Sanskrit and Hindi: Anusvaara before sibilants (श, ष, and स)

El Ganador

Senior Member
India - Hindi and English
The nasals are more freely combinable: a nasal may either precede or follow a mute of either kind, or the sonant spirant h; it may also follow a surd aspirant (sibilant); no nasal, however, ever precedes a sibilant in the interior of a word (it is changed instead to anusvāra); and in external combination their concurrence is usually avoided by insertion of a surd mute. (From Sanskrit Grammar by William Dwight Whitney

Why is the anusvaara never written as the homorganic nasal consonant before a sibilant (, , and )?

Is the it not pronounced the way I think ( ञ्श, ण्ष, and न्स respectively) or is there another reason I am unaware of?

कंस is never written as कन्स
is never written as अञ्श

and दंष्टरा is never written as दण्ष्टरा (but I have no experience with this term; I just trusted Whitney here)
  • Ah well now you are getting into the reeds of Sanskrit saṃdhi which is another, much bigger kettle of fish.

    I trust you're familiar with what saṃdhi is? Certain sounds can influence other sounds around them, particularly those immediately next to them. I'm pretty sure all languages must have similar sound changes, it's certainly not unique to Sanskrit, but Sanskrit (a) has very complex and highly developed saṃdhi rules, some of which may be the result of its use as a refined language of the court and the ritual and (b) went to the trouble of writing (almost) all the sound changes that take place down (i.e. they're reflected in spelling).

    Let's look at some similar changes that take place in English. We'll begin with word-internal saṃdhi. Consider the following examples:
    • impossible
    • indirect
    • illogical
    • irresponsible
    Notice how the Latinate im- prefix changes depending on the sound that follows and notice also how we even write these changes down.

    But saṃdhi can also take place between two different words. When an English t-sound is followed by the y-sound of yes, you, etc. it can become a kind of ch. Let's look at an example. If we have the word got followed by the word you (often pronounced simply ya) what we can get is gotchoo or gotcha and sometimes we even spell it gotcha!

    In Sanskrit spelling they tended to note all these changes down. And there were a lot of them. For example, a nice easy one, an unvoiced stop is converted to its voiced equivalent before a voiced consonant or vowel, e.g.:

    ग्रामात् grāmāt + वनम् vanam -> ग्रामाद्वनम् grāmād vanam (N.B. in Sanskrit manuscripts they didn't usually put spaces between their words, in the transliteration we often put the spaces back in where we can).

    Now in Sanskrit there are different rules for internal saṃdhi (within a word) and external saṃdhi (between words) but they are similar enough that Whitney found it better to treat them together. They can be different though, so bear that in mind.

    In this introduction to saṃdhi that you're reading through now Whitney is talking very generally. Whitney's description of saṃdhi is absolutely comprehensive and encyclopaedic but it is so far from beginner-friendly that even I would have to start from the beginning of his chapter and take my time going through it to be completely sure of what he is referring to with some of these observations. More modern beginner textbooks tend to drip-feed you saṃdhi. Madhav Deshpande is still introducing new saṃdhi rules in lesson 13 and he may mention new ones even later in his textbook, I can't really remember. He also doesn't go nearly as deep into the reeds as Whitney does, he just gives you a broad overview. He also doesn't treat Vedic at all, nor really internal saṃdhi. I believe what Whitney is saying with "a nasal may either precede or follow a mute of either kind, or the sonant spirant h" holds true in internal saṃdhi. For example garut- + mat- -> garutmat- (nominative singular garutmān) not garudmat or garunmat. In external combination t + m would give dm or nm. Also root han- 'kill' + -ti (3rd person singular present) gives hanti (he/she/it kills). Nasals following sibilants is again something you can see, for example the verb to be has the strong stem as- and weak stem s- and we have in the present as-mi 'I am', smaḥ 'we are'. He's talking generally. In external combination as + mi would give o mi.

    "No nasal, however, ever precedes a sibilant in the interior of a word (it is changed instead to anusvāra); and in external combination their concurrence is usually avoided by insertion of a surd mute."

    This is, as far as I know, perfectly true. But mark what he is saying. When he says it is changed to anusvāra he means the anusvāra sound, that pure nasal sound which we aren't completely sure about as the different Prātiśākhyas don't quite agree. Nevertheless let's remind ourselves what we do know about it:
    • It seems to essentially involve passing air through the nose without forming any particular stricture in the mouth or making any particular vowel. Instead the shape of the mouth and position of the tongue should be entirely neutral and the mouth should either be loosely open or closed, but not with pursed lips, as if making a /m/. Theoretically anyway.
    • The Atharva-Prātiśākhya does not prescribe it
    • The other Prātiśākhyas say it appears in place of word-final m (and certain other kinds of nasal) before r, ś, ṣ, s and h
    • All Prātiśākhyas say that word-final m is converted into the class nasal (and not anusvāra) before a following stop, e.g. rāmam + ca -> rāmañ ca
    • Pāṇini has anusvāra appearing basically everywhere, including whenever word-final m (and the certain other kinds of nasal) appears before any consonant, including the stops. Thus rāmam + ca -> rāmaṃ ca. He allows certain exceptions, though, such as using a nasal semivowel before a semivowel, but those are optional
    Now let's look instead at the anusvāra sign, that is the bindu:
    • "It is a very common custom of the manuscripts to write the anusvāra-sign for any nasal following the vowel of a syllable, either before another consonant or as final (not before a vowel), without any reference to whether it is to be pronounced as nasal mute, nasal semivowel, or anusvāra" in other words the manuscripts generally write anusvāra as an abbreviation for any nasal element unless a vowel follows when you get the full nasal consonant letter
    • Western editions generally write nasal stops when they are to be pronounced as nasal stops (so you would have मन्त्र not मंत्र) and anusvāra when it is to be pronounced as anusvāra.
    • However, remember that word-final m does not survive before a following stop. The Prātiśākhyas say that word-final m is converted into the class nasal before a following stop, e.g. rāmam + ca -> rāmañ ca, but Pāṇini says it becomes anusvāra: rāmam + ca -> rāmaṃ ca. Western editions tend to write this as रामं च always, much like the manuscripts.
    Now on this last point. I have just recently learned that most pundits follow Pāṇini in pronouncing रामं च as rāmaṃ ca and the optional pronunciation rāmañ ca is rare. Generally in Western editions and manuscripts the spelling रामं च is also predominant and the spelling रामञ्च is rare. This could lead us to think that if you are doing Classical Sanskrit (which conforms to the rules of Pāṇini) and not Vedic Sanskrit (which anyway has its own incredibly complicated and unique manuscript conventions and special symbols) then spelling is a faithful guide to the proper and intended pronunciation, but it is not quite that simple.

    Also bear in mind that the special and illustrative case of word-final m + stop is just a special and illustrative case. There are other kinds of nasals (such as n) which follow their own rules and there are also other ways you can get the anusvāra (for example from root-final n).
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    Right so where are we, now that's out of the way?
    • In Western editions anusvāra written before श, ष, and स can only mean that it is pronounced with that special pure nasal anusvāra sound.
    • In the interior of a word, nasal + sibilant always gives the anusvāra sound. E.g. root han- 'kill' + -si (2nd person singular present) gives haṃsi (you kill).
    • In external combination there are sperate rules. For example word-final n + s gives either ns or nts. However, word-final m + sibilant gives anusvāra which must be pronounced anusvāra. All authorities require it except the Atharva-Prātiśākhya which requires a nasalised vowel.
    The combination ञ्श is possible but usually becomes ञ्छ.
    203. Before the palatal sibilant श् ç, both त् t and न् n are assimilated, becoming respectively च् c and ञ् ñ; and then the following श् ç may be, and in practice almost always is, converted to छ् ch.

    Thus, vedavic chūraḥ (-vit çū-), tac chrutvā, hṛcchaya (hṛt + çaya); bṛhañ cheṣaḥ or çeṣaḥ, svapañ chete or çete.

    a. Some authorities regard the conversion of ç to ch after t or n as everywhere obligatory, others as only optional; some except, peremptorily or optionally, a ç followed by a mute. And some require the same conversion after every mute save m, reading also vípāṭ chutudrī́, ā́naṭ chúci, anuṣṭup chāradī, çuk chuci. The manuscripts generally write ch, instead of cch, as result of the combination of t and ç.

    b. In the MS. [Maitrāyaṇī-Saṃhitā of the Black Yajur-Veda], t and ç are anomalously combined into ñ ç: e.g. táñ çatám, etāvañçás.

    In the Western editions this would be written ञ्श. I assume the manuscripts might well write it, e.g. स्वपांशेते but note they are likely to prefer स्वपांछेते (with spaces removed per the usual custom of the manuscripts, Western editions would put spaces between these words (i.e. स्वपां शेते and स्वपां छेते) but of course as I say they would normally write स्वपाञ्शेते or स्वपाञ्छेते with the nasal stop instead of anusvāra/bindu).

    Is the it not pronounced the way I think ( ञ्श, ण्ष, and न्स respectively) or is there another reason I am unaware of?

    In Hindi yes.

    ण्ष is I think a pretty unlikely combination to occur in Sanskrit.

    न्स is possible only if a word that ends in n is followed by one that begins with s. It will either be left unchanged or become nts. E.g. mahān + san -> mahān san or mahānt san. The manuscripts would probably write this महांसन् or महांत्सन् but Western editions would prefer महान्सन् and महान्त्सन्.
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