Hindi/Urdu - na vs naa

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tonyspeed

Senior Member
English & Creole - Jamaica
In some forms, nahiiN takes the form na/naa. In Hindi, oftentimes, it is written as na.

kahiiN aap gir na jaaeN ...

My question is, is this na pronounced as spelt or as naa?
Which one do you say?

Is this a preference/regional issue ?
Are na and naa exactly the same?
 
  • UrduMedium

    Senior Member
    Urdu (Karachi)
    In Urdu, na (spelled nah) means no or not. Its is less versatile than nahiN. For example, you can say mujhe pata nahiN, but not mujhe pata na.

    naa is normally a prefix in words like naa ma3quul (lacking sense), naa ma3luum (unknown), etc. Similar to prefixes be- and laa- (as in be sharm [shameless], and laa qanuuniat [lawlessness])
     

    Alfaaz

    Senior Member
    English
    Excuse me for interrupting, but I have a few questions: Is the pronunciation of نہ and نا different?

    It seems Hindi speakers often pronounce it as na and not naa...(or maybe it's the singers' singing style...?)

    Example: Ghazal: Niiyat-e-Shauq bhar nah jaa'e kaheeN by Noor Jahan (naa) and by Asha Bhosle (na): On Youtube:

    Noor Jahan's Version: Neiyat-e-shoq bhar na jaye kahin (Noor Jahan)
    Asha Bhosle's Version: Neeyat e Shauq - Channel SM
     

    BP.

    Senior Member
    Urdu
    Excuse me for interrupting, but I have a few questions: Is the pronunciation of نہ and نا different?
    ...
    Of course!

    ...
    It seems Hindi speakers often pronounce it as na and not naa...(or maybe it's the singers' singing style...?)
    Example: Ghazal: Niiyat-e-Shauq bhar nah jaa'e kaheeN by Noor Jahan (naa) and by Asha Bhosle (na): On Youtube:
    Noor Jahan's Version: Neiyat-e-shoq bhar na jaye kahin (Noor Jahan)
    Asha Bhosle's Version: Neeyat e Shauq - Channel SM
    Both muGhaniyyaat said nah. Obviously both have their accents. I think the latter says it closer to how I would.
     

    greatbear

    Banned
    India - Hindi & English
    Both pronunciations exist in Hindi, "na" and "naa", and the same person uses both, depending on mood, sentence, rhyme, situation, etc. "Na" is often spoken with a tad more force on the beginning "n", whereas "naa" is more kind of smoothly slipped in: I don't know how to explain better! There are also "nahiN" and an ultra-long "naaa", which would also be used by the same speaker!
     

    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    There are four "na"s to be reckoned with.

    1) yih kaam nah (Hindi na) karo.

    2) ab yahaaN ko'ii nahiiN aa'e gaa.

    3) aa'o bhii naa! (Come on!)

    4) naa-muraad kahiiN kaa!

    1) is Persian also and 4) is Persian only.
     

    marrish

    Senior Member
    اُردو Urdu
    A good summary, Qureshpor SaaHib. I only wouldn't say that 4) is only Persian - it is as much Persian as it is Urdu.
    Because you included nahiiN, it can be mentioned here that for 1) there is another equivalent - mat.
     

    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    A good summary, Qureshpor SaaHib. I only wouldn't say that 4) is only Persian - it is as much Persian as it is Urdu.
    Because you included nahiiN, it can be mentioned here that for 1) there is another equivalent - mat.
    I accept my error most humbly! (maiN) naa-laa'iq kahiiN kaa!
     

    Faylasoof

    Senior Member
    English (UK) & Urdu (Luckhnow), Hindi
    Excuse me for interrupting, but I have a few questions: Is the pronunciation of نہ and نا different?

    It seems Hindi speakers often pronounce it as na and not naa...(or maybe it's the singers' singing style...?)

    Example: Ghazal: Niiyat-e-Shauq bhar nah jaa'e kaheeN by Noor Jahan (naa) and by Asha Bhosle (na): On Youtube:

    Noor Jahan's Version: Neiyat-e-shoq bhar na jaye kahin (Noor Jahan)
    Asha Bhosle's Version: Neeyat e Shauq - Channel SM
    As others have said, the two are different! But how the two are pronounced does depend on both the origin of the speaker as well as other factors, like laying emphasis where nah can sometimes sound like naa - but the context will tell you which is meant.
     

    Alfaaz

    Senior Member
    English
    Thanks for the replies (to my kind of off-topic question) BP, gb, QP, and Faylasoof SaaHibaan!
     

    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    Recently, I came across the use of نا (naa) which is exactly equivalent to نہ (nah, Hindi na) which is an additional meaning that I provided in my # 8

    "mujh se begam ne kahaa “kuchh khaayeNge, aa’lii janaab?”
    maiN ne puuchhaa “aaj kyaa kyaa hai baraaye-intiKhaab?”
    vuh yih boliiN “aap ghar par haiN, kahiiN baahar nahiiN,
    sirf haaN yaa naa meN de sakte haiN aap apnaa javaab!”

    Here I am informed that naa = nah/na

    Further more, Urdu LuGhat provides ten distinct meanings but one important usage of naa that I don't think has been covered is as follows.

    jaldii karo bhii naa = Do hurry, please!
     

    MonsieurGonzalito

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Argentina
    My 2 cents:
    My Urdu professor told me once "forget about naa, it is how you would tell to a baby not to touch something, otherwise, it doesn't exist".
    I have happily followed his advice ever since, and stopped thinking about that.
     

    aevynn

    Senior Member
    USA
    English, Hindustani
    This is evidently a contentious issue from a prescriptive perspective, but, for what it's worth... My understanding is that, descriptively, Hindi-Urdu (like many other New Indo-Aryan languages) tends not to have word-final short vowels. This shows up in many ways:
    • Word-final schwas in Sanskrit loans are systematically silenced.
      • There's a sort of exception to this, but it's "the exception which proves the rule," so to speak. When native Hindi-Urdu speakers are speaking in English and say words like "Rama" or "Ganesha," I've noticed that they often pronounce the final "-a" as [a:]. For example, I often hear the word "Rama" spoken by a native Hindi-Urdu speaker speaking in English pronounced as [ra:ma:], not [ra:mə]. And of course, the same native Hindi-Urdu speaker when speaking in Hindi-Urdu is likely to say [ra:m]. The word-final [ə] is typically avoided.
    • Word-final इ in Sanskrit loans gets pronounced as [i:]. For example, रवि is pronounced [rəvi:], rather than [rəvɪ]. Similarly with उ.
    • When talking about the letters इ and ई (orally, not in writing), people prepend with the words chhoTii and baRii, respectively. For example, when describing the spelling of the second syllable of the word रवि, one might say something like va par chhoTii [i:] kii matraa (I hope this mix of phonemics and phonetics is understandable). The word chhoTii would be quite unnecessary if Hindi-Urdu speakers just maintained the [ɪ] vs [i:] distinction that they do in word-intermediate positions. But, because the sound is being pronounced in isolation, it ends up being forced into a word-final position and the distinction collapses is pronunciation. So people are forced to disambiguate, hence the chhoTii or baRii in front. Same story with उ and ऊ.
    • The ubiquitous word-final ـَہ in Perso-Arabic loans which typically gets pronounced as a long [a:] in Hindi-Urdu is another case in point (eg, the word زمانہ which gets pronounced [zəma:na:] in Hindi-Urdu). The silencing of the gol he is not that surprising, since I think this is also silent in Persian, but I think Persian typically pronounces word-final zabar just like it pronounces word-intermediate zabar (both as [æ], I think...? But I don't know much about Persian). In Hindi-Urdu the two normally end up being distinguished: the word-final one is long [a:] while the word-intermediate one is the schwa [ə].
    Anyway, my point is just that word-final short vowels seem to be absent in almost all parts of Hindi-Urdu phonotactics, so I find it not very surprising from a descriptive perspective if the word that is typically spelled न / نہ gets pronounced [na:] (and, for similar reasons, I don't find it surprising if the word that is typically spelled कि / کہ gets pronounced as [ki:] or [ke:]). Of course, well-educated and literate speakers may decide to use their knowledge of orthography (and/or phonology of the source languages) and decide to pronounce these words with short vowels, and that's okay too :)
     

    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    This is evidently a contentious issue from a prescriptive perspective, but, for what it's worth... My understanding is that, descriptively, Hindi-Urdu (like many other New Indo-Aryan languages) tends not to have word-final short vowels. This shows up in many ways:
    • Word-final schwas in Sanskrit loans are systematically silenced.
      • There's a sort of exception to this, but it's "the exception which proves the rule," so to speak. When native Hindi-Urdu speakers are speaking in English and say words like "Rama" or "Ganesha," I've noticed that they often pronounce the final "-a" as [a:]. For example, I often hear the word "Rama" spoken by a native Hindi-Urdu speaker speaking in English pronounced as [ra:ma:], not [ra:mə]. And of course, the same native Hindi-Urdu speaker when speaking in Hindi-Urdu is likely to say [ra:m]. The word-final [ə] is typically avoided.
    • Word-final इ in Sanskrit loans gets pronounced as [i:]. For example, रवि is pronounced [rəvi:], rather than [rəvɪ]. Similarly with उ.
    • When talking about the letters इ and ई (orally, not in writing), people prepend with the words chhoTii and baRii, respectively. For example, when describing the spelling of the second syllable of the word रवि, one might say something like va par chhoTii [i:] kii matraa (I hope this mix of phonemics and phonetics is understandable). The word chhoTii would be quite unnecessary if Hindi-Urdu speakers just maintained the [ɪ] vs [i:] distinction that they do in word-intermediate positions. But, because the sound is being pronounced in isolation, it ends up being forced into a word-final position and the distinction collapses is pronunciation. So people are forced to disambiguate, hence the chhoTii or baRii in front. Same story with उ and ऊ.
    • The ubiquitous word-final ـَہ in Perso-Arabic loans which typically gets pronounced as a long [a:] in Hindi-Urdu is another case in point (eg, the word زمانہ which gets pronounced [zəma:na:] in Hindi-Urdu). The silencing of the gol he is not that surprising, since I think this is also silent in Persian, but I think Persian typically pronounces word-final zabar just like it pronounces word-intermediate zabar (both as [æ], I think...? But I don't know much about Persian). In Hindi-Urdu the two normally end up being distinguished: the word-final one is long [a:] while the word-intermediate one is the schwa [ə].
    Anyway, my point is just that word-final short vowels seem to be absent in almost all parts of Hindi-Urdu phonotactics, so I find it not very surprising from a descriptive perspective if the word that is typically spelled न / نہ gets pronounced [na:] (and, for similar reasons, I don't find it surprising if the word that is typically spelled कि / کہ gets pronounced as [ki:] or [ke:]). Of course, well-educated and literate speakers may decide to use their knowledge of orthography (and/or phonology of the source languages) and decide to pronounce these words with short vowels, and that's okay too :)
    aevynn SaaHib, here is a layperson's view (call it guess work!) on final short vowel representation in Urdu. As for نہ vs نا, I can't speak for Hindi, but in Urdu the latter is well attested.

    We all know that in Urdu script short vowels zabar (a), zer (i) and pesh (u) are not normally written. On the other hand, long vowels are indicated by alif (aa), ye (ii) and vaao (uu). In theory, these semi-vowels (alif, ye and vaao) do not, on their own, produce the long vowel sounds but they need to be accompanied by the related short vowel, i.e. aa= zabar +alif, ii= zer+ye and uu= pesh+vaao. Having said this, an Urdu reader intuitively provides the required vowels as he/she scans the words on the page. When it is necessary to remove any ambiguity, for example in children’s books or religious texts and elsewhere, the text is furnished with the full set of vowels.

    Readers may be interested to learn that in some words of Classical Farsi origin, silent h indicates the presence of a preceding zabar/zer and a vaao points to a preceding pesh. Following examples illustrate this usage.

    bandah (servant), nah (no), naamah (letter), guzashtah (past)

    kih (Urdu kih, kaun, jo) , chih (Urdu kyaa, jo)

    du (two), tu (thou). Roz-u-shab (day and night)

    du and tu, in Iran have become “do” and “to”, whereas in Afghan Farsi, they continue to have their classical pronunciation, namely du and tu. In Indian Persian, there is a possibility that the pronunciation of these two words was affected by the Urdu words “do” and “tuu”. roz-u-shab has universally become “roz-o-shab”. kih and chih have tended towards “ke” and “che”. The same applies with the Urdu pronunciation of “kih” shifting towards “ke”. One will not find Bollywood actors of the older era pronouncing “kih” as ki. IMHO, the new generation’s pronunciation in India is in imitation of the Classical Sanskrit vowel sound system.This explains the likes of Amitabh saying “ki” and older actors uttering “ke”. The izaafat has been similarly affected, “dil-i-naadaaN" shifting to “dil-e-naadaaN". Similar phenomenon to the above is found in Urdu where there appears to be a tendency for the word-final short vowels and short vowels at the end of syllables to be elongated. One can cite the song from the film “Love in Shimla” where Rafi is singing “alif zabar aa, alif zer e, alif pesh o” instead of “alif zabar a, alif zer i, alif pesh u”. Of course, when these vowels are "blocked" by a consonant, they are pronounced perfectly accurately as in “ab”, “is”, “us" etc.

    Now Sanskrit pronunciation is not unique in its final vowel pronunciation. Please listen to the Farsi words in the following Tajik song where Classical Farsi pronunciation is on show. Note the words “taKHt-i-baKHt-i-“. For me, just as I find it difficult to differentiate between “ki” and “kii”, I struggle to separate the “i" sound in taKHt-i-baKHt-i- and the “ii” sound in Rodakii and Hisaarii. The same applies for Afghan Persian “tu” and our Urdu “tuu”.

    (Please search Youtube for “Tajikan Parsi -- Inspired by Rudaki's "Booy Joye Molian Aayad Aamee")

    It might interest everyone to note that in colloquial Persian “ke” (kaun) and “che”(kyaa) are pronounced “kii” and “chii” respectively. Also worth noting is that in Arabic final “i” can rhyme with final”ii” and final “u” is made to rhyme with final “uu”. In Urdu poetry final zabar "a" can rhyme with final "aa" as in diivaana/aanaa. Does this mean that the so called short and long vowels are essentially the same in nature? I read in an article on Sanskrit phonology that "the short vowels are pronounced for one unit of time and the long ones two units. The unit of time is not an absolute value by itself".

    What about short vowels in words like “dharma” (custom), Hari (God) and guru(teacher)? My understanding is that Urdu opts for the final consonant pronunciation (colloquial?) more often than the “pedantic” final short vowel pronunciation.

    dharma >>>>>>> dharam

    Hari >>>>>>> Har

    bhaaNti >>>>> bhaaNt

    But there *are* examples of final short vowel words in Urdu too. Remember the usage of “vaao” to represent “u” in Classical Persian. I believe, the same technique is being employed in words such as:-

    guru, saadhu etc where the “vaao” is seemingly showing a long vowel but in reality, this is not the case. I think the same is happening when “chhoTii ye” is being used in the following words.

    Hari, ravi, bhakti, shakti etc.

    Summary

    Just as the “vaao” was used by Persian script writers to indicate the “u” sound, Urdu script writers followed suit in words like “guru” and “saadhu” and by the same analogy employed a chhoTii ye for the “i” sound in words like Hari. (By the way, apparently Hari is linked to “haraa” meaning “green”). Since there does not appear to be substantial discernable difference in pronunciation between the final short vowels and the connected long vowels, semi-vowels used typically to represent long vowels are used to indicate the short vowels so as to make the vowel representation clearly visible. The use of zer and pesh is thus avoided. We are of course aware that there is considerable difference between short and long vowels in words where they occupy a non-final position, e.g. “bin” (without) and “biin (musical instrument)”, “un ke liye” (for them) and “uun” (wool).
     

    MonsieurGonzalito

    Senior Member
    Castellano de Argentina
    To my untrained ears, the final sound of, for example, the first name of the actor अक्षय कुमार is a flat, long /ɛ:/ with not even a hint of diphthong or semivowel.
    And very different from the shorter ending sound, of, say, the last name of the singer आशा भोसले

    But both final sounds are, AFAIK, written the same in Urdu: آشا بھوسلے, اکشے کمار

    Perhaps it is that these are proper names, or Sanskritized, and therefore the rule doesn't apply to them, but otherwise it would seem that "not having words ending in short vowels" is not really a rule.
     

    littlepond

    Senior Member
    Hindi
    To my untrained ears, the final sound of, for example, the first name of the actor अक्षय कुमार is a flat, long /ɛ:/ with not even a hint of diphthong or semivowel.
    And very different from the shorter ending sound, of, say, the last name of the singer आशा भोसले

    But both final sounds are, AFAIK, written the same in Urdu: آشا بھوسلے, اکشے کمار
    But both final sounds are the same and sound the same!
     

    Jashn

    Senior Member
    Canadian English
    What about short vowels in words like “dharma” (custom), Hari (God) and guru(teacher)? My understanding is that Urdu opts for the final consonant pronunciation (colloquial?) more often than the “pedantic” final short vowel pronunciation.

    dharma >>>>>>> dharam

    Hari >>>>>>> Har

    bhaaNti >>>>> bhaaNt
    I'm curious if I'm reading this correctly. Are you saying here that 'Hari' would be pronounced as 'Har' by Urdu speakers? That would be problematic because 'Har' is a name for Shiva, whereas 'Hari' is for Vishnu, so this is an important distinction to retain. This could be the exception to the rule, of course.
     

    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    I'm curious if I'm reading this correctly. Are you saying here that 'Hari' would be pronounced as 'Har' by Urdu speakers? That would be problematic because 'Har' is a name for Shiva, whereas 'Hari' is for Vishnu, so this is an important distinction to retain. This could be the exception to the rule, of course.
    Hari could be written as ہرِ but it is n't and the usual spelling is ہری which strictly speaking is "Harii" and not Hari.

    aabaadii se muNh pheraa kyoN, jaNgal meN kiyaa hai Deraa kyoN
    har maHfil meN har manzil meN har dil meN hai nuur-i-xudaa Jogii

    kyaa masjid meN kyaa mandir meN sab jalvah hai vajhu_llaah kaa
    parbat meN nagar meN saagar meN Har utraa hai har jaa Jogii

    (from Khushi Muhammad Naazir's long poem "Jogii")

    This poem is essntially a dialogue between the poet and a jogii. In the couplets I have quoted, "Har" is clearly "Hari" (Vishnu) and not "Hara" (Shiva)
     

    aevynn

    Senior Member
    USA
    English, Hindustani
    To my untrained ears, the final sound of, for example, the first name of the actor अक्षय कुमार is a flat, long /ɛ:/ with not even a hint of diphthong or semivowel.
    I'd probably use the IPA [e:] to represet the final vowel in both Akshay and Bhosle, rather than [ɛ:].

    So the final vowel is "aashaa bhosle" is a long vowel?
    I think the typical analysis says that only "short" vowels in Hindi-Urdu's phonemic inventory are the ones represented by अ/zabar, इ/zer, and उ/pesh. All the rest are typically considered long. (I'm being careful to use the word "phonemic" rather than "phonetic" here, since the short vowel [ɛ] does occur as an allophone of the phoneme /ə/.)

    For me, just as I find it difficult to differentiate between “ki” and “kii”, I struggle to separate the “i" sound in taKHt-i-baKHt-i- and the “ii” sound in Rodakii and Hisaarii. The same applies for Afghan Persian “tu” and our Urdu “tuu”.
    This is very understandable, and I also struggle with this! There's a good reason for this: despite what I said above about which vowels are analyzed as short and which are long, vowel length is not actually contrastive in Hindi-Urdu (and I think also not in Punjabi). The three "short vowels" are not just shorter in length, but also different in quality than their "corresponding" long vowels. This is reflected in the IPA symbols used:

    * The अ/zabar sound is [ə] while the आ/آ sound is [a:].
    * The इ/zer sound is [ɪ] while the ई/ی sound is [i:].
    * The उ/pesh sound is [ʊ] while the ऊ/و sound is [u:].

    The colon marks vowels as long, but more importantly, notice that different symbols are used --- the IPA doesn't just differ in the presence/absence of the colon. This is reflecting the fact that there's not just a length distinction, but a quality distinction in each of these pairs.

    Presumably this is the reason it's hard for Hindi-Urdu speakers to distinguish short from long vowels. Hindi-Urdu phonology doesn't really contrast vowel length, it actually mostly just contrasts vowel qualities. If a Hindi-Urdu speaker hears [i ], it sounds more like [i:] than like [ɪ] since the quality distinction is more important than the length distinction for Hindi-Urdu phonology, so perhaps the mind automatically assumes it must be [i:]. For adults, I suppose it would take very careful phonetic training for it to be otherwise!

    Other languages do contrast vowel length. Arabic and Sanskrit, I believe, both have/had contrastive vowel length (there are/were pairs of vowels that differ only in length and not in quality). For instance, my understanding is that in Sanskrit, it used to be that इ was [i ] while ई was [i:] --- the two differed only in length and not in quality. The shift of the pronunciation of इ from [i ] to [ɪ] is a newer phenomenon (exactly how new, I cannot say; perhaps someone better versed in Indo-Aryan historical linguistics knows!).

    But there *are* examples of final short vowel words in Urdu too. Remember the usage of “vaao” to represent “u” in Classical Persian. I believe, the same technique is being employed in words such as:-

    guru, saadhu etc where the “vaao” is seemingly showing a long vowel but in reality, this is not the case. I think the same is happening when “chhoTii ye” is being used in the following words.

    Hari, ravi, bhakti, shakti etc.
    It does seem to be true that final vaao was used to represent a short /u/ in Classical Persian, but I suspect this is not what's happening with the usage of vao in words like گرو...? Despite the fact that this word in Devanagari is written with a choTe u kii maatraa as गुरु, I at least have always heard it pronounced [gʊru:] --- something like [gʊrʊ] sounds highly odd to me. I would speculate that the decision to use vaao instead of a word-final pesh for words such as these just reflects the common pronunciation. Same with the chhoTii ye in بھکتی.

    Despite all of the claims that Devanagari-enthusiasts make about it being perfectly phonetic, this is not really true: like all orthographic systems, it is beholden to a written tradition that holds it back from being completely phonetic. The Urdu convention to use vaao and chhoTii ye in words like گرو and بھکتی seems to me to be one way in which Urdu orthography more accruately represents pronunciation than does Devanagari.
     
    Last edited:

    BP.

    Senior Member
    Urdu
    Hello.
    The confusion between the two is exemplified in some song sung by two different singers, Noorjahan and Lata, where the latter alone pronounces nah correctly. I'd like to post the link, but can't remember the song after a decade.
    Thanks
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    This is very understandable, and I also struggle with this! There's a good reason for this: despite what I said above about which vowels are analyzed as short and which are long, vowel length is not actually contrastive in Hindi-Urdu (and I think also not in Punjabi). The three "short vowels" are not just shorter in length, but also different in quality than their "corresponding" long vowels. This is reflected in the IPA symbols used:

    * The अ/zabar sound is [ə] while the आ/آ sound is [a:].
    * The इ/zer sound is [ɪ] while the ई/ی sound is [i:].
    * The उ/pesh sound is [ʊ] while the ऊ/و sound is [u:].

    The colon marks vowels as long, but more importantly, notice that different symbols are used --- the IPA doesn't just differ in the presence/absence of the colon. This is reflecting the fact that there's not just a length distinction, but a quality distinction in each of these pairs.

    Presumably this is the reason it's hard for Hindi-Urdu speakers to distinguish short from long vowels. Hindi-Urdu phonology doesn't really contrast vowel length, it actually mostly just contrasts vowel qualities. If a Hindi-Urdu speaker hears [i ], it sounds more like [i:] than like [ɪ] since the quality distinction is more important than the length distinction for Hindi-Urdu phonology, so perhaps the mind automatically assumes it must be [i:]. For adults, I suppose it would take very careful phonetic training for it to be otherwise!
    This becomes apparent also on comparison with the stereotypical South Indian accent in Hindi. There the long vowels are actually long, and the quality difference between the long-short pair is much less pronounced (if present at all). That provides much of its characteristic flavour.
     
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