(Questions and Answers are from Bhavani’s workshop “A Simple How-To and Who's Who Introduction to Sanskrit Mantra” part of the Feb 2012 Annual Yoga Hub Virtual Conference.)
Question: I was taught by someone who I believed at the time was very knowledgeable about Mantra's and she said that Saraswati was pronounced "Saras-Fati", but you mentioned that the pronunciation is most important and the spelling is not as important. So what if I were chanting it wrong for 40 days?
Answer: First of all, not to worry. In mantra, as in every spiritual practice, intention is the most important part. Yes, pronunciation is important, but God is good. So long as your intention is pure, the message gets to the right place.
Regarding the "w" in the name Saraswati, keep in mind that transliteration is tenuous at best. It involves someone who probably is not a native Sanskrit speaker writing down in the Roman alphabet a sound he or she hears from one unique Sanskrit speaker in one location somewhere in India. In my experience native speakers from different parts of India pronounce Sanskrit somewhat differently in the first place and then we have the capabilities of the listener/transliterator, You can see that transliteration is not an exact science.
In addition, what we see in the Roman alphabet as a "w" is especially interesting. There is no "w" in the Sanskrit alphabet. There is a "v." But, in some areas of India, that "v" is pronounced very softly, sounding like our "w." That's why you'll see the transliterated word "swaha" spelled sometimes with a "w" and sometimes with a "v."
Back to your mantra teacher's "Saras-Fati." "V" and "f" are vocalized in the same position in the mouth; the only difference is that "v" is voiced and "f" is unvoiced. So it's often tricky to differentiate the two in spoken language. If you were following the pronunciation of your teacher without looking at the written name Sarasvati (note the "v" is another accepted spelling of that name), you might well hear it as an "f". Again, not to worry. People will just think you're from a different part of India!
I'm thrilled to hear of all the mantra practice you've done. Keep it up. Peace and blessings.