Gujarati Phonology
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Gujarati Phonology

Gujarati is an Indo-Aryan language native to the Indian state of Gujarat. Much of its phonology is derived from Sanskrit.


Front Central Back
Close i u
Close-mid e ? o
Open-mid ? ?
Open (æ) ?
  • Sanskrit's phonemic vowel length has been lost.[1] Vowels are long when nasalized or in a final syllable.[2][2]
  • Gujarati contrasts oral and nasal, and murmured and non-murmured vowels,[2] except for /e/ and /o/.[3]
  • In absolute word-final position the higher and lower vowels of the /e ?/ and /o ?/ sets vary.[3]
  • /?/ and /?/ developed in the 15th century. Old Gujarati split into Rajasthani and Middle Gujarati.[4]
  • English loanwords are a source of /æ/.[5]


  • A fourth nasal phoneme is postulated for the phones [?, ?] and the nasalization of a preceding vowel [?].[7][7] Before velar and palatal stops, there is variation between these; e.g. [m]~[m] ('ask for'), [t?ko]~[t?ko] ('swing').[8]
  • Stops occurring at first members of clusters followed by consonants other than /?, j, ?/ are unreleased; they are optionally unreleased in final position. The absence of release entails deaspiration of voiceless stops.[9]
  • Intervocalically and with murmuring of vowels, the voiced aspirated stops /, d?, b?/ have voiced spirant allophones [?, ð, ?]. Spirantization of non-palatal voiceless aspirates has been reported as well,[9] including /p?/ being usually realized as [f] in the standard dialect.[9]
  • The two voiced retroflex plosives /, ?/ and the retroflex nasal /?/ have flapped allophones [, ?, ]. The plosives /, ?/ are unflapped initially, geminated, and after nasal vowels; and flapped intervocalically, finally, and before or after other consonants.[6] The nasal /?/ is unflapped before retroflex plosives and intervocalically, and in final position varies freely between flapped and unflapped.[7]
  • /?/ has [v] and [w] as allophones.[10]
  • The distribution of sibilants varies over dialects and registers.
    • Some dialects only have [s], others prefer [?], while another system has them non-contrasting, with [?] occurring contiguous to palatal segments. Retroflex [?] still appears in clusters in which it precedes another retroflex: [sp] ('clear').[11]
    • Some speakers maintain [z] as well for Persian and English borrowings. Persian's /z/'s have by and large been transposed to /d?/ and /d/: /d?ind?i/ ('life') and /t?id/ ('thing'). The same cannot be so easily said for English: /t?iz/ ('cheese').
    • Lastly, a colloquial register has [s], or both [s] and [?], replaced by voiceless [h]. For educated speakers speaking this register, this replacement does not extend to Sanskrit borrowings.[9]

Phonotactical constraints include:

  • /?/ and /?/ do not occur word-initially.[2]
  • Clusters occur initially, medially, and finally. Geminates occur only medially.[2]
  • Biconsonantal initial clusters beginning with stops have /?/, /j/, /?/, and /l/ as second members.[12] In addition to these, in loans from Sanskrit the clusters /?n/ and /k?/ may occur.
    The occurrence of /?/ as a second member in consonantal clusters is one of Gujarati's conservative features as a modern Indo-Aryan language. For example, languages used in Asokan inscriptions (3rd century BC) display contemporary regional variations, with words found in Gujarat's Girnar inscriptions containing clusters with /?/ as the second member not having /?/ in their occurrence in inscriptions elsewhere. This is maintained even to today, with Gujarati /t?/ corresponding to Hindi /t/ and /tt/.[13]
  • Initially, s clusters biconsonantally with /?, j, ?, n, m/, and non-palatal voiceless stops.[12]
  • Triconsonantal initial clusters include /st?, sp?, sm?/ - most of which occur in borrowings.[12]
  • Geminates were previously treated as long consonants, but they are better analyzed as clusters of two identical segments. Two proofs for this:[7]
    • The u in geminated ucc?r "pronunciation" sounds more like the one in clustered udg?r ('utterance') than the one in shortened uc ('anxiety').
    • Geminates behave towards (that is, disallow) [?]-deletion like clusters do.

Gemination can serve as intensification. In some adjectives and adverbs, a singular consonant before the agreement vowel can be doubled for intensification.[14] #VC? -> #VCC?.

big [mo] [mo] big
straight [sid] [sidd] straight
considerably [ks?] [kss?] considerably


The matter of stress is not quite clear:

  • Stress is on the first syllable except when it doesn't have /a/ and the second syllable does.[15]
  • Stress is barely perceptible.[16]
  • Stress typically falls on the penultimate syllable of a word, however, if the penultimate vowel in a word with more than two syllables is schwa, stress falls on the preceding syllable.[17]


Schwa-deletion, along with a-reduction and [?]-insertion, is a phonological process at work in the combination of morphemes. It is a common feature among Indo-Aryan languages, referring to the deletion of a stem's final syllable's /?/ before a suffix starting with a vowel.[15]

This does not apply for monosyllabic stems and consonant clusters. So, better put, #VC?C + V# -> #VCCV#. It also doesn't apply when the addition is an o plural marker (see Gujarati grammar#Nouns) or e as an ergative case marker (see Gujarati grammar#Postpositions).[18]}} It sometimes doesn't apply for e as a locative marker.

Stem Suffix Suffixed stem C/V Del Notes
verb root [ke] educate [i?] 1st person singular, future [kei?] will educate CVC?C + VC -> CVCCVC Yes Polysyllabic stem with /?/ in its final syllable, with a suffix starting with a vowel (verbal declension).
[s?m?d?] understand [j?] masculine plural, perfective [s?md?j?] understood CVC?C + CV -> CVCCCV Polysyllabic stem with /?/ in its final syllable, with a suffix starting with a semi-vowel (verbal declension).
[ut] descend [to] masculine singular, imperfective [utto] descending VC?C + CV -> VC?CCV No Suffix starting with a consonant.
[t] swim, float [?] 2nd person singular, present [t] swimming, floating C?C + V -> C?CV Monosyllabic.
[] describe [i] feminine, perfective [i] described CVCC?C + VC -> CVCC?CVC Consonant cluster.
[o?] wallow, roll [i] 1st person plural, future [o?i] will wallow, roll VCoC + VCV -> VCoCVCV Non-?.
noun [s] laziness [?] adjectival marker [s?] lazy VC?C + V -> VCCV Yes Polysyllabic stem with /?/ in its final syllable, with a suffix starting with a vowel (adjectival marking).
[kt] time [e] locative marker [kte] at (the) time CVC?C + V -> CVCCV Sometimes yes -- e as a locative marker.
[dis] day [dise] on (the) day CVC?C + V -> CVC?CV No Sometimes no -- e as a locative marker.
[m?t] game [o] plural marker [m?to] games CVC?C + V -> CVC?CV Plural o number marker suffix.
adjective [?m] hot [i] noun marker [mi] heat CVC?C + V -> CVCCV Yes Polysyllabic stem with /?/ in its final syllable, with a suffix starting with a vowel (noun marking).


A stem's final syllable's /?/ will reduce to /?/ before a suffix starting with /?/. #?C(C) + ?# -> #eC(C)?#. This can be seen in the derivation of nouns from adjective stems, and in the formation of passive and causative forms of verb stems.[19]

Stem Suffix Suffixed Stem Reduced
cut [k?p] [?] [k?p?] be cut Passive Yes
[] [k?p] cause to cut Causative
to cut
[k?p] [?] [k?p] cause to be cut Causative Passive No[a]
[] [k?p] cause to cause to cut Double Causative
use [p] [?] [p][b] be used Passive Yes
long [l?mb] [?i] [l?mb?i] length Noun
  1. ^ It does not happen a second time.
  2. ^ It can take place after an ?-deletion. #?C?C + ?# -> #?CC?#.


Between a stem ending in a vowel and its suffix starting with a vowel, a [?] is inserted.[20] #V + V# -> #V?V#. This can be seen in the formation of passive and causative forms of verb stems.

Stem Suffix Suffixed stem
see [d?o] [?] [d?o] be seen
sing [] [] [] cause to sing

The second example shows an ?-reduction as well.


? finds itself inserted between the emphatic particle /d?/ and consonant-terminating words it postpositions.[21]

one [ek] [ek?d?] one
that [e] [ed?] that


/?/ serves as a source for murmur, of which there are three rules:[22]

Rule Formal[a] Casual English
1 Word-initial ?V -> V?[b] [e] [e] now
[k?] [k?] bone
2 Vnon-high ->
V?non-high, more open
[sel?] [sl?] easy
[bo] [b?] large
[d?o] [dao][c] day
3 ?/a?Vhigh -> / (glide) [i] [j] stayed
[bu] [b] very
  1. ^ Gujarati spelling reflects this mode. The script has no direct notation for murmur.
  2. ^ Rule 1 creates allomorphs for nouns. For example, /d/ ('limit') by itself can be d, but can only be d in bed ('limitless').
  3. ^ More open.

The table below compares declensions of the verbs [k?] ('to do') and [k?] ('to say'). The former follows the regular pattern of the stable root /k/ serving as a point for characteristic suffixations. The latter, on the other hand, is deviant and irregular in this respect.

Infinitive Perfective Imperative 1sg. Future
[k?] [kj?] [ko] [ki?]
[k?] [kj?] [k] [kj?]

The [k?] situation can be explained through murmur. If to a formal or historical root of /ke/ these rules are considered then predicted, explained, and made regular is the irregularity that is [k?] (romanized as kahev?).

Thus below are the declensions of [k?] /?/-possessing, murmur-eliciting root /ke/, this time with the application of the murmur rules on the root shown, also to which a preceding rule must be taken into account:

0. A final root vowel gets deleted before a suffix starting with a non-consonant.
Rule Infinitive Perfective Imperative 1sg. Future
[ke-] [ke-j?] [ke-o] [ke-i?]
0 [k-j?] [k-o] [k-i?]
2 [k-] [k]
3 [k-j?]
-> [k?] [kj?] [k] [kj?]

However, in the end not all instances of /?/ become murmured and not all murmur comes from instances of /?/.

One other predictable source for murmur is voiced aspirated stops. A clear vowel followed by a voiced aspirated stop can vary with a pair gaining murmur and losing aspiration: #VC? #V?C.


  1. ^ Mistry (2003), p. 115.
  2. ^ a b c d e Mistry (2003), p. 116.
  3. ^ a b Cardona & Suthar (2003), p. 662.
  4. ^ Mistry (2003), pp. 115-116.
  5. ^ Mistry (1996), pp. 391-393.
  6. ^ a b Masica (1991), p. 97.
  7. ^ a b c d Mistry (1997), p. 659.
  8. ^ Cardona & Suthar (2003), p. 665.
  9. ^ a b c d Cardona (2003), p. 665.
  10. ^ Mistry (2001), p. 275.
  11. ^ Mistry (1997), p. 658.
  12. ^ a b c Cardona & Suthar (2003), p. 666.
  13. ^ Mistry (2001), p. 274.
  14. ^ Mistry (1997), p. 670.
  15. ^ a b Mistry (1997), p. 660.
  16. ^ Campbell (1991), p. ?.
  17. ^ UCLA Language Materials Project: Gujarati. Archived 2011-06-05 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved on 2007-04-29
  18. ^ Mistry (1997), pp. 661-662.
  19. ^ Mistry (1997), p. 662.
  20. ^ Mistry (1997), p. 663.
  21. ^ Cardona & Suthar (2003), p. 667.
  22. ^ Mistry (1997), pp. 666-668.


  • Campbell, G.L. (1991), "Gujarati", Compendium of the world's languages, volume 1. Abaza to Lusatian, New York: Routledge, pp. 541-545
  • Cardona, George; Suthar, Babu (2003), "Gujarati", in Cardona, George; Jain, Dhanesh (eds.), The Indo-Aryan Languages, Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-77294-5
  • Dave, T.N. (1931), "Notes on Gujarati Phonology", Bulletin of the School of Oriental Studies, 6 (3): 673-678, doi:10.1017/S0041977X00093174, ISSN 1356-1898, JSTOR 607202
  • Firth, J.R. (1957), "Phonetic Observations on Gujarati", Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, 20 (1): 231-241, doi:10.1017/S0041977X00061802, JSTOR 610376
  • Masica, Colin (1991), The Indo-Aryan Languages, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0-521-29944-2
  • Mistry, P.J. (1996), "Gujarati Writing", in Daniels; Bright (eds.), The World's Writing Systems, Oxford University Press
  • Mistry, P.J. (1997), "Gujarati Phonology", in Kaye, A.S (ed.), Phonologies of Asia and Africa, Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns
  • Mistry, P.J. (2001), "Gujarati", in Garry, Jane; Rubino, Carl (eds.), An encyclopedia of the world's major languages, past and present, New England Publishing Associates
  • Mistry, P.J. (2003), "Gujarati", in Frawley, William (ed.), International Encyclopedia of Linguistics, 2 (2nd ed.), Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Pandit, P.B. (1961), "Historical Phonology of Gujarati Vowels", Language, Linguistic Society of America, 37 (1): 54-66, doi:10.2307/411249, JSTOR 411249
  • Turner, Ralph Lilley (1921), "Gujarati Phonology", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society: 505-544
  • Turner, Ralph Lilley (1915), "Indo-Aryan Nasals in Gujarati", Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society: 1033-1038

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