example, you can test yourself by reading (although not understanding) the Hindi version of the web-site of BBC. There you can find some names of countries or famous people, written in Devangari. That's what I did to show you some examples:

पाकिस्तान = Pakistan
ताजमहल = Tajmahal
केनेडी = Kennedy
बग़दाद = Baghdad
क्रिकेट = Cricket
वेबगाइड = Webguide
इंटरनेट = Internet
माइक्रोसॉफ़्ट = Microsoft
इराक़ = Iraq
सद्दाम हुसैन = Saddam Husein
ग़ज़ा = Gaza
इसराइल = Izrael
इंडोनेशिया = Indonesia
मेडागास्कर = Madagascar
श्रीलंका = ShriLanka
ईरान = Iran
कॉलिन पॉवेल = Colin Powel
अल्जीरिया = Algeriya
बुश = Bush (yeah, the president of the USA)
अमरीका = America
यूरोप = Europe
तुर्की = Turkey
फ़्रेंच = French
मोनिका = Monika
यूरो = Euro
कोरिया = Korea

I hope my short explanation about the Devanagari script had helped you. However, I cannot pretend to have included all about this script, but this is enough for a beginning and more than enough to read the next lessons.

2003, Lessons made by somebody

 

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