2.1. Segmental Phonemes

Maithili has 47 segmental phonemes or distinctive minimal speech sounds as shown in Table I and II. These are attested on the phonological contrasts. For instance,

पल /pəl/ 'moment'

फल  /pʰəl/ 'fruit'

बल /bəl/ 'force'

भल /bʰəl/ 'good'

ताकब /ta:kəb/ 'look'

थाकब  /tʰa:kəb/ 'tire'

दान /da:n/ 'giving'

धान  /dʰa:n/ 'paddy'


Out of these six, namely /ɳ/, /ɲ/, /ʂ/, /S/, /v/ and /y/ are phonemic only in Sanskrit (tatsama) words: /ɖ/ and ʰ/ are found only in initial position (or before a consonant); /ŋ/ only medially and finally and the rest in all positions subject to euphonic law of the language.


Maithili freely draws its lexical resources from Sanskrit without any phonetic modification. The lexemes so drawn are known as tatsama and are immune to the phonetic laws of Maithili.

The alphabet of Maithili provides graphic symbols for all the above phonemes except for /æ/ and /ɔ/, and adds two symbols /əi/ and /əu/. These omissions and commissions need explanation. The absence of graphic symbols /æ/ and /ɔ/ is due to the fact that these two phonemes have recently developed from some vowel clusters and are heard generally in rapid and careless.

In absence of graphic symbol in Maithili alphabet, these phonemes are represented by the same symbols as stood for əi/ and əu/ violating the norm of phonemic-graphemic fit.

The phonemes are divided broadly into two classes: Vowels and Consonants.