|c. 984 or 1035-present|
|Languages||Burmese, Pali and Sanskrit|
|ISO 15924||Mymr, , Myanmar (Burmese)|
|The Brahmic script and its descendants|
The Burmese alphabet (Burmese: , pronounced [mj?mà kjà]) 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.
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 (, 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 (, from Pali vagga byañjana). The remaining eight letters (⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩, ⟨?⟩) are grouped together as a wek (?, 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 [a?] (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:
|Group name||Grouped consonants|
|Unaspirated ()||Aspirated (?)||Voiced ()||Nasal ()|
|[ka? d?í]||[k?a? ?wé]||? [?a? ]||[a? d?í]||? [?a?]|
|?||/s/||?||/s?/||?||/z/||?||/z?/||? / ?||/?/|
|[sa? ló]||[s?a? lè]||? [za? ?w]||[z?a? mj? zw]||/ [?a? d?í]|
|[ta? t?l? d?e]||? [t?a? w? b]||[da? j? ?a]||[d?a? jè m?o]||[na? d?í]|
|? [ta? w? bù]||? [t?a? s dú]||[da? dwé]||[d?a? ?a ta]||? [na? ]|
|([pa? za])||? ([p?a? ?ó t?o])||([ba? l ta])||([b?a? ?ó])||? [ma?]|
|? [ja? p l]||? [ja? ?a]||? [la? ]||[wa?]||[?a?]|
|[ha?]||[la? d?í]||? [?a?]|
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:
|[mj]||my||Generally only used on bilabial and velar consonants (? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?).|
Palatalizes velar consonants: (ky), (hky), (gy) are pronounced [t?], [t], [d?].
|[m?j]||hmy||(hsy) and (hly) are pronounced [?].|
|[mj]||mr||Generally only used on bilabial and velar consonants (? ? ? ? ? ? ? ? ?). (but in Pali and Sanskrit loanwords, can be used for other consonants as well e.g. ) |
Palatalizes velar consonants: (kr), (hkr), (gr), (ngr) are pronounced [t?], [t], [d?], [?].
|[m?]||hm||Used only in (hng) , / (hny) , (hn) [n?], (hm) [m?], (hl) [?], (hw) [?]. (hy) and (hr) are pronounced [?].|
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, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?, ?. Some versions of stroke order may be slightly different.
The Burmese stroke order can be learned from ? ?-? (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: ?; MLCTS: a.sat, [?aa?]), which means "nonexistence" (see Sat (Sanskrit)).
|?||[ka?], [k?]||ka.||[a?] 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 [?] (with no tone and no syllable-final [-?] or [-]) as its rhyme. In practice, the bare consonant letter alone is the most common way of spelling syllables whose rhyme is [?].|
|[kà]||ka||Takes the alternative form ? with certain consonants, e.g. ga [?à].[* 1]|
|[ká]||ka:||Takes the alternative form with certain consonants, e.g. ga: [?á].[* 1]|
|[kì], [kè], [k]||kany|
|?||[k?], [k?], [k]||kany.|
|?||[kí], [ké], [k]||kany:|
|[k?]||ki.||As an open vowel,  is represented by ?.|
|[kì]||ki||As an open vowel, [?ì] is represented by ?.|
|[k?]||ku.||As an open vowel,  is represented by ?.|
|[kù]||ku||As an open vowel, [?ù] is represented by ?.|
|[kú]||ku:||As an open vowel, [?ú] is represented by .|
|[kè]||ke||As an open vowel, [?è] is represented by ?.|
|[ké]||ke:||As an open vowel, [?é] is represented by .|
|[k]||kau:||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. gau: .[* 1] As an open vowel,  is represented by ?.|
|[ka]||kauk||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. gauk [?a].[* 1]|
|[kà]||kaung||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. gaung [?à].[* 1]|
|[ka?]||kaung.||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. gaung. [?a?].[* 1]|
|[ká]||kaung:||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. gaung: [?á].[* 1]|
|?||[k]||kau.||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ? gau. .[* 1]|
|?||[k]||kau||Takes an alternative long form with certain consonants, e.g. ? gau .[* 1] As an open vowel,  is represented by ?.|
|?||?,||Virama; deletes the inherent vowel, thereby making a syllable final consonant, most often with ? ? ? ? (?) ? ? ? ? ? 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: which is the low tone variant // of ? (by default //), and and both of which are the low tone variants // of and (by default //). In this context the ? symbol is called /t?ó/.
|?||Superscripted miniature version of ; phonetic equivalent of nasalized ([ì]) final.|
Found mainly in Pali and Sanskrit loans (e.g. "Tuesday," spelt and not ) 
|?||Creates creaky tone. Only used with nasal finals or vowels which inherently indicate a low or high tone.|
|, , ?, ?||Visarga; creates high tone. Can follow a nasal final marked with virama, or a vowel which inherently implies creaky tone or low tone.|
|? or ?||, ?, ?||when used alone, it Indicates /à/.
Generically referred to as /jé:ta?/ this diacritic takes two distinct forms. By default it is written ? which is called ? /wata?/ for specificity, but to avoid ambiguity when following the consonants ? ? ? ? ? ?, it is written tall as ? and called ? /mata?/.
Although typically not permissible in closed syllables, solitary ? or ? can be found in some words of Pali origin such as ? (essence, element) or ? (pride).
It can be combined with the vowel mark ? or ? to form or which indicate // in open syllables or /à?/ before ? or ?. 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 (metta)
|-||a combination of ? and ? or ? (see above). Indicates // in open syllables or /a?/ before ? or ?. The low-tone variant of this vowel in open syllables is written or .|
|?||Indicates //. Only found in open syllables.|
|?||?||When used alone, indicates /?/ in open syllables or // in closed syllables.|
|?||Indicates /ù/. Only found in open syllables.|
|?||Indicates /?/ in open syllables, or /è?/ in closed syllables.|
|?||Indicates /ì/. Only found in open syllables.|
|-||Indicates /ò in open syllables, or /a?/ before ? or ?. A combination of the ? and ? vowel diacritics.|
|?||?||used alone, indicates /wa?/ in open syllables or, variously, // or /wà/ in closed syllables. In open syllables it may also be combined with the vowel marks ? ? ? ? and the tone markers to add a medial /w/ between the initial and vowel.
Rarely found in the combinations and to transcribe the // vowel of English.
|?||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 r?|
|?||used exclusively for Sanskrit r|
|used to denote "" in some letters to avoid confusion for ?, ?, ?, ?, ?.|
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 (?) 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 . Similarly, until the Innwa period, ya pin was also combined with ya yit. From the early Bagan period to the 19th century, was used instead of for the rhyme // Early Burmese writing also used , not the high tone marker ?, which came into being in the 16th century. Moreover, , 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 ). The diacritic combination ? 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 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 (*? 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 . 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||, , ,||kk, kkh, gg, ggh [also ng?]||dukkha (), meaning "suffering"|
|C||, , , , , , ,||cc, cch, jj, jjh, nyc, nych, nyj, nyjh||wijja (), meaning "knowledge"|
|T||, , , , ,||tt, tth, dd, ddh, nt, nd||kanda (?), meaning "section"|
|T||, , , , , , , ,||tt, tth, dd, ddh, nt, nth, nd, ndh, nn||manta. le: (?), Mandalay, a city in Burma|
|P||, , , , , , , ,||pp, pph, bb, bbh, mp, mb, mbh, mm||kambha (), meaning "world"|
|(other)||?, ,||ss, ll, ll||pissa (?), 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 ?, not *?, 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 ? "daughter" is sometimes abbreviated to , even though the stacked consonants do not belong to the same row and a vowel is pronounced between. Similarly, "tea" is commonly abbreviated to . Also, ss is written ?, not .
The digits from zero to nine are: ? (Unicode 1040 to 1049). The number 1945 would be written as ?. 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 , , ?, or ) and ? (called , , or ), which respectively act as a comma and a full stop. There is a Shan exclamation mark ?. Other abbreviations used in literary Burmese are: