Even though many languages are still written in Devanagari, they have a problem of schwa deletion. But that problem doesn't exist in Sanskrit. I know that almost all languages have phonetic inconsistencies, does any such problem exist in Sanskrit as well?

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    Do you mean phonemic? – curiousdannii Aug 3 '20 at 4:36
  • I don't think this question can be answered. Sanskrit has had plenty of dialects and has been written in plenty of scripts. Sanskrit is far older than nagari scripts. Maybe some pairs of dialect and script were phonemic? – prash Aug 3 '20 at 13:15
  • @curiousdannii Perhaps. I don't know the difference between the two, I think "phonetic" is a more loose term whereas "phonemic" might be the rigorous one. – Akshat Sharma Aug 4 '20 at 2:55

What people usually mean by a language being "phonetic" is that from the writing, you can tell exactly how the written text is supposed to be pronounced, if you know how to interpret the letters correctly. This is the case with Sanskrit, at least as far as we can determine. That is, for any spelling of a text, there are no lexical ideosyncracies in how it is to be read. There is one area of uncertainty, namely accent in Classical Sanskrit (not Vedic), that we don't know where the accent is in the later language, and there is no written indication.

  • Not only Sanskrit, all Indian languages are such that the learners do not have to study phonetics. In fact, studying a language and additionally studying its phonetics is tiresome. – Ram Pillai Aug 3 '20 at 5:28
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    @RamPillai Not true. As mentioned in the question, many modern Indian languages, such as Hindi, are written in Devanagari but have undergone a process of schwa-deletion; Tamil uses the āytam, which does not correspond to any specific sound. These things make the scripts unpredictable. Plus, phonetics is just the sounds used in a language, and you cannot learn to speak any language without first learning what sounds you should be making when speaking it. You don’t study phonetics additionally to learning a language – it’s as integral as learning vocabulary and grammar. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 3 '20 at 7:23
  • @JanusBahsJacquet, Appreciate your views. I read Hindi and Sanskrit - neither is my mother tongue - without getting into their phonetics. It is because a vowel or consonant leaves no confusion with the reader on how it should be pronounced, unlike English which has 26 letters and 44 sounds. I also agree that it is just how English distinguishes itself from a typical Indian language. – Ram Pillai Aug 3 '20 at 10:46
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    @RamPillai It leaves no confusion for you because you already know the system. Sanskrit is, as mentioned, quite unambiguous, but Hindi is a different matter. If you don’t actually speak Hindi and know where to delete schwas, you cannot confidently predict the pronunciation of a written word. As someone who doesn’t speak Hindi, I have no way of knowing when to pronounce भार as bhār (e.g., भारतीय bhārtīy) and when to pronounce it as bhārə (e.g., भारत bhārət). You cannot infer that from the writing alone. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Aug 3 '20 at 11:41

I mostly agree with the other answer by user6726. However, I would like to point out a subtle variation in the pronunciation of the letter अ in Sanksrit with the region it is spoken. The speakers from Indian Eastern Ghats i.e. Bengal and Odisha speak it in a way closer to oʊ (as in boat) and ɔ: (as in paw) respectively, unlike those in Northern Plains who speak it as ə (as in about). Although I was taught that way in an English-medium school in India, the latter may not necessarily be the standard way of speaking since I have seen learned priests in different regions recite the rituals in varying tones.

Other than this, I cannot find any instance where a letter can have two sounds in Sanskrit.

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    At least three characters have varying pronunciations: अ, ऋ and ऐ. The first is like you said, and is pronounced in the Konkan similarly to the Eastern pronunciation. ऋ varies between रु and रि in modern languages, while it was more of a vowel in Sanskrit. ऐ varies between more of an eh sound an sort of like an आई diphthong. – 007 Apr 14 at 10:40
  • @user916972 you're right, I agree with you. A vowel, by my own definition, should necessarily produce voiced sound that is uninterrupted and 'does not change'. This would ensure that ऋ and ऐ are pronounced correctly. – Sanjit Jena Apr 23 at 17:00

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