Topic 1: The Devanagari script


Hindi is normally written in a script called नागरी nāgarī or देवनागरी devanāgarī which is also used for writing Sanskrit, Marathi and Nepali. Devanagari is basically a phonetic system in which there is more or less a one-to-one correspondence between a symbol and a sound. Each symbol represents either a vowel, or a consonant followed by a short 'a' sound. I was told by my teachers that due to this it was better not to describe it as an alphabet made up of letters (in which consonants do not have an inherent 'a' sound) but rather a syllabary made up of characters. In the table above there are 57 characters, the first 13 characters are for ten vowels, one sound that is a vowel in Sanskrit, and two modifiers, the next 33 characters are distinct consonants, followed by four common combinations of consonant sounds and finally five characters representing sounds from other languages and two characters which represent distinctive Hindi sounds. Click on the characters to hear the sounds.

There are a variety of traditional ways of counting exactly how many symbols there are in the Devanagari script and people often say that there are 52 characters. However, the number varies according to how many conjunct consonant characters are included and whether or not, and how many of, the the final seven 'underdotted' characters are included. After studying the 57 Devanagari characters presented in this course you should return to the issue of precisely how many characters there are and think about the ways in which they can be counted.

Even though this course is digitally based it is still best to try to learn to draw the Devanagari characters by hand as this is a skill you will need and the physical act of drawing the character helps you to remember the character. When drawing Devanagari characters it is best to use lined paper and to write big characters that spread over three lines. Note the following points.

It is good to learn the correct stroke order for Devanagari characters as when, hopefully, you start to write quickly the character will be recognisable even if its form gets more cursive, or scribbled, than is the case for printed Hindi. It normally takes between three and five strokes to write a Devanagari character. The following topics show the characters with arrows added indicating the direction of the strokes as they are drawn and the order in which the strokes should be drawn.