|16th century CE-present|
Gurmukh? (Punjabi: ?, ['m?k?i:], Shahmukhi: ) is an abugida developed from the La scripts, standardized and used by the second Sikh guru, Guru Angad (1504-1552). Commonly regarded as a Sikh script, Gurmukhi is used in Punjab, India as the official script of the Punjabi language.
The primary scripture of Sikhism, the Guru Granth Sahib, is written in Gurmukh?, in various dialects and languages often subsumed under the generic title Sant Bhasha or saint language, in addition to other languages like Persian and various phases of Indo-Aryan languages.
Modern Gurmukh? has thirty-five original letters, hence its common alternative term paint? or "the thirty-five," plus six additional consonants, nine vowel diacritics, two diacritics for nasal sounds, one diacritic that geminates consonants and three subscript characters.
The Gurmukh? script is generally believed to have roots in the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet by way of the Brahmi script, which developed further into the Northwestern group (Sharada, or rad?, and its descendants, including Landa and Takri), the Central group (Nagari and its descendants, including Devanagari, Gujarati and Modi) and the Eastern group (evolved from Siddha?, including Bangla, Tibetan, and some Nepali scripts), as well as several prominent writing systems of Southeast Asia and Sinhala in Sri Lanka, in addition to scripts used historically in Central Asia for extinct languages like Saka and Tocharian. Gurmukhi is derived from Sharada in the Northwestern group, of which it is the only major surviving member, with full modern currency. Notable features:
|Possible derivation of Gurmukhi from earlier writing systems.[note 1] The Greek alphabet, also descended from Phoenician, is included for comparison.|
Gurmukhi evolved in cultural and historical circumstances notably different from other regional scripts, for the purpose of recording scriptures of Sikhism, a far less Sanskritized cultural tradition than others of the subcontinent. This independence from the Sanskritic model allowed it the freedom to evolve unique orthographical features. These include:
and other features.
From the 10th century onwards, regional differences started to appear between the Sharada script used in Punjab, the Hill States (partly Himachal Pradesh) and Kashmir. Sharada proper was eventually restricted to very limited ceremonial use in Kashmir, as it grew increasingly unsuitable for writing the Kashmiri language. With the last known inscription dating to 1204 C.E., the early 13th century marks a milestone in the development of Sharada. The regional variety in Punjab continued to evolve from this stage through the 14th century; during this period it starts to appear in forms closely resembling Gurmukh? and other Landa scripts. By the 15th century, Sharada had evolved so considerably that epigraphists denote the script at this point by a special name, Deve?a. Tarlochan Singh Bedi (1999) prefers the name Pritham Gurmukh?, or Proto-Gurmukh?.
The Sikh gurus adopted proto-Gurmukh? to write the Guru Granth Sahib, the religious scriptures of the Sikhs. The Takri alphabet developed through the Deve?a stage of the Sharada script from the 14th-18th centuries and is found mainly in the Hill States such as Chamba, Himachal Pradesh and surrounding areas, where it is called Chambyali, and in Jammu Division, where it is known as Dogri. The local Takri variants got the status of official scripts in some of the Punjab Hill States, and were used for both administrative and literary purposes until the 19th century. After 1948, when Himachal Pradesh was established as an administrative unit, the local Takri variants were replaced by Devanagari.
Meanwhile, the mercantile scripts of Punjab known as the La scripts were normally not used for literary purposes. La means alphabet "without tail", implying that the script did not have vowel symbols. In Punjab, there were at least ten different scripts classified as La, Mahajani being the most popular. The La scripts were used for household and trade purposes. In contrast to La, the use of vowel diacritics was made obligatory in Gurmukh? for increased accuracy and precision, due to the difficulties involved in deciphering words without vowel signs.
In the following epochs, Gurmukh? became the primary script for the literary writings of the Sikhs. Playing a significant role in Sikh faith and tradition, it expanded from its original use for Sikh scriptures and developed its own orthographical rules, spreading widely under the Sikh Empire and used by Sikh kings and chiefs of Punjab for administrative purposes. Also playing a major role in consolidating and standardizing the Punjabi language, it served as the main medium of literacy in Punjab and adjoining areas for centuries when the earliest schools were attached to gurdwaras. The first natively produced grammars of the Punjabi language were written in the 1860s in Gurmukhi. The Singh Sabha Movement of the late 1800s, a movement to revitalize Sikh institutions which had declined during colonial rule after the fall of the Sikh Empire, also advocated for the usage of the Gurmukhi script for mass media, with print media publications and Punjabi-language newspapers established in the 1880s. Later in the 20th century, after the struggle of the Punjabi Suba movement, from the founding of modern India in the 1940s to the 1960s, the script was given the authority as the official state script of the Punjab, India, where it is used in all spheres of culture, arts, education, and administration, with a firmly established common and secular character.
The prevalent view among Punjabi linguists is that as in the early stages the Gurmukh? letters were primarily used by the Guru's followers, Gurmukhs (literally, those who face, or follow, the Guru, as opposed to a Manmukh); the script thus came to be known as Gurmukh?, "the script of those guided by the Guru."Guru Angad is credited in the Sikh tradition with the creation and standardization of Gurmukhi script from earlier rad?-descended scripts native to the region. It is now the standard writing script for the Punjabi language in India. The original Sikh scriptures and most of the historic Sikh literature have been written in the Gurmukhi script.
Although the word Gurmukh? has been commonly translated as "from the Mouth of the Guru," the term used for the Punjabi script has somewhat different connotations. This usage of the term may have gained currency from the use of the script to record the utterances of the Sikh Gurus as scripture, which were often referred to as Gurmukh?, or from the mukh (face, or mouth) of the Gurus. Consequently, the script that was used to write the resulting scripture may have also been designated with the same name.
The Gurmukh? alphabet contains thirty-five base letters (akkhar, plural akkhar), traditionally arranged in seven rows of five letters each. The first three letters, or m?tar? v?hak ("vowel carrier"), are distinct because they form the basis for vowels and are not consonants, or vianjan, like the remaining letters are, and except for the second letter ai are never used on their own; see § Vowel diacritics for further details. The pair of fricatives, or m?l varag ("base class"), share the row, which is followed by the next five sets of consonants, with the consonants in each row being homorganic, the rows arranged from the back (velars) to the front (labials) of the mouth, and the letters in the grid arranged by place and manner of articulation. The arrangement, or vara?m?l?, is completed with the antim ?ol?, literally "ending group." The names of most of the consonants are based on their reduplicative phonetic values, and the vara?m?l? is as follows:
|Occlusives ->||Tenuis||Aspirates||Voiced Stops||Tonal||Nasals|
[ k ]
[ t? ]
[ t ]
[ p ]
|Approximants and liquids|
The nasal letters ? /:a:/ and ? /:a:/ have become marginal as independent consonants in modern Gurmukhi. They cannot begin a syllable or be placed between two consonants, and the sounds they represent occur most often as allophones of [n] before specific consonant phonemes.
The most characteristic feature of the Punjabi language is its tone system. The script has no separate symbol for tones, but they correspond to the tonal consonants that once represented voiced aspirates as well as older *h. To differentiate between consonants, the Punjabi tonal consonants of the fourth column, ? kà, ? chà, ? ?à, ? tà, and ? pà, are often transliterated in the way of the voiced aspirate consonants gha, jha, ?ha, dha, and bha respectively, although Punjabi lacks these sounds. Tones in Punjabi can be either rising, neutral, or falling; in the pronunciation of the names of the Gurmukh? letters, they are at the beginning of the word and as such produce the falling tone, hence the grave accent (à) as opposed to the acute. The tone changes to a rising one (á) and precedes the letter when it is in syllabic coda positions, and falling when in stem-medial positions after a short vowel and before a long vowel. The letters now always represent unaspirated consonants, and are unvoiced in initial positions and voiced elsewhere.
In addition to the 35 original letters, there are six supplementary consonants in official usage, referred to as the nav?n ?ol? or nav?n varag, meaning "new group," created by placing a dot (bind?) at the foot (pair) of the consonant to create pair bind? consonants. These are not present in the Guru Granth Sahib or old texts. These are used most often for loanwords, though not exclusively, and their usage is not always obligatory:
|sasse pair bind?
[s?s:e: p?: b?nd?i:]
||khakkhe pair bind?
[kk?:e: p?: b?nd?i:]
||gagge pair bind?
[g?g:e: p?: b?nd?i:]
|jajje pair bind?
[dd:e: p?: b?nd?i:]
||phapphe pair bind?
[pp?:e: p?: b?nd?i:]
||lalle pair bind?
[l?l:e: p?: b?nd?i:]
The character /?/, the only character not representing a fricative consonant, was only recently added to the Gurmukh? alphabet. It was not a part of the traditional orthography, as the distinctive phonological difference between 'l' and '?', while both native sounds, was not reflected in the script, and its usage is currently not universal. Previous usage of an older glyph to represent this sound, , has been attested. Other characters, like the similarly recent  /q?/, are also on rare occasion used unofficially, chiefly for transliterating old writings in Persian and Urdu, the knowledge of which is less relevant in modern times.
Three "subscript" letters, called pair akkhar, or "letters at the foot" are utilised in Gurmukh?: forms of ?(h), ?(r), and ?(v).
The subscript ?(r) and ?(v) are used to make consonant clusters and behave similarly; subjoined ?(h) introduces tone.
|Subscript letter||Name, original form||Usage|
|For example, the letter ?(p) with a regular ?(r) following it would yield the word /p/ ("but"), but with a subjoined ? would appear as - (/pr?-/), resulting in a consonant cluster, as in the word ? (/pbndk?/, "managerial, administrative"), as opposed to /p?bndk?/, the Punjabi form of the word used in natural speech in less formal settings (the Punjabi reflex for Sanskrit /p-/ is /p-/) . This subscript letter is commonly used in Punjabi for personal names, some native dialectal words, loanwords from other languages like English and Sanskrit, etc.|
|Used occasionally in Gurbani (Sikh religious scriptures) but rare in modern usage, it is largely confined to creating the cluster /s-/ in words borrowed from Sanskrit, the reflex of which in Punjabi is /s?-/, e.g. Sanskrit ? /s?p.n/->Punjabi /'s?p?na:/, "dream," cf. Hindi-Urdu /s?pna:/.
For example, ? with a subscript ? would produce (s-) as in the Sanskrit word (/sg?/, "heaven"), but followed by a regular ? would yield - (s-) as in the common word ? (/sg?/, "heaven"), borrowed earlier from Sanskrit but subsequently changed. The natural Punjabi reflex, ? /sg?/, is also used in everyday speech.
|The most common subscript, this character does not create consonant clusters, but serves as part of Punjabi's characteristic tone system, indicating a tone. It behaves the same way in its use as the regular ?(h) does in non-word-initial positions. The regular ?(h) is pronounced in stressed positions (as in ?ho "yes"), word-initially in monosyllabic words, and usually in other word-initial positions,[note 2] but not in other positions, where it instead changes the tone of the applicable adjacent vowel. The difference in usage is that the regular ? is used after vowels, and the subscript version is used when there is no vowel, and is attached to consonants.
For example, the regular ? is used after vowels as in ? (transcribed as m?h (IPA: [mí:]), "rain"). The subjoined ?(h) acts the same way but instead is used under consonants(ch) followed by ?(?) yields (ch), but not until the rising tone is introduced via a subscript ?(h) does it properly spell the word ? (ch, "climb").
This character's function is similar to that of the ud?t symbol (? U+0A51), which occurs in older texts and indicates a rising tone.
In addition to the three subscript letters, there is a half-form of the letter yayya, /j/ ?->, also used exclusively for Sanskrit borrowings, and even then rarely. Only the subjoined /?/ and /h/ are commonly used; use of the subjoined /?/ and conjunct /j/, already rare, is increasingly scarce in modern contexts.
To express vowels (singular, sur), Gurmukh?, as an abugida, makes use of obligatory diacritics called lag. Gurmukh? is similar to Brahmi scripts in that all consonants are followed by an inherent 'a' sound (unless at the end of a word when the 'a' is usually dropped). This inherent vowel sound can be changed by using dependent vowel signs which attach to a bearing consonant. In some cases, dependent vowel signs cannot be used - at the beginning of a word or syllable for instance - and so an independent vowel character is used instead.
Independent vowels are constructed using three bearer characters: (?), ai (?) and (?). With the exception of ai (which represents the vowel ), the bearer consonants are never used without additional vowel signs.
|Vowel||Transcription||IPA||Closest English equivalent|
||a||like a in about|
|?||~||like a in car|
||i||like i in it|
||?||like i in litre|
|u||like u in put|
|?||like u in spruce|
||e||like e in Chile|
|ai||~||like e in sell|
|o||like o in more|
||au||~||like o in off|
Dotted circles represent the bearer consonant. Vowels are always pronounced after the consonant they are attached to. Thus, sih?r? is always written to the left, but pronounced after the character on the right. When constructing the independent vowel for , takes an irregular form instead of using the usual ho.
Gurmukhi orthography prefers vowel sequences over the use of semivowels ("y" or "w") intervocally and in syllable nuclei, as in the words dis?i? "caused to be visible" rather than dis?y?, ? di?r "cedar" rather than dy?r, and ? su?d "taste" rather than swad, permitting vowels in hiatus.
In terms of tone orthography, the short vowels [?] and [?], when paired with [h] to yield /?h/ and /?h/, represent [é] and [ó] with high tones respectively, e.g. kih (IPA: [ké:?a:]) 'which,' duhr? (IPA: [d?ó:?a:]) 'repeat, reiterate, double.' The sequence of [?h]+[?] or [?] yield  and  respectively, e.g. mahing? (IPA: [m:?ga:]) 'expensive,' vahu (IPA: [w:?i:]) 'bride.'
The use of addhak ( ? ) (IPA: ['d?:?k?]) indicates that the following consonant is geminated, and is placed above the consonant preceding the geminated one. Consonant length is distinctive in the Punjabi language and the use of this diacritic can change the meaning of a word, for example:
|Without addhak||Transliteration||Meaning||With addhak||Transliteration||Meaning|
|pat?||'aware' (of something)||?||patt?||'leaf'|
There is a tendency, especially in rural dialects, to geminate consonants following a long vowel (/a:/, /e:/, /i:/, /o:/, /u:/, /?:/, /?:/) in the penult of a word, e.g. aukkh? "difficult," ? k?tt? "did," ? pott? "grandson," panj?bb? "Punjabi," h?k "call, shout," but plural h?kk. Except in this case, where this unmarked gemination is not always etymologically rooted, but has become phonotactically regular, the usage of the addhak is obligatory.
?ipp? ( ? ) and bind? ( ? ) are used for producing a nasal phoneme depending on the following obstruent or a nasal vowel at the end of a word. All short vowels are nasalized using ?ipp? and all long vowels are nasalized using bind? except for dulai?ka? ( ? ), which uses ?ippi instead.
|Diacritic usage||Result||Examples (IPA)|
|?ipp? on short vowel (/?/, /?/, /?/), or long vowel /u:/, before a non-nasal consonant||Adds nasal consonant at same place of articulation as following consonant
(/ns/, /n?t?/, //, /mb/, /?g/, /nt/ etc.)
| /ns?/ "goose"|
? /s??g?/ "horn, antler"
/ k??di:/ "key"
? /gu:?d/ "roar"
|Bind? over long vowel (/a:/, /e:/, /i:/, /o:/, /u:/, /?:/, /?:/)
before a non-nasal consonant not including /h/
|Adds nasal consonant at same place of articulation as following consonant (/ns/, /n?t?/, //, /mb/, /?g/, /nt/ etc.).
May also secondarily nasalize the vowel
| /ka:nsi:/ "bronze"|
/ke:n?d?/ "center, core, headquarters"
? /t:?k?/ "crossroads, plaza"
? /da:?t/ "trial, examination"
|?ipp? over consonants followed by long vowel /u:/ (not stand-alone vowel ?),
at open syllable at end of word, or ending in /?/
|Vowel nasalization|| /t:/ "you"|
/sa:n:?:/ "to us"
? /m?:?/ "mouth"
|?ipp? on short vowel before nasal consonant (/n?/ or /m/)||Gemination of nasal consonant
?ipp? is used to geminate nasal consonants instead of addhak
|? /?n?:a:/ "this much"|
|Bind? over long vowel (/a:/, /e:/, /i:/, /o:/, /u:/, /?:/, /?:/),
at open syllable at end of word, or ending in /?/
|Vowel nasalization||? /bã?h/ "arm"|
/m:/ "I, me"
? /?s?:/ "we"
? /s?.?:/ "sew"
Older texts may follow other conventions.
The halant ( ? ) character is not used when writing Punjabi in Gurmukh?. However, it may occasionally be used in Sanskritised text or in dictionaries for extra phonetic information. When it is used, it represents the suppression of the inherent vowel.
The effect of this is shown below:
The visarg symbol (? U+0A03) is used very occasionally in Gurmukh?. It can represent an abbreviation, as the period is used in English, though the period for abbreviation, like commas, exclamation points, and other Western punctuation, is freely used in modern Gurmukh?.
Gurmukh? has its own set of digits, used exactly as in other versions of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system. These are used extensively in older texts. In modern contexts, they are sometimes replaced by standard Western Arabic numerals.
The Unicode block for Gurmukh? is U+0A00-U+0A7F:
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
Panjab Digital Library has taken up digitization of all available manuscripts of Gurmukh? Script. The script has been in formal use since the 1500s, and a lot of literature written within this time period is still traceable. Panjab Digital Library has digitized over 5 million pages from different manuscripts and most of them are available online.
The following Punjabi-language publications have been written on the origins of the Gurmukh? script:
...the Guru Granth Sahib, written in a script particular to the Sikhs (Gurmukhi)...