The Devanāgarī Script

In order to appreciate the significance of the ordering of letters in Devanagari, some background information is necessary.

Place of Articulation

Consonants can be classified according to the place within the mouth that they are articulated.

  • Velar consonants are pronounced with the back of the tongue touching the soft palate. Examples of velar consontants in English include “k” as in “keep”, and “g” as in “good”.
  • Palatal consonants are pronounced with the tongue touching the hard palate. Examples of palatal consonants in English include “ch” as in “change” and “j” as in “job”.
  • Retroflex consonants are pronounced with the tongue curled slightly backward and touching the front portion of the hard palate. There are no retroflex consonants in English. As an example, try pronouncing the “t” in “tip”, yet curl your tongue backward.
  • Dental consonants are pronounced with the tip of the tongue touching the back of the upper front teeth. Examples of dental consontants in English include the “th” in “the”, and the “th” in “thin”.
  • Labial consonants are pronounced with the lips. Examples of labial consonants in English include the “p” in “pit”, the “b” in “boy”, and the “m” in “man”.

Manner of articulation

Consonants can also be classified according to their manner of articulation.

  • Unvoiced consonants are pronounced without vibrating the vocal cords. Examples of unvoiced consonants in English include the “s” in “sit”, the “p” in “pit”, the “t” in “time”, etc.
  • Voiced consonants are pronounced by vibrating the vocal cords. Examples of voiced consonants in English include the “z” in “zoo”, and the “g” in “good”.
  • Unaspirated consonants are pronounced without a breath of air following the consonant. Contrast the pronunciation of the “p” in “spit” and the “p” in “pit”; the former is unaspirated, whereas the latter is aspirated.
  • Aspirated consonants are pronounced with a strong breath of air following the consonant, as the “p” in “pit”.
  • Nasal consonants are pronounced with some air flowing through the nose. Examples of nasal consonants in English include the “n” in “English”, the “n” in “punch”, and the “m” in “me”.
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