The sound system

Our core lessons already discussed the various Sanskrit sounds in detail. Here, we will complete the basic picture those lessons painted. We will provide much more detail about how to pronounce and describe these sounds. Where appropriate, we will also provide the standard English and Sanskrit terms.

Traditionally, Sanskrit has these main points of pronunciation:

  • the soft palate (kaṇṭhaḥ, “throat”)

  • the hard palate (tālu)

  • the top of the roof of the mouth (mūrdhā, “head”)

  • the teeth (dantāḥ)

  • the lips (oṣṭhau)

  • the nose (nāsikā)

  • the base of the tongue (jihvāmūlam)

Some lists also include the chest (uraḥ) as the source of the flow of air.

In order, sounds pronounced with these points of pronunciation are called:

  • velar sounds (kaṇṭhya), or guttural in some old books

  • palatal sounds (tālavya)

  • retroflex sounds (mūrdhanya), or cerebral or lingual in some old books

  • dental sounds (dantya)

  • labial sounds (oṣṭhya)

  • nasal sounds (anunāsika)

  • uvular sounds (jihvāmūlīya)

Since va is pronounced with both the teeth and the lips, it is called labio-dental (dantoṣṭhya). And since o and au are pronounced with both the soft palate and the lips, they are called labio-velar (kanṭhoṣṭhya).

You do not need to remember any of these new terms. We list them here just for your reference.