Sanskrit, first spoken thousands of years ago in what is now modern India is far from a dead language. Even today, prayers are chanted by people from many religions in Sanskrit, and all types of media, from books to movies and plays are still written in this language that was once considered the language of the gods themselves. I certainly can't teach the entirity of the Sanskrit language over the web, nor would I want to; this language, so steeped in philosophy and religion, induces the learner to profound personal insights through the language itself, and is much better learned one-on-one. However, I would like to put as much information on this subject up here as I can, so that interested folks can at least see how the language functions.

I will use the Harvard-Kyoto system of phonological transliteration. Learning this system will give you a good introduction to the phonology of Sanskrit, and also the Sanskrit alphabet, which is ordered vowels first, then consonants from the back of the mouth on forward, and then semivowels. Each node in this series will hardlink back to the Harvard-Kyoto system node for easy reference. The system goes as follows:

a A i I u U R RR lR e ai o au M H

k kh g gh G c ch j jh J

T Th D Dh N t th d dh n

p ph b bh m y r l v z S s h


a=a, sounds like 'u' in "but"

A=long a, sounds like 'a' in "father"

i=i, sounds like 'i' in "bit"

I=long i, sounds like 'ee' in "greet"

u=u, sounds like 'u' in "push"

U=long u, sounds like 'oo' in "pool"

R=vowel r, sounds like 'ri' in "rig"

RR=long vowel r, sounds R held for twice as long.

lR=vowel l, sounds kinda like 'lur' in "slurp"

e=e, sounds like 'ai' in "aim"

ai=diphthong ai, sounds like 'i' in "high"

o=o, sounds like 'o' in "note"

au=diphthong au, like 'ow' in "how"

M=velar m, sounds like 'n' in "Jean", pronounced like a French person.

-known as an anusvara

H=puff of air after a vowel, followed by a short repetition of that vowel. 'aH' sounds like "aha",

with the accent on the first syllable

-known as a visarga


For the most part, all are identical to what you'd think they'd be. A consonant followed by an 'h' is an

aspirated version of the consonant, i.e. 't' sounds like the 't' in "cat", where 'th' sounds like the

't' in "torn"

New or tricky consonants are:

G=velar nasal, sounds like the 'ng' in "long"

c=palatal fricative, sounds like 'ch' in "chat"

ch=aspirated palatal fricative, sounds like c above with more air released at the end.

J=palatal nasal, sounds like 'n' in "cinch"

T=alveolar stop, sounds like first 't' in "start"

D=alveolar stop, sounds like first 'd' in "dart"

N=alveolar nasal, sounds like 'n' in "tint"

v=cross between a 'v' and a 'w', takes some getting used to

z=palatal sibilant, sounds like 'sh' in "shove"

S=alveolar sibilant, sounds like z with tongue-tip farther back in the mouth

This should be enough to get started! Refer back to this node, or the Harvard-Kyoto node if you get mixed up about the sounds.

Other Sanskrit Grammar nodes:
Sanskrit Grammar: Noun Overview
Sanskrit Grammar: Noun Cases

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