Gutturals

Gutturals are produced deep down at the back of the oral cavity, at the bridge of the soft palate and the throat. In Sanskrit, there are guttural vowels (a / ā), plosives (k,kh,g,gh), nasals (ṅ) and fricatives (h). There is no guttural semivowel.

Pronunciation

Exercise

One of the best exercises to improve your pronunciation of Sanskrit is to consciously articulate all sounds produced at one place of articulation. Watch how similar the vibration of individual letters in the mouth feels and how you can easily move from one letter to the next. In this exercise, the phonation space becomes closer and closer:

  • a: vowel - phonation space completely open. You can feel a short vibration at the soft palate.
  • ā: vowel - phonation space completely open. You can feel a longer vibration at the soft palate.
  • h: fricative - The soft palate is almost closed off, the air swirls there.
  • k: plosive - There is a short closure at the soft palate, the air streams out afterwards.
  • kh: plosive, aspirated - A breath of air follows.
  • g: plosive, voiced - The sound is voiced.
  • gh: plosive, voiced, aspirated - Again, a breath of air follows.
  • ṅ: nasal - The closure stays, air streams out through the nose.

Guttural vowels

  • a / ā: Relax your mouth and half open it on pronunciation of this sound. While the short a is only sounded briefly, the long ā lingers. Both vowels make the throat (guttural) vibrate deep down.

Examples:

  • a: kann, Affe
  • ā: Kahn, Vater

Guttural plosive

  • ka: The tongue closes off the soft palate. The contact is released after slight pressure.
  • kha: The analogue sound with more air.
  • ga: The analogue sound with vibration or voice.
  • gha: The voiced sound with more air.

Examples:

  • ka: Skat, Muskat
    In German, usually within a word.
  • kha: Kaffee, Kanu
    In German, usually at the beginning of a word.
  • ga: Gabel, Galopp
    The usual German g.
  • gha: Flughafen, taghhell
    Occurs in German only in compound words.

Guttural nasal

  • ṅa: The tongue closes off the soft palate/the throat. In contrast to the plosive ka or ga, though, the contact is not released but remains. The sound is nasalised.

Examples:

  • ṅa: Gesang, langer, Hang
    In German, the guttural is intuitively pronounced correctly in front of other guttural sounds such as ka, kha, ga oder gha. For instance in aṣṭāga yoga.

Aspirate - the guttural fricative

In linguistics, "aspirate" is the technical term for an unvoiced glottal fricative.

  • ha: A guttural fricative (5).

Examples:

In German, the aspirate only occurs in the initial sound of syllables.

  • ha: Harmonie

Im Sanskrit, though, it also occurs within words or in final sounds. Here, the pronunciation is similar to the guttural friction as in the German i-ch.

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