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Lesson Transcript

Manasi: [Namaste hindipod101.com mein swagat hai]
Maya: Hey everyone, Maya here and welcome to all about lesson 2. Cracking the Hindi Writing System. In this lesson, Manasi and I are going to explain a little bit more about one of the most unique aspects of the Hindi language, the writing system.
Manasi: That’s right Maya. There are a lot of things that we are going to cover in this lesson.
Maya: Definitely. The Hindi writing system is actually a pretty different one from those usually used in western languages but we are here to make the trip through it easy and fun.

Lesson focus

Manasi: Let’s start with the basics with the name of this script.
Maya: Yes it is the Devanagari script, right?
Manasi: Exactly. Do you know why it is called that?
Maya: Well I’d be fascinated to know.
Manasi: The name Devanagari is made up of two Sanskrit words, Deva which means god, Brahma or celestial and Nagari which means city. The name is variously translated as heavenly or sacred script of the city.
Maya: That’s interesting.
Manasi: Yes and the Hindi Alphabet consist of 11 vowels and 40 consonants.
Maya: Wow, that’s a lot. I hear Hindi uses a system of letters but they are different in many ways than in English.
Manasi: Yes what you might think of as letters are mostly consonants. The whole system comes from Sanskrit and pronunciation of these consonants is largely preserved in modern Hindi.
Maya: Okay so do you have vowels?
Manasi: Yes we do but they are mostly indicated using something called matra which are applied to the consonants to form syllables.
Maya: So wait, what are these matra again?
Manasi: They are marks not unlike the diacritics in the Latin alphabet but which indicate the sound of a whole letter.
Maya: Interesting.
Manasi: The main difference in appearance is that most of the matra connect directly to these consonant letters while diacritic generally do not touch the letters of the Latin alphabet.
Maya: Ah so how many letter forms are there in Hindi?
Manasi: There are more than 100 basic letter forms in Devanagari.
Maya: Are you kidding me? It took me long enough to learn the Roman alphabet.
Manasi: Okay but there are a couple of good news. One is that these matra are often very predictable. So once you learn a certain rule, you can read whole classes of letter forms and then there is one more good point.
Maya: And what is that?
Manasi: You write exactly as you speak. So once you learn the pronunciation of individual letter forms, spelling is a breeze.
Maya: Yes Devanagari is a phonetic based script.
Manasi: And also Devanagari has no case distinction. You don’t have to worry about complicated grammar rules that tell you when to use an uppercase or a lowercase letter.
Maya: Okay. This is sounding better and better. Any more good news? Are there any tricky punctuation rules?
Manasi: No Maya. It is very similar to English if not simpler. We write horizontally left to right as in usual English. Spaces mark the separation between words and we have simple punctuation marks to mark the end of sentences.
Maya: Great. Devanagari is starting to sound pretty easy. I am ready to hear more about these matras.
Manasi: Well, first there are only 10 of them.
Maya: Well, that still sounds like a lot to me.
Manasi: Don’t worry. You will get the hang of it very quickly. I am sure everyone can do it. So let me tell you about a basic letter. It’s called [k]. It contains an [a] sound naturally. You don’t have to do anything to put the [a] sound in.
Maya: Okay.
Manasi: Now there are matras for sound like E.
Maya: I think I see where we are going with this.
Manasi: Just put that matra on to the letter [k] and you will have
Maya: A [ki] sound. Okay so this doesn’t sound so hard.
Manasi: Exactly Maya. It just takes us small amount of memorization and practice.
Maya: I will definitely have to explore that in more detail but I think I’ve got the basics.
Manasi: Yes Maya, you can learn more about these matras in other lessons, in the PDF notes that accompany this lesson and definitely on the hindipod101.com website.
Maya: I think I understand these matras now but what if we want to write two consonants lumped together without any vowel in between?
Manasi: Very good question. We actually just chop off the trailing part of the first consonant letter and attach what’s left to the second consonant.
Maya: Can you give an example?
Manasi: Sure like in [kya] which means what. We just chop off [k] in half and attach the letter for [ya] to it.
Maya: That doesn’t sound so hard.
Manasi: You can form many more such words.
Maya: This is all making a lot of sense to me. Well I heard something about imported sounds though. What’s that all about?
Manasi: Hindi has borrowed a large number of words from foreign languages over the years.
Maya: I see and sometimes, those languages have sounds that aren’t native to Hindi. I get it.
Manasi: So we just use the closest letter in Devanagari and add a dot mark below it. For example, [J] is an original Hindi sound but [Z] is an imported sound. We use the same letter [J] but just add a dot below it.
Maya: How easy!
Manasi: Yes the next step in learning Devanagari is actually to look at the script. Well it will be difficult to describe it further in an audio only format.
Maya: So listeners, definitely check out the accompanying PDF or go to hindipod101.com for more information.
Manasi: Maya, you know how to read Devanagari pretty well. How did you learn it?
Maya: Well first I practiced saying the original letter forms on their own one by one and then I just practiced reading the words, then sentences. Pretty soon, it came quite naturally.
Manasi: Yes I imagine it’s as easy as reading English when you get the hang of it.


Maya: Yes that’s true. Well all right listeners, that’s all for this lesson.
Manasi: Want a free way to build your Hindi vocabulary?
Maya: Follow our Hindi word of the day at hindipod101.com
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Maya: Plus sample phrases and sentences.
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Maya: And add this widget to our own website or blog. They are available in 35 languages.
Manasi: Get these easy instructions at hindipod101.com/hindi-phrases.
Maya: And we will see you next time.
Manasi: Phir milenge goodbye!
Maya: Goodbye!