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Unit 20 .1
Now, we’ll take a look at a special letter - ‘hamza’ ( Devanagri: हम्ज़ा | IPA: /həmza/ | Pronunciation: ). The exact form of this letter is as follows:
Above: Full-form of the letter ‘hamza’
This occurs as the last letter in plural forms of certain Arabic words such as "umara", plural of the word "amiir", meaning "chief" or as in the word "ulama", which is a plural of the word "aalim", meaning "scholar". Look at how the 'hamza' appears in these words in the final-position:
Above: The words "umara" and "ulama" showing the 'hamza' being used in the final-position
This form of the 'hamza' looks like the top-half of the letter ‘ain’. It is important to note that this notation is no longer used in common practice and is only found in older texts.
And here’s an animated view of how this form of ‘hamza’ is written:
Above: How the letter ‘hamza’ is written
There is a huge number of words in the Urdu language where two vowel sounds appear together, for example words such as “aa.e” (आए), “ga.ii” (गई), “jaa.o” (जाओ), “laa.iye” (लाइए) etc.
The letter ‘hamza’ is a diphthong(?) and its primary usage in Urdu is to indicate that each vowel in such a double-vowel cluster is to be pronounced individually.
In order to create this distinction in writing, the following form of ‘hamza’ is placed above the second vowel:
Above: ‘hamza’ placed above the second-vowel when two vowels appear together
To see an example of this, let’s look at the word “aa.e” (आए), meaning “came”:
Above: The word “aae”. Notice the ‘hamza’ placed above the ‘baḌi ye’.
The word “aae” (आए) shown above is essentially a combination of the two long-vowels “aa” (आ) and “e” (ए) depicted by the ‘alif madd’ and ‘baḌi ye’ respectively. While speaking, since both the vowels in the word are pronounced individually, the ‘hamza’ is placed above the ‘baḌi ye’ as it is the second vowel in the vowel-cluster. Here’s a break-down illustrating this:
- badi ye
- बड़ी ये
- alif madd
- अलिफ़ मद
Above: ‘alif madd’ and ‘badi ye’ combine to create the word “aae”. ‘hamza’ is placed over the ‘badi ye’.
It is important to note that ‘hamza’ is only placed above a vowel to depict its individual sound. The letter ‘hamza’ itself does not become a part of the word-formation equation as can be seen in the break-down above.
Don’t worry if all this seems a little confusing. The fundamental is quite simple as we’ll see with many other words on the following pages and learn where ‘hamza’ plays an important role in many common words we use daily.