|Languages||Burmese, Pali and Sanskrit|
|c. 984 or 1035–present|
The Burmese alphabet (Burmese : မြန်မာအက္ခရာ, pronounced [mjəmà ʔɛʔkʰəjà] ) is an abugida used for writing Burmese. It is ultimately a Brahmic script adapted from either the Kadamba or Pallava alphabet of South India and more immediately an adaptation of Old Mon or Pyu script. The Burmese alphabet is also used for the liturgical languages of Pali and Sanskrit.
In recent decades, other, related alphabets, such as Shan and modern Mon, have been restructured according to the standard of the now-dominant Burmese alphabet. (See Burmese script.)
Burmese is written from left to right and requires no spaces between words, although modern writing usually contains spaces after each clause to enhance readability.
The earliest evidence of the Burmese alphabet is dated to 1035, while a casting made in the 18th century of an old stone inscription points to 984.Burmese calligraphy originally followed a square format but the cursive format took hold from the 17th century when popular writing led to the wider use of palm leaves and folded paper known as parabaiks. A stylus would rip these leaves when making straight lines. The alphabet has undergone considerable modification to suit the evolving phonology of the Burmese language.
There are several systems of transliteration into the Latin alphabet; for this article, the MLC Transcription System is used.
The Burmese alphabet is an adaptation of the Old Mon scriptor the Pyu script, and it is ultimately of South Indian origin, from either the Kadamba or Pallava alphabet. The scholar Aung-Thwin has argued that the Burmese script most likely descended from the Pyu script and not from the Old Mon script, as there is no historical record of Mon migration from Dvaravati to Lower Burma, no inscription found in the Dvaravati script in Lower Burma, no proven relationship between the writing systems of Dvaravati and Pagan, and there are no dated Old Mon inscriptions except for those written in the Burmese script, in the entire country of Myanmar. There is however a paleographic link between the Burmese script and Pyu script, and there were close cultural, linguistic, historic and political ties between Pyu and Burmese speakers for at least two to three centuries before the first contact between Burmese speakers and Mon speakers. Aung-Thwin therefore argues that Mon script descended from Burmese script and not vice versa.
As with other Brahmic scripts, the Burmese alphabet is arranged into groups of five letters for stop consonants called wek (ဝဂ်, from Pali vagga) based on articulation. Within each group, the first letter is tenuis ("plain"), the second is the aspirated homologue, the third and fourth are the voiced homologues and the fifth is the nasal homologue. This is true of the first twenty-five letters in the Burmese alphabet, which are called grouped together as wek byi (ဝဂ်ဗျည်း, from Pali vagga byañjana). The remaining eight letters (⟨ယ⟩, ⟨ရ⟩, ⟨လ⟩, ⟨ဝ⟩, ⟨သ⟩, ⟨ဟ⟩, ⟨ဠ⟩, ⟨အ⟩) are grouped together as a wek (အဝဂ်, lit. "without group"), as they are not arranged in any particular pattern.
A letter is a consonant or consonant cluster that occurs before the vowel of a syllable. The Burmese script has 33 letters to indicate the initial consonant of a syllable and four diacritics to indicate additional consonants in the onset. Like other abugidas, including the other members of the Brahmic family, vowels are indicated in Burmese script by diacritics, which are placed above, below, before or after the consonant character. A consonant character with no vowel diacritic has the inherent vowel [a̰] (often reduced to [ə] when another syllable follows in the same word).
The following table provides the letter, the syllable onset in IPA and the way the letter is referred to in Burmese, which may be either a descriptive name or just the sound of the letter, arranged in the traditional order:
|Group name||Grouped consonants|
|Unaspirated (သိထိလ)||Aspirated (ဓနိတ)||Voiced (လဟု)||Nasal (နိဂ္ဂဟိတ)|
| Velars |
|ကကြီး[ka̰ dʑí]||ခကွေး[kʰa̰ ɡwé]||ဂငယ်[ɡa̰ ŋɛ̀]||ဃကြီး[ɡˀa̰ dʑí]||င[ŋa̰]|
| Palatals |
|စ||/s/||ဆ||/sʰ/||ဇ||/z/||ဈ||/zˀ/||ဉ / ည||/ɲ/|
|စလုံး[sa̰ lóʊɰ̃]||ဆလိမ်[sʰa̰ lèɪɰ̃]||ဇကွဲ[za̰ ɡwɛ́]||ဈမျဉ်းဆွဲ[zˀa̰ mjɪ̀ɰ̃ zwɛ́]||ညကလေး/ ညကြီး[ɲa̰ dʑí]|
| Alveolars |
|ဋသန်လျင်းချိတ်[ta̰ təlɪ́ɰ̃ dʑeɪʔ]||ဌဝမ်းဘဲ[tʰa̰ wʊ́ɰ̃ bɛ́]||ဍရင်ကောက်[da̰ jɪ̀ɰ̃ ɡaʊʔ]||ဎရေမှုတ်[dˀa̰ jè m̥oʊʔ]||ဏကြီး[na̰ dʑí]|
| Dentals |
|တဝမ်းပူ[ta̰ wʊ́ɰ̃ bù]||ထဆင်ထူး[tʰa̰ sʰɪ̀ɰ̃ dú]||ဒထွေး[da̰ dwé]||ဓအောက်ခြိုက်[dˀa̰ ʔaʊʔ tɕʰaɪʔ]||နငယ်[na̰ ŋɛ̀]|
| Labials |
|ပစောက် ([pa̰ zaʊʔ])||ဖဦးထုပ် ([pʰa̰ ʔóʊʔ tʰoʊʔ])||ဗထက်ခြိုက် ([ba̰ lɛʔ tɕʰaɪʔ])||ဘကုန်း ([bˀa̰ ɡóʊɰ̃])||မ[ma̰]|
|ယပက်လက်[ja̰ pɛʔ lɛʔ]||ရကောက်[ja̰ ɡaʊʔ]||လငယ်[la̰ ŋɛ̀]||ဝ[wa̰]||သ[θa̰]|
Consonant letters may be modified by one or more medial diacritics (three at most), indicating an additional consonant before the vowel. These diacritics are:
A few Burmese dialects use an extra diacritic to indicate the /l/ medial, which has merged to /j/ in standard Burmese:
All the possible diacritic combinations are listed below:
|မျ||[mj]||my||Generally only used on bilabial and velar consonants (က ခ ဂ ဃ င ပ ဖ ဗ မ လ သ).|
Palatalizes velar consonants: ကျ (ky), ချ (hky), ဂျ (gy) are pronounced [tɕ], [tɕʰ], [dʑ].
|မျှ||[m̥j]||hmy||သျှ (hsy) and လျှ (hly) are pronounced [ʃ].|
|မြ||[mj]||mr||Generally only used on bilabial and velar consonants (က ခ ဂ ဃ င ပ ဖ ဗ မ). (but in Pali and Sanskrit loanwords, can be used for other consonants as well e.g. ဣန္ဒြေ ) |
Palatalizes velar consonants: ကြ (kr), ခြ (hkr), ဂြ (gr), ငြ (ngr) are pronounced [tɕ], [tɕʰ], [dʑ], [ɲ].
|မှ||[m̥]||hm||Used only in ငှ (hng) [ŋ̊], ညှ/ဉှ (hny) [ɲ̥], နှ (hn) [n̥], မှ (hm) [m̥], လှ (hl) [ɬ], ဝှ (hw) [ʍ]. ယှ (hy) and ရှ (hr) are pronounced [ʃ].|
Letters in the Burmese alphabet are written with a specific stroke order. The Burmese script is based on circles. Typically, one circle should be done with one stroke, and all circles are written clockwise. Exceptions are mostly letters with an opening on top. The circle of these letters is written with two strokes coming from opposite directions.
The 10 letters below are exceptions to the clockwise rule: ပ, ဖ, ဗ, မ, ယ, လ, ဟ, ဃ, ဎ, ဏ. Some versions of stroke order may be slightly different.
The Burmese stroke order can be learned from ပထမတန်း မြန်မာဖတ်စာ ၂၀၁၇-၂၀၁၈ (Burmese Grade 1, 2017-2018), a textbook published by the Burmese Ministry of Education. The book is available under the LearnBig project of UNESCO.Other resources include the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University and an online learning resource published by the Ministry of Education, Taiwan.
Syllable rhymes (i.e. vowels and any consonants that may follow them within the same syllable) are indicated in Burmese by a combination of diacritic marks and consonant letters marked with the virama character ် which suppresses the inherent vowel of the consonant letter. This mark is called asat in Burmese (Burmese : အသတ်; MLCTS : a.sat, [ʔa̰θaʔ]), which means "nonexistence" (see Sat (Sanskrit)).
|က||[ka̰], [kə]||ka.||[a̰] is the inherent vowel, and is not indicated by any diacritic. In theory, virtually any written syllable that is not the final syllable of a word can be pronounced with the vowel [ə] (with no tone and no syllable-final [-ʔ] or [-ɰ̃]) as its rhyme. In practice, the bare consonant letter alone is the most common way of spelling syllables whose rhyme is [ə].|
|ကာ||[kà]||ka||Takes the alternative form ါ with certain consonants, e.g. ဂါga[ɡà].|
|ကား||[ká]||ka:||Takes the alternative form ါး with certain consonants, e.g. ဂါးga:[ɡá].|
|ကည်||[kì], [kè], [kɛ̀]||kany|
|ကည့်||[kḭ], [kḛ], [kɛ̰]||kany.|
|ကည်း||[kí], [ké], [kɛ́]||kany:|
|ကိ||[kḭ]||ki.||As an open vowel, [ʔḭ] is represented by ဣ.|
|ကီ||[kì]||ki||As an open vowel, [ʔì] is represented by ဤ.|
|ကု||[kṵ]||ku.||As an open vowel, [ʔṵ] is represented by ဥ.|
|ကူ||[kù]||ku||As an open vowel, [ʔù] is represented by ဦ.|
|ကူး||[kú]||ku:||As an open vowel, [ʔú] is represented by ဦး.|
|ကေ||[kè]||ke||As an open vowel, [ʔè] is represented by ဧ.|
|ကေး||[ké]||ke:||As an open vowel, [ʔé] is represented by ဧး.|
|ကော||[kɔ́]||kau:||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါgau:[ɡɔ́]. As an open vowel, [ʔɔ́] is represented by ဩ.|
|ကောက်||[kaʊʔ]||kauk||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါက်gauk[ɡaʊʔ].|
|ကောင်||[kàʊɰ̃]||kaung||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါင်gaung[ɡàʊɰ̃].|
|ကောင့်||[ka̰ʊɰ̃]||kaung.||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါင့်gaung.[ɡa̰ʊɰ̃].|
|ကောင်း||[káʊɰ̃]||kaung:||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါင်းgaung:[ɡáʊɰ̃].|
|ကော့||[kɔ̰]||kau.||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါ့gau.[ɡɔ̰].|
|ကော်||[kɔ̀]||kau||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါ်gau[ɡɔ̀]. As an open vowel, [ʔɔ̀] is represented by ဪ.|
|်||အသတ်, တံခွန်|| Virama; Combined to form ော်, which changes inherent vowel to /ɔ̰ ɔ̀ ɔ́/ respectively|
Creates a consonant final when used with က င စ ည (ဉ) ဏ တ န ပ မ ယ ဝ
|င်္||ကင်းစီး||Superscripted miniature version of င်; phonetic equivalent of nasalized င် ([ìɰ̃]) final.|
Found mainly in Pali and Sanskrit loans (e.g. "Tuesday," spelt အင်္ဂါ and not အင်ဂါ)
|့||အောက်မြစ်||Anusvara, creates creaky tone, but only used with a consonant final (open vowels have an inherent creaky tone)|
|ာ||ရေးချ, မောက်ချ, ဝိုက်ချ||Creates low tone; called ဝိုက်ချ if used with ခ ဂ င ဒ ပ ဝ|
Combined to form ော့ ော် ော, which changes inherent vowel to /ɔ̰ ɔ̀ ɔ́/ respectively
|◌း||ဝစ္စပေါက်, ရှေ့ကပေါက်, ရှေ့ဆီး||Visarga; creates high tone, but cannot be used alone|
|ေ||သဝေထိုး||Changes inherent vowel to /e/|
Combined to form ော့ ော် ော, which changes inherent vowel to /ɔ̰ ɔ̀ ɔ́/ respectively
|ဲ||နောက်ပစ်||Changes inherent vowel to /ɛ/ and creates high tone|
|ု||တစ်ချောင်းငင်||did cho ngin, changes inherent vowel to /u/ and creates creaky tone|
Combined to form ို, which changes inherent vowel to /o/
|ူ||နှစ်ချောင်းငင်||Changes inherent vowel to /u/|
|ိ||လုံးကြီးတင်||lung ji din, changes inherent vowel to /i/ and creates creaky tone|
Combined to form ို, which changes inherent vowel to /o/
|ီ||လုံးကြီးတင်ဆန်ခတ်||Changes inherent vowel to /i/|
|ွဲ||အဆွဲအငင်||Changes inherent vowel to /ɛ/ and adds /-w-/ medial|
|ံ||သေးသေးတင်|| Anunaasika, creates nasalised /-n/ final|
Combined to form ုံ့ ုံ ုံး, which changes rhyme to /o̰ʊɰ̃ òʊɰ̃ óʊɰ̃/
|ၖ||used exclusively for Sanskrit r̥|
|ၗ||used exclusively for Sanskrit r̥̄|
|ါ||မောက်ချ||"tall a", used to denote "ာ" in some letters to avoid confusion with က, တ, ဘ, ဟ, အ.|
|ေါ်||used to denote "ော်" in some letters to avoid confusion for က, တ, ဘ, ဟ, အ.|
One or more of these accents can be added to a consonant to change its sound. In addition, other modifying symbols are used to differentiate tone and sound, but are not considered diacritics.
La hswe (လဆွဲ) used in old Burmese from the Bagan to Innwa periods (12th century - 16th century), and could be combined with other diacritics (ya pin, ha hto and wa hswe) to form ္လျ ္လွ ္လှ. Similarly, until the Innwa period, ya pin was also combined with ya yit. From the early Bagan period to the 19th century, ဝ် was used instead of ော် for the rhyme /ɔ̀/ Early Burmese writing also used ဟ်, not the high tone marker း, which came into being in the 16th century. Moreover, အ်, which disappeared by the 16th century, was subscripted to represent creaky tone (now indicated with ့). During the early Bagan period, the rhyme /ɛ́/ (now represented with the diacritic ဲ) was represented with ါယ်). The diacritic combination ိုဝ် disappeared in the mid-1750s (typically designated as Middle Burmese), having been replaced with the ို combination, introduced in 1638. The standard tone markings found in modern Burmese can be traced to the 19th century.
Certain sequences of consonants are written one atop the other, or stacked. A pair of stacked consonants indicates that no vowel is pronounced between them, as for example the m-bh in ကမ္ဘာkambha "world". This is equivalent to using a virama ် on the first consonant (in this case, the m); if the m and bh were not stacked, the inherent vowel a would be assumed (*ကမဘာkamabha). Stacked consonants are always homorganic (pronounced in the same place in the mouth), which is indicated by the traditional arrangement of the Burmese alphabet into five-letter rows of letters called ဝဂ်. Consonants not found in a row beginning with k, c, t, or p can only be doubled – that is, stacked with themselves.
When stacked, the first consonant (the final of the preceding syllable, in this case m) is written as usual, while the second consonant (the onset of the following syllable, in this case bh) is subscripted beneath it.
|K||က္က, က္ခ, ဂ္ဂ, ဂ္ဃ||kk, kkh, gg, ggh [also ng?]||dukkha (ဒုက္ခ), meaning "suffering"|
|C||စ္စ, စ္ဆ, ဇ္ဇ, ဇ္ဈ, ဉ္စ, ဉ္ဆ, ဉ္ဇ, ဉ္ဈ||cc, cch, jj, jjh, nyc, nych, nyj, nyjh||wijja (ဝိဇ္ဇာ), meaning "knowledge"|
|T||ဋ္ဋ, ဋ္ဌ, ဍ္ဍ, ဍ္ဎ, ဏ္ဋ, ဏ္ဍ||tt, tth, dd, ddh, nt, nd||kanda (ကဏ္ဍ), meaning "section"|
|T||တ္တ, တ္ထ, ဒ္ဒ, ဒ္ဓ, န္တ, န္ထ, န္ဒ, န္ဓ, န္န||tt, tth, dd, ddh, nt, nth, nd, ndh, nn||manta. le: (မန္တလေး), Mandalay, a city in Burma|
|P||ပ္ပ, ပ္ဖ, ဗ္ဗ, ဗ္ဘ, မ္ပ, မ္ဗ, မ္ဘ, မ္မ,||pp, pph, bb, bbh, mp, mb, mbh, mm||kambha (ကမ္ဘာ), meaning "world"|
|(other)||ဿ, လ္လ, ဠ္ဠ||ss, ll, ll||pissa (ပိဿာ), meaning viss, a traditional Burmese unit of weight measurement|
Stacked consonants are mostly confined to loan words from languages like Pali, Sanskrit, and occasionally English. For instance, the Burmese word for "paper" (a Pali loan) is spelt စက္ကူ, not *စက်ကူ, although both would be read the same. They are not found in native Burmese words except for the purpose of abbreviation. For example, the Burmese word သမီး "daughter" is sometimes abbreviated to သ္မီး, even though the stacked consonants do not belong to the same row and a vowel is pronounced between. Similarly, လက်ဖက် "tea" is commonly abbreviated to လ္ဘက်. Also, ss is written ဿ, not သ္သ.
A decimal numbering system is used, and numbers are written in the same order as Hindu-Arabic numerals.
The digits from zero to nine are: ၀၁၂၃၄၅၆၇၈၉ (Unicode 1040 to 1049). The number 1945 would be written as ၁၉၄၅. Separators, such as commas, are not used to group numbers.
There are two primary break characters in Burmese, drawn as one or two downward strokes: ၊ (called ပုဒ်ဖြတ်, ပုဒ်ကလေး, ပုဒ်ထီး, or တစ်ချောင်းပုဒ်) and ။ (called ပုဒ်ကြီး, ပုဒ်မ, or နှစ်ချောင်းပုဒ်), which respectively act as a comma and a full stop. There is a Shan exclamation mark ႟. Other abbreviations used in literary Burmese are:
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Old Burmese was an early form of the Burmese language, as attested in the stone inscriptions of Pagan, and is the oldest phase of Burmese linguistic history. The transition to Middle Burmese occurred in the 16th century. The transition to Middle Burmese included phonological changes as well as accompanying changes in the underlying orthography. Word order, grammatical structure and vocabulary have remained markedly comparable, well into Modern Burmese, with the exception of lexical content.
The Burmese script is the basis of the alphabets used for modern Burmese, Mon, Shan and Karen.
Burmese Braille is the braille alphabet of languages of Burma written in the Burmese script, including Burmese and Karen. Letters that may not seem at first glance to correspond to international norms are more recognizable when traditional romanization is considered. For example, သ s is rendered ⠹th, which is how it was romanized when Burmese Braille was developed ; similarly စ c and ဇ j as ⠎s and ⠵z.
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