Bengali: Pronunciation of য়

swatshak

New Member
Hindi/Urdu
The letter য় is typically described as a semi-vowel that takes the yô (/e̯ɔ/) sound, according to Wikipedia.

But in Hanne-Ruth Thompson's "Beginner's Bengali", the author states that য় may be pronounced as y (as in layer), w as in (away), or at the end of syllables as e. I can't seem to find a lot of information on Bengali phonology beyond the wiki page and a couple of other entries, and none of them cover these cases. Can someone enlighten me on the set of rules to determine the correct pronunciation of য়?

Thanks in advance. :)
 
  • stormmaashrooms

    New Member
    Bengali-Standard (Muslim) & English-USA
    I believe I can help with that!
    অন্তস্থ য় antastha ya (many people say antastha a instead) is a bit of a tricky letter which we can thank Vidyasagar for. The letter was created essentially because Bengalis no longer pronounced the Sanskrit letter য ya the same at the beginnings of words, so we made it so that the old letter ya be pronounced ja (antastha ja) and made a new letter which modifies the old one with a bindu/nuqta (়) to represent something near the original sound, which on paper is only to be used when non-word-initial.

    The natural sound it makes is generally what you have cited from Wikipedia, a semivowel version of /e/, /e̯/, for example, মায়া māyā. The sound can be a semivowel version of /i/, /j/, as well, especially when the regular phoneme is impractical, a good example being the word bāyu "wind". If one were to make a rule out of this, the rule would probably be "if preceded or succeeded by a close/high vowel, then the letter য় is pronounced /j/".
    The /w/ use is where things get a little bit stupid. Bengali used to have a letter for w like basically all other Indic languages, but the written character merged with ব ba. When Vidyasagar standardised the language based on his own dialect, which had lost most of the distinction, he just ditched the now-booted letter altogether (whereas the sister language Assamese retains a letter for it). But now how were Bengalis supposed to write w for loanwords and stuff? The answer is that we took the letter for য় ya that we just made and declared that it is silent after the letter ও o, as some uses of independent vowels are forbidden in the Bengali orthography (we probably wouldn't have these exceptions if we just kept the darn w). But, get this, we can't use the inherent vowel, short a/ô, in this construct for some reason, so this whole weird system was made so we could write a single syllable, ওয়া . To this day, Bengalis have lots of trouble pronouncing wa () and wu, exiled from the language. The Arabic words وقت waqt and وکیل wakīl are written as ওক্ত okta (which is now commonly called ওয়াক্ত wākta) and উকীল ukīl (the ও o probably got harmonised into an উ u), for example, and in our language, we resort to saying বলিউড baliuḍ (bôliud) instead of 'Bollywood'. In case you were wondering, we generally use the letter উ u to represent w in other "w+vowel" constructs, like উইকি uiki "wiki", but such usages are considered to be more diphthongal than consonant+vowel combos.
    TLDR; য় is pronounced w when it has the letter ও o (independent or dependent) which you will only find followed by the diacritical া -ā. It would also be correct to say that the letter just becomes silent, based on how you choose to think of it.
    The whole syllable-final e thing isn't really 100% true, it's just that some people prefer to think/transcribe it like that when it's really still just a semivowel version of the independent e as previously mentioned. An example of where some people may have this preference is ছয় chhay, for which many will write chhoy or chhôe instead. You could technically do this in any place where this letter makes its most common sound, so some people may write my previous মায়া māyā example as māeā, though I do not prefer this method for the sake of coveted consistency.

    Hope this helps!
     

    swatshak

    New Member
    Hindi/Urdu
    TLDR; য় is pronounced w when it has the letter ও o (independent or dependent) which you will only find followed by the diacritical া -ā. It would also be correct to say that the letter just becomes silent, based on how you choose to think of it.
    The whole syllable-final e thing isn't really 100% true, it's just that some people prefer to think/transcribe it like that when it's really still just a semivowel version of the independent e as previously mentioned. An example of where some people may have this preference is ছয় chhay, for which many will write chhoy or chhôe instead. You could technically do this in any place where this letter makes its most common sound, so some people may write my previous মায়া māyā example as māeā, though I do not prefer this method for the sake of coveted consistency.
    Thanks for that wonderful explanation!

    Just to make sure I have understood it correctly: it's mostly pronounced as /e̯ɔ/, except when it's preceded by ও, in which case it always takes the diacritical া and the two are together pronounced as 'wa'. Examples of this second form would be the common verbs দেওয়া ('dewa') and নেওয়া ('newa').

    Is that right?

    P.S.: Since you clearly have such a strong grasp on Bengali phonology, I urge you to add this information to the wiki page linked in my original post, to make it easier to find this information for future learners. I would love to do it myself, but I am not very well-versed in these nuances.
     

    swatshak

    New Member
    Hindi/Urdu
    Also, on a related note: how exactly are words such as চেয়েও pronounced? Google suggests "cē'ō", which would imply that the 'y' sound is entirely skipped.
     

    stormmaashrooms

    New Member
    Bengali-Standard (Muslim) & English-USA
    Thanks for that wonderful explanation!

    Just to make sure I have understood it correctly: it's mostly pronounced as /e̯ɔ/, except when it's preceded by ও, in which case it always takes the diacritical া and the two are together pronounced as 'wa'. Examples of this second form would be the common verbs দেওয়া ('dewa') and নেওয়া ('newa').

    Is that right?

    P.S.: Since you clearly have such a strong grasp on Bengali phonology, I urge you to add this information to the wiki page linked in my original post, to make it easier to find this information for future learners. I would love to do it myself, but I am not very well-versed in these nuances.
    You are most welcome.
    Yes you have successfully grasped and explained the nuances of the letter in much fewer sentences than I could :thumbsup:
    And yes the examples of দেওয়া dewā and নেওয়া newā are indeed correct.
    Just make sure you remember when the sound becomes /j/ so that you don't have to deal with any awkward or impractical pronunciations of words; basically, make it a normal 'y' sound if it 'touches' an 'i' or 'u', as saying bāeu is hard (and incorrect)!
    And I shall see to that Wiki edit idea of yours, though it may take me a minute as I am perhaps not the most tech-savvy.

    Also, on a related note: how exactly are words such as চেয়েও pronounced? Google suggests "cē'ō", which would imply that the 'y' sound is entirely skipped.
    Google is half-right, I'd say. There are different ways you could interpret the sound. You may say that this sound is somewhat comparable to when we say 'seeing' in English, which (at least when I pronounce it) is like a 'y' sound sandwiched between two double 'e's. The word চেয়ে cheye is similar in that it is a semivowel surrounded by the full-vowel forms of itself on both sides. I would say that the vowel is pronounced like a double-length form of the regular এ e, as there are in fact 2 of them. However, when pronouncing the word I do feel a minute constriction in my "palate"-thingy in the very middle of doing so, so interpret that as you may.
    When we Bengalis speak faster, we will of course not pronounce the vowel long, a phenomenon comparable to the r-dropping we are guilty of. For example তার চেয়েও বেশী tār cheyeo beśī may sound more like তাচ্চেও বেশী tāccheo beśī in daily conversation (even in Standard speech). But for eloquent speech, as I generally expect from translators, I would approve more of a double e or eye in the transliteration.
     

    swatshak

    New Member
    Hindi/Urdu
    Thanks once again for your explanations; I am finally confident enough to try and pronounce words with য়!

    I finally got my hands on Hanne-Ruth Thompson's book for intermediate Bengali learners where she provides the following rule:

    য় is pronounced as 'w' between -

    1) ও and আ - this is the same as your explanation, and she cites the example of খাওয়া (although she writes it as "khaowa" instead of "khawa").

    2) উ and আ - this makes sense, since উ and ও make a similar sound. Here she cites the example of জুয়া (juwa), which also matches your explanation.

    3) উ and ও - this one is confusing, because she writes her cited example শূয়োর as "shuor", not "shuwor".

    Is that correct?
     

    stormmaashrooms

    New Member
    Bengali-Standard (Muslim) & English-USA
    Thanks once again for your explanations; I am finally confident enough to try and pronounce words with য়!

    I finally got my hands on Hanne-Ruth Thompson's book for intermediate Bengali learners where she provides the following rule:

    য় is pronounced as 'w' between -

    1) ও and আ - this is the same as your explanation, and she cites the example of খাওয়া (although she writes it as "khaowa" instead of "khawa").

    2) উ and আ - this makes sense, since উ and ও make a similar sound. Here she cites the example of জুয়া (juwa), which also matches your explanation.

    3) উ and ও - this one is confusing, because she writes her cited example শূয়োর as "shuor", not "shuwor".

    Is that correct?
    I was just about to sincerely apologise for not mentioning the rule that য় ya is silent when between উ u and আ ā (and perhaps in a few other places as well), my mistake. The example I would have given was the word কুয়া kuā "well" (cognate with Hindustani कुआँ کنواں). There are two ways to interpret this use: the regular way in which we think of য় ya as a 'w' in some contexts, and thinking that য় ya is functioning kind of like the hamzah of the Arabic script if you happen to be familiar with it (basically, vowel clusters in Urdu require this character to be written). The latter is the logic I believe most of my fellow Bengalis employ. Another example, this time very probably using the hamzah logic, is গোয়া goā, the Indian state.
    TLDR; I forgot to tell you that second rule, I'm terribly sorry about that. The use of য় in that context is more generally thought to mean that the letter is silenced, but thinking it to be 'w' is by no means wrong.
    Once again, please pardon me for my error.

    The third example/rule which you have cited from the book is one that I personally would not have included. শূয়োর śūor/শুয়োর śuor is a bit of an anomaly. It is actually just the harmonised form of the earlier (and technically more proper) শূয়ার śūār/শুয়ার śuār (as per regular Bengali vowel harmony, ā became o in the presence of u). In fact, not everyone even writes this word with য় ya, many opt for the independent ও o instead, thus শূওর/শুওর. I also would not have written the 'w' in transcription, like the authoress, out of preference, but I certainly wouldn't call not doing so incorrect. In summary, maybe ditch that last one?
     

    swatshak

    New Member
    Hindi/Urdu
    @stormmaashrooms Aah, I think I finally understand now.

    I listened to a few Bangla clips online and I definitely struggled to ascertain if the য় sound in words like কুয়া really is silent, or if it takes the 'w' sound - the lip movements are almost entirely similar. Now that I think about it, even in pronouncing দেওয়া, right before the 'w' sound the lips do form the same shape as required to make the 'o' sound (although it's also possible to make the 'w' sound without doing so); thus 'deowa' might be as correct as 'dewa'.

    Many thanks once again for all your help!
     

    stormmaashrooms

    New Member
    Bengali-Standard (Muslim) & English-USA
    @stormmaashrooms Aah, I think I finally understand now.

    I listened to a few Bangla clips online and I definitely struggled to ascertain if the য় sound in words like কুয়া really is silent, or if it takes the 'w' sound - the lip movements are almost entirely similar. Now that I think about it, even in pronouncing দেওয়া, right before the 'w' sound the lips do form the same shape as required to make the 'o' sound (although it's also possible to make the 'w' sound without doing so); thus 'deowa' might be as correct as 'dewa'.

    Many thanks once again for all your help!
    Never a problem. Sorry about our language's ambiguity in this matter :/
    There really isn't a right answer with the কুয়া phenomenon, as I would say that kuā and kuwā could be classified as being pretty much the exact same sound, it's just whatever is easier for one to comprehend. That being said, I would argue that দেওয়া is certainly more of a dewā than a deowā as the sound made is not anything like a long o or a geminated w, but a regular w. I believe the latter transcription/pronunciation is more for staying true to the script rather than reflecting the pronunciation (which isn't bad per se).
    Just in case you would like to know, an alternative form of the aforementioned infinitive verb is দেয়া deyā (which I happen to like a bit more) aka deā. I would prefer to just call it deyā (my reasoning being that য় is just a semivowel version of preceding এ, resulting in what I would call a merging of their phonemes), but it could technically be pronounced/interpreted as either, a similar predicament to কুয়া.
    Sorry for stretching this out a bit, good luck with your Bengali learning endeavours.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    Also, on a related note: how exactly are words such as চেয়েও pronounced? Google suggests "cē'ō", which would imply that the 'y' sound is entirely skipped.
    I'd like to add a small bit to @stormmaashrooms' quite competent explanation. The final -o in this word is not a full vowel, it is the semivowel version of it. So, whether you pronounce the "e" as single length (as is common in fast speech) or as double (more common in slower/careful speech), the final -o comes in the same syllable with it, being pronounced as a sort of "w".
     

    swatshak

    New Member
    Hindi/Urdu
    @Dib thank you for your explanation; I must say that words with in them no longer seem that intimidating!
     
    < Previous | Next >
    Top