The Phonemic Table
Use the following below as a handy tool for rhyming words.
This is a living document. Prone to many edits and revisions.
Shall update it as and when I get time.
Would gladly appreciate help or feedback.
आँ / आऽ / आ / अऽ / अ / ह / क़ / क / ख / ग़ / ग / घ / ङ
— Pharyngeal / Glottal / Velar (Throat)
ऍ / ऐ / ए / ई / इ / य / श / च / छ / झ़ / ज / झ / ञ
— Uvular / Palatal (Back Mouth)
? / ? / ? / ॠ / ऋ / र / ष / ट / ठ / ष़ / ड / ढ / ण
— Retroflex (Center Mouth)
? / ? / ? / ॡ / लृ / ल / स / त / थ / ज़ / द / ध / न
— Dental / Alveolar (Front Mouth)
ऑ / औ / ओ / ऊ / उ / व / फ़ / प / फ / व़ / ब / भ / म
— Labial (Lips)
आँ / ऍ / ? / ? / ऑ — Nasal vowels
आऽ / ऐ / ? / ? / औ — Extended diphthongs
आ / ए / ? / ? / ओ — Diphthongs
अऽ / ई / ॠ / ॡ / ऊ — Extended monophthongs
अ / इ / ऋ / लृ / उ — Monophthongs (Vowels)
ह / य / र / ल / व — Liquids / Approximants (Semivowels)
क़ / श / ष / स / फ़ — Voiceless Fricative (Consonants)
क / च / ट / त / प — Voiceless Unaspirated Plosive
ख / छ / ठ / थ / फ — Voiceless Aspirated Plosive
ग़ / झ़ / ष़ / ज़ / व़ — Voiced Fricative
ग / ज / ड / द / ब — Voiced Unaspirated Plosive
घ / झ / ढ / ध / भ — Voiced Aspirated Plosive
ङ / ञ / ण / न / म — Nasal Occlusive
अं (anuswaar) (nasal modulation) (rows) (x-axis)
अः (visarga) (breath modulation) (columns) (y-axis)
अ़ (nukta) (tongue modulation?) (z-axis?) (ळ ड़ ढ़ च़)
I do not exactly know how to represent certain sounds graphemically, hence the approximations. But they are quite easy to pronounce for me. You can do so as well. Glide from one known sound to another. Am a bit unsure whether consonants should be grouped according to fricative / unaspirated / aspirated or voiceless / voiced. Is the order supposed to be 111222 or 121212? Well, no doubt the latter is good for rhyming as I mention down below in my third and sixth point, but I have kept the former in respect of ancient knowledge and in order to not massively disorient people aware of the existing way.
Now for the explanation.
Sounds are nothing but a set of frequencies. Mere vibrations of the air. Waves propagating through nature. However, there are musical notes we can hear. What are they? A certain frequency that we can easily distinguish, whose properties we can define — but only after comparison with other notes.
Now we know that these musical notes are periodic, as in the characteristics repeat after an interval. That is how octaves exist. Phonemes are exactly the same. Compressions and rarefactions traveling in a medium. Nothing but a continuous spectrum with bands that can be distinguished.
Pardon the pun, but more analogies exist. Tell me, what is green? Or blue for that matter? And if you think my question is really stupid — define ultraviolet or infrared. Stumped? Now imagine a monochromatic world. How will there even be a concept such as cyan or pink?! Asparagus, canary, vermillion, lavender, tangerine—hmmm?
You know something is yellower or purplish only by the combination of and comparison with other colors. Left alone, they do not mean much. You can think of my grid as a rainbow.
Just the way Newlands described a Law Of Octaves, and Mendeleev expanded upon it — I hope to enhance some of the work given in Pāṇini’s aṣṭādhyāyī, hopefully others will like to carry the baton even further. In fact, did you know that Mendeleev even gave saṃskṛta names to his eight predicted elements (eka-silicon) in honor of the grammarians of ancient India?
Do not try to shrink this grid. That would be foolhardy. But yeah — it can most certainly be expanded. Maybe an element or line could be shuffled around. I have only included Latin / Arabic / Indic phonemes (do forgive me), but am incredibly curious to know if more sounds can exist in this framework, and what their properties could be. Is there place for the tongue clicks used in parts of Africa? Some geometry or algorithms that connect it all? Like the color wheel or musical scales or the periodic table — are the extremes connected somehow? Nasals on both ends, so this map could be a cylinder. Somebody from the other side of the globe has suggested to me that it could be a torus — with the breathy consonants and vowels placed along the z-axis.
Or is the world flat?
I want to make a few claims over here:
- Alliteration, consonance, rhyme — are different facets of the same thing. Like the way graphite and diamond are carbon allotropes.
- Rhyming of any sort in whatever language — happens when elements of any row or column appear after rhythmic intervals. Not when letters at the end of two words match.
- People can use this to create astonishingly intricate multisyllabic rhymes. Elements can blend and morph into one another. Their distance (provided the columns are shuffled) makes it harder.
- Liquids, nasals and diphthongs are especially good to make words rhyme. Their enunciation can be partially or completely utilized or dropped without adverse effects. Break them down into constituent sounds or do the reverse for making words rhyme.
- Depending on the nature and quality of the phonemes used — one can make rhymes sound harsh or soothing, fluid or choppy, masculine or feminine. Combined with subject matter, this is quite powerful.
- The manner of voicing plays a larger (and finer) role in defining what rhymes or not than the existence of voice (phonation).
- Elements within these rows and columns help describe the sounds that can be used to produce the McGurk effect.
- In fact, I believe this can also help explain the confusion people have with certain letters in English.
- And also accounts for why certain consonant clusters and silent letter combinations occur more frequently — ignoring the quirks that seep into any language of course. Invariably, in the process of speaking fluently, some averaging is bound to take place.
- Plosives (especially voiced ones) are significantly likely to be dropped at the beginning or end of a word — especially when they occur with a nasal sound. Perhaps due to economy of speech. In other words, sheer laziness.
- क्ष / त्र / ज्ञ — these should be done away with. Why should you include just three compounds or ligatures in Indian alphabet systems from the myriad combinations that exist?! Graphics and sounds have a good working relationship — but they like to cheat occasionally.
- At least in rap music, consonants (frequently) land where the beat is, and vowels are found between the two successive beats. It has much to do with the properties of the waveform and quality of the sound. Plosives getting released exactly on the percussion would generate the ‘best energy’, don’t you think?
- All of this should result in a great user experience for a wide variety of applications. Nifty keyboard layouts, improved creation of automatic subtitles, a way for deaf people to visualize rhyme patterns through trails like SwiftKey Flow, cool voice assistants and more. Be careful not to overdo it. Thank me later.
Now for some examples to hopefully illustrate my points above:
- Bide and tide — are rhymes because of what happens at the end of the words. She sells seashells on the seashore — is consonance because of what happens at the beginning of the words. Break them down into phonemes —you will see the obvious. They are the same. Suffix and prefix. This is called ‘sandhi vichched’ (संधि विच्छेद) in India.
- choice, joys, poise, noise, toys (pick two words that rhyme the best)
dime, time, lime, mime, crime (pick two words that rhyme the best)
buff, cuff, duff, huff, puff, stuff (pick two words that rhyme the best)
beach, leech, niche, peach, teach (pick two words that rhyme the best)
- Drawing and toying — rhyme since ‘da’ and ‘ta’ are in the same row. Bend the first word though, and it rhymes with enjoying. (because ‘da’ and ‘ja’ are in the same column)
‘I bet you can’t defeat me’ can be pronounced as ‘I betcha can’t defeat me’.
‘Did you water the plants’ can be pronounced as ‘Didja water the plants’.
The plural of leaf is leaves, leave becomes left in the past tense.
Is it leaped or leapt, is it dreamed or dreamt? Confused much?
Elf becomes elves, twelve becomes twelfth, loaf becomes loaves.
- quiver, silver (you can reduce or add some emphasis on the ‘la’ sound)
bears, layers (you can reduce or add some emphasis on the ‘ya’ sound)
stoic, historic (you can reduce or add some emphasis on the ‘ra’ sound)
enhance, dance (you can reduce or add some emphasis on the ‘ha’ sound)
knowing, proving (you can reduce or add some emphasis on the ‘va’ sound)
Why is there a ‘ya’ sound in words like creative, affiliation, India?
Why is there a ‘va’ sound in words like hour, sour, poor, truer?
- ‘Now hush little baby, don’t you cry / everything’s gonna be alright / stiffen that upper lip up little lady / I told you / daddy’s here to hold you / through the night.’ — Mockingbird (Eminem)
‘The time has come to tie her up / gotta roll me the ladder / I’ve had enough of the chatter / climb up to the window look at her / then climb in slowly and shatter / her brain matter and batter her with a bat / a matter of fact / that will splatter her.’— Music Box (Eminem)
‘Simply said, sibilant sounds are sharp as scissors, or soft as silk.
Hissing and hushing like suffocating serpents with soft cushions.’ — Me
- I believe it is stupidly clear that ‘fine, whine’ (voiced / unvoiced) rhymes better than ‘fine, pine’ (fricative / plosive), and a whole lot better than a pair like ‘fine, line’.
- Make a clip with the aural ‘ba’ dubbed onto a visual ‘ga’. Upon playing, you will perceive ‘da’ — an average of the two sounds — all of them are voiced unaspirated plosives.
- Chair and choir — is basically a conflict between ‘ka’ and ‘cha’ sounds.
Great and giant — is basically a conflict between ‘ga’ and ‘ja’ sounds.
Stitch and bridge — I am not surprised with the ‘tch’ and ‘dg’ letters.
- Tchaikowsky, litchi, fudge, psychology — I concur this is not a perfect science for explaining the idiosyncrasies in English. But such a problem would never happen on this side of the world. Do you really fully vocalize the ‘d’ in words like ‘compressed, blushed, plucked’ — yes or no? Calm, folk, salmon, would, honor, hour, honest, herb, rhyme, butter, linger, answer, two, sword, wrist — how come many silent letters are semivowels? (ties in with my fourth point)(does not tie in with my eleventh point) Twenty becomes ‘twenny’ in slang. Don’t know becomes ‘dunno’ in slang. Going to becomes ‘gonna’ in slang. Alright becomes ‘aight’ in slang.
- Because or ‘cause? Before or ‘fore? Talking or talkin’? Girlfriend or girlfrien’?
Wednesday, sandwich, handkerchief, knee, knit, gnaw, gnome, subtle, climb, numb, design — maybe it just has something to do with rising or falling tone?
- Absolutely nothing more to say regarding this. Except that we should not mix things unnecessarily. These letters have distinct letterforms (in comparison to /द्व /, /द्य /, /द्म / which look like two consonants joined together) — so thus I’m inclined to believe at some point they were mixed with all the other alphabets.
/ज़ / has nothing to do with /ज /, /ङ / has nothing to do with /ड /, /ष / has nothing to do with /प /, and nor does /ग / have any link with /म / — a correspondence in shape doesn’t mean plenty.
- Legacy (Eminem) — the consonants mostly land on the beat. (side point — the rhyme scheme / eye / aw / in / gets maintained throughout the song — wow)
Pretty Soul (Me) — was told not to cite my own work since most people would obviously be suspicious that I doctored it somehow. (like I don’t have anything better to do except compose a whole damn song to prove something when I can just lazily point somewhere else) (this one also echoes point five, because the verse is chock full of labial sounds) (please beware of sneaky advertising)
- Humans are pattern-finding machines. We seek order amid chaos. In fact, the universe exists because of that. Phonemes are to rhyme schemes what musical notes are to motifs—you need variation, otherwise it gets boring. Otherwise, why would anybody have choruses? I could just proclaim that a grey oval is better than Mona Lisa.
Look, one doesn’t really need to test this. Call it a wild hypothesis, but this is as true as the fact one plus three equals four. A fluffy research paper or two could be written on this. Or you can just simply try and answer why ‘tough’ and ‘dove’ rhyme. Textbooks of school curriculums would obviously be too biased to include even a part of what I have tried to describe above or the works of somebody like..
My favorite musician. Whose lines I keep quoting as examples. He’s widely regarded as one of the biggest sociocultural icons of the last twenty years. Having grown up in poverty, speaking slang on the drug-addled, racially-tinged and gritty streets of Detroit — surely he had zero access to higher education or Indian linguistic concepts? Flunked the ninth grade thrice. Stopped pursuing formal education thereafter.
But the literary devices he employs can literally make a Shakespeare squirm with utter insecurity in his grave — he is that much of a genius. Through years of performance, he has figured out connections doctorate degree holders may not be aware of. An ounce of practice is worth a ton of preaching sometimes.
All of this is so brutally obvious that I did not publish what you saw above for more than a year thinking someone must have figured the whole thing out. Folks have been subconsciously aware since a long time. Shockingly, the Wikipedia article on rhyme makes no mention of this when it comes to defining the multiple types! It speaks of homonyms, fails to acknowledge homorganic sounds. You have to scroll quite a bit down to see an honorary mention when it comes to Celtic or French poetry, but even they could only figure out a small part.
Don’t get me wrong, the International Phonetic Alphabet is a useful and handy thing for linguists from all over the world. As a designer and rapper though, I feel it is way too clunky and full of ‘western’ influence. Very strange because the history of linguistics (and perhaps even the Backus–Naur Form) comes from the Indian subcontinent. I prefer the symmetry, the elegance — the ability for a layman without a formal education to understand things.
Just try getting the average tween to memorize what currently exists.
Pretty much all children in India have an ancient script taught to them, called Devanāgarī, and it has something called a varṇamālā (meaning — garland of phonemes), which is made up of various akṣara (meaning — ‘imperishable, indestructible, fixed, immutable’ — basically an atom of sound). We have immense respect for this system. It categorizes things according to their manner of voicing and place of articulation.
Considering that this system was invented thousands of years ago — I am quite marvelled at how much stuff they got correct. Indian languages are phonemic by default. Not easy to get confused as to how to correctly spell a word. Even native speakers will admit that English is quite a mess. In fact, one of the most reliable ways to tell which article to add before a word like ‘university’ is to transliterate it into an Indian language.
You will instantly get a consonant.
Etymologically speaking also, you will find this all over the place and it will make a lot of sense. I’ve always been curious why Jesus is called ‘Yeshu’ over here, or how Ahmedabad is now pronounced by many as Amdavad. How does a city like Vadodara become Baroda for a while, Mumbai turns into a Bombay, or why is Bengaluru called Bangalore? Bandhan became bandana, Jagannath became juggernaut, Sindhu became India, Farsi became Parsi. Can you see a pattern or two? The changes are almost always within a row or column. And yes, that British folks cannot pronounce a damn thing correctly — in part due to their monolingual identities. Just so you know, most children in India are trilinguals, and many adults pentalingual. Even those who are illiterate and poor, for they can easily speak and understand, if not read and write.
Which brings me to a very important topic. Our planet’s fantastic linguistic diversity (over 7000 languages) will soon dwindle to around a tenth of that. That is the cost of globalization. Smaller tribal languages are being rendered extinct in the name of urbanization, imperialistic education, upward mobility, capitalist efficiency and market employability by various dominant regional languages while English conquers them all. I would sincerely request everyone reading to keep this in mind at all times.
Take pride in your vernacular dialects without needing to organize politically — converse in them so you may yet conserve. Emphasize the diacritics. I have one in my name. Contribute to online resources — typing in local languages is a breeze these days, thanks to voice recognition and keyboards such as those from Google. Documents, audio clips, scanned images, old videos — digitize and publish whatever you can so that aliens may still discover what humans choose not to use. In our quest to progress as a society rapidly, a problem has emerged that the older generations are just not savvy enough with technology adoption and the younger generations just don’t care enough about the past.
Language cannot be stopped, it twists and bends and flows like a river. A jingoistic and chauvinistic approach would be a fallacy. Please try and be flexible as well. Because an inability to adapt leads to extinction. Assimilate foreign words, consider them as your own (English is basically a language that has nothing of its own) — but preserve the original grammar.
Do consider teaching foreigners your language instead and playfully making use of our phonemes in their words (yeah — I am telling you to call banana as बणाणा) without being ideologically repulsive. There is no need to be ashamed. Speakers of English cannot utter ख, घ, ढ, ध, झ, त, फ and more — yet their mistakes are really cute?
Beware that every time you say Pune (पुणे) as Poona (पूना), read Raavan (रावण) as Ravana (रावना), pronounce phal (फळ) as fal (फल), or snobbily laugh at someone’s native accent — you are committing a heinous murder. Pals of mine utterly struggle to read without a transliteration, so you can imagine the next generation.
Finally, if an identity crisis doesn’t alarm you enough, might I try to increase the reader’s level of appreciation by requesting the person to zoom out a bit and take a good..
Look at what a universe this begets. Just the way atoms can spring forth entire galaxies, ones and zeroes can topple dictatorial regimes, and mere tones and hues can lead to exquisite symphonies and intricate masterpieces — simple phonemes give rise to complexity, mystery and beauty.
Everything from the delightful first words of an infant, to a tear-inducing marriage proposal, to the dying words of an aging hero. Religious texts, stirring lectures, national anthems, marketing slogans, voice assistants, enrapturing poems — this world’s fascinating architecture has been constructed with the bricks you saw above.
Poetry is an art, but rhyming is a science.
I put my orange, four-inch, door hinge in storage and ate porridge with George.