In India, the voice is considered the most important instrument of sound. Sound has the most potent effect on mankind because of Nada Brahma, Aum (Om) the holy vibration of all creation. That is why music has such an important role in our lives. Even more profound is the intimacy and depth of chanting Sanskrit prayers. With this in mind I share with you this sanskrit pronunciation guide.
Most of the words in Sanskrit can be properly pronounced following these basic rules.
- 'C' is always soft as in church.
- When there is a dot under the letter, curl your tongue back and touch it to the roof of the mouth, and then pronounce the letter. The exception is for 'ṃ' which is a nasal 'ṃ'.
- The letter ṣ is pronounced as 'sh' with the tongue rolled back.
- The letter ḥ is aspirated, like a short 'huh' sound.
- 'A' is difficult to learn. The long ā is like 'father', the short a is like 'another'. The 'lazy a' of American English, like the word 'sang', does not exist in Sanskrit.
- 'S' is pronounced like 'saint', but ś is like 'share', and ṣ is 'sh' with tongue rolled back. There is no 'z' sound.
Here are more specific guides:
- a as in u in luck
- ā as in father
- i as in sit
- ī as in feet
- u as in put or foot
- ū as in mute
- e as in jay
- ai as in sigh
- o as in hope
- au as in round
- ṃ nasalise preceding vowel
- ḥ softly echoes the preceding vowel
Most are pronounced as in English except for:
- v close to w
- ś (palatal) as in share
- ṣ (retroflex) with tongue rolled back, similar to dish
- c always soft as in church
- ṅ (velar) like rung
- ñ (palatal) as in canyon
- ṇ (retroflex) with tongue rolled back, similar to nown
Aspirated consonants (kh, gh, ch, jh, th, dh, ph, bh): the h's are pronounced. Note that 'th' is pronounced like hothouse, not as in thanks.
The dental consonants (t th d dh) are pronounced with the tongue on the teeth.
Retroflex consonants (ṭa ṭha ḍa ḍha ṇa) the tongue is curled back to touch the top of the mouth.