Spelling and Pronunciation

Various systems are used for transcription into English from Hindi, Sanskrit, Arabic, and others of India's many languages. These depend on many factors: the source language, whether British English or American English is used, the handling of diacritical marks, the time of publication of the work in question, and the preferences of individual authors and publishers. Consequently, there is much variability in the English spelling and pronunciation of these words.

For example, Mughal and Mogul, Koran and Quran, Khas and Khass, chhajja and chajja, Itmad-ud-daulah and Itmad ud Dawla, Sarasvati and Saraswati are all acceptable pairs of alternatives. I have tried to maintain consistency by using, for the most part, the spellings favored by Thames and Hudson publishers (see bibliography). However, since I have referred to many different sources in the preparation of these pages, it is likely that some inconsistencies will remain.

Unless one has particular knowledge of the source language or dialect, it is usually just as well to pronounce the words as in standard English, with the following exceptions:

  1. a as in father (if long, or accented)
  2. a as in hut (if short, or unaccented)
  3. e as in day
  4. i as in feet
  5. h is not pronounced after b, t, or d
  6. ai, ay as in eye, except:
    1. ai like day in some regions: Udaipur, Jaipur
    2. ay like day in Anglicized names: Sanjit Ray
  7. q as in cut (Arabic)

In pronunciation, and sometimes in spelling, short "a" is a weak sound and tends to be dropped: Rama -> Ram, Vamana -> Vamna.

Adjectives are formed from nouns in a way that is different from most European languages. Two examples which will frequently be encountered are:

  1. Shiva (noun) => Shaiva (adjective)
  2. Vishnu (noun) => Vaishnava (adjective)