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Visarga (IAST: visarga) (Sanskrit: विसर्गः) means "sending forth, discharge". In Sanskrit phonology (śikṣā), visarga (also called, equivalently, visarjanīya by earlier grammarians) is the name of a phone voiceless glottal fricative, [h], written as:
|ISO 15919 / IAST||⟨ḥ⟩|
Visarga is an allophone of /r/ and /s/ in pausa (at the end of an utterance). Since /-s/ is a common inflectional suffix (of nominative singular, second person singular, etc.), visarga appears frequently in Sanskrit texts. In the traditional order of Sanskrit sounds, visarga and anusvāra appear between vowels and stop consonants.
The precise pronunciation of visarga in Vedic texts may vary between Śākhās. Some pronounce a slight echo of the preceding vowel after the aspiration: aḥ will be pronounced [ɐhᵄ], and iḥ will be pronounced [ihⁱ]. Visarga is not to be confused with colon.
The visarga is commonly found in writing, resembling the punctuation mark of colon or as two tiny circles one above the other. This form is retained by most Indian scripts.
According to Sanskrit phonologists, the visarga has two optional allophones, namely जिह्वामूलीय (jihvāmūlīya or the guttural visarga) and उपध्मानीय (upadhmānīya or the fricative visarga). The former may be pronounced before ⟨क⟩, ⟨ख⟩, and the latter before ⟨प⟩, and ⟨फ⟩, as in तव पितामहः कः (tava pitāmahaḥ kaḥ?, 'who is your grandfather?'), पक्षिणः खे उड्डयन्ते (pakṣiṇaḥ khe uḍḍayante, 'birds fly in the sky'), भोः पाहि (bhoḥ pāhi, 'sir, save me'), and तपःफलम् (tapaḥphalam, 'result of penances'). They were written with various symbols, e.g. X-like symbol vs sideways 3-like symbol above flipped sideways one, or both as two crescent-shaped semi-circles one above the other, facing the top and bottom respectively. Distinct signs for jihavamulīya and upadhmanīya exists in Kannada, Tibetan, Sharada, Brahmi and Lantsa scripts.
Other Indic scripts
In the Burmese script, the visarga (variously called ရှေ့ကပေါက် shay ga pauk, ဝစ္စနစ်လုံးပေါက် wizza nalone pauk, or ရှေ့ဆီး shay zi and represented with two dots to the right of the letter as ◌း), when used with joined to a letter, creates the high tone.
Motoori Norinaga invented a mark for visarga which he used in a book about Indian orthography.
In the Javanese script, the visarga (known as the wignyan (ꦮꦶꦒ꧀ꦚꦤ꧀)) is represented by a two curls to the right of a syllable as ꦃ: the first curl is short and circular, and the second curl is long. It adds a /-h/ after a vowel.
In the Kannada script, the visarga (which is called visarga) is represented with two small circles to the right of a letter ಃ. It brings an "aḥ" sound to the end of the letter.
In the Khmer script, the visarga (known as the reăhmŭkh (រះមុខ, "shining face")) indicates an aspirated /ʰ/ sound added after a syllable. It is represented with two small circles at the right of a letter as ះ, and it should not be confused with the similar-looking yŭkôleăkpĭntŭ (យុគលពិន្ទុ, "pair of dots"), which indicates a short vowel followed by a glottal stop like their equivalent visarga marks in the Thai and Lao scripts.
In the Odia script, the visarga is represented with a vertical infinty sign to the right of a letter as ଃ. It indicates the post-vocalic voiceless glottal fricative aḥ [h] sound after the letter.
In the Tamil script, similar to visarga (which is called āyutha eḻuttu (ஆயுத எழுத்து), āytam (ஆய்தம்), muppaal pulli, thaninilai, aghenam), is represented with three small circles to the right of a letter as ஃ. It represented a now-obsolete /q/ or /h/ sound that has either become silent, or pronounced as /x/, /(a)k-/ or /-ka/ in careful speech. Like Sanskrit, it cannot add on to any letter and add aspiration to them. It should be always placed between a single short vowel(அ, இ, உ, எ, ஒ) and a hard consonant (க், ச், ட், த், ப், ற்) for example அஃது (aqthu), எஃகு (eqgu).
In the Telugu script, the visarga (which is called visarga) is represented with two small circles to the right of a letter ః. It brings an "ah" sound to the end of the letter.
In the Thai script, the visarga (known as the visanchani (วิสรรชนีย์) or nom nang thangkhu (นมนางทั้งคู่)) is represented with two small curled circles to the right of a letter as ◌ะ, or hok nuk huk (◌ฮ). It represents a glottal stop that follows the affected vowel.