INDOLOGY FAQ. Re. Varanasi

Benjamin Slade ingeardagum at YAHOO.CO.UK
Wed Feb 17 20:15:37 UTC 2010

The pronunciation of "f" for "ph" is a wide-spread phenomenon among (some) speakers of Indo-Aryan languages; e.g. Hindu/Urdu _phal_ "fruit" is sometimes rendered by native Hindi speakers as _fal_, _phir_ "then" as _fir_, _phul_ "flower" rendered as _ful_ (Hindi films like to play with the resulting homophony with the English borrowing _ful_ "fool"...).

As far as I can tell, these are all hypercorrections: Indo-Aryan languages don't 'natively' possess the phone "f", but many borrowings from Perso-Arabic (and, later, of course, English) do, e.g. Hindi _faislaa_ "decision" (< Persian), _fon_ "phone" (from English). Speakers of rural dialects tend to approximate all of these "f"s as "ph"s, thus _phaislaa_, _phon_. More 'sophisticated' speakers usually render these properly as "f"s, but sometimes at the cost of 'converting' all "ph"s to "f"s: thus _fal_ for _phal_, _ful_ for _phul_ etc.
Benjamin Slade
Dept. of Linguistics
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 

email: bslade at 
lingblog: Stæfcræft & Vyakarana -

From: Herman Tull <hwtull at MSN.COM>
Sent: Wed, 17 February, 2010 13:03:00
Subject: Re: INDOLOGY FAQ. Re. Varanasi

This is irresistible, but speaking of "h"-s there is that little matter of the transformation of the Sanskrit "s" to the Persian "h"--not an "error" at all, or is it?

And, these lines, I always take pains to teach students to pronounce "phala" with an aspirated "p" sound, and not to confuse it with the "f" sound that is represented by "ph" in English (as in "nephew").  This year, however, I have a student (a native Bengali speaker) who pronounces it as as "fala".  I hesitate to "correct" him (I spend enough time trying to "get" his pronunciation of initial "a"-s which, of course, he pronounces [as do tens of millions of his countrymen] as "o-s").  When we discussed this, he cheerfully informed me that we really never can be sure exactly how native Sanskrit speakers pronounced their words.

By the way, I've brought to the attention of my introductory Sanskrit class some of the central elements of this topic (no names of course).  It led to a lively class discussion--in fact, much to my regret (and my students' glee), we barely had time for our translation work.



From: "Richard P. Hayes" <rhayes at UNM.EDU>
Sent: Wednesday, February 17, 2010 12:38 PM
Subject: Re: INDOLOGY FAQ. Re. Varanasi

> On Wed, 2010-02-17 at 11:44 -0500, Allen W Thrasher wrote:
>> "And then there was the apparently universal habit among news
>> commentators of speaking of "Ra-ZHeev" Gandhi. My theory is that the zh
>> for j was borrowed from French ("jeune"), and sounded nice and exotic,
>> while plain old j didn't have that same satisfying ring."
> It occurs to me that a similar consideration may account for the
> misplacement of 'h' in many Indic words as spelled by Americans, e.g.,
> Ghandi and Buddah. After all, 'h' is silent in Spanish and French (the
> two languages other than English that Americans are most likely to know
> or at least know something about), so it must be silent in all foreign
> languages. And if a letter is silent, it really doesn't matter where one
> puts it, right?
> Of course, Americans know that 'h' sometimes is part of a digraphic
> representation of a single sound, so American Ayurvedic aficionados will
> talk about their kapha (kaffa), and Yankee yogis will practice their
> hatha (where 'th' is pronounced as in 'think').
> Sorry for being precious again, Matthew. It's hard to resist having fun
> at the expense of Americans.
> -- Richard Philip Hayes
> Department of Philosophy
> (What a nice bundle of words with 'h', eh?)


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