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Sanskrit Lesson #2

比丘尼恒賢 文 by Bhikshuni Heng Hsien



Devanāgarī與 羅馬字母不同的是,它是以音節為主;而不是以單字為主。由於寫字的習慣,我們可以將字與音分開。但古印度人--包括早期的佛教徒--並不習慣看書或寫字。 當他們聽別人唸誦經典時,就記到腦子裏,所以他們有高度的音感,也很清楚地知道你無法只唸一個子音。比如 K 字,如果沒有其它的母音在一起,如 ka, ki , 或 ku , 你只能發出母音,或無法發音。所以印度人叫母音為聲音(svarāh) ,子音為顯示者(vyañjanāni)。因為子音只是讓你能夠清楚地顯出母音與母音間的差異。

在英文的運用上,有時一個字的發音未必和其字母的原音相同。比如「C」字,是唸「see」,但是當它是字首時,就發 「K」音。那如果一個字裏的第二個「C」,又發何音呢?在devanāgarī則不同。每個字母都有其音,同時也沒有不發音的字母。而且無論字母位於何處,發音永遠相同。Devanāgarī字母的排列,母音先列,後為子音。

是 所有的第一個字,發音如英文的「a」,像「Buddha」的尾音。這個「a」是最基本的音。當人很自然地發一個音,沒有特別的意義,也沒特別用哪一邊的肌 肉的力量來發音時,就會發出「a」音來。梵文裏,任何一個子音,如沒有加上其他的母音記號,人都知道這個字是要與「a」母音配合。比方說「」念 ka,雖然在我們看來只是一個 「k」字。這是一個音節,不是一個字。只要有母音出現形成絡`,旨的子音只是用來顯示或裝飾那個母音。

梵文裏音節的名字為akṣaram, 是不朽滅的意思。你會說「噢!梵文是這些音節合併一起而成的文字。這是它名為「」的另一個原因吧?」



'God-city writing', devanāgarī, is this Sanskrit lesson's title. Deva means 'god' or 'divine', and nāgarī is 'city'. Originally this was just an adjective, a word describing the noun lekhā 'writing', but gradually people just said devanāgarī and everyone knew they were talking about the script or alphabet in which Sanskrit was written. We leave it to our readers to discover which city of which gods.

In ancient times Sanskrit was written in many alphabets, and now it can be written with the letters we have inherited from the Romans. But since the Sanskrit system distinguishes more sounds than English does, we need to add dots and long marks to the Roman letters, or write what is one letter in Sanskrit with two of ours.

Devanāgarīalso differs from the Roman alphabet in taking the syllable, rather than the individual letter, as the basic unit. Being used to writing, we are able to divorce letters from sounds. The ancient Indians, however, including the early Buddhists, were not in the habit of reading and writing, but would learn texts by heart as they heard them recited from others. Consequently they were far more aware of the sounds of language, and knew perfectly well you can't pronounce a consonant, for example a k, without at the same time saying something like 'ka' or 'ki' or 'ku'. You have to say a vowel or there's no sound. Therefore the Indians called vowels 'sounds' (svarāh) and consonants 'manifestors'  (vyañjanāni), because consonants allow you to make finer distinctions between the vowel sounds.

When we say the names of the letters we use to write English, we are not always giving the sound they have in actual words. The letter c is called something like 'see', but when it is used to spell a word it's often pronounced like a k as is the first c in the word consciousness-and what about the second c? Indevanāgarī on the other hand, every written letter corresponds to a sound (there are no silent letters), and the sound is always the same as that used in naming the letter. In thedevanāgarī alphabet the sounds are listed first, and then the manifestors.

is the first letter of the alphabet, pronounced like the 'a' at the end of Buddha. This 'a' sound is considered the basic one from which the others come, and in fact, when people make a 'neutral' sound with no special meaning and no special muscular effort, they end up saying 'a'. Any consonant in Sanskrit is understood to be pronounced with a following  'a' unless some other mark is added. For example, our k is always read 'ka'; this is a syllable and not just a letter. You find a syllable every time a vowel appears, and the surrounding consonants are just marks or adornments1 of that vowel. A syllable in Sanskrit is called akṣaram, an 'imperishable', something that does not decay. “Ah!” you say, “because it's 'put together' from these ak+ara is another reason it's called

1. vyañjanāni‘consonant’ is the same word used for the Buddha's 80 minor characteristics.
2. Saṃskŗtam, which is Sanskrit for ‘Sanskrit’. See Lesson #1, VBS #329. It also means ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’.

Test your wisdom (and attention to this lesson) on the Sanskrit sentence written in two alphabets here below:


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