What are Semi-vowels and the sibilants in Sanskrit?

संस्कृत में अन्तस्थः एवम् उष्म व्यंजन क्या हैं?

Hello friends. Welcome to Sanskrit Gurukul.
Let’s talk about semi-vowels and sibilants in Sanskrit consonants.

What are semi-vowels?

They are consonants, but either derived from vowels or remain in an ambivert state in serving as vowel or consonant.
In simple words, these sounds fall in a halfway between vowels and consonants, or in a transition state and hence called Semi-vowels.

Keep reading further, and you will understand it better.
Let’s learn with the help of

य (ya)

For example,
let say the word

Dynasty,

the letter य(ya) appears twice in the word but first as a य (ya) and the second time as ई (I).
य <– –>ई

When you pronounce dynasty, you hear two sounds, one of which is य (ya); and the other is ई (i).
let’s see one more example,

you (sound of य (ya)),
but again in Year, you hear the sound of ई (i).

I guess you got the idea of why semi-vowels are called Semi- vowels.
Let’s see the example from Sanskrit,

यन्त्र (Yantra)
instrument.

More examples are in the image gallery below.

Secondly, if we see from the viewpoint of articulation, all the semi-vowels can be pronounced without any obstruction in the airflow, but for proper pronunciation, it takes a little help from some points in the mouth.

र(ra).

Let me give you one example of our second semi-vowel र(ra).
When you pronounce र (ra), first it sounds like the vowel ऋ (ra), but to pronounce, you have to hold your tongue against the palate.

र(ra)<– –>ऋ(ṛa)

Try to pronounce it yourself.
For example, र (ra) sounds as r, in

rag

and, in Sanskrit

रतन (ratna)
gemstones.

Moving forward to the next semi-vowel

ल(la)

If you remember our first lesson of Sanskrit 101 series (click on the link to refresh your memory), we have a vowel लृ (lr), which has kind of similar sound of the semi-vowel ल(la), both are pronounced with the help of teeth and are dental.

ल (la) <—->लृ(lr)

For example, it sounds the same as l in

love,

and in Sanskrit, the sound of

लय (laya)
rhythm

व (va)

And the last semi-vowels is व (va).
The fun fact about व (va) is, although it’s pronounced with the help of lips/ labial, unlike another labial, the व (va) sound; is pronounced with only lower lips.
Examples, it has the same sound as in

Vine,

and as in

वस्त्र (Vastra)
clothes.

With this, we have finished our semi-vowels part of Sanskrit Alphabets. With time I will try to add the sound with words to have a better understanding of pronunciation.

Sibilants in Sanskrit

The second parts of today’s tutorial are sibilants.
These are the consonants that produce a hissing sound and, the air moves so quickly, creates a little warmness when pronounced. You can feel it by placing your hand in front of your mouth.

श (sh)

Among the sibilants first one is श (sh), which sounds like somewhere between च (ch) and छ (cha). When you pronounce श (sh) tongue lifts from the same point for च (ch) but partially touching the palate, to stop the airflow.
For example, let see the word

शंखः (shankha)
Conch

Or the sound of श (sh) as

She as in English,


D0 you feel the hissing sound and little warmness in your hand?

ष (Sh)

Our Second sibilant is a simple one, ष (Sh), and here also the tongue is raised from the same point when pronouncing ट (ta) that the cerebral part.
The sound is similar to the sound as in

Shore,

Or

वर्षा (Varsha)
Rain in Sanskrit.

स (sa)

Next, we have स (sa) pronounced with the help of teeth, and the tongue is nearly touching the teeth but not blocking the airflow as in त (तवर्ग). It makes a sharp sound of S as in

Sand, Sun, Sinister

Or

सहस्र (Sahasra)
Thousand

With this, we finished with all the sibilants, and the next one is the aspirant

ह (ha)

Last but not least is ह (ha), also known as an aspirant and the best way to pronounce is to let the air go like make a sound as in

Hat, ham,

Or

हंस (hamsa)
Swan

Visarga and Anunasik in Sanskirt

With this, we are all finished with all the consonants in the Sanskrit language. There are two more which I would like to discuss now: Visarga and Anusara.

Let see,

What is Visarga?

It’s written like a colon sign (:) and has a sound like ह () and represent in IAST as an h and dot beneath it.

ः(ḥ)

The sound is like

शक्तिः (shakti), गजः (gaja),

without the colon sign (:) in the end, their sound are shakti and gaja respectively.

where we have to release the air for proper pronunciation.

Anunasik

Next comes the Anunasik, which means follow a vowel and its represented by a small dot over a consonant and having a nasal sound similar to

म (ma) or न (na),

For example,

संस्कृत (Samskrit)

The traditional way of pronouncing संस्कृत is Samskrit, but more popular is Sanskrit. According to the Panini Ashtadhayi (book for Sanskrit grammar ), each group of consonants has one nasal sound in them. The same we used as the Anuswar sound.

For example, the astrology sign Leo which we write as

सिंह
(notice the small dot over स)

in some part of India pronounced as

सिंह (Simha),

is but also pronounced as

सिंह (Singha)

So congratulation, you have gone through the whole alphabet of Sanskrit. Now we only left with the entire Sanskrit’s literature (just kidding). But it’s sure that now you have the foundation for the whole new world of learning. Having this skill will help you in learning how to chant, sing, pronounce, write Sanskrit words.
I hope you enjoy all these tutorials, and you will review them and keep practicing.
See you in the next tutorial with the new topic in Sanskrit Gurukul.

Thank you.
Om Tat Sat.

  • Example of semi-vowel -य (ya) Sanskrit
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  • Example of semi-vowel -र (ra) gurukul
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  • Example of semi-vowel- ल (la).
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  • Example of semi-vowel -व (va) Sanskrit
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