Vowels, consonants and their combinations

This is the second chapter in a series of three to introduce you to the Telugu alphabet. As you already know from the introduction, the characters represent syllables which are combinations of consonants and vowels. In the first chapter we used only a small subset of some vowels and consonants to describe the basic methods how these signs are combined. In this chapter we will list the complete set of all commonly used vowels, consonants and their combinations.

Here is the list of all vowels in primary and secondary form.

vowels

Some of these letters are not in general any more. Those are the ones marked in gray.

Here is the list of all consonants in their primary form.

consonants

The characters are listed in the same order as in the Aplhabet Workbook, which makes it easier to follow up with the exercises later on. But do not worry about learning or recognizing these characters by now. This is just an overview. We will talk about learning later. For now, let us just get a feeling of how consonants and vowels are combined to form these characters.

Here is the list of all consonant-vowel combinations in general use today. Again, this is in line with the CP Brown workbook. As you skim trough this list, try to find some patterns how these symbols are composed. See how in each character the secondary form of the vowel is added to the primary form of the consonant, either on top or on the right hand side. This pattern is pretty straight forward. There are some exceptions to that, these are the ones marked. If you take a closer look, even some of these exceptions follow their own patterns.

consonant vowel combinations

Again, don't worry about learning the characters at the moment. For now just get a feeling of how the basic system works.

As mentioned above this set of characters is in line with the Aplhabet Workbook. There are some variations in the way the charactes are written in older manuscripts (see A Primer of Telugu Charaters), however, for the purpose of making learning as fast and easy as possible we will stay with this set for now.

 

Why is there no secondary form for అ?

You may have noticed that I did not use a secondary form for అ in my introduction to the characters. There are other books that suggest using the tick (called tick or talakattu) for that. Well, this type of explanation may be true for some letters:

ka-ga-gha

But it soon runs into a huge number of exceptions when you list all the consonant-vowel combinations. Take a look at the chart again and see all the symbols with a tick where the 'a' is not sounded. If you say that this stands for 'a' - how do you explain that?

ku-ku-gu

Or what about these letters, that have no tick but still the 'a' is sounded:

kha-ja-ta-na

A rule is nothing else but a tool to make learning easy. A small number of exceptions is OK, but too many exceptions are just confusing. This is why I followed the other approach that explains the as 'a' inherently included in every consonant. I found this approach in the book An Intensive Course in Telugu (p. 13) published by the CIIL, and I think it is just the better approach for learning, that's all.

 

How syllables are built

If you have followed me up to this point you are now aware that the characters in Telugu are combinations of vowels and consonants representing syllables. We also said that these syllables always end with a vowel.

Now let us take a closer look at how characters are built. The basic pattern is one of these possible forms:

  • vowel
  • consonant
  • consonant - vowel
  • consonant - consonant - vowel
  • consonant - consonant - [more consonants] - vowel

In other words: a single character in Telugu can represent a single vowel, a single consonant, a consonant-vowel combination, or a combination of several consonants with a vowel. So the only two exceptions wherer a character is representing a single sound rather then a combination are:

  • the single vowel which this can be seen as kind of a degenerated vowel-ending-syllable and
  • the single consonant which we will talk about now.

There is a unique symbol to transform a standard consonant-with-a into a pure consonant. This is called desyllabizing marker or pollu: 

pollu

If this symbol is added to the base symbol of a consonant, just as any other vowel is added, this character becomes a pure consonant. Another way to say this is:

da with pollu

The point I want to make here is: if you write Telugu characters try to think in vowel-ending syllables. The single character is the exception. If you have a German or English speaking background you probably think in single sounds and the syllables as a combination of sounds. In India it truly is the other way around: the base is the vowel-ending syllable, the single consonant is just a syllable with a non-sound at the end. Just play with this thought when looking at the examples of the lessons.

Here is a example of where this ్ desyllabizing marker is used:

homework cesava

What is next?

So far we have talked about

  • single-vowels,
  • single-consonants and
  • consonant-vowel combinations.

What is still missing are the longer syllables, combining more than one consonant with a vowel. This is the subject of the last chapter...