Other sounds

In this last lesson, we will revisit the anusvāra and the visarga. We will also learn about two variants of the visarga: the upadhmānīya and the jihvāmūlīya.

anusvāra

The anusvāra appears due to sandhi. Usually, it appears when the sound m is followed by a consonant sound:

  • रामः रावणम् हन्ति → रामो रावणं हन्ति
    rāmaḥ rāvaṇam hanti → rāmo rāvaṇaṃ hanti
    Rama kills Ravana.

How is the anusvāra pronounced? The anusvāra is a “pure nasal” sound that has no equivalent in English. We are not sure how to describe it correctly.

However, the anusvāra often becomes many other sounds due to sandhi. If it is followed by any consonant except for the ones in śavarga (śa ṣa sa ha), it becomes the closest matching nasal sound:

  • संगः → सङ्गः
    saṃgaḥ → saṅgaḥ

  • संजयः → सञ्जयः
    saṃjayaḥ → sañjayaḥ

  • संन्यासः → सन्न्यासः
    saṃnyāsaḥ → sannyāsaḥ

  • संबन्धः → सम्बन्धः
    saṃbandhaḥ → sambandhaḥ

And in front of yavarga sounds (ya ra la va), it becomes a nasalized semivowel.

In general, people don't like writing these nasal sounds out, so they use the anusvāra as a shorthand.

visarga

Like the anusvāra, the visarga also appears due to sandhi. When a word ends in an s or an r sound, that sound becomes the visarga:

  • रामस् → रामः
    rāmas → rāmaḥ
    Rama

  • मातर् → मातः
    mātar → mātaḥ
    mother!

Traditionally, the visarga is often called the visarjanīya, which has essentially the same meaning as the word visarga.

jihvāmūlīya and upadhmānīya

There are two variants of the visarga that are worth knowing. These variants are often used in spoken Sanskrit, but they are not usually written down.

The first is the jihvāmūlīya. In English linguistics, this is called a voiceless uvular fricative. This sound is like the visarga, but it is pronounced further back in the base of the throat. The jihvāmūlīya, if it is used, is used in front of the consonants ka and kha.

The second is the upadhmānīya. In English, this sound is called a voiceless bilabiar fricative. This sound is similar to the English “f” sound, but it is not pronounced with any help from the teeth; it is pronounced only with the lips. The upadhmānīya, if it is used, is used in front of the consonants pa and pha.