Visarga (IAST: visarga) (Sanskrit: विसर्गः) means "sending forth, discharge". In Sanskrit phonology (śikṣā), visarga (also called, equivalently, visarjanīya by earlier grammarians) is the name of a phone, [h], written as:
Visarga is an allophone of /r/ and /s/ in pausa (at the end of an utterance). Since /-s/ is a common inflectional suffix (of nominative singular, second person singular, etc.), visarga appears frequently in Sanskrit texts. In the traditional order of Sanskrit sounds, visarga and anusvāra appear between vowels and stop consonants.
The precise pronunciation of visarga in Vedic texts may vary between Śākhās. Some pronounce a slight echo of the preceding vowel after the aspiration: aḥ will be pronounced [ɐhᵄ], and iḥ will be pronounced [ihⁱ]. Visarga is not to be confused with colon.
The visarga is commonly found in writing, resembling the punctuation mark of colon or as two tiny circles one above the other. This form is retained by most Indian scripts.
According to Sanskrit phonologists, the visarga has two optional allophones, namely जिह्वामूलीय (Jihvāmūlīya or the guttural visarga) and उपध्मानीय (Upadhmānīya or the fricative visarga). The former may be pronounced before ⟨क⟩, ⟨ख⟩, and the latter before ⟨प⟩, and ⟨फ⟩, as in तव पितामहः कः (tava pitāmahaḥ kaḥ?, 'who is your grandfather?'), पक्षिणः खे उड्डयन्ते (pakṣiṇaḥ khe uḍḍayante, 'birds fly in the sky'), भोः पाहि (bhoḥ pāhi, 'sir, save me'), and तपःफलम् (tapaḥphalam, 'result of penances'). They were written with various symbols, e.g. X-like symbol vs sideways 3-like symbol above flipped sideways one, or both as two crescent-shaped semi-circles one above the other, facing the top and bottom respectively. Distinct signs for Jihavamulīya and Upadhmanīya exists in Kannada, Tibetan, Sharada, Brahmi and Lantsa scripts.
Other Indic scripts
In the Burmese alphabet, the visarga (variously called ရှေ့ကပေါက် shay ga pauk, ဝစ္စနစ်လုံးပေါက် wizza nalone pauk, or ရှေ့ဆီး shay zi and represented with two dots to the right of the letter as ◌း), when used with joined to a letter, creates the high tone.
Motoori Norinaga invented a mark for visarga which he used in a book about Indian orthography.
In the Javanese alphabet, the visarga (known as the wignyan) is represented by a two curls to the right of a syllable as ꦃ: the first curl is short and circular, and the second curl is long. It adds a /-h/ after a vowel.
In the Khmer alphabet, the visarga (known as the reăhmŭkh (រះមុខ, "shining face")) indicates an aspirated /-ʰ/ sound added after a syllable. It is represented with two small circles at the right of a letter as ះ, and it should not be confused with the similar-looking yŭkôleăkpĭntŭ (យុគលពិន្ទុ, "pair of dots"), which indicates a short vowel followed by a glottal stop like their equivalent visarga marks in the Thai and Lao scripts.
In the Tamil alphabet, the visarga (known as the āyutha eḻuttu (ஆயுத எழுத்து) or āytam (ஆய்தம்)) is represented with three small circles to the right of a letter as ஃ. It represented a now-obsolete /h/ or /x/ sound that has either become silent, or pronounced as /x/, /(a)k-/ or /-ka/ in careful speech. It is also placed before a consonant to transcribe some foreign phonemes, such as ஃப (/f/, as in ஃபேஷன் (fēṣaṉ, "fashion") and ஒஃபீஸ் (ōfīs, "office")), ஃஜ (/z/), ஃஸ் (/ks/), and ஃக் (/x/).
In the Thai alphabet, the visarga (known as the wisanchani (วิสรรชนีย์) or nom nang thangkhu (นมนางทั้งคู่)) is represented with two small curled circles to the right of a letter as ◌ะ. It represents a glottal stop that follows the affected vowel.