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Pronunciation mistake in Hindi

First of all, let me tell you that I'm not doing this course myself. I'm a native Hindi speaker and was thrilled to see this course, so I was just going through it. Doing so, I found out that there might be some pronunciation mistakes here. Eg. There was a word नमक (salt) in which the sound of the letter "न" was mispronounced so that it sounds like णमक.

I don't know if other such mistakes are there or not, but thought I would point it out here as I couldn't find an option for reporting a mistake. I hope it is corrected.

September 3, 2018



This an interesting observation from a native Hindi speaker. But as a learner I have enough difficulty distinguishing the different "t" and "d" sounds in Hindi. I can vaguely hear the difference if words are enunciated slowly and clearly, but not in rapid speech. I can't imagine ever being able to distinguish the different "n" sounds!


I am so confused by how the speaker pronounces the वह/यह and वे/ये. The written lessons before each "unit" (you know, the little lightbulb) describes it one way, yet the speaker within the lesson pronounces them entirely different. Can someone please give a definitive answer on how to say these pronouns? If the way the speaker in the lessons is an acceptable convention, that would certainly make my learning a bit simpler.


Nine months later, नमक is still miss-pronouned. There are other errors as well. The most galling is the horrible way अब is pronounced.


न and ण are allophones.


Tell me if I am wrong, but I think allophones can be used interchangeably...? न and ण cannot be used that way.


Namaste Diya ji,

Allophones means the sounds may be different objectively (they may be described as different outside of the context of a language) while being the same subjectively (they can potentially be varied, exchanged, or even not "heard" as different within the context of a language).

The sound of "v" and "w" in American English are allophones in Hindi-based speech, i.e. व. There may be some range of different sounds that come out of the person's mouth, but they collapse into only one meaningful unit, व.

For all intents and purposes, in standard Hindi the न and ण correspond to the same unit of meaning-in-sound. In WRITING they are different, yes. But that is for historical reasons; the spelling is not an exact phonetic representation of the current sound.

I am aware that Sanskrit-waale and pandit log will teach the sound of "Devanagari" (as if it has a sound independent of the language for which it's being used), and they will feel that two different letters MUST correspond to differently recognized sounds. They will teach the Sanskrit pronunciation. However, there is an element of artificiality in that which disappears when you look at what people are actually saying when they are not self-consciously speaking.

Consider that Hindi is Hindustani... i.e. Urdu. When writing in the Arabic alphabet to represent Hindustani, there is only one "n." Consequently, Hindustani speakers who are educated using that alphabet are not under any illusion that there are two N's!

Yes there are two (well, more than 2) different "N" symbols in Devanagari writing.

Yes there are two different N meaningful-sounds (phonemes) in Sanskrit.

Yes Hindi speakers make different N sounds when they speak, but No these do not correspond consistently, in natural speech, to meaningful distinctions in communication. Most often, the cause of non-random variation in the N sounds in Hindi is because 1) Something else "nearby" in the word caused it 2) It's their regional accent 3) They have jalebiyāṅ in their mouth while speaking.


Thanks for explaining that Ranzo! A lingot to you for that. But I disagree that the difference doesn't occur in natural speech. It does. I'm not talking about the different dialects and languages closely related to Hindi- they all have their own way of saying words. I'm talking about the Hindi we use in day to day life. Perhaps you will not be pointed out if you are not a native but unfortunately we do not have that advantage. Haha!


Can you give me an example of when you say a word spelled with ण and where it is important to pronounce that distinctly from न? Incidentally, I don't remember the last time I saw ण in the Duo course.

If this two-N distinction is so important to the Hindustani of day to day life, and if Hindustani (Khari Boli) was developed as "Urdu," a lingua franca, then why do writers using Arabic alphabet have only one way to write "N"?

Asides: 1) As you know, there is no word in Hindi that begins its spelling with ण. So, there would seem to be no chance of someone misunderstanding नमक, etc. no matter how the N is pronounced. It's like how it doesn't matter if you use द or ड when you are saying D of "duolingo."

2) One is pronouncing the sound of Sanskrit ण at various times in Hindi: when an N sound comes before retroflex stops i.e. ट, ठ, ड, ढ.

3) I speak Punjabi, in which it is essential to pronounce retroflex N (Sanskrit ण) to have the right accent. पाणी (water), जाणा (to go), जाणकारी (information) etc. Really, most Punjabi words that overlap with Hindi words will have retroflex N ण where Hindi uses dental N न. And yet when Hindi-waale hear the Punjabi speaker they understand the word perfectly. They just know it's a Punjabi accent, while the N sound has the same meaning.



Namaste, Nancy ji, (Duolingo is not letting me reply to your note directly.)

The letter ण is mainly seen in in Sanskrit-derived words in Hindi. So one would never use it to write non-Indian things. (And it never comes at the beginning of a word, anyway.)


@openminded2 (Nancy): The ण is a "retroflex N" pronounced with the tip of the tongue curled backward and touching the roof of the mouth. I am guessing that you do not pronounce "Nancy" that way. If you pronounce the initial "N" of "Nancy" with the tongue behind the upper front teeth (basically, where it is when you pronounce "T" but nasalized), then I think, yes, you should write "Nancy" with a न and not a ण. I would render "Nancy" into Devanagari this way: नांसी


I was told I must write my name (Nancy) with a न and not a ण. Thoughts?


I agree with Ranzo. As a learner, you want to speak and be understood. Getting hung up on the difference between न और ण would be a waste of time. Using the English “n” gives you the correct pronunciation, not perfectly, but more than adequately. As a learner we have to recognize no matter how hard we try we will always have an accent. Yes, there are a few sounds we need to work on i.e aspirated, dental/ retroflex d’s and t’s. However, there are a few sounds that when speaking are inconsequential i.e. the difference between श/ ष औ/ओ. I recognize I am going to get some flake about the latter, but teaching “ow” as in “cow” for the sound औ is incorrect and confusing. Teaching “o” as in “so” for औ will result in speaking understandable Hindi, which I would hope is the goal for all learners. That is also the goal of Duolingo, to help learners to speak and be understood.


Actually, teaching “ow” as in “cow” for the sound औ is really incorrect. Teaching “o” as in “so” for औ is actually the correct. This is however, true only when we consider a word and not the individual letter. But that is beyond the point because I completely agree with you when you say that for a learner, the words matter more than the letters. Seeing as I am learning French from the beginning, I do understand that. Why I pointed out the difference between the two letters न and ण is because I have seen some people confusing the sound of ण for the sound of र, specially when it appears in the middle of a word. Perhaps it doesn't apply to you and many others, but it happens. Anyhow knowing how a letter sounds when spoken correctly doesn't mean you have to speak it correctly, right? THAT is going to take a lot of time and I know that from my slow progress in the speaking skills in my own French course. :p


French is one language where a variation from the true pronunciation seems to pain the native listener. There are many languages where the accent is heard sweetly. I understand the American accent in spoken German is "friendly". In most cases of course, the native speaker appreciates the effort. (except my francophone son who tells me his ears bleed when I speak French with him:) ).


Hindi does not have the retroflex n sound, so न and ण are pronounced the same. The same is true for श and ष, which are both pronounced the same in hindi.


न and ण are most definitely NOT pronounced the same in Hindi. I am not a native Hindi speaker, nor am I a linguist, but I have lived in India long enough to recognise a substantial difference between the pronunciation of न and ण. It grates on me intensely every time I hear नमक pronounced as णमक in Duolingo's Hindi lessons!


न and ण are allophones in standard Hindi. That does not mean all N's are pronounced the same by every speaker. It means that there is no meaningful distinction between न and ण as for example, there is in Punjabi. A word would never start with retroflex N sound (*theoretically represented by ण, if one is following a prescriptive "Sanskrit" method of "reading as is written"), so I don't know why you're hearing णमक. The word is namak and the speaker says the N however he or she happens to be saying it. Compare Urdu, which for all intents and purposes IS "colloquial Hindi of Delhi" (of which this is a course) and you'll see there is no symbol in writing to distinguish न and ण. It would help to know what region's Hindi you're exposed to, since (obviously) accents vary. As an American English speaker from Southern New England, I not only maintain the difference between "cot" and "caught" (which is lost on people West of the Mississippi), but also pronounce the "au" of "caught" in words like "dog" and "fall." Nevertheless, there is no issue of understanding, and international learners of English are free to merge cot and caught without worries.


Thanks for responding. Your insights are appreciated!

I have traveled through much of Hindi speaking India--Bihar, Jharkhand, Chattisgarh, UP, MP, Uttarakhand, HP, Haryana, Rajasthan. I've spent considerable time in Delhi.

I first arrived in India in 1957 as a 6 year old. I've been returning ever since, and currently spend 6 months of each year in India, based in Uttarakhand.

I can often distinguish the Hindi spoken by someone whose mother tongue is Malayalam, from that of a native Tamil speaker.

Sadly, I'm still not as fluent in Hindi as I want to be. I'm working on that, and Duolingo is helping!

In my experience, while theoretically there may be no meaningful difference between the pronunciation of न and ण, that is not the practical reality.

I can say with a fair degree of confidence that no one, in Delhi or elsewhere, pronounces नमक in conversation the way it is pronounced as णमक in Duolingo.

In my experience, there is the strong hint of an r (र) sound at the beginning of ण when ण is pronounced by a native Hindi speaker.

The partial र sound is very clearly heard when Duolingo says नमक, and I venture to say that no native Hindi speaker anywhere says it that way.

नमक is a word that I have heard and used literally hundreds of times, and probably hundreds of times in Delhi alone.

I realise I'm being more than a little picky, but it sure grates on me when I hear a र at the beginning of नमक!


I commented on this thread before I had actually come across नमक in the lessons. When I did, I thought it was being pronounced "रमक", so I just thought it was completely mispronounced. I didn't recognise it as potentially ण.

Thanks for the interesting discussion.


I hope this link works. It's a page in the "dictionary" on Duolingo. https://www.duolingo.com/dictionary/Hindi/salt/f6b8c6f8daeda0fef41265972f25e35a From what I hear, the example sentences all pronounce /namak/ correctly. However, the initial pronunciation at the top, where the word appears alone, is wrong. I agree, it is very wrong!!

What I don't hear, however, is retroflex N, and in my remarks above, I was speaking to the allophonic grouping of dental and retroflex N. The (OP in this discussion led me to believe that retroflex N was being pronounced. And, previously, I had no idea how to find the lesson to hear for myself.) What I do hear is a retroflex R or L. This is not standard Hindi. So I would reframe this entire discussion as I don't think it's about dental vs. retroflex N, but rather about a blatant error in audio!


And yet... When I hear नमक miss pronounced in Duolingo, I hear what you call the retroflex N, or ण, spoken exactly as I've always heard it, and as I've been taught to say it.

The tongue is curled back to the top of the mouth so that what is spoken and heard is the combination of a partial र before the n, or न. The n sound is also only partially heard.

This is why I said earlier that I think न and ण are distinctly different in terms of pronunciation. There is never any र sound associated with न.

This ण sound is common in the Gharwali languages of Uttarakhand, which use the Devanagari script, and which seem to be somewhat closely related to Hindi/Hindustani/Urdu.

As I said before, I'm not a linguist. I'm just sharing what my ears and experience seem to have taught me.


Thank you so much for the link to the Duolingo dictionary! I had no idea this resource existed. I've only used the app, and I've never seen mention anywhere of the dictionary


Dear Paul, (Duolingo is not letting me reply in nested fashion to you; that seems to happen sometimes when a chain of comments becomes too long.)

We are in agreement that the audio for नमक is wrong in the example.

I respect your hearing the initial consonant as a retroflex N.

I will quibble slightly with your explanation, where you say you hear र and where you associate the sound, represented by that letter, with retroflex N. I do agree that retroflex sounds resemble the sound of an ENGLISH "R", but that is not the same as the "flapped" sound represented by र. Nonetheless, I believe I get your point.

Where I maintain disagreement is with the idea that न and ण are consistently distinguished in standard Hindi. You note that dental N and retroflex N are distinguished meaningfully in Garhwali (thank you!), as I have similarly noted that they are distinguished in Punjabi. My claim is that they are not distinguished in standard Hindi in practice. They are only distinguished academically, by teachers who assert a speaker must make different sounds depending on whether the word is SPELLED with one or the other letter. Their logic, it seems, is that since these are two different looking letters and/or because the Sanskrit pronunciations differ, that the speaker should make different sounds. I offered the example of "Urdu," in which the same language is being spoken but where the script is different. There is no tradition, in teaching Urdu, to make the student distinguish dental and retroflex because the script does not contain two different symbols. In that case, individual variations of where the speaker's tongue is (forward or retroflex) are just that-- individual / dialectical variations, with no bearing on meaning.

While Hindi's writing system is nearly "phonetic" -- i.e. a one to one correspondence between symbol and sound -- it is not entirely so. That's to say, the Devanagri script and Hindi phonology are two separate things. Just as Italian and English use the same alphabet yet their symbols indicate different sounds, the Devanagri script's symbols vary somewhat in what they represent in the contexts of Sanskrit, Hindi, and other languages. I am sounding like a broken record... but as I have often opined on these boards, I think contemporary Hindi instruction is plagued by the conflation of Devanagri for Sanskrit and Devanagri for Hindi -- and I think the reason for that is educators' assumption of Hindi > Hindu > Sanskrit... the assumption that Hindi should "properly" follow Sanskrit. When the same language is circumscribed by the framework of "Urdu," no such illusions present.

Anyway, I think that is a different discussion though and, respectfully, I don't think this audio error offers any evidence to support the discussion. ha!

Out of curiosity: Is there any instance, of which you are aware (e.g. in Garhwali) where a word would BEGIN with retroflex N? I have not seen it.

Even in Punjabi, which is very fond of retroflex N sound, pronunciation is more a matter of getting the accent right to sound like a regional Punjabi person than to convey meaning or to be understood. There are a few minimal pairs, but quite few because I can't even think of any. Wait, I found one: kāṇā means "blind in one eye" whereas kānā means "stalk of a rush plant." lol.

My experience with ण in HINDI is that one must simply be aware of its use in the SPELLING of certain Sanskrit-derived words. It is far more often employed when someone seeks to write another language/dialect's pronunciation of a retroflex N sound. We simply don't need to worry about it when speaking Hindustani ... unless we are trying to sound like Brahman priests :-)

It's really cool and helpful to hear about your experiences and your take on this. Cheers.

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