Sanskrit:pronunciation of ह्म in ब्रह्म

Gope

Senior Member
Tamil
According to a Sanskrit vidwan teaching bhagavadgita recitation to boys and girls on sankara tv, the compound letter ह्म as in the word ब्रह्म for example is to be pronounced as mha, so ब्रह्म should be pronounced not as brah-ma but as bram-ha. On further investigation I found that this is the way Sanskrit students are taught in Karnataka. So ब्राह्मण should be pronounced braam-haNa, and not braah-maNa, and so on.
I personally was not taught this by my Sanskrit teacher in Tamil Nadu. So I pronounce ब्रह्म as brah-ma and not as bram-ha.
Now I would like to know how ह्म should be pronounced, from my scholarly friends of the forum.:)
 
  • Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    Etymologically, it is "hm". ब्रह्मन्‌ seems to be from बृह्‌+मन्‌, and thus related to बृहत्‌| So, I'd say "hm" should be the "original" pronunciation. The "mh" pronunciation is, however, widespread - I can attest that this is also the case in Bengal. I am not too surprised about it in the Indo-Aryan speaking areas, where "mh" was a common sound/sequence for pretty much all of the 1st millenium BCE and beyond (in Marathi and Rajasthani, for example, it is still common - written: म्ह as would be expected), while "hm" was not. So, it could simply be a matter of adjustment to the native phonology. But I doubt, Karnataka was ever under similar linguistic conditions. So, that surprises me.
     

    desi4life

    Senior Member
    English
    Etymologically, it is "hm". ब्रह्मन्‌ seems to be from बृह्‌+मन्‌, and thus related to बृहत्‌| So, I'd say "hm" should be the "original" pronunciation. The "mh" pronunciation is, however, widespread - I can attest that this is also the case in Bengal. I am not too surprised about it in the Indo-Aryan speaking areas, where "mh" was a common sound/sequence for pretty much all of the 1st millenium BCE and beyond (in Marathi and Rajasthani, for example, it is still common - written: म्ह as would be expected), while "hm" was not. So, it could simply be a matter of adjustment to the native phonology. But I doubt, Karnataka was ever under similar linguistic conditions. So, that surprises me.

    Marathi phonological influence probably extends into Karnataka, which may explain the "mh" pronunciation in that state.
     
    • Agree
    Reactions: Dib

    Gope

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    Thanks, dear friends.
    I am not talking here of regional influences at play so that one pronounces hma is mha. For example, मध्य is often pronounced as majhya even by some Sanskrit scholars whose mother tongue is Telugu, because while speaking Telugu, ध्य is often pronounced as jhya, and this is unconsciously carried over to Sanskrit. But surely no Sanskrit scholar in Andhra Pradesh teaches his students explicitly that madhya should be pronounced as majhya!
    In addition to the Sanskrit vidwan teaching Bhagavadgita chanting on TV, my nephew who was taught Sanskrit in school at Bangalore several decades ago by a learned Sanskrit scholar was specifically taught that hma should be pronounced as mha. Therefore I wonder if any of my friends of the forum was ever taught to pronounce hma as mha. No Sanskrit manual that I have read ever specified this exception to the rule.
     

    Dib

    Senior Member
    Bengali (India)
    Hi Gope, thank you for further elaborating on the question. Just like you, I too have never been explicitly taught to pronounce "hm" as "mh". I have not come across any source to suggest that that should be done. I'll also be interested in finding out how such a tradition has developed, e.g. if there is any ancient description of such a pronunciation, let's say in a Pratishakhya. This reminds me of our old discussion about visarga - whether the widely established practice of an echo-vowel after the visarga has any "authentic" basis.

    For what it's worth, we should also keep in mind that the sequence "hm" is available commonly only in the word "brahman" and its derivatives including "braahmaNa". In Monier-Williams' dictionary (MW), the only other words containing this sequence are (as far as I could find): gahman, jahman, mahman, jihma and suhma, of which the first three seem to be limited to Vedic. There seems to be no word with the sequence "mh" in MW. Whether this information is significant to our discussion is not clear to me yet, but it may be.

    This also makes me curious about how the sequence ज्ञ (jñ) is being taught to be pronounced. This also has extremely well-established traditions of pronunciations to which I know of no "authentic" basis. Noticeably, this is also limited to the root jñā and its derivatives plus yajña and a few contractions of rājan, jānu, etc.
     
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    Au101

    Senior Member
    England, English (UK)
    I was quite interested to notice in this recording of the Asyavāmīya-sūkta that ह्म definitely appears to be pronounced mha, I'm quite certain of it. See for example the 45th verse:

    च॒त्वारि॒ वाक्परि॑मिता प॒दानि॒ तानि॑ विदुर्ब्राह्म॒णा ये म॑नी॒षिण॑ः ।
    गुहा॒ त्रीणि॒ निहि॑ता॒ नेङ्ग॑यन्ति तु॒रीयं॑ वा॒चो म॑नु॒ष्या॑ वदन्ति ॥ ४५ ॥



    Of course we often find such 'modernisms' (of course, when we talk about 'modern' pronunciations of Sanskrit we could well be talking about things which are centuries or more old!) in Vedic chanting that is recent enough to have been recorded, such as the pronunciation of visarga with an echo vowel, the pronunciation of ज्ञ as gya or something that sounds to me rather like and the pronunciation of the svarita rather more as an udātta.
     

    Qureshpor

    Senior Member
    Panjabi, Urdu پنجابی، اردو
    According to a Sanskrit vidwan teaching bhagavadgita recitation to boys and girls on sankara tv, the compound letter ह्म as in the word ब्रह्म for example is to be pronounced as mha, so ब्रह्म should be pronounced not as brah-ma but as bram-ha. On further investigation I found that this is the way Sanskrit students are taught in Karnataka. So ब्राह्मण should be pronounced braam-haNa, and not braah-maNa, and so on.
    I personally was not taught this by my Sanskrit teacher in Tamil Nadu. So I pronounce ब्रह्म as brah-ma and not as bram-ha.
    Now I would like to know how ह्म should be pronounced, from my scholarly friends of the forum.:)
    I know you only have Sanskrit in mind but in Urdu or Hindi, the word "tu-mhaare" (your) is often pronounced as "tum-haare" (you lost! :)) Is this what you have in mind?
     

    Au101

    Senior Member
    England, English (UK)
    I know you only have Sanskrit in mind but in Urdu or Hindi, the word "tu-mhaare" (your) is often pronounced as "tum-haare" (you lost! :)) Is this what you have in mind?

    I don't think so Qureshpor, the discussion is about hma being pronounced mha. It is rather more a case of pronouncing A R Rahman's name as Ramhan :p The Sanskrit ह्म hma (as in ब्रह्म brahma) is orthographically and etymologically a combination of ह् h and म ma in that order. However there is an apparently quite common tendency for this to be pronounced mha (very much as in tumhāra).

    I might further remark at this point that I don't recall seeing any mention of this in any text that I used (Whitney's Sanskrit Grammar, Madhav Deshpande's Saṃskr̥tasubodhinī, A F Stenzler's grammar and possibly others), nor do I recall it ever being remarked upon in any class I took. Indeed I think this thread was the first I ever heard of it. However, I too have come across it in recordings several times recently.

    I might also point out that this phenomenon has a name, it is called metathesis and it is by no means uncommon in human language.
     

    Gop

    Senior Member
    Tamil
    I know you only have Sanskrit in mind but in Urdu or Hindi, the word "tu-mhaare" (your) is often pronounced as "tum-haare" (you lost! :)) Is this what you have in mind?
    No, Qureshpor SaaHib, it is not what I had in mind. When ‘brahma’ is pronounced as ‘bramha’, h and m are interchanged. If this is merely the way some pronounce it, we would just notice it, but when a Sanskrit pandit with a traditional training teaches his pupils to pronounce it in this way, we wonder what could be the basis for it.
     
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