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Burmese alphabet

The Burmese alphabet ( MLCTS=mranma akkha.ra , ) 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.

Alphabet



History

The Burmese alphabet is an adaptation of the Old Mon script or the Pyu script, and it is ultimately of South Indian origin, from either the Kadamba or Pallava alphabet.

Arrangement

As with other Brahmic scripts, the Burmese alphabet is arranged into groups of five letters for stop consonants called wek (ဝဂ်, from Pali ) 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 ). The remaining eight letters (, , , , , , , ) are grouped together as a wek (အဝဂ်, lit. "without group"), as they are not arranged in any particular pattern.

Letters

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 (often reduced to 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:
  • ဃ (), ဈ (), ဋ (), ဌ (), ဍ (), ဎ (), ဏ (), ဓ (), and ဠ () are primarily used in words of Pāli origin.
  • ၐ () and ၑ () 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 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 /j/ in standard Burmese:
  • La hswe (လဆွဲ) - Written ္လ (MLCTS -l, indicating /l/ medial

    All the possible diacritic combinations are listed below:

    Stroke Order

    The Burmese alphabet is written with specific stroke order. The Burmese script is based on circles. Usually, 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 Ministry of Education of Myanmar Government (ပြည်ထောင်စုသမ္မတမြန်မာနိုင်ငံတော်အစိုးရ ပညာရေးဝန်ကြီးဌာန). The book is available under the LearnBig project of UNESCO.

    Other resources:
  • Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Northern Illinois University.
  • Burmese script stroke order, an online learning resource published by the Ministry of Education, Taiwan.

    Syllable rhymes

    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 (, ), which means "nonexistence" (see Sat (Sanskrit)).

    Diacritics and symbols



    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.

    History

    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 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 (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.

    Stacked consonants



    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.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.

    Digits



    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.

    Punctuation

    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)