What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter A?

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What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter A?

Postby qingjing » Sun Mar 30, 2014 4:18 am

Hello everyone.

Can anyone help me understand something -- what is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter A?

To the best of my knowledge, a is supposed to be pronounced as in "another", or "but". (See http://www.visiblemantra.org/a.html.)

However, as far as I know, in Esoteric Buddhism people pronounce it as "ah" (as in "father"), which is actually the letter ā, not a. (http://www.visiblemantra.org/pronunciation.html.)

To the best of my knowledge, both in Shingon and Tendai they pronounce it as in "father" ("ah"). (Like this Shingon priest [url]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UtoeYtl1YkA[/url].) I've heard from a few Mikkyo practitioners that they pronounce it as in "another", not "father" ("ah") -- but I have the impression that the vast majority of practitioners say "ah", like the priest in the video.

The same pronunciation ("ah") is found in Dzogchen.

Can anyone help me understand this?

Am I confused about Sanskrit pronunciation? Or is it the case that the Tibetans/Japanese are mispronuncing the a?

Or what?

Thanks for your help!
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Sun Mar 30, 2014 7:03 pm

A and AH are different syllables in Tibetan. You have the pronunciation right. A is the syllable that is associated directly with Dzogchen.

A -

AH -
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby qingjing » Sun Mar 30, 2014 7:56 pm

Vajraprajnakhadga wrote:A and AH are different syllables in Tibetan. You have the pronunciation right. A is the syllable that is associated directly with Dzogchen.

A -

AH -


So people are visualizing , but saying ?

But if the Tibetan language has both sounds, why are they doing that?

Thanks!
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Sun Mar 30, 2014 8:54 pm

qingjing wrote:
Vajraprajnakhadga wrote:A and AH are different syllables in Tibetan. You have the pronunciation right. A is the syllable that is associated directly with Dzogchen.

A -

AH -


So people are visualizing , but saying ?

But if the Tibetan language has both sounds, why are they doing that?

Thanks!


Because they are mistaken? Start studying Tibetan at all and you begin to realize that nearly everything westerners say in Tibetan is wrong.

In the end I don't think it is particularly harmful. Both syllables have the same essential quality ultimately. It's just that A is the most basic, stripped down sound and therefore seen as the "mother of all sounds".
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby qingjing » Sun Mar 30, 2014 9:16 pm

Vajraprajnakhadga wrote:In the end I don't think it is particularly harmful. Both syllables have the same essential quality ultimately. It's just that A is the most basic, stripped down sound and therefore seen as the "mother of all sounds".


I don't think it's particularly harmful either. I was just trying to get it straight.
Thanks for your help!

Vajraprajnakhadga wrote:Because they are mistaken? Start studying Tibetan at all and you begin to realize that nearly everything westerners say in Tibetan is wrong.


But the thing is, as far as I know, the Tibetan/Japanese teachers say "ah" themselves -- like that Shingon priest in the video. Westerners seem to be merely repeating the mistake.
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Sun Mar 30, 2014 9:34 pm

qingjing wrote:But the thing is, as far as I know, the Tibetan/Japanese teachers say "ah" themselves -- like that Shingon priest in the video. Westerners seem to be merely repeating the mistake.


I think there is an issue that arises with slow mantra where A naturally becomes AH. It's not really a mistake as the two sounds have the same quality. It's kind of a an odd thing. OM AH HUNG is actually OM A HUNG in Tibetan, but you see OM AH HUNG much more often in English. I think this is just one of those things that doesn't make much sense to non-Tibetan speakers. In the end, it really doesn't matter though as far as I can tell. A and AH are pretty much the same thing, particularly when by themselves (A is only ever by itself, as it is otherwise implied in every consonant sound naturally). AH has different functions when actually speaking and writing Tibetan versus A. I'm not a Tibetan scholar though so if there is one around I'm sure they will clarify and correct what I'm saying.

Edit: Actually there is a small AH under the A in OM AH HUNG, which makes it an extended sound. I knew there was something wrong with what I was saying, so I double-checked. So the real issue is that people may be visualizing a similar but different syllable. I'm not clear on what the difference between the AH in OM AH HUNG and the regular AH is. I think it is even longer, but I could be wrong.
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby tingdzin » Tue Apr 01, 2014 1:40 am

Dear Qingjing:

Ok, I was just about to correct the previous poster, but he corrected himself.

The simple 'a' letter (the lower of the two Tibetan characters) may occur after certain consonants, but in this case it makes a long 'ah' sound and cannot be followed then by another consonant In other words, it never is written (in modern Tibetan, anyway) between two consonants.

It is the upper of the two which is used as a seed syllable in Tibetan, and pronounced AH (father); sometimes it is written with the smaller character below it and sometimes not. As VPkd says, this is supposed to lengthen the AH sound further, but in practice it doesn't seem to make much difference. The seed syllable is never pronounced 'a' as in 'another'.
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby muni » Tue Apr 01, 2014 12:23 pm

:smile:

On about 3.20.
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby qingjing » Tue Apr 01, 2014 8:08 pm

Thank you, Vajraprajnakhadga, Tingdzin, and Muni!

As someone who's more familiar with East Asian Buddhism, I only know so much about the Tibetan tradition/language. It's been quite instructive!

Sino-Japanese Esoteric Buddhism has taken great care over the centuries to try and preserve the Sanskrit bijas in sound and appearance -- they've been handed down over generations not only "from mouth to ear", but also in Siddham script with accompanying Chinese characters with the approximate pronunciation. The Sanskrit a is very important in Mikkyo (Jap. Esoteric Buddhism) for its "threefold meaning" -- "primal origin, the universal ground of phenomena, and the ultimately inexpressible nature of reality."

Apparently the transmission of sound hasn't worked out very well, though, as Mikkyo practitioners seem to be mostly visualizing a ("another") but saying ā (ah, "father").

I assumed something similar was happening with Tibetan Buddhism. I thought they were (unsuccessfully) trying to pronounce the Sanskrit a, while depicting it in their native script to make it easier to visualize.

tingdzin wrote:It is the upper of the two which is used as a seed syllable in Tibetan, and pronounced AH (father) [...] The seed syllable is never pronounced 'a' as in 'another'.


So I guess I was making the wrong assumption, huh?

From what you say, I take it that the Tibetans haven't been trying to pronounce the Sanskrit a, then. Instead, they're simply pronouncing the Tibetan a, pronounced "ah"!

That would mean that, at some point, they decided to "make the switch" to their own language, and leave the Sanskrit behind -- at least as far as the bija "a" goes! (Though I guess that means the "threefold meaning" is probably lost, since it only works in Sanskrit.)

Is that correct?

Thanks again!
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Tue Apr 01, 2014 8:40 pm

tingdzin wrote:The seed syllable is never pronounced 'a' as in 'another'.


My experience with Dzogchen teachings contradict this. Ravens and crows are closely associated with the A syllable (and by extension Dzogchen) because of the caw sound they make (which is a brief sound). It is said that their call is the primordial A. There are also practices where A A A appears, and they are always short A sounds.
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby ngodrup » Tue Apr 01, 2014 11:15 pm

So you are saying "Wang Er Hung" as the Chinese pronounce it is incorrect? ;)

Sanskrit gets pronounced with the accent of any nation that tries to pronounce it.
Same goes for any other language. Texan is very different from American. ;)
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby qingjing » Wed Apr 02, 2014 12:41 am

ngodrup wrote:So you are saying "Wang Er Hung" as the Chinese pronounce it is incorrect? ;)

LOL

Sanskrit gets pronounced with the accent of any nation that tries to pronounce it.
Same goes for any other language. Texan is very different from American. ;)


Yes, but the traditional insistence on the paramount importance of correct pronounciation made me want to check it -- even if just for tradition's sake... And now they got themselves busted! They're their own worst enemies! :tongue:

I don't know if it's always a question of accents, though.

For instance, if the Tibetans have both sounds, a ("another") and ā (ah, "father"), I imagine that they adopted "ah" not because of their accent, but perhaps because they felt it was more natural to adopt their own A, as it is pronounced in their own language.

And, in the West, people who can very well say a ("another") are saying "ah" too! (Which I don't think is bad, btw. "Ah" is a wonderful! :twothumbsup: )
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby tingdzin » Wed Apr 02, 2014 11:54 am

Yes, qingjing, you are correct, and so is ngodrup
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby ngodrup » Thu Apr 03, 2014 6:19 am

The English have a saying: "the proof is in the pudding.
So, if various Tibetan lineages can demonstrate siddhi as an outcome of
mispronunciation, then it must work."
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby Lindama » Thu Apr 03, 2014 6:43 am

Does the "AH" pronunciation of "A" sound like breathing out hard through the mouth without forming sounds? seems like a primordial sound.... like you said caw... or crawfish

In english phoenics, that would be a short A, while a long A would sound like "ehey" or the word "say" which is closer to the letter a. have I got the phoenics right?
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby tingdzin » Thu Apr 03, 2014 3:29 pm

Avoid using English phonetics as you learned them in school when dealing with other languages -- it will only cause you grief. The "hey" or "lay" or "say" sound has nothing to do with the sound in question.
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby Alfredo » Thu Apr 03, 2014 11:25 pm

Perhaps Dzongchungpa would know something about this...? :D

Effectively, both are pronounced "ah" (as in father). The Tibetans have to distinguish the names of the letters by saying "a chen" (big A) and "a chung" (little a). The big one (that looks like a W) is the mantric syllable.

For those who don't know, Dzogchungpa's icon displays the other one, the little one, as a joke. (Because one normally speaks of a dzogCHENba, a devotee of the GREAT ultimate, but a dzogchungpa would be a follower of the LITTLE ultimate, whatever that may be. Very witty, I assure you!)

There is not a strict one-to-one correspondence between letters and sounds in Tibetan, any more than there is in English or French. There are lots of silent letters and letter combinations which cause letters to change their usual values, etc. Since Tibetan consonants have an inherent vowel-sound of a (ah), the phonetic value of these letters is rarely straightforward. Little "a" is often silent, or simply used as a placeholder for another vowel marker (placed above or below it, as is customary for Tibetan and Indic-script vowels). An example would be 'od, or light. Here the "apostrophe" transliterates a Tibetan a-chung. The "o" (naro) vowel marker goes above it, and the suffixed letter corresponding to d shifts the vowel sound, giving it more of an umlauted quality.

Can Westerners get enlightened while visualizing seed-syllables in Wylie transliteration? Time will tell!
(no longer participating on this board)
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby ngodrup » Fri Apr 04, 2014 3:43 am

The Tibetan Alphabet is a direct corollary to the sound system in Sanskrit.
But, some sounds Tibetans didn't have and some the Indians didn't have.

It's sort of like the connection between Greek and Cyrillic alphabet for Slavic languages.

But beyond that, Tibetans are very flexible with the sounds and generous in their listening.
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby Vajraprajnakhadga » Fri Apr 04, 2014 6:26 pm

Lindama wrote:Does the "AH" pronunciation of "A" sound like breathing out hard through the mouth without forming sounds? seems like a primordial sound.... like you said caw... or crawfish

In english phoenics, that would be a short A, while a long A would sound like "ehey" or the word "say" which is closer to the letter a. have I got the phoenics right?


From what I was taught, one is a low intonation and extended (AH) the other is a medium intonation and not extended (A). They are basically the same sound though.
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Re: What is the correct pronunciation of the syllable/letter

Postby qingjing » Thu Apr 10, 2014 5:30 pm

tingdzin wrote:Yes, qingjing, you are correct, and so is ngodrup

Thanks for your help!
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