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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, 2020 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, 2020 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. Aug 4, 2020 at 2:55
  • @AkshatSharma: You need to ask if Sanskrit script is phonetic. Asking that of a language is not meaningful.
    – PCH
    Feb 21, 2022 at 19:55

2 Answers 2

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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.

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    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, 2020 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. Aug 3, 2020 at 7:23
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    @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, 2020 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. Aug 3, 2020 at 11:41
  • @JanusBahsJacquet With Tamil: (1) āytam is not productively used and is fossilized in a closed set of ancient words and phrases occurring in ancient literature. And we don't even know its phonetics and so we cannot even comment on it in the current context. (2) A better answer is that stops are only phonemically indicated in Tamil scripts. The allophones of a stop are complementary/predictable and so their graphemes are not phonetic and requires learning if not a native speaker. Stops are unvoiced at the word-beginning and when doubled; voiced post-nasally; lenis intervocalically.
    – PCH
    Feb 21, 2022 at 18:01
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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, 2021 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. Apr 23, 2021 at 17:00
  • Consider the sound of letter 'व' in words व्रत and पकवान. In first word, the sound is same as 'v' sound in the word 'video' but in the second it is like 'w' sound in the word 'weird'. If you pronounce व in व्रत like 'w' sound, you will get the sound of the word औरत. Also notice that the ऊ in ऊर्णा has the 'w' sound.
    – Ritesh
    Sep 25, 2023 at 3:02
  • @Ritesh if you check the verse वकारस्य दन्तोष्ठम् in the excerpt from Panini's grammar, this rule, 'व' should be pronounced using the teeth and lips (specifically upper teeth and lower lips as taught to me). Not sure if this rule was strictly followed. Sep 26, 2023 at 9:04
  • @SanjitJena Rule is not a problem. There are words, somewhat similar to some English words, that retained the pronunciations but spellings were modified. We don't realize it as native speakers because it is very rare (or not 100% in the sprit of the OP's question). Please see jstor.org/stable/24652554.
    – Ritesh
    Sep 28, 2023 at 0:36

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