Hindi, Sanskrit: Anusvaara before य

El Ganador

Senior Member
India - Hindi and English
The anusvaara before a 'य' is apparently pronounced as 'ञ'.

However, I wonder why there are a lot of words where the 'य' is associated with other nasals (न्याय, अन्यथा, पुण्य, वरेण्य, रम्या).
The only words I can think of that use the anusvaara before the 'य' is 'संयुक्त', 'संयोग', etc, and I have never seen them as 'सञ्युक्त', 'सञ्योग', etc (though that may be due to the trend of replacing 'ञ' with an anusvaara almost all the time in Hindi).

So, what is the reason for this?

I ask this because the plosives are rarely associated with nasals excepting the one homorganic to them. Since 'य' isn't a plosive, is it an exception?
Last edited:
  • The anusvaara before the य is a spelling borrowed from Sanskrit. Words such as संयुक्त and संयोग are spelled as such in Sanskrit. I believe it only occurs in compounds that have the element सं before the य. In compounds, सम् takes the form सं. I think @Au101 can elaborate more on this with his extensive knowledge of Sanskrit.
    The anusvāra in Sanskrit is an absolutely fascinating topic, but it is not a straightforward one. It is not straightforward at all.

    There was a very brilliant American Sanskrit scholar called William Dwight Whitney whose Sanskrit Grammar is almost unsurpassed in its combination of thoroughness and concision. It is a superb reference work. It is a little bit out of date, but you can only be so out of date when it comes to a language which is thousands of years old. He is, however, out of date in quite another, more unfortunate way. Whitney did not like later Sanskrit literature, or even the whole Classical language itself, really. He was also quite dismissive of the Indian grammatical tradition at times and extremely blunt in giving his personal opinions. To a slightly less unenlightened modern Western reader it is almost comical that he felt emboldened to write some of the things that he wrote, although at times he has a point. Nevertheless I will refer to his discussion (with due apologies for his attitude) which can be read in its original here: Sanskrit Grammar (Whitney)/Chapter II - Wikisource, the free online library beginning number 70.

    When certain nasal sounds appear before other sounds in Sanskrit, sandhi changes occur. The nasal sounds that concern us here are word-final m, the penultimate nasal of a root and a nasal increment (you don't need to worry about what that is; in fact forget the last 2, word-final m will do for the purposes of illustration). If a word that ends in m is followed by a word that begins with a stop, the final m is assimilated into the class nasal that corresponds to that stop. Thus, as in Sanskrit/Hindi: Anusvaara अं:

    रामम् करोति -> रामङ्करोति
    रामम् च -> रामञ्च
    रामम् टीका -> रामण्टीका

    What if the next letter is not a stop, though? What if it's a semivowel (like य) or a fricative? In this case there is no contact made. The articulators are brought close together, but do not touch. We are told that in this case the nasal element that the final m is converted into is also without contact. "It is a nasal utterance with unclosed mouth-organs. The question is, now, whether this nasal utterance becomes merely a nasal inflection of the preceding vowel, turning it into a nasal vowel (as in French on, en, un, etc., by reason of a similar loss of a nasal mute [stop]); or whether it is an element of more individual character, having place between the vowel and the consonant; or, once more, whether it is sometimes the one thing and sometimes the other."

    Unfortunately, there is no single answer to this question. The Indian grammatical treatises do not agree with each other.

    The Atharva-Prātiśākhya says that this combination (of word-final m + semivowel or fricative) always results in a nasal vowel (as in मैं हूँ (both vowels)) unless the next sound is a l, in which case you get a nasalised l. So रामम् वदति -> rāmã vadati (with nasalised a), but रामम् लोके -> rāmal̃loke with a nasalised l, which isn't an easy thing to type!

    The other Prātiśākhyas say that this also happens before y and v, but not r. I.e. m + y -> nasalised and the same also for m + v. Before r and the sibilants (śa, ṣa, sa) and ha the Atharva-Prātiśākhya says you get a nasalised vowel, but the others say you get anusvāra (literally 'after-tone').

    However, there is no general agreement on what exactly the anusvāra was.

    Of the nature of this nasal afterpiece to the vowel no intelligibly clear account is given. It is said (RPr. [Rig-Veda-Prātiśākhya]) to be either vowel or consonant; it is declared (RPr., VPr. [Rig-Veda-Prātiśākhya, Vājasaneyi-Prātiśākhya]) to be made with the nose alone, or (TPr. [Tāittirīya-Prātiśākhya]) to be nasal like the nasal mutes [nasal stops]; it is held by some (RPr. [Rig-Veda-Prātiśākhya]) to be the sonant [voiced] tone of the nasal mutes; in its formation, as in that of vowel and spirant [fricative], there is (RPr. [Rig-Veda-Prātiśākhya]) no contact. As to its quantity, see further on.

    I'm sure you will find this document absolutely fascinating


    It focuses on the pronunciation of anusvāra in the Tāittirīya school of the (Black) Yajur-Veda. Among other things it describes the Śuddhānusvāra 'pure anusvāra':

    So what does 'pure nasal' mean then?

    The answer is that though no sound can be strictly called a pure nasal by the above definition, the tradition still calls the anusvāra a 'pure' nasal because it does not involve any 'impurities' which here means articulations that are used in creating other (nasal) sounds such as [ŋ] [ɲ] [ɳ] [n̪] or [m]. This means that there is no stricture in the oral cavity.

    This does not mean that there is an open stricture, since that would cause only a nasalized vowel. So what does this mean? The answer must come only from tradition, which tells us to simply close the mouth, without forming any particular stricture. This may seem a ridiculously simple answer, but it is the truth. When the mouth is simply closed, the air does not pass through the oral cavity, although it does, unavoidably, come into contact with the oral cavity, and then passes through the nasal cavity.

    It also notices a peculiarity of certain traditions whereby anusvāra is pronounced gṃ in certain places.

    It really is fascinating. It really isn't straightforward. Pāṇini takes a different approach. He generally prescribes anusvāra everywhere, but a nasal semivowel is also allowed before a semivowel.

    It is evidently a fair question whether this discordance and uncertainty of the Hindu phoneticists is owing to a real difference of utterance in different classes of cases and in different localities, or whether to a different scholastic analysis of what is really everywhere the same utterance. If anusvāra is a nasal element following the vowel, it cannot well be any thing but either a prolongation of the same vowel-sound with nasality added, or a nasalized bit of neutral-vowel sound (in the latter case, however, the altering influence of an i or u-vowel on a following s ought to be prevented, which is not the case: see 183).

    If you followed that, frankly, well done!

    This isn't adhered to in the modern classroom. Well it wasn't in mine anyway! What we were taught to do is pronounce an anusvāra as the class nasal before the stops and everywhere else as [ŋ].
    So now we get round to spelling. The Sanskrit manuscripts use two signs, which in Hindi you will know as bindu and candrabindu. "Usually they are written above the syllable, and there they seem most naturally to imply a nasal affection of the vowel of the syllable, a nasal (anunāsika) vowel." Manuscripts of the Sāma-Veda and Yajur-Veda actually use all kinds of very different and varied special signs which are written as full letters at the same size as all the others if they mean anusvāra instead of a nasalised vowel. And frankly I would love it if somebody could explain that to me in more detail, because if you look at specialist Vedic fonts like Siddhanta http://www.sanskritweb.net/itrans/siddhanta-glyphlist-2.pdf you will find honestly loads of variants. I don't know what the relevance or uses of those are. That's not a common thing, though. Some manuscripts meanwhile use candrabindu for a nasalised vowel and bindu everywhere else. This is what we do in modern printed texts as well and it's similar to Hindi. "But the two are doubtless originally and properly equivalent."

    Now. Many Sanskrit manuscripts use the bindu pretty indiscriminately. They use it for any nasal at the end of any syllable unless (and only unless) a vowel comes afterwards, in which case the full nasal plus vowel is written. The manuscripts pay no attention to whether the nasal should be pronounced as a true anusvāra, a nasal stop or a nasal semivowel. This greatly upset Whitney, who calls it a "slovenly and undesirable habit" (!!), but what modern Sanskrit editions tend to do is to write nasal stops where they should be pronounced as nasal stops, but use anusvāra where it is to be pronounced as anusvāra or (crucially) where it is the result of final m + stop. So we tend to see even in Western editions रामं करोति not रामङ्करोति, रामं च not रामञ्च. The pronunciation is however with the class nasal, exactly like in Hindi, so रामं करोति is pronounced रामङ्करोति.

    Your examples संयुक्त and संयोग are, as desi4life says, from Sanskrit sam- (note final m) + yukta and yoga. The pronunciation I would use is [sɐŋ]. A better pronunciation might be saỹyukta, with nasalised y. This is a wonderfully Sanskritic sound. If you're familiar with the mahāmṛtyuṃjaya-mantra, look up Brahmin chants of this mantra on YouTube and listen to how they say tryámbakaṃ yajāmahe.

    The other examples you give न्याय, अन्यथा, पुण्य, वरेण्य, रम्या these are all nothing to do with the above. They are what they look like. The nasals here are not examples of the three kinds of nasal I mentioned right at the start (word-final m, the penultimate nasal of a root and a nasal increment). Interestingly, though, वरेण्य is originally from vareṇiya and the combination of i + vowel is a whole nother huge long lecture I won't go into now. रम्य is interesting. In internal sandhi (within a word, not between words), root-final m does remain before y, although not in the case of prefixes like sam-, which were originally treated as separate words. I'm not an expert on this, though.
    As for Hindi, Hindi is Hindi. In Hindi the bindu represents the 'class nasal', which is almost never written in the case of ङ and ञ. That's what it does, that's what it's for, before a stop, it represents the nasal homorganic with that stop. This is basically akin to Sanskrit in that we usually write final m + stop with anusvāra but pronounce it as the nasal homorganic with the following stop.

    In Hindi if the sound after the bindu is not a stop, you basically just pronounce it as a nasal stop in the same place as the following consonant. So in इंसान it represents a n.

    The case before a य is an interesting one. So theoretically Sanskrit ञ is a pure palatal nasal and च, छ, etc. are palatal stops. These are made by bringing the body of the tongue, the middle of the tongue up to the hard palate. You can practise this by saying a य, holding it, and then bringing your tongue upwards until it touches the roof of your mouth and then building up the air pressure and then sharply releasing it as when you say any other stop. You have just said the voiceless palatal stop /c/. The nasal /ɲ/ is again the same, it's made by touching the middle of the tongue body to the roof of the mouth.

    Hindi's च, छ etc. are affricates. They are not pure palatal stops like this normally. It's debatable whether they were or not in Sanskrit.

    There is something else that you can do though. You can touch the tip of your tongue to your alveolar ridge, or the teeth, and then at the same time you can move the body of your tongue up towards the hard palate to produce an alveolo-palatal nasal (see: Voiced palatal nasal - Wikipedia). That's what न्य is I suppose and it's probably also what you get in Hindi संयुक्त etc. ञ्य is not, as far as I'm aware (or as far as you're aware, clearly) a feature of Hindi spelling. In fact ञ is barely a feature of Hindi spelling or even the Sanskrit manuscripts. It is not even necessarily pedantically correct (see the discussion on palatal nasal vs alveolo-palatal nasal).
    Thank you so much for your answer! I'll undoubtedly take time to understand it (as I'm no linguist), but it should answer more than one of my questions.
    Last edited: