Hindi alphabet





Hindi alphabet and writing system

This section provides an overview of the Hindi alphabet and the Hindi writing system. The Hindi writing system is not an alphabetic writing system; rather it constitutes a cross between syllabic writing systems and alphabetic writing systems. However, the term "alphabet" in this section is used in a wider sense to include aspects of both systems. In addition, it is used in a similar sense to exclude or include some characters.


Traditional Hindi alphabet and standard Hindi alphabet

The traditional Hindi alphabet and the standard Hindi alphabet contain some common letters and each contains some unique letters. They both contain 11 vowel letters, अ to औ, and 33 consonants letters, क to ह.

In addition to those common letters, the standard Hindi alphabet, standardized by the Government of India, includes two instances of consonants ड and ढ with a combining mark Nukta, ड़ (represented as U+095C DEVANAGARI LETTER DDDHA in Unicode) and ढ़ (represented as U+095D DEVANAGARI LETTER RHA in Unicode). Nukta (represented as U+093C DEVANAGARI SIGN NUKTA in Unicode) extends a consonant letter to create a new letter with a subscript dot. The government guidelines[1] categorize the additional two consonants, ड़ and ढ़, as retroflex flapped consonants and mention that they are special sounds in Hindi that are not available in Sanskrit and that they never occur initially in Hindi words. In addition, the guidelines note that Nukta could occur with a few other consonant letters in the form of क़, ख़, ग़, ज़ and फ़ in order to represent some Arabic, Persian and English consonant sounds in Hindi words borrowed from those languages. However, the guidelines do not consider this category of the letters as consonants, unlike ड़ and ढ़.

As regards to the traditional Hindi alphabet, in addition to the common 11 vowels and 33 consonants, it includes three conjuncts, क्ष /kshya/, त्र /t̪ra/, ज्ञ /jɲa/, commonly regarded as consonants and two instances of vowel अ /a/ with a combining mark, अं /am/ and अः /ah/, commonly regarded as vowels in popular and traditional teachings. The alphabet presented at the beginning of this article represents the traditional Hindi alphabet.

The Hindi writing system

Hindi is written in Devanagari script, a descendant of the Brahmi script. The Devanagari script is written from left to right and there are no special forms for capital letters.

The effective unit or the smallest unit of the Hindi writing system is a syllable consisting of a consonant and vowel (CV) core, and optionally, one or more preceding consonants. The orthographic syllable is built up of alphabetic pieces consisting of three distinct character types: consonant letters, independent vowel letters, and dependent vowel signs. Consonant letters by themselves constitute a CV unit, where the V is an inherent vowel. Independent vowel letters also constitute a CV unit, where the C is considered to be null. A dependent vowel sign is used to represent a V in CV units where V is not the inherent vowel.

These characteristics make the Hindi writing system a cross between syllabic writing systems and alphabetic writing systems.

Similar to the alphabetic writing systems, it consists of consonants and vowels. However, all vowels cannot be written independently, which does not make it a true alphabetic writing system. In addition, the inherent vowel /a/ is not written at all.

The Hindi writing system also has a feature of the syllabic writing system in that its effective unit is a syllable. However, some aspects of the syllabic writing system are not present in the Hindi writing system.

In a syllabic writing system, each syllable is typically represented by one symbol, e.g., the Japanese katakana symbol "キ" /ki/ is written with one symbol but represents a syllable containing the consonant /k/ and vowel /i/. In the Hindi writing system, the syllable /ki/ is not written with one distinct symbol, but with two symbols, "क" /k/ and "ि" /i/.

Another distinction is the manner in which syllables starting with the same consonant are written. In syllabic writing systems, there is no regular way or a set pattern on which such syllables are written. For example, in Japanese katakana, syllables カ /ka/, キ /ki/, ク /ku/ are not written in a way that includes a common graphic aspect to indicate their common /k/ consonant. However, in the Hindi writing system, the syllables का /ka/, कि /ki/, के /ke/ are written in a regular way that includes the common graphic aspect, the /k/ consonant.

This type of writing system consisting of aspects of both alphabetic writing systems and syllabic writing systems has been termed as abugida, a term proposed by Peter T. Daniels, from the Ethiopian word for the Ge'ez script, an example of such writing system, and in which Ethiopian is written[2]. The term, abugida, is taken from the four CV units in the script, "ʾä bu gi da" - four consonants and the first four vowels of the script, in a similar way the term, abecedarium, is derived from the Latin alphabets "ā bē cē dē."

Hindi alphabet and Nepali alphabet
NLRC also aims to promote the regional languages of Nepal. Besides the Nepali language, the most common language of Nepal, various regional languages are spoken across the country. In the Terai region, the southern plains of Nepal that border India, Hindi also serves as a common language between the communities speaking different regional languages.

As both the Hindi alphabet and the Nepali alphabet are written using the Devanagari script, they share many common features in the manner in which they are written, and the characters used to write them are mostly the same, including the dependent vowel signs, digits and other characters. See Nepali alphabet and writing system for more details on the characters used in the Nepali writing system.

There are a few differences in the two writing systems, especially on the use of Chandrabindu and Shirbindu and other vowel signs, but the main difference between them is that the Nepali alphabet does not use Nukta, hence the two additional consonants present in the standard Hindi alphabet, ड़ and ढ़, as well as other forms of letters that include the Nukta mark in the traditional Hindi alphabet and the standard Hindi alphabet, are not present in the Nepali alphabet.

Note: The terminology used in this section follows that is used in the Unicode Standard.

[1] "Origin of Hindi, Devanagari Alphabet and its Romanization." hindinideshalaya.nic.in. Central Hindi Directorate, Ministry of Human Resource Development (India), n.d., Web. 30 Jan 2016.
[2] Daniels, Peter T. "Fundamentals of grammatology." Journal of the American Oriental Society (1990): 727-731.
The Unicode Standard, Version 7.0. Mountain View. The Unicode Consortium. 2014. Print.


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