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Pronouncing “bahut” as “bohot” in Hindi: Why?

My answer to: Why do so many people pronounce ‘bahut’ as ‘bohot’ (when it is written that way in Hindi), ‘Kahna’ as ‘Kehna’? (but “kahenge” not as “kehenge”) (To vote and comment on Quora, visit the link here.)

In the Hindustani* language, when the sound /h/ is surrounded by the sound /ə/ on both sides, both of those occurrences of /ə/ change to the sound /ɛ/.



Detailed answer:

Pre-requisite: About the schwa and schwa deletion

To explain the answer, I will first explain the schwa and the schwa deletion. (I am coming to the actual answer in a while.)

The schwa is simply the sound between /k/ and /h/ in the word कहना. The schwa is the sound of a in “about”, and o in “period”. This schwa sound is phonetically represented by the symbol /ə/.

The schwa deletion is the omission of the schwa sound even when it should have been pronounced according to spelling. Come on, a Hindi speaker drops the schwa every minute he talks. When you are calling yourself “Raam” instead of “Raama”, you are dropping the ending “a”. When you are pronouncing a word like सपना as if it were सप्ना, you are deleting the schwa between /p/ and /n/, i.e. /səpna:/ instead of /səpəna:/. Let’s represent the schwa-dropped word as /səp(ə)na:/, (i.e. the schwa in parentheses), okay?

Finally, the answer

So, one of the interesting features of the Hindustani phonology occurs when the sound /h/ is surrounded by the schwa /ə/ (a dropped schwa or otherwise) on both sides, as in the word कहना /kəh(ə)naː/. Note that the second /ə/ here is usually a dropped schwa when you pronounce this word, but the schwa is there nonetheless. In this situation, the /ə/ changes to its allophone** /ɛ/ (this symbol represents the sound e as in “pen”).

So, the word कहना becomes /kɛh(ɛ)na:/

Similarly:

वह becomes /wɛh(ɛ)/ instead of /wəh(ə)/
सहमति is more often heard as /sɛh(ɛ)məti/ instead of /səh(ə)məti/

And, this is also the reason why

कहानी is not /kɛha:ni:/ (reason: the sound /h/ is preceded by the schwa, but it is immediately followed by the /a:/ sound, not the schwa. The change occurs only when /h/ is surrounded by schwa on both sides.)

सपना is never heard as  /sɛp(ɛ)na:/ (reason: there is no sound /h/; here the sound /p/ is surrounded by schwas on both sides)

Same reason for “कहेंगे”.

The case for “bahut -> bohot” is similar. The sound /h/ surrounded by /ə/ and /ʊ/ allows them both to change to /o/.

Note: These are not “rules”; these are accent effects.



* Hindustani: You are talking about a language called Hindustani (or  Hindi–Urdu), not Hindi. Hindustani is what is spoken in much of North India and  Pakistan; it has influences from Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit. In  Pakistan, the Urdu-centric version of Hindustani is used; in India, the  Hindi-centric version is more popular. But both are essentially similar.

1 Response
  • Anonymous
    Jul 13, 2015

    Could you please edit and write the spellings of both the words as well. Please? Also, can we use any of these versions in our day to day life? Please do answer. Thanks!

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