A Guide to Hindi - The Hindi alphabet
What's the Hindi alphabet like?
Here's the alphabet and how to pronounce it.
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What is significant about the Hindi alphabet?
Modern Hindi is written in Devanagari script, which is made of two Sanskrit words: Deva, meaning ‘God’ and Nagari, meaning ‘of urban origin’. Devanagari has its origin in Brahmi script. Writings in Brahmi script from across the Indian subcontinent date back to the 5th century BC. More than ten Indian languages have evolved from Brahmi.
Vowels and consonants
The standard Hindi alphabet, as agreed by the Government of India, has 11 vowels and 35 consonants. However, the traditional Hindi alphabet is considered to be made of 13 vowels and 33 consonants. The letters अं [am] and अः [ah] are counted as vowels in traditional Hindi and as consonants in standard Hindi. It also includes two letters ड़ [rr] and ढ़ [rh] which are counted as consonants in the standard official Hindi alphabet.
In popular and traditional teachings, three extra consonants are used. They are called conjuncts and are a combination of two consonants. This happens when successive consonants with no vowel between them physically join together, for example: क्ष [ksh] is a combination of क and ष, [k] and [sh]
त्र [tr] is a combination of त and र, [t] and [r]
ज्ञ [jna] or [gya] is a combination of ज and ञ, [j] and [n]
In some words, written vowels change their form in order to join up with consonants.
- With ‘aa’: ा - का [kaa] is a combination of क + आ (k + aa). The characterा is added to the right.
- With ‘i’: ि – कि [ki] is a combination of क + इ (k + i). The character ि is added to the left and above.
- With ‘ee’:ी – की [kee] is a combination of क+ ई (k + ee). The character ी is added to the right and above.
- With ‘u’: ु – कु [ku] is a combination of क + उ (k + u). The character ु is added below.
- With ‘oo’: ू - कू [koo] is a combination of क + ऊ (k + oo). The character ू is added below.
- With ‘ae’: े – के [kae] is a combination of क + ए (k + ae). The character े is added above.
- With ‘aae’: ै – कै [kaae] is a combination of क + ऐ (k + aae). The character ै is added above.
- With ‘o’: ो – को [ko] is a combination of क + ओ (k + o). The character ो is added to the right and above.
- With ‘au’: ौ – कौ [kau] is a combination of क+ औ (k + au). The character ौ is added to the right and above.
- With ‘ri’: ृ – कृ [kri] is a combination of क +ऋ (k + ri). The character ृ is added below.
For example, BBC is a combination of three vowels and three consonants in Hindi:
ब [b]+ ई [ee] - ब [b]+ ई [ee] - स [c]+ ई [ee]
So, instead of writing it बईबईसई, BBC would be written as बीबीसी, using the character ी.
Similarly, the word radio would be a combination of three sets of vowels and consonants, for example:
र [r] + ए [ae] + ड[d] + इ[i] + ओ [o]
So, instead of writing it रएडइओ, it would be written as रेडियो using the characters े, ि and ोे.
The horizontal line
The horizontal line on top of letters plays an important role in Hindi. Words formed by different letters are joined by this line, as in कलम, [kalam], pen, which is made of three consonant letters,क [k],ल [l] andम [m]. All letters have this line except for two consonants:ध [dh] and भ [bh].
The right stroke
24 out of the 36 consonants contain a vertical right stroke, for example ख [kh], घ [gh], ण [n]. Its purpose is to mark a full stop. But nowadays, a normal full stop is frequently used to end a sentence.
One dot above letters is used for nasal sounds, as in बंदर[bandar], which means monkey. This dot is called बिन्दु[bindu], which means point in English. Two dots are used to the right of letters. The sound is [ah], as is अतः [atah] meaning therefore. This double dot is called विसर्ग [visarg] in Hindi.
Similar but different
Although when transcribed phonetically into English, some Hindi letters look similar, they actually sound different. For instance, द sounds like the [th] in 'this, that' but थ sounds like the [th] in 'think'.
Email and website conventions
When giving an email or website address, the conventions are usually given in English apart from one: . (full stop) This is a special character and is a simple vertical right strole used at the end of a sentence. The name of this character is पूर्ण विराम[poorna viram], which means full stop.