So far, we have looked at the 35 letters. Now, we concentrate on vowels and apart from the first three, they all have an implicit, very short 'a' after them.

We look at:

How they are used when writing . . .

When building a word, each letter has this implicit 'a' except the last letter of a word (except, largely ਣ or sometimes ੜ - these putting an implicit 'a' at the end of a word). Examples of words are 'shabad' - ਸ਼ਬਦ - meaning 'word' and 'naram' - ਨਰਮ - meaning 'soft'.

However, there is a need for other vowel sounds so Gurmukhi has ten in all - the implicit 'a', we have already covered. In the menu on the right, you can see how they are used when they are on their own or when they are applied to a letter (k ('ਕ') is usually used here so let's not break with tradition).

The reason for needing to express a vowel on its own arises when you start a word (vowels follow letters, not precede them) or if you have already used a vowel sound on a letter (you would need to know which order to use). For this purpose, each vowel sound needs a letter to attach itself to when it appears on its own.

One example of both of these (leading vowel sound and vowels with a previously used up vowel sound) is ਅੜਾਉਣੀ (n puzzle, riddle, quiz, conundrum). It starts off with a leading short 'a' ਅ and then has 'rdah' ੜਾ but then need to produce a short 'u' so it uses a vowel carrier thus producing ਉ. Finally we have ਣੀ (nee). So we have four sounds - ਅ ੜਾ ਉ ਣੀ which, when combined, produce the word ਅੜਾਉਣੀ.

Another - this time just vowel sounds - is ਆਇਆ (v came). It leads with a vowel sound (ਆ) and then has another one (ਇ) and finally a third (ਆ).

The vowel carrier are not just any carriers though, each vowel is allocated a specific carrier.

Vowel combined with standard holders.
... with various letters.
1 Default short 'a' sound.
2 ਛਾ ਨਾ ਬਾ ੜਾ Longer 'ah' sound.
3 ਛਿ ਨਿ ਬਿ ੜਿ * Short 'i' sound.
4 ਛੀ ਨੀ ਬੀ ੜੀ Longer 'ee' sound.
5 ਛੁ ਨੁ ਬੁ ੜੁ Short 'u' sound.
6 ਛੂ ਨੂ ਬੂ ੜੂ Long 'oo' sound.
7 ਛੇ ਨੇ ਬੇ ੜੇ Longer 'ay' sound.
8 ਛੈ ਨੈ ਬੈ ੜੈ Longer 'ae' sound.
9 ਛੋ ਨੋ ਬੋ ੜੋ Longer 'oh' sound.
10 ਛੌ ਨੌ ਬੌ ੜੌ Longer 'au' sound.
* Note: The Sihari is written before the letter although the short 'i' sound happens after it so ਬਿੱਲੀ sounds like 'Bi-llie' and not 'ib-lie'.
The vowels appear in the above order in dictionaries and pretty much everywhere although, as you will see from the diagram below, that is not necessarily the best order (but we are stuck with it so, if you want to be able to use a dictionary, learn it).

How they sound . . .

A good starting place is what you already know so, using that as a reference we can start. The accent used here is roughly the Received Pronunciation access that you will hear R.P. news readers use on BBC Radio 4 so you can use that as a reference that you can listen to yourself.

Why newsreaders? Newsreaders have to speak clearly, in an accent that is understood by as many people as possible. BBC Newsreaders' English is accessible to all as a standard. The problem with not using such a standard would be that people would have to familiarise themselves with a particular accent. Gurmukhi is phonetic and if you look at the spellings of some of the words in Punjabi-English dictionaries, you get the feeling that the original English that Punjabi was compared to was from Southall. This is borne out to some extent by the spelling of Southall - rather than ਸਾਉਥਹੌਲ ('Sah-uth-haul'), it is ਸਾਊਥਹਾਲ ('Sah-ooth-hahl').

On the right, you can see a representation of vowel sounds. In effect, they form a spectrum from 'ee' (eg, 'teen') down to 'oo' (eg 'booth') that follows a rough continuum of mouth shapes - try it yourself. They aren't quite as evenly spaced as represented here but, they are in the right order (granting any exceptions caused by your own regional accent influencing vowel sounds that are close together such as 'au' and 'u').

For examples, I have tried to choose samples that are more standard so for the 'oo' sound, I have not used 'room' because, whilst I might pronounce it 'rume', some people say 'rum' with the 'oo' taking on the same role as the 'oo' in the English pronunciation of 'book' (Note that the Scottish pronunciation uses a similar long 'oo' sound in 'book' as in 'booth', just to add to the confusion - oh for a phonetic representation of English [could use Gurmukhi]).

By representing the vowel sounds as a continuum, you can see how the Gurmukhi vowels fit together. On the right, you can see how the English sounds on the left match the Gurmukhi sounds on the right. These sounds are from people from India that live locally to me and are not from their children who use a slightly different set of sounds - more based on the local accent (and the fact that most of them never bothered to learn how to read so they think that ਬਿੱਲੀਆਂ (the plural of she-cat) is pronounced 'bi-lee-a' as opposed to 'bi-lee-ah(n)' (the '(n)' representing the nasalisation of the 'ah' sound as in the end of the French word for 'naturally'; 'naturellement'), the latter way being how it is supposed to be pronounced. They have probably seen it written in a book as 'billia' which, if it were to be written in Gurmukhi, would be written as ਬਿੱਲੀਅ instead - hence the importance of being able to read.

The following pages . . .

Access the vowels by clicking on the link in the top right or get the next or previous page by clicking on the link at the bottom of the page.

Each page is laid out in the same way so that you can learn consistently.

They each display the vowel's: name; shape; spelling; drawing; sound; and, duration.

There is also an animation of the vowel with its carrier and the vowel with the letter kakkaa (ਕ) - kakkaa is skipped over largely, because you should already know how to draw it.

Copyright ©2007-2023 Paul Alan Grosse.