The Sanskrit Alphabet
by Delight Yoga
The pronunciation of Sanskrit is very simple: you open your mouth wide and move the tongue and lips as necessary (they are almost pure muscles and have little inertia or resistance to movement). By contrast, the pronunciation of English requires much effort, for we barely open the mouth, and instead of simply moving the tongue we move the whole jaw. Having become very well practiced in speaking with a moving jaw, it does require some attention to break that habit and to speak with a moving tongue.
The biggest single factor in Sanskrit is to open the mount! For English the mouth opens of a mere slit of about 6 mm; for Sanskrit this needs to increase fourfold! The mouth needs to open a lot more than you think, so don’t think!
There are 51 letters in Sanskrit alphabet, more than most other languages. Hence we have to ensure that the right letter is pronounced, otherwise the meaning of the word can change dramatically (eg. phala=fruit; pala=measure of weight).
In Sanskrit the letters are so arranged that they are listed in an easy-to-remember way. Groups of letters are pronounced at different places in the mouth and throat – starting at the throat and ending at the teeth – so that different sounds originate from these different regions and the letters are grouped together based upon where the sounds are produced.
1. Guttural (originating from the throat)
2. Palatal (originating from the soft palate, at the back of the mouth)
3. Retroflex (to be pronounced with the tip of the tongue rubbing the hard palate)
4. Dental (sounds to be produced with the tongue against the teeth)
5. Labial (sounds originates from the lips)
6. Nasal (to be pronounced with a nasal sound)
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