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Devanagari
Quick Facts
TypeSyllabic Alphabetic
GenealogyBrahmi
LocationSouth Asia
Time12th century CE to Present
DirectionLeft to Right

Even though a descendent of the Brahmi script, Devanagari has evolved into a highly cursive script. Many languages in India, such as Hindi and Sanskrit, use Devanagari and many more languages throughout India use local variants of this script.

Hindu scriptures are written in Devanagari, a fact illustrated by the etymology of the name. "Devanagari" is a compound word with two roots: deva means "deity", and nagari means "city". Together it implies a script that is both religious as well as urbane or sophisticated.

As you look at the following alphabet please keep in mind the following special symbols of transcription. I kept the traditional phonetic transcription for Sanskrit / Devanagari, rather than using IPA or American phonetic symbols. Note that in order to see the special letters, you'll need an Unicode font on your computer.

  • ā, ī, ū are longer version of the /a/, /i/, and /u/.
  • are called "syllabic liquids", and are like /r/ and /l/ but used like vowels. Once again, a bar above each indicates a longer vowel.
  • ạm: nasalized /a/.
  • ạh: is pronounced with /a/ first followed by a puff of air.
  • is really a velar nasal, like the end of the English word "sing".
  • ñ is the same as it is in Spanish: a palatal nasal.
  • ṭ ṭh ḍ ḍh are retroflex versions of /t th d dh/
  • is a retroflex nasal.
  • In fact, except for syllabic /r/ and /l/, any consonant with a dot underneath it is retroflex.
  • h following a consonant aspirates that consonant. So /th/ is a /t/ with a puff of air.
  • v sometimes is [w], as in "war", and sometimes closer to [v].
  • ś is a palatal 's', similar to /sh/ in the English word 'share'.
  • is like /s/ but with your tongue curled back as if pronouncing /r/.

Also you can look at Phonetics for more information.

The following is the basic Devanagari alphabet:

A letter in Devanagari has the default vowel of /a/. To indicate the same consonant followed by another vowel, additional strokes are added to the letter, like in the follwing example:

In addition, a few other "diacritics" are used at the end of words. To denote the nasal [-am], a dot is placed above the letter, much like the /am/ letter. Similary, to write [-ah], two dots are written to the right of the letter, like the /ah/ letter.

When a consonant ends a word, it is necessary to indicated that the last letter has no vowel. To do so, a diagonal line, called virama, is drawn under the letter. Letters with the virama are called halanta letters.

To indicate just the consonant clusters, the letters are fused together in a variety of ways, a process called samyoga (meaning "yoked together" in Sanskrit). Sometimes the individual letters can still be discerned, while other times the conjunction creates new shapes. The range of possibilites is quite high, and I will only give brief examples to illustrate the concept.

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