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Hindi Pronunciation Posted by on Dec 20, 2018 in Hindi Language

As you will have realized in your studies of Hindi thus far, there are certain sounds in the Hindi language that prove a challenge for English speakers and those more well-acquainted with Romance and/or other Germanic languages. In this blog, I’ll be going over a few of those sounds that usually prove challenging to non-native speakers, with some examples to aid the learning process.

Unlike English and many other languages, Hindi does not have an alphabet per se; rather, it has a syllabary, which is a set of written characters that correspond with syllables. In contrast, an alphabet’s letters (for this we’ll take English as an example) do not always correspond well with the basic syllables of the language or even the most essential sounds. For example, the letter “A” in English is often pronounced “ay” whereas, the letter “a” is capable of having many different sounds depending on which word you find it in, such as the long “ahh” sound in “father,” the similar “ay” sound in “hay” and the hard, almost nasal “aa” sound in “cat.”

Dissimilarly, in Hindi, the letter आ (aa) makes the sound “aah” in words, perfectly corresponding with its sound in the syllabary, which is another testament to Hindi’s phonetic nature (what you see is what you get). The logical order of the sounds in the Hindi syllabary descends from one of the most sophisticated languages ever conceived: Sanskrit, the classical language of India. Each syllable is ordered according to the position in the mouth in which you make it as well, the position of your tongue while uttering the sound and, in some cases, how air passes through the throat or nose while making the sound.

The organs of pronunciation. 1. Nose; 2. Lips; 3. Teeth; 4. Palate; 5 Hard palate; 6. Soft palate; 7. Tongue; 8. Pharynx; 9. Larynx; 10. Epiglottis; 11. 12. Vocal folds; 13. Esophagus. Image by Obsuser on Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

And now, without further ado, let’s tackle our first difficult-to-pronounce sound:

ट  

This syllable, sometimes rendered as “ṭ,” is a retroflex sound, which basically means that the tongue, instead of touching the back of the front teeth as our tongues often do when pronouncing a “t” in English, curls up to touch the palate at the top of the mouth, resulting in a relatively “hard” sound. In addition, this sound is meant to be unaspirated, meaning very little breath should leave your mouth while you say it. To test this out, you should try to utter this sound while placing a hand in front of your mouth – if you feel a lot of air on your palm, you’ll know you need to work on your unaspirated consonants. Here are a few words you should practice that contain this sound:

टमाटर, tomato

टिकट, ticket

टुकड़ा (contains another tricky syllable to pronounce), piece

टूटना, to be broken

टकराना, to collide with

In the recordings, I’ve emphasized the sounds for ease of discerning and differentiating them:

This is another retroflex consonant, which means your tongue should again touch your palate rather than the area behind your teeth while saying it (unlike त and थ, which are sounds that require touching the tongue to the area behind the teeth). But, unlike our previous syllable, this sound requires aspiration: try practicing it with your hand in front of your mouth, again, and this time you should feel a hearty gust accompanying your utterance of this sound. Here are some words you should practice that contain this sound:

ठंड, cold

ठग, thug

ठहरना, to stay, stop, rest

ठीक, good, alright, okay

ठिकाना, abode

This, again, is a retroflex sound where the tip of the tongue should curl up and backwards to touch the palate at the top of your mouth. But, it is a “d” sound rather than a “t” sound. Like the first sound we encountered above, this syllable is also unaspirated, meaning very little breath should emerge from your mouth while uttering it. Here are some words to practice:

डंड, stick, punishment

डर, fear

डाक, post

डालना, to put/place

डूबना, to drown

Again, this is a retroflex syllable. but this time it should be aspirated, with a perceptible flow of air from the mouth while uttering it. Here are some words to practice this sound:

ढंग, manner/way

ढाई, two and a half

ढेर, pile/heap

ढूँढ़ना, to look for

ढकना, to cover

Sometimes rendered as ṇa – it is a bit difficult to explain the production of this sound – but fear not, because oftentimes people do not pronounce it correctly in conversation, prefering the easier “न” sound that is similar to the one we have in English. You will notice, however, that certain people will make a point of pronouncing this sound correctly. Suffice it to say that the sound is produced in the back of the mouth and is best learned through listening and imitation. Additionally, it is also helpful to know that this sound does not begin any words – it is only within and at the end of them. Here are some words you can use to practice this sound:

रामायण, Ramayan (Hindu epic poem)

स्वर्ण, gold

उच्चारण, pronunciation

उदाहरण, example

निमंत्रण, invitation

ड़

This is a retroflex, unaspirated consonant similar to ड above but with the added element of a flipping of the tongue across the palate that gives a distinctive sound. It may be difficult to emulate at first, but keep practicing and listening to others speak, and you’ll get the hang of it. The following are some words to practice (this sound also tends not to be at the beginning of words):

लड़की, girl

लकड़ी (be careful to differentiate these two!), wood

उड़ान, flight

आंकड़ा, statistic/figure

पकड़ना, to catch

ढ़

Again, this is similar to ढ above, but it is retroflex, aspirated AND requires the tongue flip to be pronounced properly. Here are some words that will help you practice it:

अनपढ़, illiterate

बाढ़, flood

चढ़ावा, religious offering or gift

चंडीगढ़, Chandigarh (the city)

टेढ़ा, crooked/bent

श vs. ष

If you were wondering what the real difference is, at least in terms of pronunciation, between these two consonants, you’re not the only one. Essentially, they are the same sound as pronounced by the majority of Hindi speakers in colloquial conversation today. In fact, ष has a slightly different pronunciation to श, but not many people observe such a distinction today, mainly because ष is a Sanskrit consonant that appears only in words directly from Sanskrit or derived from it whereas श is present in English-, Arabic-, Persian, etc. derived words. In colloquial conversation today, suffice it to say that they are both pronounced much like the English “sh.”

appears in words like:

शुक्रवार, Friday

शैतान, devil

शादी, wedding

शब्द, word

शानदार, splendid, imposing

In contrast, usually does not generally appear at the beginning of words (although it does in a few cases), and can be found in words such as the following:

ऋषि, sage

उषा, dawn

दोष, fault, flaw

शेष, remaining

विष, poison

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About the Author:Rachael

नमस्ते, मेरा नाम रेचल है/السلام علیکم، میرا نام ریچل ہے۔ Hello, my name is Rachael, but I also on occasion go by Richa––an interesting story for another time :) My two great loves are Hindi and Urdu. I first traveled to India (Jaipur, Rajasthan) in college on a Hindi study abroad program. A little over a year later, I returned to the same city to study Hindi in a yearlong program. I've also spent a summer in Kolkata, West Bengal learning Bengali, and I studied Urdu at the University of California, Berkeley, where I was a graduate student in South Asian Studies. I hope to share with you the fascinating world of Hindi and Urdu literature, society, culture and film through my blogs!


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