Schwa and Halant
These are two opposite terms (concepts) in ĐevaNāgarī. Discussion about one is not complete without the other!
While pronouncing English consonants we generally use trailing 'ee' (ī) or leading 'e'.
E.g. consonant 'B' is pronounced as 'bee'; 'F' is pronounced 'ef'.
While in Nāgarī, we always use trailing 'a' ('a' as in 'A'merican).
E.g. 'ब' is pronounced as 'ba'.
If you simply (without any stress) try to pronounce just a single consonant (e.g. b, d, g, ...) without a trailing or leading vowel ('ee' or 'e'), you will end up in a 'natural' short vowel. This toneless (neutral) and unstressed (short) vowel is called 'schwa' in phonology; it is written precisely as 'ə' (inverted 'e') or simply as 'a'. This schwa ('a' or 'ə') is identical to vowel ‘अ’ of Nāgarī. [see footnote]
So in Varṇamālā, we don't have pure consonants but consonants with schwa; which are called 'Full-forms'!
Full-form = Half-form (pure consonant) + Schwa
The letter 'अ' representing the vowel 'schwa' is called Akār (अकार).
In most of the full-forms, this inherent Akār or schwa is represented by the vertical stroke. This vertical stroke is similar to the single vertical stoke of the Akār. The full-form 'ब' consists of ब् + | = ब; which is b + schwa = 'bə'; simply written as 'ba'.
There are two conditions when this 'schwa' gets removed -
- Application of Halant (discussed later)
- Application of vowel-mark (Māŧrā)
When a specific Māŧrā (vowel-mark other than 'a') is 'applied' over a full-form, the trailing 'schwa' of that full-form is removed (not pronounced).
E.g. 'प' is a full-form 'pa';
while 'पे' is a consonant-vowel combination 'pe'.
े is a Māŧrā representing 'e'.
The vertical stroke becomes just a base for the applied vowel and don't represent schwa, i.e. we pronounce just 'pe' not 'pae'.
The dotted circle in the above example is only to emphasis that a pure consonant (half-form) is needed there. In well-formed Nāgarī text, you won't ever see this dotted circle.
IMHO, inherent-schwa can be called 'Nihit-Akār' (निहित-अकार).
What is Halant (हलंत, Halant)?
In ĐevaNāgarī, halant is a very important character. But mostly it remains invisible! So even if a person is writing ĐevaNāgarī on paper or composing text for letter-press, s/he may not use it! It is also called Virāma or simply Hal (हल्).
While typing in electronic devices like computers and mobiles, halant is displayed (temporarily) like a small back-slash (्) below full-forms.
In ĐevaNāgarī, about 80% occurrence of the consonants are in their full-form.
On mechanical typewriters, whatever once typed is final. So we have -
- two forms (full & half) of some consonants,
- and only half-form of remaining consonants.
The consonants whose only half forms are represented (on keys) need a vertical stroke to make them full forms.
But electronic devices like computers and mobiles can convert a previously typed full-form to half-form if followed by halant. So Halant removes the need to represent two forms of a consonant on a keyboard.
So to typeset ĐevaNāgarī text using electronic means (like regular computers with fewer keys) we use Halant.
Halant removes schwa (Akār) from preceding full-form. So, Halant can only be typed after a full-form.
When we type the 'halant' after a full-form, generally it changes it to 'half-form' and vanishes.
As we have discussed, the vertical stroke represents schwa in most of the full-forms. When a full-form is changed to its 'Half-Form' this vertical stroke is removed.
E.g. 'प' is the full-form of consonant 'pa'; while 'प् ' is its half-form representing 'p'.
If vertical stroke is not present in a full-form then we get a part of the full-form as the corresponding half-form.
E.g. 'ह' (ha) is the full-form while 'ह् ' is its half-form.
In क (ka) and फ (pha), Akār is present in the middle, which we can't remove. So corresponding half-forms become क् (k) and फ् (ph).
In other words we can say -
Either halant removes the vertical stroke (if present) of the preceding full-form, or removes a part (from right hand side) of the full-form.
Using ĐevaNāgarī is not a difficult thing. Once you start learning it, you will find it logical and simple.
We add 'halant' to remove the schwa from the full-form, so that a conjunct can be formed.