Sanskrit : Introduction


This prelude begins with an introduction to the Sanskrit letters. The writing system used for Sanskrit is known as Devanagari. Indian languages are phonetic in nature and hence the letters represent unique sounds. In Sanskrit as well as in other Indian languages, proper pronounciation of the words is quite important. Hence it is necessary to learn the sounds associated with the letters of the language.

The word "alphabet" is not usually applied to Sanskrit or other Indian languages. There is a subtle difference between the notion of "alphabet" and the "aksharas" as the letters of Sanskrit are called. When we think of the word "alphabet" we normally think of the letters of the language and a name given to each letter to identify it. In most languages the letters of the alphabet have names which may give a clue to the sound associated with the letter. In Sanskrit and other Indian languages, there is no specific name given to the letters. The sound the letter stands for is actually the name for the letter. In a phonetic language reading becomes easy since the reader will be reading out the letters by uttering the sound associated with the akshara. More information on this is given in a separate section on Sanskrit and Phonetics.

For many years now, people of the world have learnt the letters of Sanskrit through equivalent Roman transliteration characters which employ special marks (known as diacritics). The diacritics are based on a standardized representation for sounds followed in dictionaries. In India, the National Library at Calcutta has recommended that a single transliteration scheme be used to represent the letters across all the Indian languages. This scheme will be used in the lessons covered in these pages. Students can take advantage of this when it comes to pronouncing the letters and words. A reference to this Transliteration scheme is also available in these pages. The scheme is similar to the International Phonetic Alphabet representation but has some minor differences.

Continue to short vowels.

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