Sandhi: Pronuncation and spelling of words and sentences

For a long time, Sanskrit was exclusively passed on via oral recitation. Sandhi, an impressive collection of rules, deals with the question of how words melt into each other for a more melodic pronunciation.

Sanskrit and Devanagari

Sandhi - Literally: Composition

The term sandhi (संधि, saṁdhi m.) was coined in the Sanskrit grammar by Pannini. Translated literally, it means "composition". The Sandhi rules describe phonological changes that appear when two words meet. These changes facilitate pronunciation and make it more melodic since elements following each other are assimilated. This is the prerequisite for the characteristic melody of the Sanskrit language which makes it possible to learn texts by heart by chanting them and to pass them on over generations.

Please note:

Many modern languages, in particular dialects, show the same phenomenon:

  • English: "a apple" becomes "an apple"
  • Rhenish: „Ich habe" becomes "Isch hann“ [dialect version of "I have"]
  • Rhenish: „Ich aber nicht.“ becomes "Ijj_ävver nit." [dialect version of "But not me."]
  • Bavarian: "die Mutter" becomes "d' Muetter" [dialect version of "the mother"]
  • Norvegian: "Jeg ha schagt " becomes "Jeg har sagt"

Rules on final sounds

The rules on final sounds facilitate the pronunciation of words when they stand alone, before suffixes are added and before further Sandhi rules are applied. According to these rules, words can only finish with a vowel, a Visarga (ḥ) or nine specific consonants (k, ṅ, ñ, ṇ, n, m, ṭ, t, p).

Please note:

The following rules are applied after the rule on final sounds. Therefore, they only consider vowels as well as ḥ, k, ṅ, ñ, ṇ, n, m, ṭ, t, p as final sounds.

These Sandhi rules apply to:

  • the meeting of two words
  • the parts of compounds
  • root words when suffixes, grammar endings or prefixes are added

Internal Sandhi

Internal Sandhi describes the phonological change within a word after a grammar ending has been added.

Compound and separate spelling of words in Devanagari and phonetic script

Originially, all Sanskrit words were written together in Devanāgarī Script. This corresponds to the mostly oral or chanted tradition, in which words melt into each other in a melodic singsong. It was only in the 19th century that a separate spelling of words started to become predominant in both Devanāgarī Script and in the European scripts derived from it.


Vowels as final sounds

According to this external Sandhi rule, vowels as final sounds merge with the next word if it also starts with a vowel. If the word starts with a consonant, there is no merger.

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