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Lesson 4 – Introduction to Symbols for the Vowel Sounds

We have now come across 15 vowels and 36 consonants. In this session, we would look at how words are formed by combining the sounds of these vowels and consonants.

First, let us see how this is done in English: to produce two different sounds using the same consonant, the corresponding vowel letter is added. For instance, consider the words, sip and seep, both starting with the same consonant, ‘s’. Changing the vowel from ‘i’ to ‘ee’ , has changed the sound to produce an entirely new word. This is what makes ‘a’, ‘e’, ‘i’, ‘o’ and ‘u’ so powerful and indispensible. (Recall your frustration while playing scrabble games with no vowels in hand).

In Malayalam, as already mentioned in the earlier lessons, vowel letters are substituted with certain symbols, when they are used to change the sound of a consonant. These symbols are called as ‘maatras’, and can be used with any of the 36 consonants. This means, that for all practical purposes, the vowel letters you learned in Lesson 2 are written as such, only when a word begins with a vowel. Within or at the end of a word, these symbols replace the vowel letter.

How many symbols? There are 15 vowels and therefore, there are 14 symbols. The first vowel sound, ‘ah’, need not be added to a consonant since the default sound of each consonant includes ‘ah’. ( ‘ka’ = ‘ka’ + ‘ah’)

This lesson is like crossing the Rubicon in your long journey into the intricacies of reading and writing Malayalam. Once you are through with this, you should be able to actually write many words on your own.  It is absolutely essential to understand this simple-yet-crucial concept of ‘symbols for vowels’. This is a common feature in most of the Indian languages. Once you get the knack of it, you will appreciate its simplicity.

Click here to start learning different Symbols and we will show how you can add them to the consonants. We will use the consonant ക (Ka) as an example for this lesson.

Lesson 4 – Symbols for the Vowel Sounds →

←Lesson 3 – Consonants | ←Lesson 2 – Vowels | ←Lesson 1 – Intro

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