Gujarati phonology

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


Close iu
Close-mid eəo
Open-mid ɛɔ
Open (æ)ɑ
  • Sanskrit's phonemic vowel length has been lost.[1] Vowels are long when nasalized or in a final syllable.[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 ɛ/ and /o ɔ/ sets vary.[3]
  • /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ developed in the 15th century. Old Gujarati split into Rajasthani and Middle Gujarati.[4]
  • English loanwords are a source of /æ/.[5]


Labial Dental/
Retroflex Postal.
Velar Glottal
Nasal m n ɳ
Plosive voiceless p ʈ k
voiced b ɖ ɡ
aspirated () t̪ʰ ʈʰ tʃʰ
murmured d̪ʱ ɖʱ dʒʱ ɡʱ
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ
voiced (z) ɦ
Approximant ʋ l ɭ̆[6] j
Flap ɾ
  • The retroflex lateral flap /ɭ̆/ may be more concisely transcribed with the non-IPA symbol , though this may not display properly in some browsers.
  • A fourth nasal phoneme is postulated for the phones [ɲ, ŋ] and the nasalization of a preceding vowel [Ṽ].[7] Before velar and palatal stops, there is variation between these; e.g. [mɑ̃ɡʋũ]~[mɑŋɡʋũ] ('ask for'), [ɦĩtʃko]~[ɦĩɲtʃko] ('swing').[8]
  • Stops occurring at first members of clusters followed by consonants other than /ɾ, j, ʋ/ are unreleased; they are optionally unreleased in final position. The absence of release entails deaspiration of voiceless stops.[8]
  • Intervocalically and with murmuring of vowels, the voiced aspirated stops /ɡʱ, d̪ʱ, bʱ/ have voiced spirant allophones [ɣ, ð, β]. Spirantization of non-palatal voiceless aspirates has been reported as well,[8] including /pʰ/ being usually realized as [f] in the standard dialect.[8]
  • The voiced retroflex stops and the nasal /ɖʱ, ɖ, ɳ/ have flapped allophones [ɽʱ, ɽ, ɽ̃]. Intervocalically all three are flapped. /ɳ/ is unflapped before retroflex stops, and in final position varies freely between flapped and unflapped.[7] The stops are unflapped initially, geminated, and postnasally; and flapped intervocalically, finally, and before or after other consonants.[9]
  • /ʋ/ has [v] and [w] as allophones.[10]
  • The distribution of sibilants varies over dialects and registers.
    • Some dialects only have [s], others prefer [ʃ], while another system has them non-contrasting, with [ʃ] occurring contiguous to palatal segments. Retroflex [ʂ] still appears in clusters in which it precedes another retroflex: [spəʂʈ] ('clear').[11]
    • Some speakers maintain [z] as well for Persian and English borrowings. Persian's /z/'s have by and large been transposed to /dʒ/ and /dʒʱ/: /dʒin̪d̪ɡi/ ('life') and /tʃidʒʱ/ ('thing'). The same cannot be so easily said for English: /tʃiz/ ('cheese').
    • Lastly, a colloquial register has [s], or both [s] and [ʃ], replaced by voiceless [h]. For educated speakers speaking this register, this replacement does not extend to Sanskrit borrowings.[8]

Phonotactical constraints include:

  • /ɭ/ and /ɳ/ do not occur word-initially.[2]
  • Clusters occur initially, medially, and finally. Geminates occur only medially.[2]
  • Biconsonantal initial clusters beginning with stops have /ɾ/, /j/, /ʋ/, and /l/ as second members.[12] In addition to these, in loans from Sanskrit the clusters /ɡn/ and /kʃ/ may occur.
    The occurrence of /ɾ/ 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 /ɾ/ as the second member not having /ɾ/ in their occurrence in inscriptions elsewhere. This is maintained even to today, with Gujarati /t̪ɾ/ corresponding to Hindi /t̪/ and /t̪t̪/.[13]
  • Initially, s clusters biconsonantally with /ɾ, j, ʋ, n, m/, and non-palatal voiceless stops.[12]
  • Triconsonantal initial clusters include /st̪ɾ, spɾ, smɾ/ - 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 uccār "pronunciation" sounds more like the one in clustered udgār ('utterance') than the one in shortened ucāṭ ('anxiety').
    • Geminates behave towards (that is, disallow) [ə]-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] #VCũ → #VCCũ.



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 [ʋ]-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 /ə/ before a suffix starting with a vowel.[15]

This does not apply for monosyllabic stems and consonant clusters. So, better put, #VCəC + 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[keɭəʋ]educate[iʃ]1st person singular, future[keɭʋiʃ]will educateCVCəC + VC → CVCCVCYesPolysyllabic stem with /ə/ in its final syllable, with a suffix starting with a vowel (verbal declension).
[səmədʒ]understand[jɑ]masculine plural, perfective[səmdʒjɑ]understoodCVCəC + CV → CVCCCVPolysyllabic stem with /ə/ in its final syllable, with a suffix starting with a semi-vowel (verbal declension).
[ut̪əɾ]descend[t̪o]masculine singular, imperfective[ut̪əɾt̪o]descendingVCəC + CV → VCəCCVNoSuffix starting with a consonant.
[t̪əɾ]swim, float[ɛ]2nd person singular, present[t̪əɾɛ]swimming, floatingCəC + V → CəCVMonosyllabic.
[ʋəɾɳəʋ]describe[i]feminine, perfective[ʋəɾɳəʋi]describedCVCCəC + VC → CVCCəCVCConsonant cluster.
[ɑɭoʈ]wallow, roll[iʃũ]1st person plural, future[ɑɭoʈiʃũ]will wallow, rollVCoC + VCV → VCoCVCVNon-ə.
noun[ɑɭəs]laziness[ũ]adjectival marker[ɑɭsũ]lazyVCəC + V → VCCVYesPolysyllabic stem with /ə/ in its final syllable, with a suffix starting with a vowel (adjectival marking).
[ʋəkʰət̪]time[e]locative marker[ʋəkt̪e]at (the) timeCVCəC + V → CVCCVSometimes yes — e as a locative marker.
[d̪iʋəs]day[d̪iʋəse]on (the) dayCVCəC + V → CVCəCVNoSometimes no — e as a locative marker.
[ɾəmət̪]game[o]plural marker[ɾəmət̪o]gamesCVCəC + V → CVCəCVPlural o number marker suffix.
adjective[ɡəɾəm]hot[i]noun marker[ɡəɾmi]heatCVCəC + V → CVCCVYesPolysyllabic stem with /ə/ in its final syllable, with a suffix starting with a vowel (noun marking).


A stem's final syllable's /ɑ/ will reduce to /ə/ before a suffix starting with /ɑ/. #ɑC(C) + ɑ# → #eC(C)ɑ#. 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 Red
cut[kɑp][ɑ][kəpɑ]be cutPassiveYes
[ɑʋ][kəpɑʋ]cause to cutCausative
to cut
[kəpɑʋ][ɑ][kəpɑʋɑ]cause to be cutCausative PassiveNo[lower-alpha 1]
[ɖɑʋ][kəpɑʋɖɑʋ]cause to cause to cutDouble Causative
use[ʋɑpəɾ][ɑ][ʋəpɾɑ][lower-alpha 2]be usedPassiveYes
  1. It does not happen a second time.
  2. It can take place after an ə-deletion. #ɑCəC + ɑ# → #əCCɑ#.


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

StemSuffixSuffixed stem
see[dʒo][ɑ][dʒoʋɑ]be seen
sing[ɡɑ][ɑɽ][ɡəʋɑɽ]cause to sing

The second example shows an ɑ-reduction as well.


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



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

RuleFormal[lower-alpha 1]CasualEnglish
1Word-initial ɦV → V̤[lower-alpha 2][ɦəʋe][ə̤ʋe]now
non-high, more open
[d̪əɦɑɽo][d̪a̤ɽo][lower-alpha 3]day
3ə/aɦVhighə̤/ɑ̤ (glide)[ɾəɦi][ɾə̤j]stayed
  1. Gujarati spelling reflects this mode. The script has no direct notation for murmur.
  2. Rule 1 creates allomorphs for nouns. For example, /ɦəd̪/ ('limit') by itself can be ə̤d̪, but can only be ɦəd̪ in beɦəd̪ ('limitless').
  3. More open.

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

InfinitivePerfectiveImperative1sg. Future

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

Thus below are the declensions of [kɛ̤ʋũ] /ɦ/-possessing, murmur-eliciting root /kəɦe/, 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.
RuleInfinitivePerfectiveImperative1sg. Future

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

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: #VCʱ ←→ #V̤C.


  1. Mistry (2003:115)
  2. 1 2 3 4 Mistry (2003:116)
  3. 1 2 Cardona & Suthar (2003:662)
  4. Mistry (2003:115–116)
  5. Mistry (1996:391–393)
  6. Masica (1991:97)
  7. 1 2 3 Mistry (1997:659)
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Cardona & Suthar (2003:665)
  9. Masica (1991:97)
  10. Mistry (2001:275)
  11. Mistry (1997:658)
  12. 1 2 3 Cardona & Suthar (2003:666)
  13. Mistry (2001:274)
  14. Mistry (1997:670)
  15. 1 2 Mistry (1997:660)
  16. Campbell, G.L. (1991), "Gujarati", Compendium of the world's languages, volume 1. Abaza to Lusatian, New York: Routledge, pp. 541–545
  17. UCLA Language Materials Project: Gujarati. Retrieved on 2007-04-29
  18. Mistry (1997:661–662)
  19. Mistry (1997:662)
  20. Mistry (1997:663)
  21. Cardona & Suthar (2003:667)
  22. Mistry (1997:666–668)


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  • Mistry, P.J. (2001), "Gujarati", in Garry, Jane; Rubino, Carl, An encyclopedia of the world's major languages, past and present, New England Publishing Associates .
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  • Mistry, P.J. (1996), "Gujarati Writing", in Daniels; Bright, The World's Writing Systems, 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 .
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