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).
क ख ग घ — back of the mouth (i.e. velar)
च छ ज झ — mid-point in mouth (i.e. palatal)
ट ठ ड ढ — back in mouth with tongue curled (i.e. retroflex)
त थ द ध — touching teeth (i.e. dental)
प फ ब भ म — 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: क ख ग घ.
क — non-voiced, non-aspirated
ख — non-voiced, aspirated
ग — voiced, non-aspirated
घ — 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:
च छ ज झ
त थ द ध
… and so on!
Talking about Hindi alphabet, I found that there is some confusion between the sounds of: झ and ज़, and also between फ and फ़. Note the difference between the pronunciations of these letters below:
झ – /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
फ – /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 क 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/.