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The Devanāgarī consonant letters include an implicit 'a' sound. In all of the transliteration systems, that 'a' sound must be represented explicitly.
Devanāgarī consonants include an 'inherent a' sound that must be explicitly represented with an 'a' character in the transliteration. Many words and names transliterated from Devanāgarī end with "a", to indicate the pronunciation in the original Sanskrit. This final 'inherent a' is often no longer pronounced in some Sanskrit-derived Indian languages, including Hindi. This results in an alternative 'modern' transliteration that omits it.
Some words keep the final a, generally because they would be difficult to say without it:
Some Indian languages, like Kannada, continue to use the original pronunciation today. Some, like Marathi, have an intermediate pronunciation.
Most Indian languages make a distinction between the retroflex and dental forms of the dental consonants. In formal transliteration schemes, the standard Roman letters are used to indicate the dental form, and the retroflex form is indicated by special marks, or the use of other letters. E.g., in IAST transliteration, the retroflex forms are ṇ, ṭ, ḍ and ṣ.
In most informal transliterations the distinction between retroflex and dental consonants is not indicated.
Where the letter "h" appears after a plosive consonant in Devanāgarī transliteration, it always indicates aspiration. Thus "ph" is pronounced as the p in "pit" (with a small puff of air released as it is said), never as the ph in "photo" (IPA /f/). (On the other hand, "p" is pronounced as the p in "spit" with no release of air.) Similarly "th" is an aspirated "t", neither the th of "this" (voiced, IPA /ð/) or the th of "thin" (unvoiced, IPA /θ/).
The aspiration is generally indicated in both formal and informal transliteration systems.
Early Sanskrit texts were originally transmitted by memorization and repetition. Post-Harappan India had no system for writing Indic languages until the creation (in the 4th-3rd centuries BCE) of the Kharoshti and Brahmi scripts. These writing systems, though adequate for Middle Indic languages, were not well-adapted to writing Sanskrit. However, later descendants of Brahmi were modified so that they could record Sanskrit in exacting phonetic detail. The earliest physical text in Sanskrit is a rock inscription by the Western Kshatrapa ruler Rudradaman, written c. 150 CE in Junagadh, Gujarat. Due to the remarkable proliferation of different varieties of Brahmi in the Middle Ages, there is today no single script used for writing Sanskrit; rather, Sanskrit scholars can write the language in a form of whatever script is used to write their local language. However, since the late Middle Ages, there has been a tendency to use Devanagari for writing Sanskrit texts for a widespread readership.
Western scholars in the 19th century adopted Devanagari for printed editions of Sanskrit texts. The editio princeps of the Rigveda by Max Müller was in Devanagari, a typographical tour de force at the time. Müller's London typesetters competed with their Petersburg peers working on Böhtlingk's and Roth's dictionary in cutting all the required ligature types.
From its beginnings, Western Sanskrit philology also felt the need for a romanized spelling of the language. Franz Bopp in 1816 used a romanization scheme, alongside Devanagari, differing from IAST in expressing vowel length by a circumflex (â, î, û), and aspiration by a spiritus asper (e.g. bʽ for IAST bh). The sibilants IAST ṣ and ś he expressed with spiritus asper and lenis, respectively (sʽ, sʼ). Monier-Williams in his 1899 dictionary used ṡ and sh for IAST ś and ṣ, respectively.
From the late 19th century, Western interest in typesetting Devanagari decreased. Theodor Aufrecht published his 1877 edition of the Rigveda in romanized Sanskrit, and Arthur Macdonell's 1910 Vedic grammar (and 1916 Vedic grammar for students) likewise do without Devanagari (while his introductory Sanskrit grammar for students retains Devanagari alongside romanized Sanskrit). Contemporary Western editions of Sanskrit texts appear mostly in IAST.
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