Anusvāra and Visarga
Here, we will end our study of Sanskrit pronunciation by studying two more sounds. These two sounds are not vowels, but they are not quite consonants either. Additionally, these two sounds can appear only after vowels. For that reason, each of these sounds is featured with the vowel a below.
This sound is called the anusvāra ("after-sound"). It is a "pure nasal" sound that only appears in front of consonants. Its point of pronunciation is the same as the consonant that follows it. But what does that really mean? To help you understand, here are some examples of how the anusvara is usually pronounced:
- How it's written
- How it's pronounced
Because of this change in pronunciation, saṃskṛta is spelled in English as "Sanskrit."
But perhaps you're wondering: why do we use this letter at all? Indeed, some Sanskrit texts do not; saṃjaya, for example, can appear as sañjaya. But the anusvāra is useful because it marks the places where the letter m changes pronunciation. All of the words above are formed with the term sam, and the m of this term changes in front of the consonants that follow it. There's no need to remember this fact now; we'll study the change later on.
There is also another reason: especially in older Sanskrit works, the anusvāra has a distinct and complex sound, and it is almost impossible to share it with an audio clip. The description given here is fine for the sort of Sanskrit featured in this guide, but if you want to read more about the pronunciation of the anusvāra, you can do so here.
In Sanskrit, this sound is called the visarga ("sending forth"). It is commonly pronounced as a shorter and softer version of vowel before it. For example, aḥ is commonly pronounced as aha. But in front of ka, kha, pa, pha, and "s"-sounds, the visarga is pronounced just like the "h" in "house."
Originally, the visarga was probably just like the "h" in "house" in every case. Indeed, this is how some people pronounce it today. Given this, you can think of the visarga as a soft-palate "s"-sound.
The Full Alphabet
The visarga and anusvāra are not quite like consonants, but they're not quite like vowels either. For this reason, they're usually placed with the vowels as shown:
- a ā, i ī, u ū, ṛ ṝ, e ai, o au, aṃ, aḥ
- ka kha ga gha ṅa
- ca cha ja jha ña
- ṭa ṭha ḍa ḍha ṇa
- ta tha da dha na
- pa pha ba bha ma
- ya ra la va
- śa ṣa sa ha