This overview has several pages, so make sure you take a look at each one:
Notes on Pronunciation
So now that you have learned something about some of the characters in the epics, you might be wondering how to pronounce their names! Unless you are a Hindi speaker, the names of the characters in these stories will probably be unfamiliar to you. The best way to get familiar with them is to pronounce them over and over again out loud! Don't be shy about that! You will also find that there are some audio files with the Reading Guides each week. If you listen to the audio, it should help you get familiar with the sounds of the names.
The Sanskrit language has a number of sounds which we do not have in English, and the Sanskrit alphabet is larger than the Roman alphabet that we use in English. As a result, there are many different systems for the way that Sanskrit names are transliterated (spelled) in English. Please don't let that confuse you too much! Most of the time, this just has to do with the presence or absence of "h". So you might see the name of Rama's brother spelled as Barata, or Baratha, or Bharata, or Bharata. . Sometimes the special character ś is used to indicate the "sh" sound, and sometimes the plain letter "s" is pronounced "sh" (as in the name of the country Sri Lanka, pronounced "Shri" Lanka).
In short, there is no one right way to spell these names in English. You will even see that Buck and Narayan use different spellings for the same name (a situation made even more complicated by the fact that Narayan is relying on a Tamil version of the Ramayana, instead of a Sanskrit one). So please don't worry about this too much. Especially if you listen to the audio version of the Reading Guides, you will get used to the names very quickly.
You might also be intimidated by names which seem long or strange to you. Don't worry about that too much! You can just shorten the names in your mind as you are reading, for example - when you are talking to yourself about the stories, Yudhishthira can become "Yudhi" and Kumbakarna can just be "Kumba" (talking to yourself is a good thing! if you tell yourself the stories again in your own words, you will remember them much better). The only thing I would ask is that when you do your writing for the class that you use the full form of the name.
Here are some basic guidelines to follow as you work with the Sanskrit words written out in English letters:
There is a "vocalic r" which, however is usually written "ri" in English (so if you see the spelling "Krsna" that actually refers to the god whose name is usually spelled "Krishna").
Finally, there are also a series of retroflex consonants, but this is usually not reflected in the English spelling and they are very difficult for English speakers to pronounce (for example, I am terrible at that; it's something I was never able to learn to do, no matter how hard I tried - but if you have a friend who is a speaker of Hindi, you can ask them to teach you how to pronounce the retroflex consonants, which are usually represented in English by a small dot underneath the letter).
And now, to get you really started, here are the names of the main characters you will meet in Narayan's version of the Ramayana (Ra-MA-ya-na) over the next two weeks:
Word stress is far less important in Sanskrit than it is in English, so when in doubt you can pronounce the word without stressing any particular syllable. Just remember: the stress is never on the last syllable. There are rules for where the word stress goes, but they are hard to apply if you do not see the long vowel marks, which are usually not shown in English. So don't worry about that too much - just make sure you pronounce every syllable (there are no "silent" vowels as in English), and don't worry too much about which syllable you stress.
Modern Languages MLLL-4993. Indian Epics. Laura Gibbs, Ph.D. The textual material made available at this website is licensed under a Creative Commons License. You must give the original author credit. You may not use this work for commercial purposes. If you alter, transform, or build upon this work, you may distribute the resulting work only under a license identical to this one. No claims are made regarding the status of images used at this website; if you own the copyright privileges to any of these images and believe your copyright privileges have been violated, please contact the webmaster. Page last updated: October 16, 2007 12:22 PM