Anusvara (Sanskrit: अनुस्वारः anusvāra) is a diacritic dot used to mark a type of nasal sound and used in a number of Indic scripts. It is typically transliterated ⟨ṃ⟩. Depending on the location of the anusvara in the word and the language for which it is used, its exact pronunciation can vary.
In the context of Sanskrit, anusvara may also refer also to the nasal sound itself.
In Vedic Sanskrit, the anusvāra (lit. "after-sound") was an allophonic (derived) nasal sound of uncertain nature. It may have been vowel nasalisation accompanied by lengthening, or a nasalized semivowel following the vowel,, either way, it resulted in a metrically heavy syllable. It was often an allophone of /m/ at a morpheme boundary, when preceded by a vowel and followed by a fricative (/ś/, /ṣ/, /s/, /h/). In later Sanskrit its use expanded to other contexts, first before /r/ under certain conditions, then, in Classical Sanskrit, before /l/ and /y/. Later still, Pāṇini gave anusvara as an alternative pronunciation[of what?] in word-final sandhi, and later treatises also prescribed it at morpheme junctions and within morphemes.
After Sanskrit came to be written, the diacritic used to represent anusvara was optionally used to indicate a nasal stop having the same place of articulation as a following plosive. For example, [əŋɡə] 'limb (of the body)' may be written with either a conjunct, अङ्ग aṅga, or with an anusvara, अंग aṃga. A variant of the anusvara, the anunāsika or 'candrabindu', was used more explicitly for nasalized vowels, as in अँश aṃśa for [ə̃ɕə] 'portion'.
In the Devanagari script, anusvara is represented with a dot (bindu) above the letter (e.g. मं). In the International Alphabet of Sanskrit Transliteration (IAST), the corresponding symbol is ṃ (m with an underdot). Some transcriptions render notation of phonetic variants used in some Vedic shakhas with variant transcription (ṁ).
In Marathi the anusvara is pronounced as a nasal that is homorganic to the following consonant (with the same place of articulation). For example, it is pronounced as the dental nasal न् before dental consonants, as the bilabial nasal म् before bilabial consonants, etc.
In Standard Hindi, the anusvāra is traditionally defined as representing a nasal consonant homorganic to a following plosive, in contrast to the candrabindu (anunāsika), which indicates vowel nasalization. In practice, however, the two are often used interchangeably.
Word-finally it is realized as nasalization of the preceding vowel: kuāṃ [kʊ̃ãː], "a well". It results in vowel nasalization also medially between a short vowel and a non-obstruent (kuṃvar [kʊ̃ʋər] "a youth", gaṃṛāsā [ɡə̃ɽaːsaː] "a long-handled axe") and, in native words, between a long vowel and a voiceless plosive (dāṃt [dãːt] "tooth", sāṃp [sãːp] "a snake", pūṃch [pũːtʃʰ] "tail").
It is pronounced as a homorganic nasal, with the preceding vowel becoming nasalized allophonically, in the following cases: between a long vowel and a voiced plosive (tāṃbā [taːmbaː] "copper", cāṃdī [tʃaːndiː] "silver"), between a long vowel and a voiceless plosive in loanwords (dāṃt [daːnt] "repressed", baiṃk [bæːŋk] "a bank", khazāṃcī [kʰəzaːɲtʃiː]), and between a short vowel and an obstruent (saṃbhāl- [səmbʱaːl] "to support", saṃdūk [sənduːk] "a chest").
The last rule has two sets of exceptions where the anusvāra effects only a nasalization of the preceding short vowel. Words from the first set are morphologically derived from words with a long nasalized vowel (baṃṭ- [bə̃ʈ], "to be divided" from bāṃṭ- [bãʈ], "to divide"; siṃcāī [sɪ̃tʃai], "irrigation" from sīṃc- [sĩːtʃ], "to irrigate"). In suchs cases, the vowel is sometimes denasalized ([bəʈ], [sɪtʃai] instead of [bə̃ʈ-], [sɪ̃tʃai]). The second set is composed of a few words like (pahuṃc- [pahʊ̃tʃ], "to arrive" and haṃs- [hə̃s], "to laugh").[note 1]
In Nepali, chandrabindu and anusvara have the same pronunciation similarly to Hindi. Therefore, there is a great deal of variation regarding which occurs in any given position. Many words containing anusvara thus have alternative spellings with chandrabindu instead of anusvara and vice versa.
Other Indic script languages
In the Eastern Nagari script, the anusvara diacritic (অনুস্বার onushshar in Bengali) is written as a circle above a slanted line (ং), and represents /ŋ/. It is used in the name of the Bengali language বাংলা [baŋla]. It has merged in pronunciation with the letter ঙ ungô in Bengali. Although the anusvara is a consonant in Bengali phonology, it is nevertheless treated in the written system as a diacritic in that it is always directly adjacent to the preceding consonant, even when consonants are spaced, apart in titles or banners: বাং-লা-দে-শ bang-la-de-sh, not বা-ং-লা-দে-শ ba-ng-la-de-sh for বাংলাদেশ Bangladesh It is never pronounced with the inherent vowel "ô", and it cannot take a vowel sign (instead, the consonant ঙ ungô is used pre-vocalically).
In the Burmese script, the anusvara (အောက်မြစ် auk myit IPA: [aʊʔ mjɪʔ]) is represented as a dot underneath a nasalised final to indicate a creaky tone (with a shortened vowel). Burmese also uses a dot above to indicate the /-ɴ/ nasalized ending (called "Myanmar Sign Anusvara" in Unicode), called သေးသေးတင် thay thay tin (IPA: [θé ðé tɪ̀ɴ])
In the Sinhala script, the anusvara is not a diacritic but an independent grapheme. It has circular shape ( ං), which is why it is called binduva in Sinhala, which means "dot". The anusvara represents /ŋ/ at the end of a syllable. It is used in the name of the Sinhala language සිංහල [ˈsiŋɦələ]. It has merged in pronunciation with the letter ඞ ṅa in Sinhala.
The Telugu script has full-zero (anusvāra) ం , half-zero (arthanusvāra) and visarga to convey various shades of nasal sounds. Anusvara is represented as a circle shape after a letter: క - ka and కం - kam.
The equivalent of the anusvara in the Thai alphabet is the nikkhahit, which is used when rendering Sanskrit and Pali texts. It is written as an open circle above the consonant (for example อํ) and its pronunciation depends on the following sound: if it is a consonant then the nikkhahit is pronounced as a homorganic nasal, and if it is at the end of a word it is pronounced as the velar nasal ŋ.
Anunasika (anunāsika) is a form of vowel nasalization, often represented by an anusvara. It is a form of open mouthed nasalization, akin to the nasalization of vowels followed by "n" or "m" in Parisian French. When "n" or "m" follow a vowel, the "n" or "m" becomes silent and causes the preceding vowel to become nasal (pronounced with the soft palate extended downward so as to allow part or all of the air to leave through the nostrils). Anunasika is sometimes called a subdot because of its IAST representation.
In Burmese, the anunasika, called သေးသေးတင် (IPA: [θé ðé tɪ̀ɴ]) and represented as (ံ), creates the /-ɴ/ nasalized ending when it is attached as a dot above a letter. The anunasika represents the -m final in Pali.
Unicode encodes anusvara and anusvara-like characters for a variety of scripts:
- Ohala (1983, p. 90) lists five more such words: dhaṃs- "to sink", phaṃs- "to be stuck", haṃslī "a necklace", haṃsiyā "a sickle" and haṃsī "laughter".
- Monier-Williams 1899.
- William Bright, "The Devanagari Script", in Daniels & Bright, The World's Writing Systems, OUP, 1996.
- Colin Masica, The Indo-Aryan Languages, CUP, 1991, p. 160.
- Allen 1953, p. 40
- Allen 1953, p. 41
- The following rules are from Ohala (1983, pp. 87–90)
- Chenchiah, P.; Rao, Raja Bhujanga (1988). A History of Telugu Literature. Asian Educational Services. p. 18. ISBN 81-206-0313-3.
- A, Srinidhi; A, Sridatta (2016-10-20). "L2/16-285: Proposal to encode the TELUGU SIGN COMBINING ANUSVARA ABOVE" (PDF).
- Allen, W.S. (1953), Phonetics in ancient India, OUP
- Emeneau, M. B. (1946). "The Nasal Phonemes of Sanskrit". Language. 22 (2): 86–93. doi:10.2307/410341. JSTOR 410341.
- Monier-Williams, Monier (1899). A Sanskrit-English dictionary : etymologically and philologically arranged with special reference to cognate Indo-European languages. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
- Ohala, Manjari (1983), Aspects of Hindi Phonology, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 0-89581-670-9
- Varma, Siddheshwar (1961) . Critical studies in the phonetic observations of Indian grammarians. James G. Forlong Fund. Delhi: Munshi Ram Manohar Lal.