Indian and Tibetan philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F086-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

3. Pronunciation of Sanskrit words

Sanskrit is an Indo-European language, closely related to Greek and Latin. In India, it is written in a variety of phonetic scripts, and in the West it is customary to write it in roman script. Many letters used to write Sanskrit are pronounced almost as they are in English; k, g, j, t, d, n, p, b, m, y, r, l, s and h can be pronounced as in English without too much distortion. The sound of the first consonant in the English word ‘church’ is represented by a simple ‘c’ in Sanskrit. In addition to these consonants there is a class of retroflex consonants, so called because the tongue is bent back so that the bottom side of the tongue touches the roof of the mouth. These sounds are represented by letters with dots under them: ṭ, ḍ, ṇ and ṣ. As in English, some consonants are heavily aspirated, so that they are pronounced with a slight puff of air. These consonants are represented by single letters in Indian scripts but by two-letter combinations in roman script; thus ‘kh’ is pronounced as the ‘k’ in English ‘kill’, ‘th’ as ‘t’ in ‘tame’ (never as ‘th’ in ‘thin’ or ‘there’), ‘dh’ as in ‘mudhouse’, and ‘ph’ as ‘p’ in ‘pat’ (never as ‘ph’ in ‘philosophy’). The letter ‘ś’ is approximately like ‘sh’ in ‘shingle’. The letter ‘ṅ’ is like ‘ng’ in ‘finger’ or ‘nk’ in ‘sink’, while ‘ñ’ is approximately like ‘ny’ in ‘canyon’.

Vowels are pronounced approximately as in Spanish or Italian. Vowels with a macron over them (ā, ī and ū) are pronounced for twice as much time as their unmarked equivalents. The vowel ‘ṛ’ is pronounced with the tip of the tongue elevated towards the roof of the mouth, very much like the ‘er’ in the American pronunciation of ‘carter’. The diphthongs ‘ai’ and ‘au’ are pronounced as ‘i’ in ‘kite’ and ‘ou’ in ‘scout’ (or almost as ‘ei’ and ‘au’ are pronounced in German) respectively. Accent tends to be on the third syllable from the end; thus the name ‘Śāṅkara’ sounds like ‘SHANG-ka-ra’, not ‘shang-KA-ra’. If the second syllable from the end is long, then it is accented; ‘Dignāga’ is pronounced ‘dig-NAA-ga’.

Citing this article:
Hayes, Richard P.. Pronunciation of Sanskrit words. Indian and Tibetan philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F086-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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