Difference between śa (श) and ṣa (ष)?

I'm not hearing the difference at all in the exercises. What is the difference supposed to be?

July 21, 2018


श is from Persio-Arabic words and ष is from Sanskrit. The latter is far less frequently encountered because, to be honest, people tend to prefer the Persian terms to the wacky old Sanskrit ones :o ! And your average Indian villager (majority of the population!) can't be bothered to do the Sanskrit pronunciation. Hence, it's the situation again where someone will swear there is this proper way to do ष that you just MUST do, but the kids who missed school that day never got the memo. The "proper" way is to make sh sound while retroflexing your tongue. Otherwise, pronounce both the same :)

July 21, 2018

Not sure why your answer got a downvote, alot of my own research came to the same answer. I tend to pronounce ष retroflex anyway, so I should be able to absorb that fairly easily. I'm probably going to have to remember to pronounce श closer to my alveolar ridge. Have a Lingot! :)

July 22, 2018

Thanks brother. Probably got a down vote for being cheeky about Sanskrit :) That's interesting to know you speak Sinhalese. I speak Punjabi. There is extra retroflex sounds in Punjabi that are not in Hindi.

You may have also noticed that the Duolingo does not pronounce the Persian kh in a unique way. Although it's true that a great many Hindi speakers do not pronounce that in a unique way, it is much more common to pronounce it than ष. And, they pronounce other Persian sounds (f, z) even though many Hindi speakers do not pronounce them.

July 22, 2018

The answer is, unfortunately, not fully correct, because it is not backed by rigorous research and linguistic understanding. ष is exclusive to Sanskrit, but in modern Hindi all words with ष are pronounced as श. श is found in both Persian and Sanskrit: I repeat, there are many native Sanskrit words with श, including my name अखिलेश. Also, the reason that ष is no longer pronounced in modern Indic languages is not because people can't be "bothered" to pronounce it, but because of natural sound changes, in the same way the "gh" in English is no longer pronounced. There are several intermediate languages between Sanskrit and Hindi, including Sauraseni Prakits and Apabhraṃśa. However, the ष phoneme was not lost in some other languages, and was borrowed from Sanskrit into several Dravidian languages, and is still in use in those languages. So if a person is from a non-Hindi but Indian background where the ष is preserved, then it is natural and admissible for the ष/श distinction to be utilized. Hindi is actually relatively close in phonology to Sanskrit.

July 25, 2018

You can search about it and read long research level answers.

But a simple one line answer would be - there is no practical difference and both the letters are pronounced like the sh of show or shack.

The separate letters exist only because of historical reasons.

July 21, 2018

So, I'm hearing that in practice people don't distinguish the two, but if you were to distinguish them, is it anything like the Russian sounds, i.e. श=щ and ष=ш? Or at all like the Mandarin sounds x and sh? Or not really?

July 22, 2018

It's just tongue more forward versus more backward. The important thing is that in Hindi, even if you can make a different sound, for all intents and purposes it is not meaningful to understanding. (Compared to Mandarin, where the distinction is absolutely essential to create meaning.) Just say SHHHHH! (Quiet! the movies is starting), in any old way, and you will be golden. The only singular reason this is an issue at all is because the SCRIPT (not the language) presents us with two symbols. When you write the same in Punjabi Gurmukhi script, the same symbol is used for both. When you write the same words in Nastaliq (Arabic alphabet) for Urdu -- which is basically the exact same language -- you use the same symbol for both.

Here's a real tip--and I hope I get 100 down votes for this: If you encounter a word with ष, don't say it. Chances are, there is a synonym word of Persio-Arabic or English origin that everyday Hindi speakers prefer. Thus, the most one ever sees ष is when learning Devanagari and on the wall in some government building that everybody calls by a different name. And in Rashtrapati. hehe

Let's not open the can of worms where some Hindi speakers of the countryside sort don't ("can't") pronounce "sh" at all... :o

July 22, 2018

Since even native Hindi speakers have such a hard time with the distinction between these two, does it really make sense to have so many exercises distinguishing the pronunciation of the two? I think it is just frustrating.

July 30, 2018

It is not only frustrating, it is absurd.

July 30, 2018

Just posted the following on a thread with a similar question.

श and ष do represent two different sounds: श is a palato-alveolar fricative while ष is a retroflex fricative. Basically, श is "English sh" (as in "shape") and ष is "Russian sh" (ш). That said, people often, if not always, pronounce both of them as श. Suffice it to say that I haven't heard any Hindi speaker make a distinction between श and ष in speech. This might have to do with the absence of word pairs in Hindi that differ only with respect to one of the two sh-sounds (such word pairs are called minimal pairs) and the fact that श is the easier one to pronounce. Nevertheless careful speakers like myself do pronounce the two differently.

Since the audio samples in this course aren't helpful in discerning them, you can make use of the fact that ष occurs in way fewer words than श and try to memorize the words containing ष as you come across them (there won't be many).

August 1, 2018

I have the same problem. It wouldn't trouble me except that there are exercises that require one to listen and choose which one they've just heard.

September 13, 2018
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