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 Pyu script or Old Mon script. The Burmese alphabet is also used for the liturgical languages of Pali and Sanskrit.
|Languages||Burmese, Pali and Sanskrit|
|c. 984 or 1035–present|
|ISO 15924||Mymr, 350|
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 Pyu script, or Old Mon 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)|
|ကကြီး [ka̰ dʑí]||ခကွေး [kʰa̰ ɡwé]||ဂငယ် [ɡa̰ ŋɛ̀]||ဃကြီး [ɡˀa̰ dʑí]||င [ŋa̰]|
|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]|
|ဋသန်လျင်းချိတ် [ta̰ təlɪ́ɰ̃ dʑeɪʔ]||ဌဝမ်းဘဲ [tʰa̰ wʊ́ɰ̃ bɛ́]||ဍရင်ကောက် [da̰ jɪ̀ɰ̃ ɡaʊʔ]||ဎရေမှုတ် [dˀa̰ jè m̥oʊʔ]||ဏကြီး [na̰ dʑí]|
|တဝမ်းပူ [ta̰ wʊ́ɰ̃ bù]||ထဆင်ထူး [tʰa̰ sʰɪ̀ɰ̃ dú]||ဒထွေး [da̰ dwé]||ဓအောက်ခြိုက် [dˀa̰ ʔaʊʔ tɕʰaɪʔ]||နငယ် [na̰ ŋɛ̀]|
|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]|
|ဟ [ha̰]||ဠကြီး [la̰ dʑí]||အ [ʔa̰]|
- ဃ (gh), ဈ (jh), ဋ (ṭ), ဌ (ṭh), ဍ (ḍ), ဎ (ḍh), ဏ (ṇ), ဓ (dh), and ဠ (ḷ) are primarily used in words of Pali origin.
- ၐ (ś) and ၑ (ṣ) are exclusively used in Sanskrit words, as they have merged to သ in Pali.
- ည has an alternate form ဉ, used with the vowel diacritic ာ as a syllable onset and alone as a final.
- With regard to pronunciation, the corresponding letters of the dentals and alveolars are phonetically equivalent.
- ရ is often pronounced [ɹ] in words of Pali or foreign origin.
- အ is nominally treated as a consonant in the Burmese alphabet; it represents an initial glottal stop in syllables with no other consonant.
- The letter န (n) uses a different form when there is a diacritic under it like in နု (nu.)
Consonant letters may be modified by one or more medial diacritics (three at most), indicating an additional consonant before the vowel. These diacritics are:
- Ya pin (ယပင့်) - Written ျ (MLCTS -y-, indicating /j/ medial or palatalization of a velar consonant (/c/, /cʱ/, /ɟ/, /ɲ/))
- Ya yit (ရရစ်) - Written ြ (MLCTS -r-, indicating /j/ medial or palatalization of a velar consonant)
- Wa hswe (ဝဆွဲ) - Written ွ (MLCTS -w-, usually indicating /w/ medial)
- Ha hto (ဟထိုး) - ှ (MLCTS h-, indicating that a sonorant consonant is voiceless)
A few Burmese dialects use an extra diacritic to indicate the /l/ medial, which has merged to /j/ in standard Burmese:
- La hswe (လဆွဲ) - Written ္လ (MLCTS -l, indicating /l/ medial
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. ဂါ ga [ɡà].[* 1]|
|ကား||[ká]||ka:||Takes the alternative form ါး with certain consonants, e.g. ဂါး ga: [ɡá].[* 1]|
|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. ဂေါ gau: [ɡɔ́].[* 1] As an open vowel, [ʔɔ́] is represented by ဩ.|
|ကောက်||[kaʊʔ]||kauk||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါက် gauk [ɡaʊʔ].[* 1]|
|ကောင်||[kàʊɰ̃]||kaung||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါင် gaung [ɡàʊɰ̃].[* 1]|
|ကောင့်||[ka̰ʊɰ̃]||kaung.||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါင့် gaung. [ɡa̰ʊɰ̃].[* 1]|
|ကောင်း||[káʊɰ̃]||kaung:||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါင်း gaung: [ɡáʊɰ̃].[* 1]|
|ကော့||[kɔ̰]||kau.||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါ့ gau. [ɡɔ̰].[* 1]|
|ကော်||[kɔ̀]||kau||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါ် gau [ɡɔ̀].[* 1] As an open vowel, [ʔɔ̀] is represented by ဪ.|
- The consonant letters that take the long form ါ are ခ, ဂ, င, ဒ, ပ, and ဝ.
Diacritics and symbolsEdit
|်||အသတ်, တံခွန် ရှေ့ထိုး||Virama; deletes the inherent vowel, thereby making a syllable final consonant, most often with က င စ ည (ဉ) ဏ တ န ပ မ and occasionally other consonants in loan words.
It is also used as a marginal tone marker, creating low-tone variants of the two inherently high-tone vowel symbols: ယ် which is the low tone variant /ɛ̀/ of ဲ (by default /ɛ́/), and ော် and ေါ် both of which are the low tone variants /ɔ̀/ of ော and ေါ (by default /ɔ́/). In this context the ် symbol is called ရှေ့ထိုး /ʃḛtʰó/. 
|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||Creates creaky tone. Only used with nasal finals or vowels which inherently indicate a low or high tone.|
|◌း||ဝစ္စပေါက်, ဝိသဇ္ဇနီ, ရှေ့ကပေါက်, ရှေ့ဆီး||Visarga; creates high tone. Can follow a nasal final marked with virama, or a vowel which inherently implies creaky tone or low tone. |
|ာ or ါ||ရေးချ, မောက်ချ, ဝိုက်ချ||when used alone, it Indicates /à/. |
Generically referred to as ရေးချ /jéːtʃʰa̰/ this diacritic takes two distinct forms. By default it is written ာ which is called ဝိုက်ချ /waɪʔtʃʰa̰/ for specificity, but to avoid ambiguity when following the consonants ခ ဂ င ဒ ပ ဝ, it is written tall as ါ and called မောက်ချ /maʊʔtʃʰa̰/.
Although typically not permissible in closed syllables, solitary ာ or ါ can be found in some words of Pali origin such as ဓာတ် (essence, element) or မာန် (pride).
It can be combined with the vowel mark ာ or ါ to form ော or ေါ which indicate /ɔ́/ in open syllables or /àʊ/ before က or င. The low-tone variant of this vowel in open syllables is written ော် or ေါ်. 
Generally only permissible in open syllables, but occasionally found in closed syllables in loan words such as မေတ္တာ (metta)
|ော ေါ||-||a combination of ေ and ာ or ါ (see above). Indicates /ɔ́/ in open syllables or /aʊ/ before က or င. The low-tone variant of this vowel in open syllables is written ော် or ေါ်.|
|ဲ||နောက်ပစ်||Indicates /ɛ́/. Only found in open syllables.|
|ု||တစ်ချောင်းငင်||When used alone, indicates /ṵ/ in open syllables or /ɔ̀ʊ/ in closed syllables.|
|ူ||နှစ်ချောင်းငင်||Indicates /ù/. Only found in open syllables.|
|ိ||လုံးကြီးတင်||Indicates /ḭ/ in open syllables, or /èɪ/ in closed syllables.|
|ီ||လုံးကြီးတင်ဆန်ခတ်||Indicates /ì/. Only found in open syllables.|
|ို||-||Indicates /ò in open syllables, or /aɪ/ before က or င. A combination of the ိ and ု vowel diacritics.|
|ွ||ဝဆွဲ||used alone, indicates /wa̰/ in open syllables or, variously, /ʊ̀/ or /wà/ in closed syllables. In open syllables it may also be combined with the vowel marks ေ ဲ ာ ါ ယ် and the tone markers to add a medial /w/ between the initial and vowel.|
Rarely found in the combinations ွိုင် and ွိုက် to transcribe the /ɔɪ/ vowel of English.
|ံ||သေးသေးတင်||Anusvara, within multisyllabic words it functions as a homorganic nasal. Word finally it functions like a final -m, changing the vowel and implying a low tone by default, although it may be combined with tone markers to create high or creaky tone syllables. It is most commonly used alone or combined with the vowel ု, however it may also be combined with ွ or ိ.
creates nasalised /-n/ final
|ၖ||used exclusively for Sanskrit r̥|
|ၗ||used exclusively for Sanskrit r̥̄|
|ေါ်||သဝေထိုးရေးချရှေ့ထိုး||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 ကမ္ဘာ kambha "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 (*ကမဘာ kamabha). 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 largely confined to loan words from languages like Pali, Sanskrit, and occasionally English. For instance, the Burmese word for "self" (via Pali atta) is spelt အတ္တ, not *အတ်တ, although both would be read the same. Stacked consonants are generally not found in native Burmese words, with a major exception being 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.
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:
- ၏ — used as a full stop if the sentence immediately ends with a verb.
- ၍ — used as a conjunction.
- ၌ — locative ('at').
- ၎င်း — ditto (used in columns and lists)
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- "A History of the Myanmar Alphabet" (PDF). Myanmar Language Commission. 1993. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 March 2010. Retrieved 30 August 2010.
- Aung-Thwin, Michael (2005). The mists of Rāmañña: The Legend that was Lower Burma (illustrated ed.). Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-2886-8.
- Harvey, G. E. (1925). History of Burma: From the Earliest Times to 10 March 1824. London: Frank Cass & Co. Ltd.
- Herbert, Patricia M.; Anthony Milner (1989). South-East Asia. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-1267-6.
- Hosken, Martin. (2012). "Representing Myanmar in Unicode: Details and Examples" (ver. 4). Unicode Technical Note 11.
- Lieberman, Victor B. (2003). Strange Parallels: Southeast Asia in Global Context, c. 800–1830, volume 1, Integration on the Mainland. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-80496-7.
- Sawada, Hideo. (2013). "Some Properties of Burmese Script". Presented at the 23rd Meeting of the Southeast Asian Linguistics Society (SEALS23), Chulalongkorn University, Thailand.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Burmese script.|
- Burmese/Myanmar script and pronunciation at Omniglot
- Myanmar Unicode Character Picker
- Myanmar Unicode Implementation Public Awareness
- Myanmar3 keyboard layout
- ALA-LC romanization system for Burmese
- BGN/PCGN romanization system for Burmese
- Myanmar Language SIG
- Myanmar Word Segmentation using Syllable level Longest Matching
- Myanmar-English dictionary
- Burmese fonts guide 2017. Using Burmese fonts on a computer.
Fonts supporting Burmese charactersEdit
- Burmese Wikipedia:Font page
- Burmese Unicode & NLP Research Centre
- Parabaik Myanmar Unicode Project GPLed and OFLed
- Ayar Myanmar online dictionary and download
- Download KaNaungConverter_Window_Build200508.zip from the Kanaung project page and Unzip Ka Naung Converter Engine
- Padauk - Free Burmese Unicode font distributed by SIL International
- U.N.O.B. USA has separate download links for Zawgyi font for Windows, MAC-Apple, and iPhone/iPad.