The Sequence of Hindi Alphabet

Have you ever wondered if there’s any specific reason why the Hindi alphabet follow a particular sequence?

The overall sequence of all alphabet has a specific order. The order of the letters depends on the place (in the mouth) where it is pronounced. The sound of the letters in the alphabet start from the back (deep) of the throat and steadily moves upwards & outwards to the front of the mouth (towards lips).

— back of the mouth (i.e. velar)

— mid-point in mouth (i.e. palatal)

— back in mouth with tongue curled (i.e. retroflex)

— touching teeth (i.e. dental)

— from closed lips (i.e. bilabial)

So when one speaks Hindi alphabet, the sound (of the letters) constantly moves outwards starting from the bottom of the mouth and ending towards the front of the mouth. Isn’t that fascinating?

And that’s not all. Each group of letters above (usually grouped in four), are also arranged in specific sequence. Take first four letters for instance: .

— non-voiced, non-aspirated

— non-voiced, aspirated

— voiced, non-aspirated

— voiced, aspirated

Definitions: A consonant is called “voiced” if, while pronouncing, it makes the vocal cords vibrate. And the consonant is “aspirated” if it produces a strong burst of air with the sound. You can put a candle in front of your mouth and pronounce ka and kha to see the difference.

The same sequence (non-voiced/non-aspirated to voiced/aspirated) follows for:

… and so on!

Talking about Hindi alphabet, I found that there is some confusion between the sounds of: and ज़, and also between and फ़. Note the difference between the pronunciations of these letters below:

– /jha/ pronounced with the tongue touching the roof of the mount (palatal) as in झलक, मुझसे

ज़ – /za/ pronounced without the tongue touching the roof of the mount (like a whistling sound) as in मज़ा, ज़ख़्म, ज़िंदगी

– /pha/ pronounced from closed lips (aspirated sound) as in फूल, फिर

फ़ – /fa/ pronounced with the lower lips touching the upper front teeth (aspirated sound) as in फ़रेब, बेवफ़ा

Not everyone realizes that the original Hindi alphabet don’t have the letters ज़ and फ़. These two letters are (among others like क़, ख़, ग़) borrowed from Urdu. Note that these letters are specified by using standard Hindi letters but placing a dot (.) at the bottom. Because of this confusion between standard Hindi letters and borrowed Urdu letters, some standard Hindi words are mispronounced (most of the time by replacing standard Hindi sound with the borrowed sound). For example: फिर is sometimes mispronounced as /fir/ instead of /phir/. Other words that come to the mind right now are: ग़म, ग़ालिब, ख़ुदा.

Comparing English with Hindi, there are couple of distinct features I have noticed: Standard Hindi does not differentiate between the following two sounds:

/v/ — voiced labiodental (pronounced with lower lips and upper teeth)

/w/ — voiced labiovelar (pronounced with rounded lips)

Because of this Indians (including me!) sometimes have difficulty in differentiating these two sounds. (For instance, wine and vine become homophones.) Other major distinction is: in Hindi प, त, and are always non-aspirated. But in English, /p/, /t/ and /k/ are always aspirated. So the word tiger is (mistakenly) pronounced as /tiger/ instead of /tʰiger/.

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13 responses to “The Sequence of Hindi Alphabet

  1. Nice article. Actually, the Hindi alphabets are arranged in a group of 5 and not 4.

    क ख ग घ ङ
    च छ ज झ ञ
    ट ठ ड ढ ण
    त थ द ध न
    प फ ब भ म

    • Vishal

      You are absolutely right!

      However, the fifth letters in each in the first three lines are *usually* avoided because there are rarely used in writing. (I can’t recall a single Hindi word that uses either ङ or ञ).

      • Both Hindi and Sanskrut use Devanaagaree lipi. The letters ङ and ञ are not used in Hindi (ण is used though as in रण) but are very frequently used in Sanskrut e.g. कञ्चन, आञ्जनेय, विहङ्ग, मङ्गल. In Sanskrut, for an anuswaar, which anunaasik character has to be used depends on which panchak the next letter belongs to.

  2. jaimin

    I liked the pha and fa description. I always pronounce ‘fool’ 🙂 for flower and not ‘phool’ and ‘fir’ but not ‘phir’. I wonder what the right pronunciation is. May be the slang attitude must have changed my degree of pronunciation.

    Good article, however!

    • Vishal

      The correct pronunciation is /phool/ (not /fool/), and /phir/ (not /fir/).

      Although there’s no standard way to denote these pronunciations, the Bollywood movie titles are almost always careful with respect to these differences (क versus क़, फ versus फ़ etc.) Some examples: Phir Milenge (not Fir Milenge), Firaaq (not Firaak), Aashiqui (not Aashiki), Zanjeer (not Jhanjeer or Janzeer), and Ijaazat (not Izaazat).

  3. Krishna Kamble

    Infact most of the times even the dots below the respective words are not put even in newspapers, or advertisements etc. as (in hindi) bank oph baroda, jindagi ke saath bhi, jindagi ke bad bhi. Also at times even in bollywood films they mispronounce and misspell the words like aashiki and not aashiqui, Kurbaan not Qurbaan.

    • I’ve noticed that usually Hindi movie titles are careful with these subtle distinctions (like Aashiqui, Phir Milenge etc.) but you are right – I have noticed other places where they completely disregard it too.

      By the way, after some effort, I think I’ve mastered the pronunciations of ग़, and ख़, but I still find myself fumbling with क़. That’s a tough one!

  4. Pingback: Literature: Who decided the alphabetic order? - Quora

  5. yo

    they don’t say the letters

  6. Sani muhammad

    I appreciate your effort for this great work. I am a Nigerian and i have a high interest in the indian way of writting, eventhough this is not enough for a beginner. Thanks

  7. Kartikeya

    Super. Awesome Friday afternoon read at work!

  8. Sahil R

    Reblogged this on NIFTY 50.

  9. Abhishek Chauhan

    V is simply व where only vowel are associated thats why we pronounce it as van vin viks vibes
    So there is no consonant aftet V in any word generally where as in case of w its half व् thats why w comes before consonent sounds as well as vowels for Ex. wheel whole who and water winter. In hindi its the difference of as वैन and वाटर or व्हील. So we dont have a bad habit because of HINDI its because of the unawareness.

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