Phonetics and Phonology in Sanskrit

When I searched on the internet for “what is the difference between phonetics and phonology”. I got, “phonetics is the production and perception of speech sounds in any language and it deals with “phone”. Phonology on the other hand is the interpretation of speech sounds in a particular language and it deals with phoneme: the smallest unit of sound.”

I would think that Devanagari script is a phonetic script. As mentioned in above definition of phonetics there is mention of “perception of sound”. Script gives visibility and in turn, such  perception of sound. If a script gives good perception of sound, it becomes a phonetic script.

I think phonetics and phonology are much easier understood from the Devanagari script and Sanskrit grammar.

I would look at the above definition of phonetics in three parts – (1) production of speech sounds (2) perception of speech sounds (3) it deals with “phone”.

In respect of (1) production of speech sounds and (3) it deals with “phone”, it is interesting to note how production of phones is detailed in Sanskrit grammar.

  1. phones produced from the throat are कण्ठ्य.
    1. among them there are vowels स्वर-s अ, आ
    2. among them there are harsh consonants कठोर व्यञ्जन-s, क् with अल्पप्राण and ख् with महाप्राण
    3. among मृदु व्यञ्जन-s soft consonants, there is ग् with अल्पप्राण and घ् with महाप्राण
    4. among this class, there is a nasal phone अनुनासिक  ङ्.
    5. among this class, there is a phone produced by some internal recirculation अन्तस्थ ह्,
  2. phones produced by tip of tongue touching the gum are तालव्य
    1. among them there are vowels स्वर-s इ, ई
    2. among harsh consonants कठोर व्यञ्जन-s, there is च् with अल्पप्राण and छ् with महाप्राण
    3. among मृदु व्यञ्जन-s soft consonants, there is ज् with अल्पप्राण and झ् with महाप्राण
    4. among this class, there is a nasal phone अनुनासिक ञ्
    5. among this class, there is a phone produced by some internal recirculation अन्तस्थ य्
    6. among this class, there is an oozing ऊष्म phone श्
  3. phones produced by tip of tongue touching teeth are दन्त्य.
    1. among them there is vowel स्वर लृ
    2. among harsh consonants कठोर व्यञ्जन-s  there is त् with अल्पप्राण and थ् with महाप्राण
    3. among मृदु व्यञ्जन-s soft consonants, there is द् with अल्पप्राण and ध् with महाप्राण
    4. among this class, there is a nasal phone अनुनासिक न्
    5. among this class, there is a phone produced by some internal recirculation अन्तस्थ ल्
    6. among this class, there is an oozing ऊष्म phone स्
  4. phones produced by tip of tongue striking the roof are मूर्धन्य
    1. among them there are vowels स्वर ऋ ॠ
    2. among harsh consonantsकठोर व्यञ्जन-s, there is ट् with अल्पप्राण and ठ् with महाप्राण
    3. among मृदु व्यञ्जन-s soft consonants, there is ड् with अल्पप्राण and ढ् with महाप्राण
    4. among this class, there is a nasal phone अनुनासिक ण्
    5. among this class, there is a phone produced by some internal recirculation अन्तस्थ र्  
    6. among this class, there is an oozing ऊष्म phone ष्
  5. phones produced from the lips are ओष्ठ्य
    1. In this class there are vowels स्वर-s उ, ऊ ओ औ
    2. In this class there are  there are harsh कठोर and soft मृदु
    3. In this class there are harsh consonants कठोर व्यञ्जन-s, प् with अल्पप्राण and फ् with महाप्राण
    4. In this class there are soft consonants मृदु व्यञ्जन-s, ब् with अल्पप्राण and भ् with महाप्राण
    5. In this class, there is a nasal phone अनुनासिक म् .
  6. Vowels ए ऐ are phones produced from the throat and gum कण्ठतालव्य  
  7. Vowels ओ औ are phones produced from throat and rounded lips कण्ठौष्ठ्य  
  8. All vowel sounds can also have a soft release mode called as विसर्जनीय, for which the colon (:) symbol is used.

In respect of (2) perception of speech sounds

  1. it is to be acknowledged that the consonant-sounds are perceptible only if they are preceded or followed by a vowel,
    1. preceded by a vowel as in अक् इण् etc.,
    2. followed by a vowel as in पु, कि, स्त्री etc.
  2. It is also acknowledged in Sanskrit grammar that all vowel sounds can be pronounced and perceived in 18 different ways. The 18 ways are defined by following five aphorisms सूत्र-s in अष्टाध्यायी of पाणिनि.
    1. मुखनासिकावचनोऽनुनासिकः (1-1-8) The pronunciations can be nasal अनुनासिक or not nasal अननुनासिक
    2. ऊकालोऽज्झ्रस्वदीर्घप्लुतः (1-2-27) The pronunciations can be short ह्रस्व long दीर्घ extended प्लुत as in the crowing of a cock कुक कू कूऽऽ
    3. उच्चैरुदात्तः (1-2-29) The pronunciations can be pitched or stressed उदात्त
    4. नीचैरनुदात्तः (1-2-30) The pronunciations can be low and soft अनुदात्त
    5. समाहारः स्वरितः (1-2-31) The pronunciations can be level स्वरित
    6. Number of variations are [nasal or not nasal (2) x short, long, extended (3) x pitched, low or level (3)] = 18.
    7. Interestingly, all these sounds can be meaningful speech, e.g.
      1. short, nasal, low अँ may mean “Did you say something ? I was not listening”
      2. long, nasal, pitched आँ when said to a baby may mean “That’s not right, baby !”
      3. short, not nasal, level ए (eh) would mean seeking attention of someone nearby
      4. long/extended, not nasal, pitched एऽऽ would mean calling someone from a distance
      5. Such meanings are universal and not specific to any language. But it is to be appreciated that they are so clearly elaborated in Sanskrit grammar.

Since perceptions of speech sounds can be meaningful as above, it means that there are interpretations inherent in them. I am hence inclined to take it that what are ‘phone’s in phonetics are phonemes in phonology.

Since phonemes are called in phonology as smallest units of sound, phoneme can be considered as equivalent of what is called as वर्ण in Sanskrit grammar. All vowels and consonants are वर्ण-s. अक्षर is what can be pronounced and may contain one or more वर्ण-s. All vowels are अक्षर-s.

There is great logic behind how the vowels and consonants are set in different aphorisms known as शिवसूत्र-s. Looking specifically at the first four सूत्र-s containing vowels – (1) अ इ उ ण् (2) ऋ लृ क् (3) ए ओ ङ् (4) ऐ औ च् it can be noticed that the diphthongs are put together very well in सूत्र-s (3) and (4). By the way, diphthong is defined as type of vowels where two vowel sounds are connected in a continuous, gliding motion. They are often referred to as gliding vowels. Most languages have a number of diphthongs, although that number varies widely, from only one or two to fifteen or more.

There is another great aspect of perception of speech sounds, which is clarified very well in Sanskrit grammar. One should deliberate on the terms conjoint consonants संयुक्ताक्षर and conjugations संहिता/संधि. In अष्टाध्यायी there are two specific सूत्र-s, which brings out clear distinction between conjoint consonants संयुक्ताक्षर and conjugations संहिता/संधि.

  1. हलोऽनन्तराः संयोगः (१।१।७) = अनन्तराः हलः संयोगः consecutively successive consonants make a conjoint consonant. For example in the word कार्त्स्न्यम् there are phonemes वर्ण-s क् आ र् त् स् न् य् अ म्. Note, the consonants र् त् स् न् य् are in consecutive succession of each other. With all of these together, we get one conjoint consonant र्त्स्न्य
  2. परः संनिकर्षः संहिता (१।४।१०९) = different or another effect or result is (due to) conjugation. For example, तान् + ते = तांस्ते This result has an inflow of an additional स्. So तांस्ते is conjugation संहिता of तान् + ते. Having given this example, it be noted that गीतान्ते is also a संहिता of गीत + अन्ते (at the end अन्ते of a song गीत) or गीतान्ते = गीता + अन्ते (at the end of the divine verse गीता). 

There is an appendix to अष्टाध्यायी known as पाणिनीया शिक्षा. This deals with phonetics and phonology in Sanskrit in great detail, taking care of even regional variations or accents in pronunciation. For example note this → यथा सौराष्ट्रिका नारी तक्रँ इत्यभिभाषते । एवं रङ्गाः प्रयोक्तव्याः खे अराँ इव खेदया ।।

Note the symbol ँ This is the symbol for nasal अनुनासिक pronunciation. It was mentioned earlier that all vowels can be pronounced in 18 different ways. Can they be written in 18 ways ? Yes ! Note these 18 ways of writing अ.

  1. Nine not nasal अननुनासिक अ would be – अ (short ह्रस्व) अऽ (long दीर्घ) अ (extended प्लुत) (These three have उदात्त stressed pronunciation) अऽ (Note, there has to be an underscore here to indicate the pronunciation to be अनुदात्त unstressed. I could not get the underscore effect in the template of ‘wordpress’) अ| अऽ|३| (Note, the vertical lines here should be small superscript vertical marks above the letter is to indicate the pronunciation to be स्वरित level. I could not get the superscript effect in the template of ‘wordpress’) Image below shows the correct writing.
  2. Nine nasal अनुनासिक अ would be – अँ अँऽ अँ अँ अँअँ अँ| अँ|ऽ अँ|३ 

 

Phonetic writing (1)

One finds most Vedic texts written with these स्वराङ्कन-s pronunciation markings. Often one finds ॐ written optionally as ओम् Note, here and at six places above, the mark ३ is to be superscript. I could not get that effect in this template of ‘wordpress’.

It is said that Rishis and Munis realized that correct pronunciation of मन्त्र-s would have the mystique power to empower one with ulterior (or superhuman) effects or capabilities सिद्धि-s. That may be the reason, why phonetics and phonology is dealt with in great detail in Sanskrit grammar and Vedic texts have स्वराङ्कन-s also. Sanskrit is a language of distinction, pun intended ! Does not example of the word गीतान्ते bring forth that one needs to be smart and distinctive to indulge in interpretation of Sanskrit texts ? Or, one can say that study of Sanskrit would build in one’s intellect distinctive skills of interpretation of speech sounds, of every phone / phoneme, not just interpretation, but experiencing the impact of every phone / phoneme.

शुभमस्तु !

-o-O-o-

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7 thoughts on “Phonetics and Phonology in Sanskrit

  1. This Article titled “Phonetics and Phonology in Sanskrit” is simply EXCELLENT and I congratulate its Author Shri Slabhyankar अभ्यंकरकुलोत्पन्नः श्रीपादः from my heart of the hearts for gifting such a highly descriptive and enlightening material to the learners of the Divine Language – SANSKRIT!
    –Dr. Y.N. RAO(A 78-year old Telugu-speaking Linguist from Hyderabad, Telengana, India)

    P.S.: HOW TO DOWNLOAD THIS ARTICLE? CAN ANYONE GUIDE ME?

    • If you left click your mouse on this page you will get a drop down screen . One of the options there will be print . You can print this article to a pdf printer and save as file on your computer . Alternatively you may send me your email address and I will send you a pdf copy of the page . By the way , your qualifications are impressive – to say the least .

      • Dear Respondent,
        Thanks for your tip! I have already had the PDF version of the matter in question with the help of the similar guidance of a friend of mine. As regards my qualifications, I am a believer of the famous slogan – ‘LEARNING IS A LIFE-LONG PROCESS’!!–Dr. Y.N. RAO

  2. Why not give examples for these Nine not nasal अननुनासिक अ and Nine nasal अनुनासिक अ sounds by listing words ?

    One may use these sounds ( अननुनासिक,अनुनासिक) in writings but do we hear in speech? or do we need in speech? These sounds are very disturbing to Roman transliteration readers.
    I prefer dot free write as you pronunce non lenthy worded Sanskrit.
    संयुक्ताक्षर एवं संहिता संधि /saṁyuktākṣara evaṁ saṁhitā saṁdhi >>>सन्युक्ताक्षर एवम् सन्हिता सन्धि /sanyuktākṣara evam sanhitā sandhi

    • Dear “lastphonetic” !
      (1) Haven’t I given so many examples how different pronunciations of अ itself are meaningful ? I could not have given examples of all 18 pronunciations of all vowels.
      (2) Just as you prefer “.. dot free write as you pronunce non lenthy worded Sanskrit…”, I prefer to write Sanskrit in Devanagari, संस्कृत in देवनागरी. I am more than convinced that writing any language in its script eliminates all ambiguity. If I have to write Chinese or Japanese, I shall write them in their scripts. I think even Chinese and Japanese also prefer only that way.

  3. Ji, Nameaste,

    This is what I got from vocabulary.com on phoneme and phones:

    Phoneme = (linguistics) one of a small set of speech sounds that are distinguished by the speakers of a particular language
    Phones = (phonetics) an individual sound unit of speech without concern as to whether or not it is a phoneme of some language
    Phonology = noun form to describe the study of the way sounds are used in a language and the rules for pronouncing certain words, like the silent t in the French word chat.
    Phonetics = Phonetics is a field of study that examines the sounds in speech — the way they’re made, how they’re heard, and how they make up speech and language. It’s one branch of linguistics, along with grammar, syntax, and other subjects.

    Viewed in this context, production of speech sounds that are produced at different parts of the mouth with different effort and touch, should we not call them as ‘phonemes’ rather than ‘phones’? I would appreciate your response to clear my doubts.

    DhanyavadaH

    kalivaradhan

  4. Dear Abhyankarji , Thanks for the article . I realised the difference in p and f , from your article . Keep it on . I am looking for the earliest mention of the word Dravida , I will appreciate any help from you in that regards. Thanks .

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