Last modified on 24 May 2010, at 12:47


We will devote this Appendix to some very preliminary notions and terms about phonetics with the avowed objective of making the reader understand some of the unfamiliar sounds which we encountered in the course of learning Gurmukhi script.

Speech organsEdit

Also called the voice box is the part of throat containing glottis and vocal fold.
An organ of speech, located in the larynx containing the vocal folds and the opening between them.
Vocal folds 
Also called vocal chords produce voice by resonating i.e. vibrating due to the air coming out of lungs passing through them.
A moving organ in the mouth. Body of the tongue, the toe of the tongue and the back part of the tongue called dorsum interact with other organs to articulate speech sounds.
Lips move and are responsible for some speech sounds.
Another important organ set used to produce speech sounds.
Alveolar ridge 
The hard raised part of the roof of the mouth immediately behind the teeth.
Hard Palate 
The roof of the mouth immediately behind the alveolar ridge.
The part of the roof of the mouth from the hard palate extending up to above the dorsum.
Oral cavity 
The mouth hollow that breath passes through. It connects with the wind pipe.
Nasal cavity 
The hollow through the nose connecting to the windpipe above the larynx.
Vocal tract 
The cavity consisting of the laryngeal cavity, the pharynx, the oral cavity, and the nasal cavity where sound that is produced in larynx is filtered.

How are speech sounds produced?Edit

Speech sounds are produced by passing breath through the oral cavity or additionally through the nasal cavity and modulating the air flow by moving some speech organ (vocal folds, the tongue or the lips called active articulators) against some other moving or non-moving speech organ (teeth, alveolar ridge, hard palate or velum called passive articulators).

  • Vowels and Consonants : When the air coming out of lungs passes unobstructed through the vocal folds and the oral/nasal cavity the sound produced is called vowel. If however an obstruction (e.g. by closing of lips or placing tongue against one of the passive articulators) is caused to the air flow between the vocal folds and before it escapes through oral cavity a consonant sound is produced.
  • Place of articulation : When a consonant sound is produced one of the speech organs namely the glottis, the velum, the palate, the alveolar ridge, the teeth, lips is acted upon by another moving speech organ e.g. vocal folds, tongue or lips. Such a speech organ or a location thereon is the place of articulation of the speech sound and speech sound articulated at such a place is called a
    Places of articulation.png
    1. Glottal : articulated with i.e. by moving glottis (see A in figure), /ਹ/ is the only glottal sound in Punjabi.
    2. Velar : produced by placing back part of tongue called dorsum against velum (see D in figure). /ਕ, ਖ, ਗ, ਘ, ਙ/ are Punjabi velars.
    3. Palatal : produced by touching the hard palate (see E in figure) with the tongue. /ਚ, ਛ, ਜ, ਝ, ਞ, ਸ਼/ are Punjabi palatals.
    4. Retroflex : produced with tongue curling and touching the palate near alveloar ridge (see F in figure). /ਟ, ਠ, ਡ, ਢ, ਣ, ੜ, ਲ਼/ are Punjabi retroflexes.
    5. Dental : produced by placing the tongue against the upper teeth(see G in figure). /ਤ, ਥ, ਦ, ਨ, ਸ, ਲ, ਰ, ਜ਼/ are Punjabi dentals
    6. Labial : produced by closing the lips (see H in figure) to stop the air flow. /ਪ, ਫ, ਬ, ਮ/ are Punjabi labials.
  • Manner of articulation : As noted above a consonant sound is produced by obstructing the flow of air. This is done a number of different ways called manner of articulation of the speech sound.
    1. Plosive : Also called a stop. Plosive speech sounds are produced when a speech articulator interacts with another to completely stop the air flow for a while and the resultant air pressure is released suddenly causing an explosion. /ਕ, ਖ, ਗ, ਚ, ਛ, ਜ, ਟ, ਠ, ਡ, ਤ, ਥ, ਦ, ਪ, ਫ, ਬ/ are all plosives or stops.
    2. Nasal : When air flows out of the nasal cavity it resonates and a nasal speech sound is produced by passing air through oral cavity with part of the air passing through the nasal cavity. /ਙ, ਞ, ਣ, ਨ, ਮ/ are Punjabi nasals.
    3. Fricative : When a sound articulator is placed in such a manner that the air flow does not stop completely and passes through a side or the sides of the articulator causing an air friction with the speech articulator, the resultant speech sound is called a fricative. /ਸ, ਸ਼, ਜ਼, ਹ, ਫ਼/ are Punjabi fricatives.
    4. Lateral : Lateral sounds are articulated along the axis of the tongue, while air from the lungs escapes at one side or both sides of the tongue. /ਲ, ਲ਼/ are the two Punjabi laterals.
    5. Trill : A trill (ਰ in Punajbi) is a consonantal sound produced by vibrations between the articulator and the place of articulation.
    6. Flap : A flap is a type of consonantal sound (ੜ in Punjabi), which is produced with a single contraction of the muscles so that the tongue is thrown against palate.
    7. Approximants : Approximants or Semi-vowels are speech sounds that could be regarded as intermediate between vowels and typical consonants. /ਯ, ਵ/ are the two Punjabi Approximants.
  • Voiced sounds : Sounds produced while the vocal folds vibrate are called voiced sounds otherwise they are called unvoiced. The voiced sounds are characterized by a buzzing of the sound. /ਗ, ਜ, ਡ, ਦ, ਜ਼/ are voiced sounds of Punjabi.
  • Aspirated sounds : Sounds are produced with the breath coming out of the lungs. Aspirated sounds are produced when the amount of air flowing out of vocal tract is abnormally high. /ਖ, ਛ, ਠ, ਥ, ਫ/ are the aspirated sounds of Punjabi.

Classification of Gurmukhi soundsEdit

The following table of Gurmukhi/Punjabi letters/sounds has been arranged in accordance with the sound articulation characteristics. The sounds are normally classified by describing the place of articulation, manner of articulation and voicing. Thus the rows of this table describe the place of articulation and the columns both the manner of articulation and voicing. There is a debate going on amongst Punjabi linguists as to whether /ਘ, ਝ, ਢ, ਧ, ਭ/ are independent sounds or they are pronounced as /ਕ, ਚ, ਟ, ਤ, ਪ/ respectively followed by a low tone when occurring word initially and as /ਗ, ਜ, ਡ, ਦ, ਬ/ respectively preceded by a high tone when occurring elsewhere. We have included these letters of the Gurmukhi in this table so that the reader is familiarized with these letters even as we subscribe to the later view. This is made necessary because of the fact their use is quite wide spread.

Punjabi Consonants
Plosive and affricate Nasal Fricative Flap Appro-
Unvoiced Unvoiced/
Voiced Voiced/
Unvoiced Voiced
Palatal ਸ਼
Retroflex ਲ਼
Dental ਜ਼
Labio-dental ਫ਼

We are not touching on the vowels here, because there is no confusion regarding the use of Punjabi vowels.


Punjabi is a tonal language. This implies that tone is spoken in Punjabi and its use is lexically meaningful, that is the use of tone changes the meaning of the word.

Tone is a high or low aspirated sound, especially of consonant ਹ. (This is not an attempt to precisely define the tone but to just familiarize the reader with the concept. A precise definition is beyond the scope of this Wikibook.)

Though tone is not written using any symbol or letter it is still spoken in Punjabi. There are many ways in which tone is spoken in Punjabi. The letter ਹ has a special significance in this context. When ਹ comes at the beginning of a word or a syllable it is spoken with its normal aspirated glottal sound. However when it comes in a word at a different place it is spoken as a high tone. See the examples below.

• ਰਹਿ /reh/ = live
• ਬਹਿ /beh/ = sit
• ਸ਼ਹਿਰ /shehar/ = city
• ਕਹਿਰ /kehar/ = atrocity
• ਜਾਹ /jah/ = go
• ਉਹ /uh/ = he

Besides ਹ the letters ਘ, ਝ, ਢ, ਧ and ਭ are also of special significance in the context of tone. These consonants are high tone consonants. They are spoken as their normal sounds when they occur at the beginning of a word. See for example:

• ਘਰ /ghar/ = house
• ਝੰਡਾ /jhandaa/ = flag
• ਢੱਕ /dhakk/ = cover
• ਧੱਕਾ /dhakka/ = push
• ਭਾਰ /bhaar/ = weight

However when they occur elsewhere in a word their sounds are replaced with the low tone ਗ੍ਹ, ਜ੍ਹ, ਡ੍ਹ, ਦ੍ਹ and ਬ੍ਹ. Since these conjugates are occurring at the end of the word the half haha is actually spoken as high tone. See these examples:

• ਸਿੰਘ /singh/ = lion
• ਬੋਝਾ /bojhaa/ = pocket
• ਕੱਢ /kadhdh/ = take out
• ਕੰਧ /kandh/ = wall
• ਖੰਭ /khambh/ = feather

Here are some examples of low tone:

• ਕਿੰਨ੍ਹਾ /kinaah/ = who
• ਜਿੰਨ੍ਹਾ /jinaah/ = those who
• ਨ੍ਹਾਤਾ /nhaataa/ =bathed
• ਪੜ੍ਹਾਈ /parhaaii/ = education
• ਚੜ੍ਹ /charhh/ = climb