|Time period||c. 984 or 1035–present|
|ISO 15924||Mymr, 350|
|The Brahmic script and its descendants|
It is primarily used for writing Burmese, but other languages of Burma such as Mon, Shan, the S'gaw, Eastern and Western Pwo and Geba Karen languages, Rumai Palaung, and Kayah also use alphabets based on the Burmese script, and support for all of them is included in the Unicode standard. The script is also used for the liturgical languages Pali and Sanskrit.
The characters are rounded in appearance because the traditional palm leaves used for writing on with a stylus would have been ripped by straight lines.1 It 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 Burmese script was adapted from the Old Mon script2 or from the Pyu script. The earliest evidence of Burmese script is dated to 1035, while an 18th-century recast stone inscription points to 984.3 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.1 The Burmese alphabet has undergone considerable modification to suit the evolving phonology of the Burmese language. One major difference between it and the Shan and Karen alphabets is the existence of additional tone markers in the latter, since the Burmese diacritics are insufficient for their more complex tone systems.
This article considers primarily the Burmese alphabet, which may be transliterated into the Latin alphabet with the MLC Transcription System.
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 syllable onset is the consonant or consonant cluster that appears 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 letter 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 [ɡa̰ dʑí]||င [ŋa̰]|
|စ||/s/||ဆ||/sʰ/||ဇ||/z/||ဈ||/z/||ဉ / ည||/ɲ/|
|စလုံး [sa̰ lóʊɴ]||ဆလိမ် [sʰa̰ lèɪɴ]||ဇကွဲ [za̰ ɡwɛ́]||ဈမျဉ်းဆွဲ [za̰ mjɪ̀ɴ zwɛ́]||ညကလေး/ ညကြီး [ɲa̰ dʑí]|
|ဋသန်လျင်းချိတ် [ta̰ təlɪ́ɴ dʑeɪʔ]||ဌဝမ်းဘဲ [tʰa̰ wʊ́ɴ bɛ́]||ဍရင်ကောက် [da̰ jɪ̀ɴ ɡaʊʔ]||ဎရေမှုတ် [da̰ jè m̥oʊʔ]||ဏကြီး [na̰ dʑí]|
|တဝမ်းပူ [ta̰ wʊ́ɴ bù]||ထဆင်ထူး [tʰa̰ sʰɪ̀ɴ dú]||ဒထွေး [da̰ dwé]||ဓအောက်ခြိုက် [da̰ ʔaʊʔ tɕʰaɪʔ]||နငယ် [na̰ ŋɛ̀]|
|ပစောက် ([pa̰ zaʊʔ])||ဖဦးထုပ် ([pʰa̰ ʔóʊʔ tʰoʊʔ])||ဗထက်ခြိုက် ([ba̰ lɛʔ tɕʰaɪʔ])||ဘကုန်း ([ba̰ ɡóʊɴ])||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 (d), and ဠ (ḷ) are primarily used in words of Pāli 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 Burmese pronunciation: [/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.
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)
- 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 /y/ 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. ဣ န္ ဒြေ )
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].|
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 [-ɴ]) 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||[kàʊɴ]||kaung||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါင် gaung [ɡàʊɴ].* 1|
|ကောင့်||[ka̰ʊɴ]||kaung.||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါင့် gaung. [ɡa̰ʊɴ].* 1|
|ကောင်း||[káʊɴ]||kaung:||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ဂေါင်း gaung: [ɡáʊɴ].* 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.
|်||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 ([ìɴ]) 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||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||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 /o̰ʊɴ òʊɴ óʊɴ/
|ၙ||used exclusively for Pali and Sanskrit|
|ၘ||used exclusively for Pali and Sanskrit|
|ါ||"tall a", used to denote "ာ" in some letters to avoid confusion with က, တ, ဘ, ဟ.4|
|ေါ်||used to denote "ော်" in some letters to avoid confusion for က, တ, ဘ, ဟ.4|
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.56 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.6
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 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||kanta (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 don't belong to the same row and a vowel is pronounced between. Similarly, လက်ဖက် "tea" is commonly abbreviated to လ္ဘက်.
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.
Another set of digits from zero to nine, ႐႑႒႓႔႕႖႗႘႙, is used when writing the Shan language. However, most languages that use alphabets based on the Burmese script, including S'gaw Karen, Pwo Karen, and Mon, use the same digits as the Burmese language.
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 . Other abbreviations used in literary Burmese are:
- ၏—used as a full stop if the sentence immediately ends with a verb.
- ၍—used as a sentence connector to connect two trains of thought.
- ၌—locative ('at').
- ၎င်း—ditto (used in columns and lists)
Burmese script was added to the Unicode Standard in September, 1999 with the release of version 3.0. It was extended in October, 2009 with the release of version 5.2.
The Unicode blocks for Burmese, called Myanmar, are U+1000–U+109F and U+AA60–U+AA7B. Grey areas indicate non-assigned code points:
Unicode.org chart (PDF)
Unicode.org chart (PDF)
For writing the basic Burmese language, only U+1000–U+104F is needed:
- the basic abugida for Burmese and other languages of Myanmar:
- U+1000–U+1020: the 33 base consonants.
- U+1021–U+102A: the 10 independent vowels (including 1 variant needed for Shan and 1 variant needed for Mon).
- U+102B–U+1035: the 11 dependent vowels (diacritics combining on the right, above, below, or left of the base consonant).
- U+1036–U+103A: the 5 diacritic signs (anusvara, tone mark, visarga, virama, visible virama).
- U+103B–U+103E: the 4 medial consonant signs (diacritics combining on the right, around, or below).
- U+103F: the Myanmar letter "Great Sa" (ss).
- U+1040–U+1049: the 10 digits.
- U+104A–U+104B: the 2 punctuation signs (section signs).
- U+104C–U+104F: the 4 symbols (locative, completed, aforementioned, genitive).
The rest of the chart contains extensions for other languages:
Until 2005, most Burmese language websites used an image-based dynamically generated method to display Burmese characters, often in GIF or JPEG. At the end of 2005, the Burmese NLP Research Lab announced a Myanmar OpenType font named Myanmar1. This font contains not only Unicode code points and glyphs but also the OpenType Layout (OTL) logic and rules. Their research center is based in Myanmar ICT Park, Yangon. Padauk, which was produced by SIL International, is Unicode compliant. Initially, it required a Graphite engine, though now OpenType tables for Windows are in the current version of this font. Since the release of the Unicode 5.1 Standard on 4 April 2008, three Unicode 5.1 compliant fonts have been available under public license, including Myanmar3, Padauk and Parabaik.7
Many Burmese font makers have created Burmese fonts including Win Innwa, CE Font, Myazedi, Zawgyi, Ponnya, Mandalay. It is important to note that these Burmese fonts are not Unicode compliant, because they use unallocated code points (including those for the Latin script) in the Burmese block to manually deal with shaping that would normally be done by the Uniscribe engine and they are not yet supported by Microsoft and other major software vendors. However, there are few Burmese language websites that have switched to Unicode rendering, with many websites continuing to use a pseudo-Unicode font called Zawgyi (which uses codepoints allocated for minority languages and does not intelligently render diacritics, such as the size of ya-yit) or the GIF/JPG display method.
- 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 and Southeast Asia Library Group (1989). South-East Asia. University of Hawaii Press. ISBN 978-0-8248-1267-6.
- 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.
- "A History of the Myanmar Alphabet". Myanmar Language Commission. 1993. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
- "Representing Myanmar in Unicode Details and Examples". Martin Hosken. Retrieved 2012-07-24.
- 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 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