Wednesday, June 14, 2006

My Ignorance

क ख ग घ ङ
च छ ज झ ञ
ट ठ ड ढ ण
त थ द ध न
प फ ब भ म
...
Ever wondered why the Hindi alphabet follows a particular sequence?

Hindi is my mother tongue. Yet, I never even thought about why the Hindi alphabet followed a particular sequence. The only thing I possibly gave a thought to was that every un-aspirated letter is followed by the aspirated version. But I never realized that there was a pattern behind the sequence. To me the sequence was given, there was no need to find a reason, which in my mind did not even exist.

Till I read Jhumpa Lahiri's 'The Namesake'. In her delightful first novel, she describes the Bengali alphabet, which is similar to the Hindi alphabet, in one of the passages:

"…which begins at the back of (his) throat with an unaspirated K and marches steadily across the roof of (his) mouth…."
…and then moves on to the teeth and then to the lips.

Now try to recall the alphabet again. Isn't the reason behind the sequence fairly obvious now?

Fascinating, isn't it?

I am surprised that having studied Hindi in school and spent most of my adult life reading Hindi literature and even trying my hand at writing in the language, I didn't even know something as basic is this.

How ignorant have I been!

For more information about the Hindi (phonetic) alphabet, read this Wikipedia article on Indian languages.