The first thing that needs to be practised when learning Punjabi is the alphabet. The Punjabi alphabet consists of about 55 characters which are written in a left-to-right script. It would be very hard to learn to speak the language AND learn a whole new alphabet to read it in at the same time, so it for the purpose of learning to speak Punjabi, we will substitute Punjabi characters for similar English ones. Starting with the consonants:
Focusing on the groups, there are 5 separate sounds – some of which take a bit of getting used to!
k-group: These sounds are pronounced the same as the English “K” – the back of the tounge touches the roof of the mouth.
c-group: These sounds are pronounced like the English “Ch” sounds – the front of the tounge touches the roof of the mouth.
ʈ-group: The sounds in this group are made by curling the front of the tounge to touch the rear of the roof of the mouth – This is called a “retroflex” sound. Notice the letter is “ʈ” not “t”.
t-group: These sounds are made by touching the front of the tounge against the back of the teeth, not like the English “t” which is closer to the c-group.
p-group: Same as the English “p” – the lips touch together.
There a number of letters which don’t fall into a group, but they are rarely used. Most are pronounced in much the same way as they are in English, the obvious exceptions being:
“ʃ” – which is similar to the English “sh”.
“x” – pronounced like an English “h”.
“ɦ” – same as the English “h” sound, but with a breathy voice.
“ɽ” – retroflex “r” sound, made by flapping the tongue against the roof of the mouth (similar to the “ʈ” group letters above).
Next we’ll look at the columns. “Voiced” means that the vocal chords vibrate to create an obvious buzzing sound, whereas “Voiceless” omits this sound. “Aspirated” means that a puff of air follows the sound and “Unaspirated” is pronounced without following air. For example, the English “K” and “P” are voiceless and (lightly) aspirated. In Punjabi, the difference between voiced and voiceless, as well as aspirated and unaspirated needs to be emphasised – so unaspirated letters should be pronounced with no air, but aspirated ones should be pronounced with an obvious “breath” of air!
The “Nasal” consonants are pronounced by stopping the flow of air through the mouth, but letting it continue to flow through the nose.
Next, the vowels:
These are slightly easier to learn thankfully!
Here are a few sample words and phrases, written using the alphabet above:
Sat sri: aka:l – Hello/Goodbye (Literally – “God is truth”)
ʃukria – Thanks (Remember, ʃ is pronounced like “sh”)
Ki: ɦa:l ɦe? – How are you? (Each letter must be fully pronounced, so ɦa:l sounds more like “har le”)
ʈʱi:k ɦe – I am well (ʈʱ is pronounced with the retroflex sound and a breathy voice)